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Cache of gold coins from Islamic period discovered at Western Wall dig

Expert says currency reflects political turmoil in region over 1,000 years ago, with 2 coins minted in Ramle, 2 in Cairo; find made during excavations for new elevator

  • Gold coins discovered near Jerusalem's Western Wall (Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Gold coins discovered near Jerusalem's Western Wall (Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Dr Robert Kool weighs gold coins discovered near Jerusalem's Western Wall (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Dr Robert Kool weighs gold coins discovered near Jerusalem's Western Wall (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Jar and gold coins discovered near Jerusalem's Western Wall (Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Jar and gold coins discovered near Jerusalem's Western Wall (Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

A small pottery jar containing four pure gold coins dating back more than a thousand years was unearthed during archaeological excavations ahead of the planned installation of an elevator at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Monday.

Robert Kool, a coin expert at the IAA, said the currency dated from a time of political change in the region, when control passed from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, Iraq, into the hands of ​​its Shiite rivals, the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa.

“The profile of the coins found in the juglet are a near-perfect reflection of the historical events. Two gold dinars were minted in Ramle during the rule of Caliph al-Muti‛ (946–974 CE) and his regional governor, Abu ‛Ali al-Qasim ibn al-Ihshid Unujur (946–961 CE),” Kool said in the IAA statement. “The other two gold coins were minted in Cairo by the Fatimid rulers al-Mu‘izz (953–975 CE) and his successor, al-‘Aziz (975–996 CE).”

According to the expert, this was the first cache of coins of this nature discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City since the aftermath of 1967’s Six Day War when five hoards of coins and jewelry were uncovered in the same area.

Dr Robert Kool examines Gold coins discovered near Jerusalem’s Western Wall (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)

“Four dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time,” said Kool. “It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common laborer. Compared with those people, the small handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth.”

The coins were not immediately discovered as the juglet was found during initial excavations and set aside for further examination at a later date. Some weeks after the find, excavation director David Gellman made the surprise discovery when he emptied the jar while he was examining it.

“Four shiny gold coins fell into my hand,” said Gellman. “This is the first time in my career as an archaeologist that I have discovered gold, and it is tremendously exciting.”

The excavations were conducted by the IAA as part of the plan to build an elevator and an underground passageway from the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City to the Western Wall, aimed at improving accessibility to the holy site.

Currently, most visitors from inside the Old City must descend a series of steep and narrow staircases to reach the site, significantly limiting accessibility.

The plan is aimed at further connecting the Jewish Quarter with the Western Wall, as well as encouraging tourism, according to a 2017 government statement announcing the approval of the project.

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