Cache of Hasmonean-era silver coins uncovered in Modiin

2,150-year-old hoard likely buried by a Jew who was never able to return for it, found in dig at agricultural estate that took part in Bar Kochba uprising

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A treasure trove of 2,150-year-old silver coins excavated in the central Israeli city of Modiin apparently belonged to a Jew who had to leave the nearby house but never managed to retrieve his hidden cache.

The 16 coins from the Hasmonean period (2nd-1st century BCE) were concealed in a rock crevice up against a wall of a large agricultural estate, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Tuesday.

Excavation director Abraham Tendler said the shekels and half-shekels (tetradrachms and didrachms) were minted in the city of Tyre, now part of Lebanon, and bear the images of the king, Antiochus VII, and his brother Demetrius II.

The finds, discovered prior to the building of a new neighborhood in the city, will be displayed in an archaeological park in the heart of that neighborhood, the Antiquities Authority confirmed.

The discovery of the silver coins provided “compelling evidence that one of the members of the estate who had saved his income for months needed to leave the house for some unknown reason. He buried his money in the hope of coming back and collecting it, but was apparently unfortunate and never returned. It is exciting to think that the coin hoard was waiting here 2,140 years until we exposed it.”

Abraham Tendler, the excavation director, inside a hiding place that was connected to a ritual bath during the Bar Kokhba revolt, June 7, 2016. Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Abraham Tendler, the excavation director, inside a hiding place that was connected to a ritual bath during the Bar Kochba revolt, June 7, 2016. (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the Coin Department at the antiquities authority, said the cache contained one or two coins from every year between 135 and 126 BCE.

“It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector. He acted in just the same way as stamp and coin collectors manage collections today,” he added.

“The findings from our excavation show that a Jewish family established an agricultural estate on this hill during the Hasmonean period,” Tendler said.

The family members planted olive trees and vineyards on the neighboring hills and grew grain in the valleys. Archaeologists are currently uncovering an adjacent industrial area of olive presses and olive oil storehouses.

The importance of wine in the area is borne out by dozens of rock-hewn wine presses in cultivation plots next to the estate.

Aerial photograph of a Hasmonean estate house excavated in Modiin, June 7, 2016. Griffin Aerial Photography, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Aerial photograph of a Hasmonean estate house excavated in Modiin, June 7, 2016. (Griffin Aerial Photography, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The house on the estate was built with massive walls to provide protection from marauding bandits, according to the researchers.

Numerous bronze coins minted by the Hasmonean kings were also discovered in the excavation in addition to the 16 silver ones, the authority reported.

They bear the names of kings such as Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan or Mattathias and his title: High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews.

The finds indicate that the estate continued to operate throughout the Early Roman period and that the Jews living there meticulously adhered to the Jewish laws of ritual purity.

Evidence discovered at the site suggests that they also took part in the first revolt against the Romans, which broke out in 66 CE. The coins found from this period are stamped with the date “Year Two” of the revolt and the slogan “Freedom of Zion.”

The estate continued to function even after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. “It seems that local residents did not give up hope of gaining their independence from Rome, and they were well-prepared to fight the enemy during the Bar Kochba uprising,” Tendler said, referring to the unsuccessful Jewish rebellion in 132 CE.

“During the excavation, we saw how, prior to the uprising, the inhabitants of the estate filled the living rooms next to the outer wall of the building with large stones, thus creating a fortified barrier. In addition, we discovered hiding refuges that were hewn in the bedrock beneath the floors of the estate house,” Tendler said.

He added that a ritual bath was found in an adjacent excavation that also served as a refuge.

“When we excavated deeper in the bath, we discovered an opening inside it that led to an extensive hiding refuge in which numerous artifacts were found that date to the time of the Bar Kochba uprising,” he said.

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