ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Archaeology

Looted rare coin from last Hasmonean king seized in raid on suspected thief

IAA says coins minted under Antigonus Mattathias II rarest from period; dozens of other ancient coins from Roman to Muslim periods recovered in search of East Jerusalem home

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

A rare bronze medium denomination coin from the reign of Antigonus Mattathias II (40 BCE - 37 BCE), allegedly illegally excavated, after they were recovered from a suspect's home in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, June 7, 2023. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
A rare bronze medium denomination coin from the reign of Antigonus Mattathias II (40 BCE - 37 BCE), allegedly illegally excavated, after they were recovered from a suspect's home in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, June 7, 2023. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

Police recovered dozens of ancient coins that were allegedly illegally excavated — among them a rare coin from the time of the last Hasmonean king of Judea over 2,000 years ago — during a search in East Jerusalem overnight, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The currency was recovered from the suspect’s home in the Silwan neighborhood and includes bronze coins ranging from the Roman period until the Muslim period. The IAA said in a statement that coins from the reign of Antigonus Mattathias II (40 BCE – 37 BCE) are the rarest finds among those minted from the Hasmonean period.

Police questioned a man in his 30s, suspected of robbing the artifacts — likely by searching for them with a metal detector around Jerusalem — illegal possession of artifacts, and attempting to sell the items.

IAA Director Eli Escusido said that finding the coins at their original site would have been more useful to their study.

“The removal of the coin from its archaeological site harms the ability to understand our historical puzzle,” he said.

Gabriela Bichovsky, a coin expert at the IAA, said a cornucopia is displayed on the coin, with a Hebrew inscription reading, “Mattia Kohen Gadol,” a reference to the Hasmonean king as a member of the Jewish priestly class. The opposite side of the coin was minted with a Greek inscription surrounded by a wreath, she said.

Ancient coins, suspected to have been illegally excavated, after they were recovered from a suspect’s home in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, June 7, 2023. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

“Mattathias minted bronze coins in three denominations: large, medium, and small. The coin that was recovered is of the medium denomination and is rarer than the large, on which a pair of cornucopias appear instead of one,” Bichovsky added.

She further explained that the methods used were unique to Mattathias.

Before being stamped with their designs, “the tokens were first cast in a double limestone mold, creating a thickening coin that looks as if two were stuck together,” she stated.

“It’s very difficult to find currency from Antigonos where you can see the models in their entirety on the faces of the coin. Among the currencies of the Hasmonean period, the coins of Antigonus Mattathias II are the rarest.”

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