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The largest gold treasure ever found in Israel displayed to the public for the first time
Gold from the Sea, Newfound treasure from Caesarea. Photo: Elie Posner.

JERUSALEM.- Anyone passing through the Archaeology Wing of the Israel Museum stops and looks at this glittering wonder: about 2,600 coins of pure gold (24 karat) — the largest gold cache ever discovered in Israel — displayed in a specially-designed showcase. “People just stand and look at the gold coins with a wide smile,” says Dr. Haim Gitler, Chief Curator of Archaeology at the Israel Museum, who co-curated the exhibit with Dr. Robert Kool, a senior curator from the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This gold treasure is so extraordinary that that it awakens their imagination. People ask themselves what it was meant for and what was supposed to happen with all this gold.”

The gold treasure was discovered in early February this year on the seabed near Caesarea by divers who had set off for an entirely routine dive. They called in specialists from the marine archaeology unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority who started gathering up the coins. It quickly became evident that the size of the treasure was without precedent, including thousands of dinar and quarter-dinar coins from the mid-9th century to the start of the 11th century CE. The total weight of the coins comes to an impressive 7.5 kilograms.

The treasure is being displayed at the Museum for only three months as part of a special collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Caesarea Development Corporation. "We are just starting to research the coins, but we felt obliged to display the treasure immediately due to the great public interest it aroused," explains Dr. Robert Kool.

According to Dr. Haim Gitler, although the coins lay for a thousand years under water, they were preserved in excellent condition. Since the coins were made of pure gold — they still glitter. "These coins were minted by the Fatimid caliphs in Egypt, who ruled a huge empire that stretched from North Africa in its westernmost part and eastward to Syria and Yemen," explains Gitler. "The total value was the equivalent of the salaries of 1,200 day laborers during the Fatimid Caliphate. Apparently, the coins were on a ship that sank near Caesarea following a storm. Perhaps these were the taxes collected from local residents and were being sent to the center of the Fatimid Empire in Cairo. According to another theory, the money may have been intended for soldiers stationed in the Fatimid stronghold in Caesarea."

The treasure discovery is of particular importance for the Druze community; most of the coins uncovered carry the name of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, who is considered the founder of the Druze faith in the Oneness of Allah in 1017 CE.

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