The Gold Coins

Photograph by Jack Guez, AFPGetty These gold coins are among thousands recently discovered by scuba divers on the seabed of the ancient harbor near the Israeli town of Caesarea. An unprecedented discovery of more than 2,000 gold coins off the north-central coast of Israel might be part of the largest gold hoard ever found in the eastern Mediterranean, according to archaeologists.

The coins are identified as dinars, the official currency of the Fatimid caliphate that ruled much of the Mediterranean from A.D. 909 to 1171.

The find was made by accident in early February, when a team of six sport divers spotted what they initially thought were a few toy coins on the seabed near the ancient harbor of Caesarea. After realizing the significance of the find, they immediately notified the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Divers from the IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit accompanied the group back to the site and were stunned at what they found.

“We were told [that the divers] had found about 30 or 40 coins,” says Jakob (Koby) Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit. “Usually that means you’ve found a hoard. So we went back and performed a small excavation. After two hours, we had found something like one thousand coins.

“We were shocked,” he recalls. “We were so incredibly excited, but when you’re underwater, you can’t talk to each other. It was only when we surfaced and pulled out our regulators that we could scream with happiness.”

But that was just the beginning: Another thousand coins were recovered from the site just this Tuesday, which already makes the find at least five times as large as what has until now been considered the largest known gold coin hoard ever found in the country—a cache of 376 Fatimid dinars discovered in the city of Ramle in the early 1960s—and possibly the largest cache of gold coins ever reported in the eastern Mediterranean. more