Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Large Byzantine Gold Coin Hoard Found in Jerusalem

It has just been announced that a large hoard of almost 300 gold coins from the reign of Heraclius have been unearthed during an excavation just outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is apparently one of the largest and best recorded finds of gold coins in Jerusalem.

The person who discovered the coins at the excavations was a British volunteer who normally works as an engineer. Archaeological excavations typically allow anyone - regardless of qualifications or academic standing - to volunteer. I have worked alongside many non-academic/non-student volunteers before.

Since the context has been preserved and the hoard was discovered within the framework of an excavation, the find will be inventoried, studied, and published. According to online discussion lists, the hoard's analysis and publication has already been assigned to a numismatist at the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and their study is presently underway.

The date of the coins and their location just outside of Jerusalem are leading the chief excavators of the site to think that the hoard is associated with the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in AD 614.

The chief excavators also stated:
"Since no pottery vessel was discovered adjacent to the hoard, we can assume that it was concealed inside a hidden niche in one of the walls of the building. It seems that with its collapse, the coins piled up there among the building debris."
This is certainly a strong possibility. Hoards concealed in walls have been well-recorded in Egypt, for example (either in situ or found as scatter on floors after they fell out). In general, see discussion in Hans-Christoph Noeske, Münzfunde aus Ägypten I. Die Münzfunde des ägyptischen Pilgerzentrums Abu Mina und die Vergleichsfunde aus den Diocesen Aegyptus und Oriens vom 4.-8. Jh. n.Chr. Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike 12 (Berlin, 2000).

Personally, I wonder if they may have been contained in a cloth or leather bag that did not survive or of which no traces were recorded. I ask because a photograph of the coins in situ as they are being carefully excavated seems to show the coins stacked or rolled; if they fell from a niche in a wall, I think there would certainly be more scatter and they would not have remained rolled or stacked together in such a manner. It is, of course, also possible that the coins were tightly placed in a bag in a wall niche from which the container and its contents later fell and so their tight relationship would have been preserved.

In any case, the news of this discovery is very interesting and I look forward to the detailed analysis and publication of the hoard. Perhaps we will see the publication in the Israel Numismatic Research journal, but it is too early to speculate as to where the report and analysis will appear. Congratulations also to the excavation volunteer who discovered the coins and who no doubt was very excited to uncover such a spectacular find.

Two press stories covering the find can be found at CNN and the BBC. A video showing the volunteer with some of the coins can be viewed by going to the BBC article.
I am grateful to two of my blog readers who sent me links to some relevant news articles - I have been in transit over the past few days and so I haven't been reading the headlines.

Happy Holidays!

(Photo of the coins in situ from the CNN article. Notice how some of the coins seem to be together in stacks or rolls as I noted above.)