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Thousand-year-old jug with gold coins discovered in Jerusalem

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This is the first time in fifty years that a gold cache from the Fatimid period has been discovered in the Old City

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a fascinating archeological find in Jerusalem’s Old City, a small and ancient pottery jar, known as a juglet, was discovered containing four pure gold coins inside.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the coins date back more than a thousand years ago to the Early Islamic period.

The IAA said the items were unearthed during archaeological excavations that they were conducting, “as part of the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation’s plan to build an elevator and make the Western Wall Plaza accessible to visitors coming from the Quarter.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s coin expert, Dr. Robert Kool explained that “the coins were in excellent condition and were immediately identifiable even without cleaning.” 

“The coins date from a relatively brief period, from the late 940s to the 970s CE,” Kool said. “This was a time of radical political change, when control over Israel passed from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, Iraq, into the hands of ​​its Shiite rivals—the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa, who conquered Egypt, Syria and Israel in those years.”

The juglet was found by Israel Antiquities Authority inspector Yevgenia Kapil during preliminary digging at the site last month. 

Some weeks later, as excavation director David Gellman was examining the finds, he emptied the contents of the juglet.

“To my great surprise, along with the soil, four shiny gold coins fell into my hand,” he said. “This is the first time in my career as an archaeologist that I have discovered gold, and it is tremendously exciting.”

Gellman added that they had “evidently discovered an ancient savings box.”

David Gellman pointing to the juglet findspot in the IAA’s excavations opposite the Western Wall Plaza. (Photo: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Addressing the profile of the coins found in the juglet, Kool said that they “are a near-perfect reflection of the historical events.” 

“Two gold dinars were minted in Ramla during the rule of Caliph al-Muti (946–974 CE) and his regional governor, Abu Ali al-Qasim ibn al-Ihshid Unujur (946–961 CE),” he continued. “The other two gold coins were minted in Cairo by the Fatimid rulers al-Mu‘izz (953–975 CE) and his successor, al-‘Aziz (975–996 CE).”

Kool stressed that “this is the first time in fifty years that a gold cache from the Fatimid period has been discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City.”

Previously, during a large-scale excavation directed by Prof. Benjamin Mazar after the Six-Day War, five-coin and jewelry hoards from this period were uncovered south of the Temple Mount not far from where the current discovery took place. 

Kool explained that during that ancient period of time, “four dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time,” 

“It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common laborer,” he said. “Compared with those people, the small handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth.” 

Kool added that “a senior treasury official could earn 7,000 gold dinars a month, and also receive additional incomes from his rural estates amounting to hundreds of thousands of gold dinars a year.”

For Herzl Ben Ari, the director of the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation, the discovery is very exciting. 

“Although we are used to archaeological discoveries once in a while, it is always very exciting to uncover Jerusalem’s unique and turbulent past,” said, concluding that they are aiming to allow the public to view large numbers of the archaeological finds after the elevator project is completed.

Featured Image: The juglet and the gold coins. (Photo: Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquities Authority)

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