Two teenagers on summer break in Israel have unearthed a massive trove of hundreds of gold coins that were buried in a clay jar for 1,100 years.
The priceless trove of money was discovered at an archaeological site in Yavne, central Israel, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The priceless trove of money dates back to the ninth century, during which the Abbasid Caliphate – the Islamic empire which ruled a territory spanning modern-day Algeria to Afghanistan – held the Palestinian region.
The land of Palestine was under the rule of the Abbasids from 750-1258 AD. The Abbasid empire was undergoing a major cultural, commercial, and artistic renaissance at the time, with the period being referred to by historians as the “golden age of Islam.”
Over 425 of the pure 24-karat gold coins were discovered, weighing 1.86 pounds (845 grams) overall – more than enough cash to purchase a luxurious home in one of the metropolises of the sprawling and advanced Arabic empire.
“The hoard consists of full gold dinars, but also — what is unusual — contains about 270 small gold cuttings, pieces of gold dinars cut to serve as small change,” said Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) expert Robert Kool in a statement.
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Two 18-year-old volunteers for an archeological excavation found the coins in a clay jar sealed by a single nail, according to the New York Times.
“I dug in the ground and, when I excavated the soil, saw what looked like very thin leaves,” said Oz Cohen, one of the teens who found the treasure. “When I looked again, I saw these were gold coins. It was really exciting to find such a special and ancient treasure.”
It remains a mystery as to who buried the huge reserve of gold coins, as well as why they never returned to collect the treasure.
“The person who buried this treasure 1,100 years ago must have expected to retrieve it, and even secured the vessel with a nail so that it would not move,” excavation directors Liat Nadav-Ziv and Elie Haddad of the IAA said in a statement. “We can only guess what prevented him from returning to collect this treasure.”
“Finding gold coins, certainly in such a considerable quantity, is extremely rare,” they added. “We almost never find them in archaeological excavations, given that gold has always been extremely valuable, melted down and reused from generation to generation.”
When copper and bronze coins suddenly stopped circulating during the 850s, gold and silver coins became a staple of the monetary system in the ruling Islamic empires.
Among the cuttings found was a fragment of a gold solidus coin of the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos minted in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), providing clear evidence of the continuous trade that connected the rivaling Islamic and Eastern Orthodox Christian empires during the contentious period.
Archaeologists say that the finding hints at the scale of global trade that occurred at the time, which connected residents of the region to far-flung regions.
The coins offer a unique window into the flow of commerce at the time, as many of the coins minted by the empires bear the names and titles of the era’s rulers and sub-rulers as well as the location and date of the mint.
“You can read the name of the caliph in Baghdad,” Kool told the Times. “The name of the governor who rules in his name in Egypt is often included.”