Pottery juglet containing 1,000-year-old gold coins unearthed in Jerusalem

November 10, 2020 by JNS
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A small pottery jar containing four pure gold coins dating back to the Early Islamic period, more than 1,000 years ago, was unearthed during archaeological excavations in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Monday.

A 1,000-year-old juglet and gold coins from the Fatimid period, unearthed in the Old City of Jerusalem in Oct. 2020. Photo: Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquities Authority.

The work was performed as part of the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation’s plan to build an elevator designed and make the Western Wall Plaza more accessible to visitors.

The juglet was found by IAA 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. This is the first time in my career as an archaeologist that I have discovered gold, and it is tremendously exciting,” Gellman said,

According to IAA coin expert Dr. Robert Kool, “The coins were beautifully preserved and were immediately identifiable even without cleaning. The coins date from a relatively brief period, from the late 940s to the 970s C.E. This was a time of radical political change, when control over the Land of Israel passed from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, Iraq, into the hands of its Shi’ite rivals, the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa, which conquered Egypt, Syria and the Land of Israel.

“The profile of the coins found in the juglet is a near-perfect reflection of the historical events,” he said, noting that the find included two gold dinars that were minted during the rule of Caliph al-Muti (946-974 C.E.) and his regional governor, Abu Ali al-Qasim ibn al-Ihshid Unujur (946-961 C.E.). 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 C.E.).

According to Kool, “This is the first time in 50 years that a gold cache from the Fatimid period has been discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City. In the large-scale excavations directed by Prof. Benjamin Mazar after the [1967] Six-Day War, not far from the current discovery, five coin and jewellery hoards from this period were uncovered south of the Temple Mount.

“Four dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time,” Kool added. “It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common labourer. Compared with those people, the small handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth.

“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.”


This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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