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Gold from the Sea - Newfound Treasure from Caesarea

June 5, 2015-December 22, 2015

Location: Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing

Curator: Haim Gitler

In February 2015, divers off the coast of Caesarea spotted by chance a group of gold coins lying on the seabed. They immediately alerted marine archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who conducted a salvage excavation at the site and recovered more than 2,580 coins of pure (24 karat) gold weighing a total of 7.5 kg.

The coins date from the mid-9th to the early 11th century CE. They were minted by the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt, who ruled over a vast empire stretching from North Africa in the west to Syria and Yemen in the east.

The treasure contains two types of coins: gold dinars weighing around 4 g each and gold quarter-dinars weighing 1 g. These were the most common coins of the period, as silver coins were rare and bronze coins were not used at all. The treasure might have been tax-money collected by a government official returning to Cairo, the capital of the Caliphate, when his ship was wrecked. Alternately, it could have been payment, perhaps meant for soldiers stationed in the Fatimid garrison of Caesarea, that was sent out from the capital but which never reached its destination.

Eleventh-century documents from the Cairo Genizah indicate that the salary of a craftsman at that time was approximately two gold dinars per month. Based on the number of coins found so far, the treasure would have been the equivalent of 1,200 months’ salary – a century of wages – or five and a half million shekels based on the minimum wage in Israel today.

The display is a joint project of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Corporation and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.