Ancient Hoarding and Sequestering yields Modern Treasure
Rare cache of silver coins discovered in Modi’in
Looking to add a new neighborhood, the city authorities of Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut, a sprawling suburban municipality in the center of Israel, started digging.
In a way, you could say they found what they were looking for: a large, generous homestead built for a family of multiple generations, surrounded by rich agricultural lands.
The catch? The homestead dates back to Hasmonean times (126 BCE), so as long as the contemporary excavation continues, all work on the new neighborhood must halt.
On Tuesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the find of a rare cache of silver coins that had been hidden in a rock crevice. Speaking with The Media Line, Avraham Tendler, the director of the excavation, said the coins, tetradrachms and didrachms minted in the city of Tyre (once part of the Syrian Empire and now a city in Lebanon) and bearing the image of King Antiochus VII and his brother, Demetrius II, seems to indicate that “a person living in this farmstead saved his income for months and needed to escape for some unknown reason. He buried his money in the hope of coming back for it, but was apparently unlucky and never returned.”
“It is exciting,” he added, “to think that this hoard waited untouched for 2,140 years until we exposed it.”
In a statement, Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, the head of the Authority’s Coin Department, said “the cache, which consists of 16 coins, contains one or two coins from every year between 135–126 BCE, and a total of nine consecutive years are represented. It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector. He acted in just the same way as stamp and coin collectors manage collections today.”
For Tendler, the most exciting aspect of his find is that “excavating this large farmstead is giving us a window into how this Jewish family lived. We have a snapshot of their lives: We have the house they initially built, the new sections they added on as they grew; we see what their means of sustenance was. Next to the farmhouse we’ve found a building containing an olive-press and storage rooms. All around, in the fields, we see the paths leading from the farmhouse to the fields and it is easy to imagine these people getting up in the morning and going to work.”
Whoever hid his pile of coins in the improvised crevice was at the very least prosperous. The massive familial home, most likely the base for a large and growing household, measures about 213 x 180 feet, and includes several patios with wells, various family units and stalls for work animals.
Within the farm’s estate, in addition to olive trees, vineyards were planted on the hillsides and grain in the valleys.
Dozens of rock-hewn wine-presses reflect the importance of viticulture and the wine industry in an area that remains, today, one of Israel’s premium wine-growing regions.
Numerous bronze coins minted by the Hasmonean kings were discovered alongside the rarer silver pieces, bearing the names of kings including Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan and Mattathias, together with the latter’s title ‘High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews’.
The excavation reveals that the inhabitants of the estate adhered meticulously to the Jewish laws of ritual purity. Ritual baths (mikvehs) have been uncovered in the excavation, and numerous vessels made of chalk, which according to Jewish law cannot become ritually unclean, indicate the painstaking efforts made to observe the dietary laws, Kashruth.
“A hoard of early silver coins is rare,” Robert Kool, the Authority’s curator of coins told The Media Line. “It’s not common to find this in excavations. These particular coins, minted in Tyre, belonged to the Hellenistic rulers of Syria, and are among the first group of coins ever minted.”
In recent months, ancient coins have enjoyed something of a resurrection in Israeli media.
Last December, a group of high school kids on an archeology field-trip to the Adulam Park, not far from Modi’in, uncovered a small cache of coins minted during the rule of King Alexander Jannaeus in the 1st century BCE.
On May 31, following up on a hot tip, Israeli customs officials searched the Mercedes belonging to Norway’s ambassador to the Palestinian Authority as it returned from Jordan to Jerusalem, and uncovered a stash of contraband including no less than 22 pounds of ancient coins, statuettes, beads and other artifacts hidden in cardboard containers within the car’s paneling.
“There are just lots and lots of coins in the ground here,” Kool says. “The country lies strategically between important world empires of ancient times, Egypt, Syria, Rome; Alexander the Great was here, everyone was here. 2,500 years of history translate into a lot of coins.”
Israel is not the only repository of coins in the region. Turkey and Greece are virtual purses of ancient coinage. “And of course,” Kool adds, “nowadays there’s a huge flow of antiquities coming our way from Iraq through Jordan, trying to reach the antiquities market in the West. Not a day goes by without someone being caught or arrested with coins. People minted millions and millions of coins.”
“It’s the second oldest profession in the world,” he laughed, adding, “maybe don’t print that.”
Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority