Ancient coins stolen from archaeological sites recovered by Israeli police

Ancient coins stolen from archaeological sites recovered by Israeli police

Israel Police recovered 21 ancient coins that were believed to have been illegally excavated from archaeological sites, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Wednesday. The coins were discovered in a private home in the Silwan neighborhood in east Jerusalem, belonging to a man in his 30s. 

The man was believed to have found the artifacts by illegally searching archaeological sites in the Jerusalem area with a metal detector. Israeli law requires that any artifacts be turned over to the IAA.

He was questioned by police and charged with antiquities theft, illegal possession of artifacts, and attempting to sell the antiquities.

The age of the coins ranges from the Roman period until the Muslim period. The IAA said in a statement that one of the coins was from the reign of Antigonus Mattathias II (40 BCE – 37 BCE), the last Jewish monarch in the Land of Israel and the last of the Hasmoneans. Coins minted during his reign are the rarest of all those created during the entire Hasmonean period.

Antigonus Mattathias II was one of the leaders in the Jewish fight for independence against the Romans. He is also believed by some scholars to be the “Wicked Priest” mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that he was killed by Roman general Mark Antony, marking the end of Jewish sovereignty. 

Gabriela Bichovsky, a coin expert at the IAA, said a cornucopia is displayed on the coin, with a Hebrew inscription reading, “Mattia Kohen Gadol,” a reference to the Hasmonean king as a member of the Jewish priestly class. The opposite side of the coin was minted with a Greek inscription surrounded by a wreath, she said.

“Mattathias minted bronze coins in three denominations: large, medium, and small. The coin that was recovered is of the medium denomination and is rarer than the large, on which a pair of cornucopias appear instead of one,” Bichovsky added.

She explained that the methods used to create these coins were unique to Mattathias.

Before being stamped with their designs, “the tokens were first cast in a double limestone mold, creating a thickening coin that looks as if two were stuck together,” she stated.

“It’s very difficult to find currency from Antigonos where you can see the models in their entirety on the faces of the coin. Among the currencies of the Hasmonean period, the coins of Antigonus Mattathias II are the rarest.”

IAA Director Eli Escusido said that finding the coins at their original site would have been more useful to their study.

“The removal of the coin from its archaeological site harms the ability to understand our historical puzzle,” he said.

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