In early February, six divers decided to go for a casual dive near an ancient harbor known as Caesarea. But what they thought would be an ordinary day underwater turned out to be a life-changing experience. During the dive, the divers spotted something that looked like play money lying on the seabed. Playing it safe, the divers decided to head back to shore, and contact the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The IAA immediately deployed divers to join the divers back at the site. As soon as the IAA divers saw the coins, they knew they’d made a huge discovery.
“We were told [that the divers] had found about 30 or 40 coins,” head of the Marine Archaeology Unit Jakob (Koby) Sharvit stated. “Usually that means you’ve found a hoard. So we went back and performed a small excavation. After two hours, we had found something like one thousand coins.”
“We were so incredibly excited, but when you’re underwater, you can’t talk to each other. It was only when we surfaced and pulled out our regulators that we could scream with happiness.”
Soon there would be even more excitement. The divers went on to discover a total of 2,000 gold coins that early tests have revealed to be made of 95 percent pure gold. The coins were identified as the currency of the Fatimid Caliphate, which was an Islamic government that ruled over the Mediterranean coast of Africa from 909 to 1171.
Two different denominations of coin make up the hoard: one dinar, and one-quarter dinar coins. Records indicate that the average wage for a low-level worker was around one dinar a month, so this would have been a huge amount of money for that time period. So how did such a valuable hoard of coins end up underwater, so far off the coast? Experts agree it was likely a shipwreck.
Soon there will be answers to many of the questions about these coins. The seabed where the coins were discovered has been designated an excavation site, as more divers search for artifacts. One thing is for sure: archeologists will be busy examining this hoard for clues for some time to come.
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