Photo Credit: Emil Eldjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
A rare half-coin from the Judean Mountains

Evidence of the earliest use of coins in Eretz Israel, an extremely rare silver coin dated to the Persian period (6th–5th centuries BCE), was recently discovered in an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at a site in the Judean Hills.

The excavation, carried out in the course of works of the Netivei Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company, also exposed a building from the First Temple Period, with even earlier evidence for commerce in the form of a sheqel weight.


Moriya Reef, an engineer and Southern Region Projects Department Manager for Netivei Israel, said, “We began the project on Highway 375, to expand it into an 8 km long two-way highway, and recognized that this area required collaboration with the IAA for the possibility of discovering archeological finds at the job site. We helped them conduct their work parallel to the progress on the highway, and their findings are amazing. This is very exciting.”

An aerial view of the excavation. / Emil Eldjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The rare coin was discovered by Semyon Gendler, the Acting Judean District Archaeologist of the IAA. The coin, which was broken intentionally, was minted with a square stamp embedded on one face. In later years, more sophisticated techniques produced coins with protruding rather than sunken stamps.

According to Dr. Robert Kool, Head of the IAA Numismatic Department, “The coin is extremely rare, joining only half a dozen coins of its type that have been found in archaeological excavations in the country. The coin was minted in a period when the use of coins had just begun. The rare find contributes information concerning the way trade was carried out and the process whereby global commerce moved from payment by weighing silver pieces, to the use of coins. The coin belongs to a group of very early coins that were minted outside Israel, in ancient Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. In the 6th–5th centuries BCE, such coins began to appear at sites in Eretz Israel.”

The excavation in the Judean Mountains. / Emil Eldjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

“An additional indication of the gradual process is the fact that, although the silver coin was minted as a coin, it was found intentionally cut in two. This indicates that in the 4th century BCE, it was used as a weighed piece of silver, rather than as a coin, even though coins were current in this period,” Dr. Kool added.

According to Michal Mermelstein and Danny Benayoun, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “The site was located in a rural part of the Kingdom of Judah, whose capital was in Jerusalem. It was first settled in the First Temple period, in the 7th century BCE (2,700 years ago), during the reigns of the Judaean Kings Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah, a peak expansion era for the kingdom of Judah, following the demise and exile of the kingdom of Israel.”

Excavation director Michal Mermelstein with an arrowhead from the First Temple period that was discovered at the site. / Emil Eldjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

“A common four-room house from this period was uncovered, and the sheqel weight, which was found on the floor of one of the rooms in the house, provides early evidence of trade,” Mermelstein and Benayoun said. “The dome-shaped stone weight would have been used for weighing metals, spices, and other expensive commodities. The sign on the weight was an ancient Egyptian (hieratic) abbreviation for the word sheqel, and the single incised stroke represents one sheqel. It weighs 11.07 g. This was a standard weight in the kingdom of Judah, showing that commodities were carefully weighed in the marketplace.”


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