A shekel made of pure silver that was used for trade in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago during the Second Temple period was discovered in Jerusalem by an 11-year-old girl.
The coin weighs about 14 grams. On one side is an inscription of a cup with the caption: “Israeli shekel” and next to the cup are the letters: ש”ב – shorthand for “second year” – the second year of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (67-68 CE). On the other side of the coin is an inscription identified by scholars as depicting the headquarters of the High Priest, and next to it appears in ancient Hebrew script the words: “Holy Jerusalem.”
According to Dr. Robert Kool, Head of the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “this is a rare find since out of many thousands of coins discovered to date in archeological excavations, only about 30 coins are made of silver, from the period of the Great Revolt.”
The coin was discovered in the dirt that came from archeological excavations conducted by the IAA on the “Pilgrimage Road” in the City of David National Park. According to archaeologist Ari Levy, Director of the Excavation on behalf of the IAA, “This street, which connected the Pool of Siloam in the south of the City of David to the Temple Mount in the north, was Jerusalem’s main street during the Second Temple period, where thousands of pilgrims marched on their way to the Temple. There’s no doubt that extensive trading was conducted here. This is evidenced by the many weights and bronze coins we have found here. But to find a rebel coin made of pure silver is definitely very special and exciting.”
Dr. Kool theorizes that the silver from which the coin was made came from the plentiful silver reserves in the Temple and that it was minted on the Temple Mount plaza – possibly by one of the priests who worked in coordination with the rebel leaders and assisted them. Where else could you find silver in such quantity and such high quality in those days? Only in the Temple. “If so, we can say with caution that this coin is, apparently, one of the only items in our possession today that originated in the Temple itself.”
“Everyone knows the Arch of Titus in Rome and the descriptions of loot taken from the Temple that appear on it, but not many are familiar with the huge silver reserves that were in the Temple. You can learn from the ancient inscription uncovered by the researcher Géza Alföldy about the huge silver reserves that were in the Temple.”
Dr. Amit Reem, Jerusalem District Archaeologist of the IAA added: “This inscription revealed that the famous Colosseum we all know in Rome was built by the Romans from the spoils of the Temple looted from Jerusalem. It reads: ‘Emperor Vespasian (who, along with his son Titus, suppressed the Jewish Revolt and destroyed the Temple) ordered the construction of this new amphitheater (the Colosseum) from his share of the spoils.’ One can only imagine the extent of the loot and the amount of money the Romans found in the Temple storehouses,” Dr. Reem said.
As part of the excavation, the earth was sent for wet sifting in the Emek Tzurim Sifting Project, and the person who was privileged to discover the find was 11-year-old Liel Krutokop from Petah Tikva. “We poured the bucket with the dirt on the strainer, and as we filtered the stones that were inside, I saw something round,” Liel recalled. “At first, I didn’t know what it was, but it looked different from all the other stones. My father brought it to one of the assistants, and she showed it to an archaeologist. He looked at it and said it was a silver coin that needed to be cleaned. I was very excited.”
“When I got to Emek Tzurim I thought there must be simple coins in the buckets, but I didn’t think I would find a coin myself, and certainly not such a rare coin made of pure silver. I was lucky to find it, but I also want to say thank you to my sister for choosing the bucket we sifted. If she had not chosen this particular bucket, I probably would not have found the coin,” Liel shared the credit for her find.
The coin was sent to the IAA lab, underwent a chemical process for cleaning, and recently, upon completion of the process, the significance of the find became clear.
According to Dr. Kool, “a currency is a sign of sovereignty. If you go into a rebellion, you use one of the most obvious symbols of independence, and you mint coins. The inscription on the coin clearly expresses the rebels’ aspirations. The choice to use ancient Hebrew script, which was no longer in use at the time, is not accidental. The use of this script came to express the longing of the people of the period for the days of David and Solomon and the days of a united Jewish kingdom – days when the people of Israel had full independence.”
IAA Director Eli Escosido said, “I was happy to see the excitement and curiosity that gripped Liel when finding the rare coin. It is important for understanding the minting of coins, which I am certain she will share with her friends and family. The Israel Antiquities Authority considers the connection of the younger generation to our heritage in an experiential and unmediated way to be its top priority. Our educational center will come to Liel’s class, mint coins, and share the importance of the find with her friends.”
The rare coin will be presented to the public on Chanukah at Emek Tzurim National Park in Jerusalem. The public is invited to come and participate in the archeological sifting project that takes place there.