A small pottery jar containing four pure gold coins dating from the early Islamic period, more than a thousand years ago, was unearthed during archaeological excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The excavations are part of the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation’s plan to build an elevator and make the Western Wall Plaza accessible to visitors ascending from the Jewish Quarter.
The jar was found by IAA inspector Yevgenia Kapil during preliminary digging at the site in October. Some weeks later, as excavation director David Gellman was examining the finds, he emptied the contents of the small jar, and, “to my great surprise,” he recalled, “along with the soil, four shiny gold coins fell into my hand. This is the first time in my career as an archaeologist that I have discovered gold, and it’s tremendously exciting.”
According to IAA coin expert Dr. Robert Kool, “The coins were in an excellent state of preservation and immediately identifiable even without cleaning. The coins date from a relatively brief period, from the late 940s to the 970s CE. This was a time of radical political change, when control over Eretz Israel passed from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, whose capital was in Baghdad, Iraq, into the hands of its Shiite rivals—the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa, who conquered Egypt, Syria, and Eretz Israel in those years.”
“The profile of the coins found in the juglet is a near-perfect reflection of those historic events,” Dr. Kool stressed. “Two gold dinars were minted in Ramla during the rule of Caliph al-Muti (946–974 CE) and his regional governor, Abu Ali al-Qasim ibn al-Ihshid Unujur (946–961 CE). The other two gold coins were minted in Cairo by the Fatimid rulers al-Mu’izz (953–975 CE) and his successor, al-‘Aziz (975–996 CE).”
According to Dr. Kool, “This is the first time in fifty years that a gold cache from the Fatimid period has been discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City. In the large-scale excavations directed by Prof. Benjamin Mazar after the Six-Day War, not far from the current discovery, five coins and jewelry hoards from this period were uncovered south of the Temple Mount.”
“Four dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time,” Dr. Kool noted. “It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary of a common laborer. Compared with those people, the handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth. A senior treasury official could earn 7,000 gold dinars a month, and also receive additional incomes from his rural estates amounting to hundreds of thousands of gold dinars a year.”
Herzl Ben Ari, director of the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation, who was visiting the excavation site when the coins were being exposed, said, “Although we are used to archaeological discoveries once in a while, it is always very exciting to uncover Jerusalem’s unique and turbulent past. Once the elevator project is complete, we intend to allow the public to view large numbers of the archaeological finds.”