The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) revealed on Tuesday that it unearthed a hoard of silver coins from the Hasmonean period (126 BCE) back in April, during ongoing excavations near Modi'in with the participation of local youth.
The dig is being held ahead of the construction of a new neighborhood at the initiative of the Modi‘in-Maccabim-Re‘ut municipality.
Archaeologists found the ancient coins hidden in a rock crevice, against a wall of an impressive agricultural estate found during the excavation. The estate took part in the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation, and revealed numerous intriguing finds.
"This is a rare cache of silver coins from the Hasmonean period comprised of shekels and half-shekels (tetradrachms and didrachms) that were minted in the city of Tyre and bear the images of the king, Antiochus VII and his brother Demetrius II," explained Avraham Tendler, director of the IAA excavation.
According to the director a Jew buried the coins with the hopes of returning to collect them, but for some reason was unable to do so.
"The cache that we found is compelling evidence that one of the members of the estate who had saved his income for months needed to leave the house for some unknown reason. He buried his money in the hope of coming back and collecting it, but was apparently unfortunate and never returned. It is exciting to think that the coin hoard was waiting here 2,140 years until we exposed it," said Tendler.
Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, head of the IAA's Coin Department, indicated the hoard was a coin collection and not merely hidden savings.
"The cache, which consists of 16 coins, contains one or two coins from every year between 135–126 BCE, and a total of nine consecutive years are represented. It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector. He acted in just the same way as stamp and coin collectors manage collections today," said Ariel.
Describing the estate, Tendler said, "the findings from our excavation show that a Jewish family established an agricultural estate on this hill during the Hasmonean period. The family members planted olive trees and vineyards on the neighboring hills and grew grain in valleys."
"An industrial area that includes an olive press and storehouses where the olive oil was kept is currently being uncovered next to the estate. Dozens of rock-hewn winepresses that reflect the importance of viticulture and the wine industry in the area were exposed in the cultivation plots next to the estate. The estate house was built of massive walls in order to provide security from the attacks of marauding bandits."
"Freedom of Zion"
The excavation at the estate also turned up numerous bronze coins minted by the Hasmonean kings, bearing the names of kings including Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan and Mattathias together with his title as "High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews."
IAA explains that the find would seem to indicate the estate continued running through the Early Roman period.
The Jewish inhabitants of the estate scrupulously observed Jewish laws of ritual purity, with mikvaot (ritual immersion baths) found at the site together with chalk vessels that cannot become ritually unclean according to Jewish law.
Evidence was found at the site showing that residents also took part in the first revolt against the Roman occupation back in 66 CE. The coins found from this period were stamped with the date "Year Two" of the revolt, and the line: "Freedom of Zion."
Even after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE the estate continued to operate.
"It seems that local residents did not give up hope of gaining their independence from Rome, and they were well-prepared to fight the enemy during the Bar Kokhba uprising," said Tendler. “During the excavation we saw how prior to the uprising the inhabitants of the estate filled the living rooms next to the outer wall of the building with large stones, thus creating a fortified barrier."
"In addition, we discovered hiding refuges that were hewn in the bedrock beneath the floors of the estate house. These refuge complexes were connected by means of tunnels between water cisterns, storage pits and hidden rooms. In one of the adjacent excavation areas a mikveh of impressive beauty was exposed; when we excavated deeper in the bath we discovered an opening inside it that led to an extensive hiding refuge in which numerous artifacts were found that date to the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising."
The unique finds are to be preserved in an archaeological park in the heart of the new neighborhood slated for construction in Modi‘in-Maccabim-Re‘ut.
Aerial photo of Hasmonean estate house Griffin Aerial Photography, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
IAA archaeologist Shahar Krispin during discovery of coin hoard Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
A coin of Antiochus VII against the background of the rest of the coins that were exposed Clara Amit
IAA archaeologist Jenny Marcus holds a chalk cup from Second Temple period found at estate Avraham Tendler
Excavation director Abraham Tendler in hiding refuge connected to mikveh during Bar Kokhba revolt Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority