Following a transcontinental intelligence operation by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York, on Monday the US returned to Israel an extremely rare coin, the fourth of its kind known in the world, which was stolen and smuggled out of Israel years ago. It is a quarter-shekel coin made of silver, from the fourth year of the Jewish Great Revolt (66-73 CE).
The ceremony took place Monday at the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, in the presence of the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Eskozido, Consul General of Israel in New York Asaf Zamir, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and Homeland Security Deputy Special Agent in Charge Mike Alfoso.
The Roman Empire had granted local rulers limited permission to mint bronze coins, according to the client rulers’ respective degrees of importance and how close they were to the central government. Minting silver coins was a much more limited privilege granted to lesser number of more important and central cities.
"Because of this, the minting of silver coins by the leaders of the Great Revolt was in fact a declaration of independence by the Jews in the land of Israel, a statement against the mighty empire that stood before them. Many of the rebels’ silver coins were struck over imperial silver coins, covering the emperor’s face with Jewish motifs. This gave the coin a much greater symbolic value than the monetary value of the coin itself," explained Ilan Hadad, archaeologist and inspector in charge of commerce at the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Quarter-shekel coins from the fourth year of the revolt have not previously been found in situ in archaeological excavations. One similar coin was acquired in the 1930s by the British Museum, and about three more unofficially "circulate" in the antiquities black market and among various collectors.
In 2002, Palestinian Arab antiquities looters unearthed a hoard of coins from the period of the Great Revolt, in the Elah Valley area. Among the coins in the hoard was a quarter-shekel made of silver from 69 CE –– a year before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
The Israel Antiquities Authority spent the next two decades attempting to locate the coin, during which time it passed through illicit antiquities markets in Israel, Jordan and the United Kingdom. In London, false provenance papers were prepared to export the quarter-shekel from the UK to the US, where it was offered for sale at the Heritage Auction’s World Coins & Ancient Coins Signature Auction scheduled for August 3, 2017, in Denver, Colorado.
Earlier this year, the case was passed to Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU). Working closely together, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the ATPU developed sufficient evidence to execute a seizure warrant for the coin and received a court order repatriating the coin to Israel.
The investigation was conducted by Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Daniel Healey and Hillary Chassé, and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Megan Buckley, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, and the Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel. Investigative support was provided by Ilan Hadad and Eitan Klein of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Shaaban Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, Detective Constable Sophie Hayes of New Scotland Yard, Aktham Oweidi of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, and Homeland Security investigations in both Tel Aviv and Denver. The IAA also thanked Afeef Herzalla for his assistance and cooperation with this investigation.
According to Bogdanos: "Today’s repatriation to Israel of this extraordinary coin represents a cherished piece of history finally going home. But it also represents an equally extraordinary partnership between New York’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It is a partnership that should be used as a model in recovering pillaged cultural heritage around the world."
At an official and state restitution ceremony held at the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York, Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Eskosido said, "This is a historic achievement for the State of Israel and for the preservation of its cultural heritage assets, as this is only the second time they were ever looted and smuggled out of Israel that they were returned to the State. This is the beginning of a very positive and important trend for the restoration of cultural heritage assets."
Ambassador Asaf Zamir, Consul General of Israel in New York, expressed that, "This singular artifact is a stark reminder of the Jewish people’s millennia-old connection to the land of Israel. We thank the IAA and the DA’s office for restoring this priceless coin to its rightful home."
Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said in his speech: "As Israel's Ambassador to the UN, this event is especially important to me because the Palestinians are working at the UN to hide the history of our people and erase our connection to the Land of Israel. But no matter how many lies are spread, the truth cannot be erased and the truth is laid out here this evening for all to see. This coin is evidence of the eternal bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and as Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, I can also utilize it in my mission to fight the lies of our enemies."