Scuba divers have found a cache of gold coins while working a wreck site in the ancient harbor of Caesarea on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. The 2,000 coins weigh more than 20 pounds and date back more than 1,000 years to the era of Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled much of the Middle East and North Africa from 909 to 1171. The coins are described as “priceless.”
“It is probably the shipwreck of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with collected taxes,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of marine archaeology with the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA). “Perhaps the treasure was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military that was stationed in Caesarea to protect the city.”
Bridget Buxton, an associate professor of Ancient History and Mediterranean Archeology at the University of Rhode Island, was in the area in 2011 and left a powerful metal detector with the IAA, which it used to help find the coins on this site.
“This July I’m going back to Caesarea to put together an expedition to find more shipwrecks and a neolithic buried city we believe to be in the same area the gold coins were found,” she said. “Finding shipwrecks is much easier than securing funding for projects. Going out looking for extremely rare and valuable things, that may or may not be there, is the riskiest thing you can do in archaeology. It’s too risky for most grant giving agencies. So we’re dependent on donors with long-term vision and entrepreneurial mindset.
“One thing is for certain; the URI students that shared this experience were transformed by it,” she said. “Some of them have already used their projects in Israel to compete successfully for national scholarships and take the first big steps in their academic careers. I hope to find a way to bring all of them back to continue their research with our Crusades field school students this year.”