An Extremely Rare, Important 2,550-Year-Old Silver Coin Discovered at a Site in the Judean Hills

Rare evidence for the earliest use of coins in the country—an extremely rare silver coin dated to the Persian period (6th–5th centuries BCE)—was recently discovered in an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at a site in the Judean Hills. The excavation that was conducted as part of infrastructure works initiated by Netivei Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company on Road 375 from Tzur Hadassah to Road 60 also exposed a building from the First Temple Period, with even earlier evidence for commerce in the form of a shekel weight.

The rare coin was discovered by Semyon Gendler, the Acting Judean District Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The coin, found intentionally broken, was minted with a square stamp embedded into one face; later, more sophisticated techniques produced coins with protruding rather than sunken stamps.

According to Dr. Robert Kool, Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Numismatic Department, “The coin is extremely rare, joining only half a dozen coins of its type that have been found in archaeological excavations in the country. The coin was minted in a period when the use of coins had just begun. The rare find contributes information concerning the way trade was carried out and the process whereby global commerce moved from payment by weighing silver pieces to the use of coins. The coin belongs to a group of very early coins that were minted outside Israel, in the regions of ancient Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. In the 6th–5th centuries BCE, such coins began to appear at sites in the Land of Israel.

According to Michal Mermelstein and Danny Benayoun, the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The site was situated in the rural area of the Kingdom of Judah, whose capital was in Jerusalem. It was first settled in the First Temple period, in the 7th century BCE (2,700 years ago), during the reigns of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah, a peak settlement period in the kingdom of Judah. A characteristic ‘four-room house’ was uncovered from this period, and the shekel weight found on the floor of one of the rooms in the house provides early evidence for trade. The dome-shaped stone weight would have been used for weighing metals, spices, and other expensive commodities. The sign on the weight was an ancient sign for the word shekel, and the single incised stroke represents one shekel. The weight weighs 11.07 g. “This was, in effect, a standard weight in the region of the kingdom of Judah, showing that commodities were carefully weighed in the markets,” say the archaeologists.

Photos: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority.

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