This summer, tour guide Yotam Dahan was camping with his family on a beach near the town of Atlit, Israel, when he stumbled onto a greenish metal mass made up of 13 pounds of ancient coins.
“I noticed something sparkling under the light of the flashlight behind our tent, and when I went to look, I was shocked to discover it was a lump of ancient coins,” he tells Israel Hayom.
After Dahan posted about the find on Facebook, Karem Said, Haifa district director for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), reached out to learn more, reports the Jerusalem Post. Upon inspection, IAA coin expert Donald Tzvi-Ariel determined that the currency dated to the fourth century C.E.
According to Israeli newspaper Maariv, remnants of cloth left on the mass of coins indicate that they may have been packed together in a bag. As the metals oxidized over time, the coins became stuck in a single mass.
Sharvit tells Israel Hayom that the beach area where Dahan found the coins became a center for marine activity around 4,000 years ago. Changing sea levels and seasonal differences in the shoreline created a natural harbor.
“[T]his served as a shelter for vessels that stopped to dock overnight or took refuge from a storm,” Sharvit says.
The large quantity of coins suggests that the cache belonged to a ship and was intended for use in trade.
“Archaeological sites are prevalent all along the Habonim beach strip,” Yaakov Sharvit, head of the IAA’s marine archeology department, tells the Post. “Archaeological records show vessels were often washed ashore along with all their cargo.”
Fourth-century Israel was under the control of Rome and, later, the Byzantine Empire, making it part of an extensive network of Mediterranean trade routes. Per History World, Rome gained dominance over the sea with its annexation of Egypt in 30 B.C.E. and maintained its hold into the Byzantine era, when the eastern half of the empire was centered in Constantinople. In the fifth century C.E., Germanic tribes conquered parts of the western Mediterranean, disrupting the empire’s control, though the sea remained key to commerce across the region.
In 2016, archaeologists found a huge collection of statues, coins and other artifacts off the coast of Caesarea, about 15 miles south of the new discovery. The objects likely came from a shipwreck that occurred approximately 1,600 years ago. As the IAA told Reuters at the time, the varied cargo, including metal probably intended for recycling, reflected a “period of economic and commercial stability.”
Dahan, for his part, gave his find to Israeli authorities and, in return, received a certificate of appreciation from the IAA.
“Handing such findings over to the national collection helps us, the archaeologists, complete more parts of the puzzle that is the history of the Land of Israel,” Said tells Ynetnews.