A gold treasure, one of the biggest ever unearthed in Israel, was discovered last month during an excavation at the Apollonia Crusader fort near Herzliya in central Israel. According to experts, the estimated value of the buried treasure, which was buried in the 13th century, stands at more than a quarter of a million dollars.
The unique find has sparked wide interest, with both the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv submitting requests to put it on permanent display. The treasure, which weighs 400 grams (about 14 ounces), comprises 108 gold dinar coins, 93 of them one-dinar coins and 15 of them half-dinars. The gold dinar was a leading currency in Muslim countries at the time.
A joint team from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority resumed excavations at the site some three years ago in an attempt to prevent the collapse of the cliff on which the ancient fort sits. The treasure was found two weeks ago hidden inside a broken shard, which was buried underneath the tiled floors in one of the rooms inside the fortress.
The find offers another glimpse into the Crusader period as well as the last days of the fortress before its eventual fall.
The Apollonia fortress was one of the more important Crusader outposts at the time. Following a period of calm between Christians and Muslims in the area, the Mamluk Sultan Baibars attacked the Crusader city in 1265. The fort fell after a 40-day siege, and was never inhabited again. According to archaeological experts, one of the fort's commanders decided to bury the gold in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Muslim attackers. The treasure was placed inside a broken shard which was filled with sand and then buried underneath one of the tiled floors.
"It's likely that he [whoever buried it] didn't survive and that's why he didn't return to take it," said Hagai Yohanan, the manager of Apollonia National Park and deputy head of the excavation team. According to Yohanan, "The treasure was buried around the time the fortress was falling, and alongside discoveries we made during a dig between 1998 and 2000, including catapults and arrowheads, we have a fascinating picture of the siege."
Experts are currently working to understand the Arabic writing engraved on the coins.
"The writing isn't always clear, which requires meticulous work," said project head Professor Oren Tal, of Tel Aviv University’s Archaeology Department. "Afterward, we will complete a scientific paper about the finding, which will explain how the gold treasure is connected to the historical context of the Apollonia fort."
Some of the coins are from the period of the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171 C.E.), while others are from the Ayyubid period (1171-1341 C.E.). Some of the coins were made in Egypt, and were still being used during the Crusader period.