24 August 2010

Michigan researchers find Hellenistic gold

Obverse (Photo: Susan Webb)

Props to my friends at Tel Kedesh in the northern Galilee, who last week found the heaviest gold coin ever discovered in Israel, as the UM News Service reports:
Sharon Herbert and her team were wrapping up their dig at the Tel Kedesh site in Israel, sweeping the site in the 140-degree heat, when a student showed University of Michigan doctoral instructor Lisa Cakmak what he first thought was a gold candy wrapper.

The candy wrapper turned out to be what researchers believe is the heaviest and most valuable gold coin ever found in Israel, according to Herbert, director of the U-M Kelsey Museum of Archeology and co-director of the dig.

Dating from the 14th year of Ptolemy IV (191/190 BC), the coin bears the face of a Ptolemaic queen and weighs nearly an ounce (28 grams). The VOA has a long story about the find, including interviews with directors Sharon Herbert (Michigan) and Andrea Berlin (Boston).

Speaking as a very amateur coin nerd, this is a very cool find. Although I always hate it when gold or coins are in the news, because we archaeologists work so hard to convince people that finding gold is not the point of archaeology and in fact never happens. As Sharon says, it's actually bizarre to find something like this:
"It was pretty surreal," Herbert said of the remarkable find. "I have been digging for 30 years and never found a gold coin. It was found in a wall, believed to be a kitchen wall, that we had first uncovered in 1999 and cleaned every dig season since."

The reverse (Photo: Susan Webb)

I worked at Kedesh in 2006 - the site, being right on the border between Israel and Lebanon, has a great view of whatever explosions are happening in the region at the moment. The dig has focused on the large Persian/Hellenistic administrative building on top of the mound, which has revealed quite a number of surprising finds, like what is perhaps the oldest mosaic floor in Israel and a huge collection of bullae (stamp seals that tell us a lot about ancient trade and administration). The dig is now wrapping up for the forseeable future. The coin, which in usual style was found in the last week of excavations, is a nice codicil to a decade of really great archaeology at Kedesh. Congratulations to Sharon, Andrea, and everyone else on the team!

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