Buried treasure found in northern Israel, sheds light on Muslim conquest in Byzantine era

The excavations were carried out prior to connecting the adjacent Druze holy site Maqam Nabi Khadr to the national electricity grid.

By World Israel News Staff

A buried treasure of 44 pure gold coins was recently discovered in archaeological excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at the site of Paneas (later known as Banias) within the Hermon River Nature Reserve in northern Israel. The finds date to the end of the Byzantine period (early seventh century CE), and to the early Middle Ages (11th–13th centuries).

The excavations, funded by the Israel Electric Corporation, were carried out prior to connecting the adjacent Druze holy site Maqam Nabi Khadr to the national electricity grid.

IAA numismatics expert Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky identified some of the coins as from the time of Emperor Phocas (602–610 CE) and others as minted by Emperor Heraclius (610–641 CE). The latest coins of Heraclius date the coin hoard to the time of the Muslim conquest of Byzantine Palestine in 635 CE.

“The coin hoard, weighing about 170 g, was concealed within the base of an ashlar stone wall at the time of the Muslim conquest,” said Dr. Yoav Lerer, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA. “The discovery reflects a specific moment in time, when we can imagine the owner concealing his fortune in the threat of war, hoping to return one day to retrieve his property. In retrospect, we know that he was less fortunate.

“The discovery may also shed light on the economy of the city of Banias during the last 40 years of Byzantine rule,” he added.

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“Most of the coins are of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, and what is particularly interesting is that in his early years as emperor, only his portrait was depicted on the coin, whereas after a short time, the images of his sons also appear,” said Bijovsky. “One can actually follow his sons growing up – from childhood until their image appears the same size as their father, who is depicted with a long beard.”

During the excavation, which took place in the northwestern residential quarter of the ancient city of Banias, the remains of buildings, water channels and pipes, a pottery kiln, bronze coins, and fragments of many pottery, glass, and metal artifacts were found.

Banias, now a National Park, is an archaeological site that was settled around a large spring in several periods.

According to IAA director Eli Escusido, “The coin hoard is an extremely significant archaeological find as it dates to an important transitional period in the history of the city of Banias and the entire region of the Levant. The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the National Parks Authority, will work together to exhibit the treasure to the public.”

“The Banias Nature Reserve, endowed with its unique nature and landscape, does not cease to surprise us from a historical-cultural point of view. The gold coin hoard is on a par with the Byzantine Church, possibly the Church of St. Peter, that was recently discovered,” commented Raya Shurky, director of the National Parks Authority.

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“The finds include the remains of a mosaic floor and a stone engraved with many crosses, indicating that Banias became a Christian pilgrim site. The church, which was damaged in an earthquake that struck the north of the country, will soon be exhibited to the public visiting the nature reserve,” she said.