A Fistful of Dinars

SCIENCE

An unprecedented discovery of more than 2,000 gold coins off the north-central coast of Israel might be part of the largest gold hoard ever found in the eastern Mediterranean, according to archaeologists. (Nat Geo News)

Learn more about the ancient harbor where the coins were found.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

This hoard of gold coins is not the cache discovered by Israeli divers earlier this year. These coins date from ancient or Medieval-period Britain. Photograph by Swiss Banker, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain!

This hoard of gold coins is not the cache discovered by Israeli divers earlier this year. These coins date from ancient or Medieval-period Britain.
Photograph by Swiss Banker, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain!

Discussion Ideas

Sports divers—and amateur archaeologists—discovered more than 2,000 coins like this one off the Israeli coast last month. This beautiful coin is a dinar, the standard unit of currency used in the Fatamid caliphate, active in the Eastern Mediterranean from about 909 to 1171.  Photograph by DrFO.Jr.Tn, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain!

Sports divers—and amateur archaeologists—discovered more than 2,000 coins like this one off the Israeli coast last month. This beautiful coin is a dinar, the standard unit of currency used in the Fatamid caliphate, active in the Eastern Mediterranean from about 909 to 1171.
Photograph by DrFO.Jr.Tn, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain!

  • Coins like the dinars discovered in Israel are “first-class historical documents,” according to the awesomely named Dr. Kool, an archaeologist quoted in the Nat Geo News article. What makes ancient coins so valuable to archaeologists?
    • Coins are usually minted with a date and, often, a place where they were created. Many coins are also minted with specific features (such as the portrait of a leader or monument) only used during a certain period of time. According to Nat Geo News, coins “can provide unusual insight into many aspects of the economy, including the systems of coin production, the distribution of coins in circulation at the time, and how long they stayed in circulation.”
      • Take a look at the dinar above. Based on the coin’s lovely calligraphy, we know that the coin is a dinar, that it was minted in Al-Mansuriyah (in what is now Tunisia) in 955, and that the caliph at the time was Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah.
      • The newly discovered dinars have already revealed information to Israeli archaeologists: “A cursory study reveals that the earliest coin from the hoard was minted in Palermo, Sicily, while the majority came from official Fatimid mints in Egypt and other parts of North Africa and date to the reigns of Caliphs al-Hakim (996-1021) and his son al-Zahir (1021-1036). The coins are of two different denominations—whole dinars and quarter dinars.”
      • What might the coins in your pocket tell future historians?
        • My coin is a U.S. dime, minted in 2014, in Denver, Colorado.

 

  • Compare coins from the British treasure at the top of the post with the Fatamid dinar above. They’re both round, gold coins. What are some differences that might give archaeologists clues that the coins come from different mints or different cultures?
    • writing: The coins in the British hoard use the Roman alphabet (the writing system you’re reading right now), while the writing on the Fatamid coin is Arabic.
    • design: The coins in the British hoard are more elaborately decorated than the Fatamid coin.
    • symbols: The coins in the British hoard feature images of leaders, marks of heraldry, and—perhaps most tellingly—crosses. The Fatamid coin only has Arabic calligraphy.

 

  • What are some reasons the Fatamid coins may have ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean? Read the Nat Geo News article and take a look at our illustration of the magnificent ancient harbor of Caesarea—near where the coins were found—for some help.
    • Most archaeologists think the coins were lost in a shipwreck, probably caused by a storm or a mechanical issue with the ship.
    • According to our illustration, the ancient harbor was built over a geological fault line and suffered many earthquakes. Such quakes may have triggered a minor tsunami that may have caused the shipwreck.

 

  • One of the divers who discovered the precious-metal coins compared himself to a famous literary figure: “I thought to myself, is this what Gollum [from The Hobbit] felt when he found the Ring?” What is the big difference between the way Gollum reacted to his discovery and the way the divers reacted to theirs?

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Archaeologists Stumble Across a Hoard of Gold

Nat Geo: Sebastos Harbor, Ancient Caesarea

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