Tag Archives: coins

Early Counterfeit Silver Coin

An extensive survey was conducted in preparation for the upcoming Israel-Germany joint excavation at Tel Azekah in the Elah valley this summer. During the survey, among the many pottery shards, a silver Athenian Tetradrachmon coin which was used as universal currency in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE (very much like the dollar or the euro today) was found.

Athenian Tetra Drachma coin, courtesy of IAA

The diameter of the coin is 23 mm, and it is fairly heavy for its size. One side of the coin depicts the profile of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, and the other depicts an owl, the goddess’ symbol. On closer examination it turns out that the core of the coin is made of bronze which has been covered with silver in order to give the illusion that it is pure silver, in other words what we have here is an early example of a counterfeit coin!

The excavation is an exciting development because digging Azekah, a site that was a major Judahite fortress in the late 8th century, will provide us with new data and help advance new theories about the rise and fall of the Levantine territorial kingdoms of the Biblical Period. This has been the  focus of hot debate. How much archaeological and historical evidence do we have that Judah was a full blown state before the 9th century, in the time of King David and Solomon? See my article on the House of David Stele uncovered in the excavations at Tel Dan. More recent excavations by Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa has shed some light on this question, demonstrating the slow and gradual process of the monarchy and its expansion from the hill country of Jerusalem to the much more fertile lowlands. BTW, I do a great tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa, a Judean walled town identified as Biblical Shaarayim.

Finding a coin in an archaeological strata enables us to date that layer. If you’re interested in coins check out my post on other coins found in archaeological excavations.

The excavation at Tel Azekah begins July 15th. I’m going to check out working at the dig. Do you want to join me?

Not in Herod’s Lifetime

Just came back from a press conference with Ronny Reich, archaeologist and professor at Haifa University. Probably every guide talks about the Western Wall, the supporting wall of the Temple Mount built by King Herod in 22BCE. According to the historian Josephus, Herod elongated the square Hasmonean platform (250 meters by 250m) by rebuilding new northern, western and southern supporting walls. The eastern wall was extended and the “seam” between the earlier Hasmonean wall and Herod’s can be seen near the south-eastern corner. Along the western wall Herod designed a main street (Ronnie Reich calls it the original Wall Street, the Palestinians probably call it occupied) and a vault supporting a large staircase crossing over the street and leading to the Royal Stoa, a building 288 meters long with 160 columns (it takes 3 people with arms extended to go around a single column). When Herod moved the western wall he had to move some residences that were in the way, at the bottom of the slope from the Western Hill. These buildings were destroyed but the basements, underground cisterns and mikvaot (ritual baths) were just filled in with debris/earth. One mikva directly under the path of the planned western wall, was filled in and covered with 3 large stones. In clearing out the drainage channel under Robinson’s Arch, the mikva was discovered under the Herodian stones of the western wall.

Some clay oil lamps and a small pottery jug typical of the Second Temple period were found.

When the mikva was emptied and the soil sifted 19 coins were found, the latest ones were from the rule of Valerius Gratus, the Roman Prefect (governor) of Judaea province under Tiberius from 15 to 26CE. He was succeeded by Pontius Pilate.


Reich said four small bronze coins were found with dates of 15CE and 16CE (IAA press release says 17 coins with dates of 17/18CE). Since the coins were found in the fill in the mikva under the wall, the first (lowest) row of stones in the wall must have been placed there after 16CE so the wall was built more than 20 years after the death of Herod (who died in 4BCE). If that is the case, then the Herodian street, the staircase and probably the Royal Stoa were all later additions, not completed in Herod’s lifetime!

By the way, these stones have the frame but were left with the boss (protuberance) since they were underground and would never be seen.

This confirms Josephus’ account in the last book of Jewish Antiquities that the Temple building project was the largest project the ancient world had ever heard of and was not completed until about 50CE in the rule of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great grandson (even though some 15-18,000 workers were employed on the project).