An ancient trove of 1,000-year-old gold coins was discovered by a group of divers off Israel in what is being called the biggest discovery of its kind in the country.
The group went for their usual Saturday dive in the port of Caesarea on Feb. 7 when one of them, Zvika Fayer, noticed something shiny out the corner of his eye.
"I saw a flickering on the bottom of the Mediterranean, so I swam there and started digging with my bare hands," Fayer told the Tazpit News Agency. "Other members of my diving group joined me and we discovered a significant amount of coins."
Unable to believe what they found, Fayer and his team immediately took the collection of 2,000 gold coins to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Most of the dinar coins are believed to have been minted in Egypt sometime during the 10th century, when the Islamic empire Fatimid Caliphate ruled Israel, IAA experts said.
The oldest coin, a quarter dinar, was minted in Sicily, which 1,000 years ago was also controlled by the Fatimid Caliphate. Expers said the ancient treasure is "priceless."
"The coins are in an excellent state of preservation, and despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require cleaning or conservation intervention," Robert Cole, expert numismaticist at the IAA, said. "This is because gold is a noble metal and is not affected by air or water."
Fatimid caliphs controlled an empire that stretched from North Africa to Iraq, influencing trade routes across the Mediterranean with its gold currency, Cole told the Tazpit News Agency. The discovered coins could have been a tax payment or were meant to pay the salary of Fatimid soldiers.
The treasure is "the largest I've seen found in an Israeli archaeological excavation," Cole said.