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September 13, 2022 9:56 am

US Returns Stolen Rare Shekel Coin Minted By Jewish Rebels 2,000 Years Ago

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

One side of an over 2,000 year old shekel silver coin minted by Jewish rebels. Credit: Antiquities Authority

US authorities on Monday returned to Israeli officials an “extremely rare” shekel silver coin minted by Jewish rebels 2,000 years ago, after it was stolen and smuggled out of the country two decades ago.

The quarter-shekel coin is understood to have been minted by Jewish rebels as an act of independence against the Roman empire during the fourth year of the Great Revolt (66-73 CE).

“The minting of silver coins by the leaders of the Great Revolt was in fact a declaration of independence by the Jews in the land of Israel, a statement against the mighty empire that stood before them,” explained Ilan Hadad, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority. “Many of the rebels’ silver coins were struck over imperial silver coins, covering the emperor’s face with Jewish motifs.”

“This gave the coin a much greater symbolic value than the monetary value of the coin itself,” Hadad added.

The coin, the fourth of its kind known in the world, was part of a hoard of material dug up by Palestinian antiquities looters in 2002 at a site in the Elah Valley area, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Over the past two decades, Israeli officials have been searching for the whereabouts of the stolen coin, during which time it passed through illicit antiquities markets in Israel, Jordan and the United Kingdom. The hunt for the looted coin involved a transcontinental intelligence operation in cooperation with the US Department of Homeland Security, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, the UK’s New Scotland Yard, and Jordan’s Department of Antiquities.

The coin was finally seized in 2017 in Denver, Colorado with the help of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York. Collectors sought to sell the coin at an auction in Denver, after false provenance papers were prepared in London to export the quarter shekel from the UK to the US.

Earlier this year, the case was passed to Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) who worked closely with the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

“Today’s repatriation to Israel of this extraordinary coin represents a cherished piece of history finally going home,” Bogdanos said at Monday’s repatriation ceremony at the office of the Manhattan District Attorney. “But it also represents an equally extraordinary partnership between New York’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and the Israeli Antiquities Authority.”

“It is a partnership that should be used as a model in recovering pillaged cultural heritage around the world,” he suggested.

The Israel Antiquities Authority noted that quarter shekel coins from the fourth year of the revolt have not previously been discovered in archaeological excavations. There is only one similar coin attained in the 1930s by the British Museum, and another three “circulate” in the antiquities black market and among private collectors.


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