In a recent discovery near Jerusalem, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have unearthed an extremely rare 2,500-year-old silver coin dating back to the First Temple period.
The coin, believed to have been minted in the sixth or fifth century BCE during the Achaemenid Persian rule over Judea, was intentionally cut in half.
Dr. Robert Kool, head of the IAA Numismatic Department, said: “The coin is extremely rare, joining only half a dozen coins of its type that have been found in archaeological excavations in the country.” The coin was discovered during an excavation preceding the expansion of Route 375, approximately 10 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
The archaeological site also revealed the remains of a “four room house,” a typical dwelling from the period, indicative of a settlement dating back to the seventh century BCE during the First Temple era. The excavation further uncovered a spherical sheqel weight, weighing just under half an ounce, within one of the rooms. This standardized weight underscores the early evidence of organized trade, likely used for weighing metals, spices, and other valuable commodities.
According to Kool, these findings provide valuable information about the transitional phase of trade practices in Judea, as commerce shifted from the weighing of silver pieces to the use of coins. The early coins, originating from regions such as ancient Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey, began appearing in the Land of Israel during the sixth and fifth centuries BCE.
The intentional cutting of the coin into two halves, a practice known as “hacksilver” or “hacksilbur,” indicates that the universal adoption of coins was not yet widespread during this period. Eli Escusido, the IAA’s director, stressed the importance of visual details, inscriptions, and dates on these early coins as critical sources of archaeological information. Escusido remarked, “Through a tiny object like a coin, it becomes possible to trace human thought processes and observe that our economic habits have remained largely unchanged for thousands of years — only the technology has changed.”
Further excavation details revealed a stone shekel weight, weighing 11.07 grams, adorned with an ancient Egyptian (hieratic) abbreviation for the word shekel. Archaeologists Michal Mermelstein and Danny Benayoun, directors of the excavation, explained that this weight served as a standard in the Kingdom of Judah, reflecting the careful measurement of commodities in the markets.
The discoveries at the Judean Hills site highlight the meticulous nature of early trade in the region, with the use of standardized weights and the coexistence of both weighed silver pieces and emerging coins. Kool emphasized the slow adoption of coinage during this period, noting that people continued to use hacksilver even as coins became more widespread.
The archaeological evidence suggests that the transition from precious metal-based trade to standardized coinage was a gradual and complex process.