JERUSALEM — -- Scuba divers off the coast of Israel have uncovered a treasure trove of solid gold coins dating back more than 1,000 years.
“The largest treasure of gold coins discovered in Israel was found in recent weeks on the seabed in the ancient harbor in Caesarea,” Israel's Antiquities Authority said in a statement.
The authority said 2,000 gold coins were discovered by chance off the northern coastal city when members of a diving club stumbled upon them and informed the Antiquities Authority's marine division.
“At first, they thought they had spotted a toy coin from a game," the authority's statement said. "It was only after they understood the coin was the real thing that they collected several coins and quickly returned to the shore in order to inform the director of the dive club about their find.”
Using metal detectors, the 2,000 coins were brought to the surface, weighing in at just more than 13 pounds. Experts believe the coins belonged to the Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled much of the Middle East and North Africa from 909 to 1171.
The earliest coin was minted in Palermo, Sicily in the second half of the 9th century.
Given the possibility of more buried coins in the area, archaeologists have launched further excavations.
“I’ve been working at the authority for 23 years and I’ve never seen a cache this size," Antiquities Authority coin expert Robert Kool told Haaretz. "The preservation of the gold coins is excellent and although they were in the seabed for 1,000 years, they needed no cleaning or preservation in the lab. That is because gold is a noble metal, which is not impacted by water or air.”
The authority didn't put a cash value on the coins. Instead, spokeswoman Yoli Schwartz described the record haul to AFP as simply "priceless."