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Cache of silver coins found in Israeli cave could be discovery of biblical proportions

We don't recommend just waltzing into caves. But sometimes it pays off.

By Cassidy Ward
The Road To El Dorado (2000)

With challenge and change, come opportunity. Maybe that’s why all the best treasure hunts tie back to some of the most violent parts of our history. You find some gold or silver in an uncharted part of the world and it’s almost guaranteed to trace back to a shipwreck, a conquest, or some other tragedy. Same as it ever was.

Just look at The Road to El Dorado (streaming now on Peacock!), the story of bumbling doofuses Miguel and Tulio and their accidental discovery of the titular golden city. Every time they attempt to enrich themselves, it comes at the cost of their new friends. Luckily, they learn all the right lessons before the credits roll and things work out for the best, but that isn’t always the case in the real world.

According to a recent announcement from the Israel Antiquities Authority, a team of experts have discovered a cache of 15 silver coins inside a cave in the Judean desert. Those coins might represent the first physical evidence of the stories laid out in the Sefer HaMakbim (The Books of the Maccabees).

The Books of the Mccabees record the account of the titular Maccabees, a group which led the rebellion against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes after he banned Jewish practices and suppressed the Jewish way of life. The story goes that some people fled to the Judean desert where they hid themselves and their possessions while attempting to gain control of the region and their way of life. Tragically, but inevitably, some of those people would never come back for their belongings.

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During an excavation, researchers discovered a small wooden box tucked away in a cave. When they opened it, they found it stuffed full of dirt and rocks. But beneath that was a small piece of purple cloth and beneath that, were a cache of coins.

The details of the coins themselves allowed researchers to pinpoint their position in history to within a few years. They were minted by Ptolemy VI and date to between 175 and 171 BC, only a few years before the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt.

Silver coins

That revolt peaked between 167 and 160 BC with the Seleucid empire maintaining control over Judea, but the conflict continued for the next few decades until 134 BC when the Maccabees achieved independence. It’s unclear who the owner of the coins was or what their precise motivations were, but given their location both in space and in history, researchers have made some hypotheses.

“It is interesting to try to visualize the person who fled to the cave and hid his personal property here intending to return to collect it. The person was probably killed in the battles, and he did not return to collect his possessions that awaited almost 2,200 years until we retrieved it,” said Eitan Klein, one of the researchers involved in the discovery, in a statement.

Those coins may have represented the life savings of someone fleeing danger or fighting for a different world. They may have been the hope for the future, that when the fighting was done they would have the resources needed to rebuild. Sadly, that never happened. But now, more than two millennia later, they’re providing a window into the past and an opportunity to better understand and empathize with our ancestors.

After all, silver coins are cool and all, but the real treasure is the knowledge we gain along the way.

Looking for even more treasure hunting stories? Check out The Curse of Oak Island, now streaming on Peacock!

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