Scuba divers picked out what they thought was a toy coin, only for it to be confirmed as a genuine ancient gold coin.
Scuba divers picked out what they thought was a toy coin, only for it to be confirmed as a genuine ancient gold coin.Israel Antiquities Authority

Amateur scuba divers have uncovered a 'priceless' hoard of 2,000 gold coins in the waters off Israel's Mediterranean coastline.

They originally thought it was a toy coin on the sea floor, according to a Mail Online report. But after experts looked at the find, they confirmed it was an authentic gold piece.

"The largest treasure of gold coins discovered in Israel was found in recent weeks on the seabed in the ancient harbour in Caesarea," said a statement by Israeli Antiquities Authority.

"At first they thought they had spotted a toy coin from a game and 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".

Underwater archaeologists went back to the site and found almost 2,000 gold coins in different denominations, dating back over 1,000 years. It's believed they were in circulation during the time of the Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled much of the Middle East and North Africa from 909 to 1171.

Kobi Sharvit, director of the marine archaeology unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: "There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected,' said Sharvit.

'Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city.

A treasure trove of gold coins over 1,000 years old has been found off the coast of Israel.
A treasure trove of gold coins over 1,000 years old has been found off the coast of Israel.Israel Antiquities Authority

"Another theory is that the treasure was money belonging to a large merchant ship that traded with the coastal cities and the port on the Mediterranean Sea and sank there," he said.

The coins had remained undetected for centuries and were only exposed after recent winter storms disturbed the seabed.

Robert Cole, an expert numismaticist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the gold hoard were in an excellent state of preservation, "despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require any cleaning or conservation intervention from the metallurgical laboratory."

"This is because gold is a noble metal and is not affected by air or water," he told Israel Nation News.

"Several of the coins that were found in the assemblage were bent and exhibit teeth and bite marks, evidence they were 'physically' inspected by their owners or the merchants. Other coins bear signs of wear and abrasion from use while others seem as though they were just minted."

The local dive team who found the coins didn't receive any monetary compensation as the treasure trove is now property of the state, with no finder's fee for the divers. A cash value of the coins has yet to be conducted.

Sharvit praised the actions of those who made the find. "These divers are model citizens," he stated. "They discovered the gold and have a heart of gold that loves the country and its history.

"The Law of Antiquities states that all antiquities belong to the state and that not reporting or removing antiquities from their location, or selling or trading them is an offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

"In this case the divers reported the find; but in many instances divers take the objects home and that way extremely important archaeological information is lost forever, which cannot be recovered."