A rare gold coin emblazoned with the face of the Roman Emperor Nero has been discovered at the heart of an archaeological site in Jerusalem. The coin is thought to be from around 60 AD, during the brutal leader's time in power.

Archaeologists from UNC Charlotte had been conducting excavation works on Mount Zion in Jerusalem when they discovered the coin.

It was dug up from rubble outside the ruins of 1st century Jewish villas which once stood in the area. The researchers believe the artefact is extremely valuable.

"The coin is exceptional, because this is the first time that a coin of this kind has turned up in Jerusalem, in a scientific dig. Coins of this type are usually only found in private collections where we don't have clear evidence as to place of origin," said Shimon Gibson, leader of the excavation project.

It is particularly interesting to see such a coin turn up in this part of the world, because it bears witness to Roman occupation at the time in ancient Jerusalem.

Nero's face

On the gold coin, a portrait of Emperor Nero clearly appears, with Roman inscriptions confirming his identity. Other inscriptions help identify when the coin was made, in 56/57 AD – not too long after the start of the Nero's rule and ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans led by Titus.

The archaeologists believe that the houses in which the coin was found belonged to wealthy priests and noble people. "The coin probably came from one of the rich 2,000-year old Jewish dwellings which the UNC Charlotte team have been uncovering at the site. These belonged to the priestly and aristocratic quarter located in the Upper City of Jerusalem," Gibson explained.

While there is no historical evidence that Nero ever visited Jerusalem, archaeologists can now say with confidence that his face was known to the city's inhabitants rich enough to own such coins.