US returns ‘extremely rare’ coin worth $1 million to Israel

Written by the author Oscar Holland, CNN

A coin from a Jewish revolt against Roman rule nearly 2,000 years ago has been returned to Israel by the United States following a joint smuggling investigation.

Created in AD 69, the “extremely rare” quarter shekel is estimated to be worth more than $1 million, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which hosted a repatriation ceremony in New York on Monday.

The move comes 20 years after Israeli authorities learned through whistleblowers that the silver coin had been found by ancient looters in the Ella Valley south of Jerusalem. It is believed to be one of the stashes of coins found by thieves, as there are many important archaeological sites in the area.

Image of the coin released by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Credit: Miri Bar/Israeli Foreign Ministry

Investigators say the product entered the black market before being smuggled into the UK via Jordan. It was then exported to the US using false papers. In 2017, Homeland Security agents seized the coin in Denver, Colorado, which was to be offered at auction.
“Despite the complexity of this investigation, our teams of prosecutors, analysts and agents working with the Israeli authorities were able to track down this antiquity in a matter of months,” said Alvin L. Bragg Jr. The Manhattan district attorney said in a statement. , describing the coin as having “enormous cultural value.”

The kingdom of Judea came under Roman control in 6 Co., although resistance to imperial rule led to a series of rebellions known as the Jewish-Roman Wars. The coin dates to the fourth year of the First Jewish Revolt, also known as the Great Jewish Revolt, which began in AD 66.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office said it was the coin "looted and smuggled in various countries and sold with false provenance to unwitting buyers."

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said the coin was “stolen and smuggled across multiple countries and sold with false provenance to unwitting buyers.” Credit: AP

The Romans minted some local coins and allowed them to circulate in parts of their empire, including Judea. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said rebel leaders struck “Jewish motifs” on imperial coins, thus covering the emperor’s face. An IAA press release described this action as “a declaration of Jewish independence in the land of Israel, a statement against the powerful empire that stood before them.”

The IAA said it knows of only one other similar quarter shekel, a coin acquired by the British Museum in the 1930s. He believes another “three” are circulating on the black market.

The coin’s homecoming ceremony was attended by several high-ranking Israeli officials, including its ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan. In a statement, the director of the IAA, Eli Escosido, described the return of the element as “the beginning of a very positive and important trend in the restoration of cultural heritage assets”.