A coin dating back to a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule nearly 2,000 years ago has been returned by the US to Israel after a joint smuggling investigation.
Minted 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 first learned, through informants, that the silver coin had been discovered by looters of antiquities in the Ella Valley, south of Jerusalem.
It is believed to be one of a cache of coins found by thieves in the area, which is home to several important archaeological sites.
Investigators say the item entered the black market before being smuggled into the UK via Jordan. It was then exported to the US using fake paperwork.
In 2017, Homeland Security officials seized the coin in Denver, Colorado, where it was supposed to be offered at auction.
“Despite the complexity of this investigation, our team of prosecutors, analysts and agents working with Israeli authorities was able to track down this antiquity in a matter of months,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. said in a statement, describing the currency as being of “immense cultural value”.
The kingdom of Judea fell under Roman control in AD 6, although resistance to imperial rule led to a series of revolts known as the Jewish-Roman Wars.
The coin dates from the fourth year of the First Jewish Revolt, also known as the Great Jewish Revolt, which began in AD 66.
The Romans allowed certain local coins to be minted and circulated in parts of their empire, including Judea. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said rebel leaders attacked “Jewish motifs” over imperial coins, thus covering the emperor’s face.
An IAA press release described this act as “a declaration of independence for the Jews in the land of Israel, a declaration against the mighty empire that stood before them”.
The IAA said it is only aware of one other similar quarter shekel — a coin acquired by the British Museum in the 1930s. It believes there are “about three” others circulating on the black market.
The currency repatriation ceremony was attended by several senior Israeli officials, including the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan.
In a statement, IAA Director Eli Eskosido described the return of the item as “the beginning of a very positive and important trend towards the restoration of cultural heritage assets”.
Source: CNN Brasil