A Quarter Shekel coin minted over 2,00O years ago as an act of rebellion against Rome’s occupation of what is now Israel was repatriated after a decades-long investigation that spanned five countries.
The coin was looted from the Ella Valley in Israel in 2002, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, whose Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) took over the investigation earlier this year. Since it was plundered, the coin, which is valued at $1m, “circulated within the illicit antiquities market in and around Israel” before it was taken to the United Kingdom via Jordan, according to the district attorney's office.
From London, the coin was illegally exported to the United States using counterfeit provenance papers. In 2017 it was offered for sale during Heritage Auctions' World Coins and Ancient Coins Signature Auction in Denver, Colorado. Later that year it was confiscated by US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents based in Denver, who later turned the case over to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office’s ATU.
According to district attorney's office, the search for the coin began in 2002 when the Israeli Antiques Authority was informed of the looting. The ATU’s investigation was assisted by informants in five countries and law enforcement officials in both the Middle East and Europe including Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities and the UK’s New Scotland Yard.
“This singular artefact is a stark reminder of the Jewish people’s millennia-old connection to the land of Israel. We thank the IAA, HSI and the DA’s office for restoring this priceless coin to its rightful home,” said Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, who was joined at the repatriation ceremony by Israel Antiquities Authority director Eli Eskosido, consul general of Israel in New York Asaf Zamir, HSI New York acting special agent in charge Ricky J. Patel and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr.
The Quarter Shekel is only one of two known to exist from the “The Great Jewish Revolt”. According to a report by the Times of Israel, local leaders could only mint bronze coins, minting silver coins was reserved for a privileged few. “Because of this, the minting of silver coins by the leaders of the Great Revolt was in fact a declaration of independence by the Jews in the land of Israel, a statement against the mighty empire that stood before them,” said Ilan Hadad, archaeologist and inspector in charge of commerce at the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority.”
“Despite the complexity of this investigation, our team of prosecutors, analysts and agents working with Israeli authorities, were able to track down this antiquity in just a matter of months,” Bragg said. “In just this year alone we have repatriated nearly 400 antiquities to countries all over the world, and look forward to many more of these ceremonies in the future.”