Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday displayed a rare and "remarkably well preserved" Roman-era bronze coin dating back 1,850 years, depicting the moon goddess Luna, the first such find in Israeli waters.
The coin minted in Alexandria in present-day Egypt featuring the zodiac sign Cancer below Luna and the era's Roman emperor, Antoninus Pius, on the other side, was discovered by archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority during explorations off Haifa in northern Israel.
It is dated "year eight," referring to the eighth year of Antoninus Pius's rule, which ran from 138 to 161, part of an era known as Pax Romana, when there was relative peace throughout the Roman Empire.
The coin is part of a series of 13 — specimens of which have been discovered elsewhere in the world — depicting the 12 signs of the zodiac and another the complete zodiac wheel, the IAA said.
"This is the first time such a coin has been discovered off Israel's coast," Jacob Sharvit, head of the IAA's marine archaeology unit, said in a statement.
"These finds, which were lost at sea and disappeared from sight for hundreds and thousands of years, have been remarkably well preserved; some are extremely rare and their discovery completes parts of the historical puzzle of the country's past," he added.
Sharvit told AFP that the Luna piece was found among a "small hoard" of other coins and the circumstances of the find indicated there had been a shipwreck nearby.
Last year,third-century Roman coins and a Roman-era golden ring with an early Christian symbol for Jesus inscribed in its gemstone, found in a shipwreck off the ancient port of Caesarea.
IAA's General Director, Eli Eskosido, said in a statement Monday that in the last decade, "Israel has changed its perception of the sea."
"Rather than simply defining the country's border, the sea is now recognized as an integral part of our cultural heritage," Eskosido said. "The maritime survey around Haifa is part of this process, and the rare coin recovered is a vivid reminder of its cultural importance."
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