It took almost 20 years of hard detective work and a trail that crossed continents before the case of the missing $1 million relic was closed.
“A favorite piece of history [is] I’m finally coming home,” a US official said at a ceremony to mark the occasion.
This piece of history is a small silver coin rich in symbolism, minted during a Jewish revolt nearly 2,000 years ago.
Looted in Israel in 2002, eventually located, confiscated and returned to where it came from.
The saga began when the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) learned from informants that the coin was taken by Palestinians from a hoard discovered in the Ella Valley, south of Jerusalem.
The IAA says it spent the next decade and a half trying to trace the coin, which passed through illegal antiquities markets in Israel, Jordan and the UK. It was finally exported to the US for sale at auction in Denver, Colorado in 2017.
The IAA notified US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which then took administrative custody of the coin. The investigation was turned over to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Unit (ATU), which obtained a court order to repatriate the coin based on information from whistleblowers in five countries along with assistance from authorities in Europe and the Middle East.
The coin was handed over Monday in a ceremony at the Manhattan district attorney’s office attended by American and Israeli officials, including Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan.
“Today we join our partners to return an incredibly rare piece of Israel’s history, the quarter shekel coin, a symbol of independence from the time of the Roman presence in present-day Israel,” HSI agent Ricky J Patel said at the rally.
The silver coin, embossed with Jewish motifs, is one of only four of its kind known to exist. The IAA dated it to AD 69. – the fourth year of the Great Revolution.
The minting of such a coin was “in effect a declaration of independence by the Jews in the land of Israel, a statement against the mighty empire that stood before them,” said IAA’s Ilan Hadad.
The Great Revolt saw a revolt of the Jews in Judea against the oppressive rule of the Romans, who had ended Jewish independence there a century earlier.
The rebellion culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the second Jewish temple in AD 70.
Estimates put the number of Jews killed from hundreds of thousands to more than a million.