Oz Cohen is glad he took a second look. The 18-year-old was digging around in the dirt on a hillside in central Israel as part of a project with other young people when he spotted a jar holding "what looked like very thin leaves." "When I looked again, I saw these were gold coins," Cohen said. Along with another 18-year-old, he had uncovered a treasure: 425 coins of pure, 24-karat gold, more than 1,100 years old. "It was amazing," Cohen said. It's an extremely rare find, archaeologists said, partly because gold coins often would have been melted down and made into coins for use in another regime. Experts said the stash was well hidden by someone who planned to come back for it, the New York Times reports, fastening the lid with a nail. "We can only guess what prevented him from returning to collect this treasure," the archaeologists said.
The Israeli teenagers were participating in national service before entering the military, per CNN. The rewards usually are less rich: The project is involved with construction of a community in Yavneh, and it tries to leave participants feeling more tied to the past. Their find will help with that for others, as well, by increasing understanding of the area in the 9th century. Part of an empire running from what now is Algeria to Afghanistan, the area was ruled by the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate. A fragment of an Islamic coin in the teenagers' discovery connects the dynasty to a rival, ruled by the Byzantine emperor Theophilos. It could have arrived through trade or be the spoils of war. Experts expect to learn more from the coins. When they were hidden, the treasure would have been worth enough to "buy a luxurious house in one of the best neighborhoods in Fustat, the enormous wealthy capital of Egypt," an expert said (Read more archaeology stories.)