Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Did a 2,000 Year Old Phoenician Shekel End up in Massachusetts?

An intriguing archaeological mystery!

September 30, 2010

Salem man finds 2,000-year-old shekel on the shore
By Kendra Noyes, Staff Writer
The Salem News Thu Sep 30, 2010, 06:00 AM EDT

MANCHESTER — What a builder thought was a quarter has turned out to be a 2,000-year-old shekel, the kind of coin Judas was paid to betray Jesus.

The coin was found during the reconstruction of a Manchester wharf in the spring of 2006, and now the finder and property owner are trying to solve the mystery of how it got there.

Phillip Pelletier of Salem was reconstructing the wharf at 7 Norton's Point Road in Manchester when he found what he thought was a quarter in a small hole in the sand. He pocketed the change without thinking twice and set it aside when he got home.

But later, after a closer look, Pelletier realized the coin wasn't a quarter at all. He brought it to one of his wife's co-workers, a coin collector, who identified the silver piece as a shekel of Tyre. The collector told Pelletier the 90 percent silver coin dated to biblical times and was the type of silver used to pay Judas for the betrayal of Jesus.

Pelletier said he is shocked he found a 2,000-year-old coin in Manchester but finds it ironic that he discovered the shekel on Holy Thursday, the day that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles; it was after the meal that Judas betrayed Christ.

Pelletier said he held on to the coin for a while, thinking he had struck big. Some further research, however, revealed the coin was worth about $800 or so. The worldwide coin source online lists the coin as worth about $1,000.

Curiosity got the best of Pelletier, though. "I had to find out where it came from," he said.

He called Anita Brewer-Siljeholm, the owner of 7 Norton's Point Road, to see if there were coin collectors in her family who might have lost the shekel. Brewer-Siljeholm said she had no history of coin collectors in her family and was just as puzzled by the ancient coin being on her property.

"It's a complete mystery to me as to how it got there," Brewer-Siljeholm said.

Pelletier gave the coin to Brewer-Siljeholm so she could photograph and research it. Brewer-Siljeholm said she would return the coin to him after she finished her search, according to Pelletier. Brewer-Siljeholm still has the coin.

Brewer-Siljeholm rented a metal detector to search the area for significant metals on her property after Pelletier suggested it. She said she found no other substantial artifacts.

Pelletier and Brewer-Siljeholm said they wanted to get the story out so they could solve the mystery of how a Phoenician shekel arrived in Manchester.

Brewer-Siljeholm said she took the coin to J.G.M. Numismatic Investments, a Beverly coin and jewelry dealer, which verified it as a real shekel of Tyre. The inspector first weighed the coin to confirm its authenticity; the coin had worn and lost some of its mass, Brewer-Siljeholm said. The appraiser also noted that there was evidence the coin had been submerged in water for a significant time. The authenticity was verified, but no formal paperwork or record was drawn up by the company, she said.

The shekel was minted by the Phoenician-Judean city of Tyre, which is in present-day Lebanon, from 126 BC to 66 AD. The coin replaced the Greek coinage of Alexander the Great. The silver shekel features a graven image of Melkart (Baal), the Phoenician deity on one side; the reverse is an Egyptian-style eagle with its right claw resting on a ship's rudder, which is associated with Hercules. The Greek inscription on the coin is "Tyre, the Holy and Inviolable," followed by the date.

The real question is how did this ancient coin arrive in Manchester?

Brewer-Siljeholm called it an "unsolved mystery" and acknowledged her research has suggested there are hundreds of ways the coin could have gotten to Manchester.

Brewer-Siljeholm noted the harbor is very close to where the coin was found and thought that the Phoenicians may have came here to trade with the Vikings. "The Phoenicians were great sailors," she said.

The house was owned by two other families before Brewer-Siljeholm's family purchased it in 1951. The home was built in 1890 and its first owners owned the Waltham Watch Co., which may have had a connection to coin collecting, she said.

Brewer-Siljeholm said, to her knowledge, there was no history of coin collectors in the other owners' family, either.

"The only other plausible explanation I've heard to date is that a bird such as a sea gull picked it up and dropped it there," Brewer-Siljeholm said. Pelletier also noted that it could have been buried or dug up from underground by a squirrel or other creature.

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