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Rare ancient coin looted in Israel returned to country

An ancient shekel coin made of pure silver in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago is displayed after it was discovered in the City of David excavation site in Jerusalem, on November 23, 2021. A similar coin was returned to Israel this week after it was looted from an Israeli site 20 years ago. File Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE
An ancient shekel coin made of pure silver in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago is displayed after it was discovered in the City of David excavation site in Jerusalem, on November 23, 2021. A similar coin was returned to Israel this week after it was looted from an Israeli site 20 years ago. File Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE

Sept. 14 (UPI) -- A rare 2,000-year-old Israeli coin that circulated on the illicit antiquities market for at least two decades made its way back to the country this week.

The coin, believed to be worth $1 million, was minted during a Jewish revolt in the Middle East. It was looted from an unearthed site in the Ella Valley, south of Jerusalem in 2002. The Israel Antiquities Authority said it was tipped off about the looted site and coin, starting an investigation that would take them to the United States.

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Authorities seized the coin in 2017 after collectors tried to sell it at an auction in Denver. At that time, it was listed with a value of $500,000-$1 million.

Experts said the quarter-shekel piece featuring palm branches and a wreath dates back to A.D. 69 and is considered among the rarest coins left over from the Jewish uprising against imperial Rome.

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"Coins like this were a very in-your-face declaration of independence by the lands of Israel," said Ilan Hadad, a numismatics investigator and archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, according to the New York Times.

"They made them by scratching out the images of emperors on Roman silver coins and restamping them."

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Sam Spiegel, director of International Numismatics Heritage Auctions, told the Times a client in London said he inherited the coin from his father and signed an agreement affirming he had clear title to the coin.

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A British export license was obtained from the auction house, allowing the coin to be brought to the United States.

"Shortly before the auction was to begin, Homeland Security contacted us about the coin, and we fully cooperated by turning it over and supplying them with all the requested information," Spiegel said.

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