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Found: Golden Coins Hidden in a Crusader Shipwreck

The ship may have been fleeing the Holy Land after the Crusaders’ last stand.

The city of Acre sits on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, just north of Haifa. Back in the 13th century, this place was one of the most important strongholds left to European Crusaders defending Christianity in the Holy Land. In the city’s bay, marine archaeologists have found the remains of a ship dating back to the last years that the Crusaders held the city. The ship may even have been used to flee the city when an Egyptian sultan finally captured it.

After the ship was discovered, archaeologists were able to date its wood to 1062 to 1250 A.D., around the time of the Crusades. But the most spectacular part of the find, 30 golden coins, showed that the ship likely sailed even later than that. The coins were golden florins, minted in Florence, Italy, starting in 1252. The ship, therefore, must have sailed sometime in the last half of the 13th century.

When the soldiers of the Egyptian sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil arrived in Acre, many of the Europeans living in the city tried to escape. While one group of Knights Templar defended their fortress to the death, merchants and other civilians would have used gold florins to try to buy their passage back to Europe. Whoever tried to escape on this ship had bad luck, though, as it sunk into the sea.