Joint Hebrew University and Haifa University research finds materials such as arsenic added to mainly copper primitive ‘cash,’ apparently to make it look like silver

When the Israelites arrived from Egypt in the Land of Israel some 3,000 years ago, according to the biblical account, they may have been exposed to — or even been at the forefront of — one of the earliest examples of financial fraud in the form of forged primitive currency, new combined research from the University of Haifa and Hebrew University has found.

According to a paper set to be published in the highly regarded Journal of Archaeological Science, several caches of primitive currency found in the southern Levant from 1200 to 950 BCE — the period in which some believe the Israelites arrived in the area — exhibit small quantities of silver, high quantities of copper, and significant amounts of other materials that may have been specifically added to make them look like silver.

“Despite the small percentage of silver in the silverware, they were mixed with other substances such as arsenic that made them look silver, which reinforces the hypothesis that in at least part of the period it was a deliberate forgery,” said the researchers in a University of Haifa press release. The study was based on the doctoral work of student Tzilla Eshel.

Minted coinage came to the Levant circa the end of the 7th century BCE. Before there were coins there were proto-coins, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Dr. Donald T.

People would take pieces of silver and weigh them on a balance — usually from broken jewelry.

“This is the way Abraham paid for the Tomb of the Patriarchs. He weighed 400 shekels. There were no coins at the time. He weighed pieces of silver,” said Ariel.

The new research looked at such silver currency fragments — which predated coins by hundreds of years — from eight caches from the period found at different locations around Israel including Beit She’an, Megiddo, and Ashkelon.