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1,850-year-old Roman coin featuring zodiac sign found off Israeli coast

The rare bronze coin depicts the Roman moon goddess Luna and the zodiac sign of Cancer, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

A rare Roman coin minted nearly two millennia ago in Egypt has been found off the Israeli coast, in what authorities say is the first discovery of its kind in the area.

The approximately 1,850-year-old bronze coin was discovered on the seabed off the Carmel coast in northern Israel during an underwater archaeological survey. It was minted in the name of Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, who ruled between 138 and 161 A.D., the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement.

The coin bears the date “Year Eight,” marking the eighth year of his reign, and depicts the Roman moon goddess Luna and the zodiac sign of Cancer on the reverse. Experts say it belonged to a series of 13 coins that depicted the 12 zodiac signs and the complete zodiac wheel.

Such finds are “extremely rare,” said Jacob Sharvit, director of the Maritime Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, adding that they contribute to “the historical puzzle of the country’s history.”

Unlike his predecessors, Pius was not a military man, and he presided over one of the most peaceful periods during the Roman Empire, according to experts, with no major revolts or military incursions. He was known instead for his public works, completing many of the building projects started by his predecessor and adoptive father, Hadrian.

Israel’s coastline has yielded other ancient finds in recent times. In October, an amateur diver discovered a sword that is likely to have belonged to a Crusader knight who sailed to the Holy Land almost a millennium ago.

Israeli diver finds 900-year-old sword, said to be Crusader knight’s weapon, on Mediterranean seabed

Shlomi Katzin came across the 900-year-old weapon on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea while scuba diving off the Carmel coast. He turned it over to authorities and was awarded a certificate of appreciation. (Israeli law requires any artifacts found to be returned to the nation.)

Experts said at the time that the ancient sword was probably uncovered after waves caused sand to shift. Other artifacts found in the weapon’s vicinity included metal anchors, stone anchors and pottery fragments.

“Along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea … there are many archaeological sites and findings, which tell of connections that existed here in ancient times between the ports of the Mediterranean Sea and the countries along it,” Sharvit, from the Israel Antiquities Authority, said of the latest find.