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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Excavations have unearthed a hoard of more than 1,300-year-old gold coins under a car park by the ancient walls of Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said on Monday.
Archaeologists said the discovery of the 264 coins, in the ruins of a building dating to about the 7th century, the end of the Byzantine period, was one of the largest coin hoards uncovered in Jerusalem.
"We've had pottery, we've had glass, but we've had nothing like this," said British archaeologist Nadine Ross, who found the hoard under a large rock on Sunday, in the fourth and final week of a trip to Israel.
"It's very, very exciting," she said, cupping hands full of bright yellow coins that looked in mint condition.
The coins date back to the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius who ruled from AD 610 to 641. On the obverse side they bear a likeness of the emperor wearing military garb and holding a cross in his right hand. On the reverse is the cross.
Archeologists said they were minted at the beginning of Heraclius' reign, before the Persians conquered Byzantine Jerusalem in AD 614.
"This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem -- certainly the largest and most important of its period," said a statement from site directors Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets.
"Since no pottery vessel was discovered adjacent to the hoard, we can assume that it was concealed inside a hidden niche in one of the walls of the building," they said.
Until now, the only hoard of gold coins from the Byzantine period that had been discovered in Jerusalem consisted of five gold coins, they added.
Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Katie Nguyen