Accidental Losses

Accidental coin losses are coins that were inadvertently dropped and never recovered by their owner or anyone else.[294] Accidental losses were lost by chance and were not purposely placed in a certain context for a specific goal: thus, they have no function. Thousands of coins found in ancient synagogues can be interpreted as accidental losses; coins discovered as single specimens in fills, foundation trenches, destruction debris, etc. They can be recognized not only because they appear by themselves, but also frequently because they do not make sense in their archaeological context (for example, a coin found in a drainage pipe) or in their stratigraphical layer (for example, an Islamic coin on a Roman floor). In principle, this database did not record any of such accidental losses since their “interpretation” is known to us and needs no further explanation. Of course, it is always possible that some individual coins were placed in a specific context on purpose (as, for example, two Charon’s obols often placed on the eyes of the deceased in the Roman world). [295] It is also possible that some of the deposits analyzed in this project and interpreted as one of the categories below were, in fact, accidental losses. However, in the absence of reliable, archaeological evidence that would point towards such a function, single coins have not been included in the database and none of the coin deposits under analysis belongs to this category.


[294] An amusing ancient example to illustrate this phenomenon can be found in Luke 15:8-10. In this story, a woman lost a tetradrachm, worth about a day’s wage, so she searches all over her house. The loss of small, bronze coins, on the other hand, might not have caused such a frantic hunt.

[295] To be clear, this was not a custom in ancient Judaism although we do have a couple of examples of coins found in Jewish burials (Hachlili and Killebrew 1983).