Egypt announced today that a gold Umayyad coin was unearthed last Thursday during an excavation at the Monastery of St. John the Little, in the desert west of the Nile Delta. In a statement Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA, said both sides of the well-preservedcoinare decorated with Kufic inscriptions, the oldest calligraphic form of the Arabic script.
One side of the coin bears the name of Allah. The second side is inscribed: in the name of God the Merciful. The coin’s edge is decorated with the year it was minted. It dates to the year 103 of Higra (721 AD) during the reign of the 9th Umayyad Caliph Yazid II (687 724 AD).
The archaeological mission at Wadi el-Natrun is a joint venture between Yale University and the Supreme Council of Antiquities and involves the excavation and conservation of early Christian remains. The Monastery of St. John the Little is over seven square kilometres in area and containsabout a hundred unexcavated structures.
In late antiquity, the desert settlement called Scetis in Greek (now Wadi el-Natrun, or Natrian Desert, as it is often referenced in Christian literature) was a haven for early Egyptian monastic communities. Monks lived in small cells around the area which were later organized into more formal monastic orders.
The Monastery of John the Little was named after the fourth century desert father, Saint John the Dwarf (or ‘John Kolobos’) and remained one of the most active monasteries throughout Arab rule. It was demolished by a Berber raid in the fourteenth century, yet it is claimed a tree planted by Saint John the Dwarf known as ‘the Tree of Obedience’ still exists at the monastery today.