Ancient coins discovered

Two WWU seniors find coins in the ruins of Laodicea

In a modern society, people tend to assume that all traces of the past have already been tucked away in museums. But when 41 Walla Walla University students roamed the Middle East during the Bible Lands Study Tour this past summer, two participants uncovered a piece of history.

Toward the end of the group’s nearly-four-week trip, seniors Sara Bumgardner and Sarah Thompson found two fifth-century coins in the ancient town of Laodicea, part of present-day Turkey.

Bumgardner, a sociology major, made the first discovery while examining a piece of pottery on the ground. “After I found the coin, I think a number of us spent more time looking down at the ground than up at the excavated ruins of Laodicea,” Bumgardner said.

And that’s when Thompson, a health science major, spotted a second coin. “I saw a very small but very round object and I picked it up,” she said. “It just looked like a round gray pebble.” The tour guide confirmed that both were authentic Byzantine coins.

In 2002, the Denizli Museum revived archaeology efforts in Laodicea, removing several layers of dirt and unearthing new artifacts. Bumgardner’s and Thompson’s discoveries were added to the collection of items found on site, each offering insight into the lives of the ancient city dwellers. “I was a little bummed to have to part with [the coin] so soon after finding it,” Thompson said, “but I knew that it would probably be of more use … if it was in the hands of the archaeologists.”

Carl Cosaert, professor of biblical studies and coordinator of the tour, was satisfied with the way the trip wrapped up. “We had talked about finding coins during the tour, but didn’t think we would actually find anything,” he said. “It was great to find them at the end.”

“The trip felt like one huge amazing adventure,” Bumgardner recalled. “However, finding a Byzantine coin was definitely one of my favorite parts.”

The Bible Lands Study Tour occurs every two years and provides participants with eight religion credits. Sign-ups for the next tour will open in May, and students interested in history, travel, or religion are encouraged to register.

Posted Nov. 10, 2017

Sara Bumgardner and Sarah Thompson pose in the ruins of Laodicea with the coins they found. Both are wearing blue t-shirts.
Sara Bumgardner and Sarah Thompson pose in the ruins of Laodicea with the coins they found.
A picture of one of the coins in someones hand, showing just how tiny these coins are. It looks like a flattened bead resting in the palm.
The fifth-century coins resemble small, greenish pebbles.
Bumgardner holds the coin up, showing how tiny it is.
Bumgardner, senior sociology major, holds the Byzantine coin before handing it over to archaeologists.