Students Discover Ancient Coins on Bible Lands Study Tour

In a modern society, people tend to assume all traces of the past have already been tucked away in museums. But when 41 Walla Walla University (WWU) 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 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,” says Bumgardner, a sociology major.

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

The Denizli Museum revived archaeology efforts in Laodicea in 2002, 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 says, “but I knew that it would probably be of more use … if it was in the hands of the archaeologists.”

Carl Cosaert, WWU biblical studies professor and tour coordinator, 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 says. “It was great to find them at the end.”

“The trip felt like one huge amazing adventure,” Bumgardner recalls. “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. Students who are interested in history, travel and/or religion will begin signing up for the next tour in May 2018.

Featured in: December 2017