Ancient, precious gold coins stolen by workmen from their hiding place behind a wall in a medieval house have been recovered by police and turned over to a Cairo museum.

Three-quarters of the 3,611 medieval coins in the priceless collection were minted in Europe, mainly in Italian city-states that produced the money of international commerce in the Middle Ages. Such coins never had been found in Egypt.Stashed for centuries, the cache contained nearly 28 pounds of gold. It comprised European, Egyptian and Tunisian coins, all minted between the 12th and 16th centuries.

According to police reports, the saga of the coins began last spring in a house named for a 19th-century slave of Turkish origin, Zainab Khatoun. The house is registered as a historic monument and was being rehabilitated by workers contracted by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.

In May, workmen dismantling a sagging wall found two jars containing gold coins and secretly took the booty. Seven suspects were arrested and the coins returned after a police tipster alerted authorities to the recent appearance on the illegal antiquities market of large numbers of gold coins.

Antiquities officials claimed possession under an Egyptian law giving the government ownership of objects older than 100 years. Last month, police signed over the coins to Cairo's Islamic Museum.