Itongadol.- The recent discovery of a 1,400-year-old golden treasure trove which sheds new light on a relatively unknown period in the history of Jewish Jerusalem was announced Monday morning at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Ancient golden treasure found at foot of Jerusalem´s Temple Mount
The finding was made during an archeological excavation near the foot ofTemple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, and is connected to the Jewish settlement during the short period of Persian rule over the city which occured in the early seventh century CE.
Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar disclosed the contents of the discovery Tuesday morning. The two bundles of treasure contain thirty-six gold coins, gold and silver jewelry, and a 10 centimeter gold medallion adorned with etched images of a menorah, (Temple candelabrum) a shofar, (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll.
Mazar has been working on excavations in the area known as the Ophel – a stretch of land between the Temple Mount and the City of David – for some 30 years. While the majority of her work pertains to the Biblical period, this summer she excavated an area dated later – to the Byzantine period, between the fourth and seventh centuries..
Mazar, a third-generation archaeologist, directs excavations at the City of David’s summit and at the Temple Mount’s southern wall. She called the find "a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery".
"We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period in this area, a much earlier time in Jerusalem\’s history, so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the seventh century CE at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise," said Mazar.
The finding was unearthed just five days into Mazar’s latest phase of the Ophel excavations, and can be dated to the late Byzantine period. The gold treasure was discovered in a ruined Byzantine public structure a mere 50 meters from the Temple Mount’s southern wall. The gold coins and two large earrings were discovered under a limestone floor, and the medallion was later found in a hole between the floor and a wall.
The menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum that was used in the Temple, is the national symbol of the state of Israel and reflects the historical presence of Jews in the area. The way the items were found suggests one bundle was carefully hidden underground, and the second was apparently abandoned in haste and scattered across the floor.
Given the dating of the item, Mazar thinks they were abandoned in the context of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE. After the Persians conquered the city, many Jews returned to it. Eventually forming the majority of its population, they aspired to political and religious freedom – But with their power waning, the Persians, instead of forming an alliance with the Jews, sought the support of Christians, and ultimately allowed them to expel the Jews from Jerusalem.
The menorah medallion, which hangs from a gold chain, likely adorned a Torah scroll- In which case, it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in archaeological excavations to date. It was found buried in a small depression in the floor, along with a smaller gold medallion, two pendants, a gold coil and a silver clasp, all of which are believed to be Torah scroll ornamentations.
“It would appear that the most likely explanation is that the Ophel cache was earmarked as a contribution toward the building of a new synagogue, at a location that is near the Temple Mount," said Mazar. "What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful. The treasure was abandoned, and its owners could never return to collect it."
The Ophel cache is only the third collection of gold coins to be found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem, said Lior Sandberg, a numismatics specialist at the Institute of Archaeology. “The 36 gold coins can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from the middle of the fourth century CE to the early seventh century CE,” said Sandberg. The oldest coin dates from the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine II, who ruled from 337 to 361, and the latest was minted during the period of the Byzantine Emperor Maurice, who ruled from 582 until 602.
Found with the coins were a pair of large gold earrings, a gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot. Remnants of fabric indicated that these items were once packaged in a cloth purse similar to the bundle that contained the menorah medallion.
Mazar’s Ophel excavation made headlines earlier this year when she announced the 2012 discovery of an ancient Canaanite inscription – recently identified as Hebrew – the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in Jerusalem.