excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar made a stunning discovery: two bundles of
treasure containing thirty-six gold coins, gold and silver jewelry, and a gold
medallion with the menorah (Temple candelabrum) symbol etched into it.
Also etched into the 10-cm medallion are a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah
third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of
Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs excavations on the City of David’s summit and at
the Temple Mount’s southern wall. Calling the find “a breathtaking,
once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Dr. Mazar said: “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.”
was unearthed just five days into Mazar’s latest phase of the Ophel excavations,
and can be dated to the late Byzantine period (early seventh century CE).
The gold treasure was discovered in a ruined Byzantine public structure a mere
50 meters from the Temple Mount’s southern wall.
a candelabrum with seven branches 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 position of the items as they were discovered indicates that one
bundle was carefully hidden underground while the second bundle was apparently
abandoned in haste and scattered across the floor.
date of the items and the manner in which they were found, Mazar estimates they
were abandoned in the context of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE.
After the Persians conquered Jerusalem, many Jews returned to the city and formed
the majority of its population, hoping for political and religious freedom. But
as Persian power waned, instead of forming an alliance with the Jews, the
Persians sought the support of Christians and ultimately allowed them to expel
the Jews from Jerusalem.
a gold chain, the menorah medallion is most likely an ornament for a Torah
scroll. In that case it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in
archaeological excavations to date. It was 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.
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 Dr. 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.”
cache is only the third collection of gold coins to be found in archaeological
excavations in Jerusalem, said Lior Sandberg, numismatics specialist at the
Institute of Archaeology. “The thirty-six 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 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
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.
excavation season at the Ophel ran from the middle of April to the end of July,
on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University. The Israel
Antiquities Authority is carrying out the preservation works, and is preparing
the site for the public. The excavation site is situated within the Jerusalem
National Park around the walls of Jerusalem of the Israel Nature and Parks
Authority, and is administered by the East Jerusalem Development Company.
project has been generously underwritten, since 2009, by Daniel Mintz and
Meredith Berkman from New York. The entire project includes the archaeological
excavations, the processing of the finds towards publication, as well as the
preservation and the preparations of the site for its opening to the public.
Armstrong College in Edmond, Oklahoma supports Mazar’s project by sending
students to participate in the excavations.