FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ancient Golden Treasure Found at Foot of Temple Mount
“Ophel Treasure” includes gold medallion with
Menorah, Torah and Shofar etchings
Jerusalem, September 9, 2013 — In summer 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 scroll.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar displays a 10-cm gold medallion discovered at the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Etched into the medallion are a menorah (Temple candelabrum), shofar (ram’s horn) and Torah scroll. (Photos by Ouria Tadmor)
A 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.”
The discovery 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.
The menorah, 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.
Given the 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.
Hanging from 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.
“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 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.”
The Ophel 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.
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.
The 2013 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.
The Ophel 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.
Herbert W. Armstrong College in Edmond, Oklahoma supports Mazar’s project by sending students to participate in the excavations.
About the Institute of Archaeology
The Institute of Archaeology was founded in 1934 as the Department of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1967 it became the Institute of Archaeology. Today the Institute is an independent research and teaching unit within the Faculty of Humanities, with a staff that provides administrative and scientific assistance as well as the technical facilities necessary to carry out its research projects. Academic programs include studies for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in prehistoric, biblical and classical archaeology.
About the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ranked among the top academic and research institutions worldwide, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel's leading university and premier research institution. Serving 23,000 students from 70 countries, the Hebrew University produces a third of Israel’s civilian research and is ranked 12th worldwide in biotechnology patent filings and commercial development. Faculty and alumni of the Hebrew University have won seven Nobel Prizes and a Fields Medal in the last decade. The Hebrew University was founded in 1918 by visionaries including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber and Chaim Weizmann. It is located on three campuses in Jerusalem and a fourth in Rehovot.
For more information:
Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison
02-5882844 / 054-8820860 (+972-54-8820860)
Photos by Ouria Tadmor
© Eilat Mazar
Tuesday September 3, 2013
Timna Park rediscovered by Tel Aviv archaeologists
Carbon dating debunks decades-old assumptions, proving that the Kingdom of Israel, not Egypt, had control over the special copper ores when mining activity was at its peak • Chief archeologist: Bible consistent with the new findings.
The magnificent rock formations at Timna Park have always exuded mystique, as if they contained many hidden secrets from a rich past. Now one of those secrets, kept by the desert sands, is exposed thorough advanced technology.
According to a Tel Aviv University team of archeologists who studied the ancient Negev park, the mining activity at the site was at its height during the 10th century B.C.E., under the rule of kings David and Solomon. This essentially debunks the long-standing theory, devised almost 50 years ago, that the mines, used for the extraction of copper, were actually under the control of the ancient Egyptians. The discovery was made possible thanks to carbon-14 dating, a technology that was not available when the site was first explored.
"Two statues of ancient Egyptians greet everyone at the entrance to the site," said Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef. "But keep in mind that the entire park was called 'King Solomon's Mines,' a term coined by the mythological archeologist Nelson Glueck in the 1930s, until this term was abolished in the 1960s," he said. According to Ben-Yosef, the term was discarded after an ancient temple for the Egyptian goddess Hathor was found at the site, a discovery credited to the late archeologist Beno Rothenberg.
Rothenberg saw the new temple as proof that the entire site was operated under the New Kingdom of Egypt from the late 14th century B.C.E. until the first decades of the 12th century B.C.E. "Rothenberg was an excellent archeologist but carbon dating was not available when he conducted his research," he said.
The Tel Aviv team used 11 short-lived samples -- 10 date seeds and one olive pit -- taken from the hundreds of seeds and bones that had been found at the so-called "Slave Hill," an area first explored by Glueck that is near the temple and Solomon's Pillars -- naturally formed sandstone columns. That hill was believed to house the slaves who worked at the mines, although that has been disputed.
Ben-Yosef cautioned that the discovery cannot prove who worked at the site. "The is no evidence that would suggest Solomon or David were actually in the site, and we could not find any earthenware from Jerusalem, but that is fine as well. If you accept the biblical story line, the Israelites never operated the mines themselves."
"The events of the bible are consistent with the findings at Slave Hill, which suggest the local population present at the site was most likely an ancient group from the Edomite Kingdom that had been placed under Jerusalem's control in the wake of David's conquests," Ben-Yosef explained. "I believe Jerusalem had a garrison stationed there whose job it was to defend the area and collect taxes from the Edomites, as well as to oversee its operation."
Timna Park may have been under Israelite control after all, new findings suggest
Photo credit: Meir Partush
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