A breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery, says archaeologist Eilat Mazar
A treasure trove containing 36 gold coins and precious gold and silver jewellery dating back to early seventh century AD has been unearthed near the Temple Mount in Israel.
The excavations by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr Eilat Mazar also consists of a 10 cm gold medallion with the menorah (Temple candelabrum), a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll symbol etched into it.
Dr Mazar called the discovery “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”
“Discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the seventh century AD at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise,” said Dr Mazar.
The discovery can be dated to the late Byzantine period or early seventh century AD.
The gold treasure was discovered in a ruined Byzantine public structure a mere 50 meters from the Temple Mount’s southern wall.
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, Dr Mazar estimates they were abandoned in the context of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 AD.
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 towards the building of a new synagogue, at a location that is near the Temple Mount,” said Dr Mazar.
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.
Found with the coins were a pair of large gold earrings, a gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot.