Archeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered two bundles of treasure containing 36 gold coins, gold and silver jewelry, and a gold medallion at the foot of the Temple Mount, one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“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,” Eilat Mazar, an archeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology, said in a statement.
According to the archeologists, the discovery can be dated back to the late Byzantine period (early seventh century CE). The gold treasure was found in a ruined Byzantine public structure, 50 meters from the Temple Mount’s southern wall.
Based on the date of the items and the manner in which they were unearthed, Mazar said that they might have been 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. However, 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,” a university statement said. “In that case it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in archeological excavations to date.”
“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,” Mazar said. “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.”
According to Lior Sandberg, a numismatics specialist at the university's archeology institute, the Ophel cache is only the third collection of gold coins to be found in archeological excavations in Jerusalem.
In addition to the gold coins, the archeologists also found a pair of large gold earrings, a gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot.
The 2013 excavation season at the Ophel ran from the middle of April to the end of July, on behalf of the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University. 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.