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.”
Excavation site at foot of Temple Mount
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.
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.”
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,”
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.
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
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.