Ancient gold medallion found at foot of TemAncient gold medallion found at foot of Temple Mount in Jerusalem: This 10-cm gold medallion was discovered in Hebrew University excavations 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. Along with other treasures including thirty-six gold coins and gold and silver jewelry, the medallion was likely abandoned during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE. (Credit: Photo by Ouria Tadmor)

Sep. 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 ashofar (ram's horn) and a Torah scroll.

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.

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