Archaeologists working at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — a holy site for three world religions — unearthed a 1,400-year-old trove of jewelry and gold coins that’s being described as "a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery."
Lead archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem showed off her team’s most impressive find during a press conference on Monday. It was a four-inch-wide gold medallion etched with images of a seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), a ram’s horn (shofar) and a Torah scroll. Despite being buried for 14 centuries, the piece was in pristine condition.
“The menorah medallion is most likely an ornament for a Torah scroll,” Dr. Mazar and her colleagues explained. “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.”
Mazar's team also revealed Byzantine-era gold and silver jewelry, as well as 36 gold coins depicting the images of emperors ranging across a 250-year span from Constantine II to Mauricius.
The trove was discovered in the ruins of a Byzantine public structure located in the Ophel region of the dig just 50 yards from the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The discoveries, which date back to the year 600, are now being dubbed the “Ophel Treasure.”
“I have never found so much gold in my life! I was frozen. It was unexpected,” Dr. Mazar told the Times of Israel.
Mazar and her team suspect that the treasures were buried and abandoned by their Jewish owners during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614.
“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.”