A Hebrew University archeologist unveiled the “Ophel Treasure,” a collection of
36 gold coins and a large gold medallion believed to date back to 614 CE, at
Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus Monday morning.
The gold artifacts were
unearthed earlier this year approximately 50 meters from the Temple Mount’s
southern wall, where Dr. Eilat Mazar has directed the Ophel excavation since
Hanging from a gold chain, the remarkably well kept and glittering
10-cm. medallion is engraved with a sevenbranched menorah, a shofar and a
Mazar, a third-generation archeologist at HU’s Institute of
Archeology, said the medallion was likely used to adorn a Torah
“This is the biggest gift we could get for the new year and for
Eretz Israel,” said Mazar, who deemed the discovery “one of the most important
excavations” in the institute’s 45-year history.
“I’ve never found so
much gold in my life!” she exclaimed.
According to Mazar, the coins and
medallion were 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 ornaments.
If the medallion was indeed an
ornament for a Torah scroll, it is the earliest such archeological find in
history, said Mazar.
Indeed, Mazar, who has also lead excavations at the nearby City of
David’s summit, described the findings as “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime
“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 7th century CE at the foot
of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise,” she said.
Given the date of
the coins and medallion, and the manner in which they were found, Mazar
estimates they were abandoned during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614
“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,” Mazar said.
Persians conquered Jerusalem, many Jews returned to the city and formed a
majority of its population with hopes of finding political and religious
freedom. However, as Persia’s power waned, instead of forming an alliance with
the Jews the Persians sought the support of Christians, who ultimately expelled
Jews from the capital.
“It would appear that the most likely explanation
is that the findings were earmarked as a contribution toward the building of a
new synagogue at a location that is near the Temple Mount,” said
“What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was
unsuccessful, and its owners couldn’t return to collect it,” she
According to Lior Sandberg, a numismatics specialist at the
Institute of Archeology, the Ophel Treasure is only the third collection of gold
coins to be found in archeological excavations in Jerusalem.
“The 36 gold
coins can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from
the middle of the 4th century CE to the early 7th century CE,” said Sandberg on
Also found with the coins were a pair of large gold earrings, a
gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot. Sandberg said remnants of
fabric indicated that the items were once packaged in a cloth
Asked how much all the gold was worth, Mazar demurred, calling it
“How can you estimate the value in light of the time it’s
from?” she asked. “It is, of course, worth a lot.”
excavation made international headlines when she announced the 2012 discovery of
a Hebrew Canaanite inscription believed to be the earliest alphabetically
written text ever found.
The Ophel excavation has been funded by Daniel
Mintz and Meredith Berkman, both of New York, since 2009. The project includes
archeological excavations, the processing of the finds for publication, as well
as the preservation and preparation of the site for its eventual public
The Antiquities Authority is carrying out the preservation work
and preparing the site for the public for an unspecified date.
that after being showcased internationally, the Ophel Treasure will go on
permanent display at the Israel Museum.