Small amulet makes for a large find

A 1,000-year-old clay amulet inscribed with a blessing in Arabic was discovered in the City of David.

June 14, 2018 17:24
3 minute read.
Small amulet makes for a large find

Abbasid-period amulet uncovered at the Givati Parking lot excavation in the City of David, June 2018.. (photo credit: ELIYAHU YANAI)

A 1,000-year-old clay amulet inscribed with a blessing in Arabic was discovered in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David on Thursday.

Dating back to the Abbasid period (9th – 10th centuries CE), the amulet is a rare find for the researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University, who conducted the archeological excavation.

“What we got here, it’s like a small handshake with the past,” said one of the excavation’s directors and part of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Yiftah Shalev. “This tiny item belonged to a person. Someone carried this on them and it was part of their daily life in Jerusalem. We assume that other people had them. It probably indicates the way people lived back then.”

The amulet is small – no bigger than a fingernail – but it has two lines of a blessing or personal prayer: “Kareem trusts in Allah/ Lord of the Worlds is Allah.”

The first line of the prayer, deciphered by Dr. Nitzan Amitai-Preiss of the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University, is similar to graffiti along the pilgrims’ route to Mecca and other seals from the same time period.

For the second line, in which the letters are faded, Amitai-Preiss based his interpretation on verses in the Koran and other personal seals.

“The size of the object, its shape and the text on it indicate that is was apparently used as an amulet for blessing and protection,” said Shalev and the second excavation director, Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University.

It was found sealed between plaster flooring in a small room, and it is not certain if it was placed there or lost by someone named Kareem.

Other finds from the room included a complete lamp and pottery shards, also from the Abbasid period.

To find something so tiny, excavators sifted through the earth using small hammers and tiny troughs, making sure to walk carefully.
“Our team is very meticulous,” Shalev said. “We are working slowly and with small tools and we are looking for such finds.”

While the purpose of the room was difficult to determine due to the poor preservation of the architecture, researchers found some evidence that indicated the room was used for cooking, and prior excavations in the site showed structures such as residential homes, stores and workshops.

“It is reasonable to assume that this structure was used as part of that same industrial zone,” the researchers said.

The excavation is going to continue in the Givati Parking Lot for a long time, according to Shalev.

“Up to now, in 100 years of excavation, we have rarely found anything from [the Abbasid period]. Hardly any architecture, hardly any structure. We know very little of what Jerusalem looked like back then.”

Eventually, the excavation area will be turned into an archeological park for the public to experience the structures for themselves.

“Every day, antiquities from Jerusalem’s many layers of history are uncovered within excavations in the City of David, Israel’s most excavated site,” said Ze’ev Orenstein, the director of International Affairs for the City of David Foundation. “We look forward to continuing to share the many layers of ancient Jerusalem’s rich history with more than half a million visitors, from all faiths and backgrounds, who visit the City of David each year.

Excavators at June 2018 digs at the Givati Parking Lot site in the City of David of an Abbasid period layer.

While tiny, the amulet acts as a window into what life was like in Jerusalem during the early Islamic period.

“This is why I enjoy archeology so much,” Shalev said. “This is like receiving a letter from 1,000 years ago. You can see a guy named Kareem was living here walking through the market. It is a window into the past. This is what we are looking for.”

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