Israeli archaeologists found a 2,000 year-old gold filigree earring featuring a horned animal head in the City of David, an archaeological excavation near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Only the second of its kind found in the area, the earring is an extremely rare discovery from the 2nd or 3rd century B.C.E., the early Hellenistic period.
The excavation is headed by Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Which animal appears on the elaborately worked hoop earring is a mystery. It resembles a ram, with large eyes, but could be a deer or antelope.
The art in itself was not unusual. Similar earrings, including with animal imagery, have been found throughout the Mediterranean basin, especially in Greece. The few found in Israel were discovered chiefly in the coastal region. The most similar of the lot was discovered inside a tomb in the Hinnom. This was the first found in Israel in situ.
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At the earring site, excavators also found an equally fine gold bead, intricately engraved in a thin rope pattern that divided it into two parts, with six spirals on each side.
The earring and bead were crafted using filigree technique, using thin metal threads and tiny beads to create delicate and complex patterns, say Ariel Polokoff and Dr. Adi Erlich of Haifa University, who examined the artifacts. This type of earring first appeared in Greece during the early Hellenistic period, they say.
The earring was found inside a building during an archeological investigation of the site formerly known the Givati parking lot, under which lies the City of David – monumental stone ruins by Temple Mount that some believe were the place from which King David ruled. (There is no consensus that David existed, let alone ruled from there.)
The missing Hellenistic period
The period of Hellenistic rule over Jerusalem began in 332 B.C.E., with the city's conquest by Alexander the Great of Macedonia, during his campaign to rule over the Persian empire. Control over Jerusalem would be contested time and again during that period, but the city would remain under the rule of Hellenistic leaders, from the Ptolemy satrapy ruling from Egypt to the Seleucids, for the next 200 years.
The discovery of the earring was remarkable. Archaeological remains from the early Hellenistic period of Jerusalem are beyond rare, Prof. Gadot told Haaretz.
For one thing, Jerusalem at the time, around 2,400 years ago, seems to have been much smaller than it would become in Herodian times.
Hellenistic Jerusalem seems to have been about 60 to 70 dunams in area, Gadot says. It would grow tenfold by the Roman era. In the Hellenistic period, Jerusalem seems to have stretched only from the top of the hill in the City of David westward to the Tyropoeon Valley, which has long since disappeared. Once a deep ravine separating Mount Moriah from Mount Zion and emptying into the Valley of Hinnom, the Tyropoeon become filled with debris, following which the famous stepped street in Jerusalem was built over it, Gadot says.
Additionally, Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over its post-Hellenistic history. It can be assumed that whatever buildings had existed in Hellenistic Jerusalem had been destroyed and their stone bricks repurposed, Gadot says. Making and transporting stone bricks is onerous work: given the chance, builders would use existing ones.
Still, small discoveries have been made from the Hellenistic period of Jerusalem, mainly pottery fragments and a few coins—but hardly any remains of buildings that could be accurately dated to this period, the archaeologists say.
If there are precious few remains from the Hellenistic period, how do the archaeologists know Jerusalem was smaller back then? Excavations in Jerusalem have been ongoing for over a century, Gadot points out. One accrues information, and the absence of finds is also a form of information.
Archaeologists say that the neighborhood had been a wealthy one based on the absent houses from the excavated area, the discovery of the precious jewelry and where it was found.
“It is unclear whether the gold earring was worn by a man or a woman, nor do we know their cultural or religious identity, but we can say for certain that whoever wore this earring definitely belonged to Jerusalem‘s upper class," Gadot and Shalev said in a statement. "This can be determined by the proximity to the Temple Mount and the Temple, which was functional at the time, as well as the quality of the gold piece of jewelry.”
We cannot say that the quadruped imagery indicates whether the wearer was a pagan or a Jew. Being Jewish 2,400 years ago did not necessarily mean rigid adherence to a single set of ideals. Much like today, Gadot says - there were probably all sorts of Jews back then. We certainly know that Jewish households of the First Temple era were less than scrupulous about monotheism and worshipping only the one god.