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Three-millennium-old jewelry found in northern Israel

May 22, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II
  • A gold earring with molded ibexes from the 11th century BC was found in Northern Israel.
A gold earring with molded ibexes from the 11th century BC was found in Northern… (American Friends of Tel…)

Archaeologists working at Tel Megiddo in northern Israel have uncovered a cache of jewelry dating from about the 11th century BC in a jug hidden in a private dwelling. The highlight of the jewelry is an unusual gold earring, probably influenced by Egyptian culture, that is decorated with molded ibexes (wild goats). The piece is "without parallel," said archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, who announced the discovery Tuesday.

Tel Megiddo was an important Canaanite city-state until the early 10th century BC and a pivotal center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th and 8th centuries. The site has been razed and rebuilt many times, with 11 different, well-defined archaeological strata. The jewelry was in a stratum that has been dated to the 11th century BC, just after the Egyptian withdrawal in the previous century. The jewelry might have been left behind in the withdrawal of the people who owned the jewelry, Finkelstein said.

The jug was found in 2010, but researchers did not discover the jewelry until the dirt inside the jug was washed out earlier this year. The jewelry was wrapped in textile, which is now being analyzed, and well preserved. Some of the jewelry, including beads made of carnelian stone, are consistent with Egyptian designs from the same period. The jug was not the jewelry's normal storage site. "It is clear that people tried to hide the collection, and for some reason they were unable to come back to pick it up," Finkelstein said.

The jewelry includes a number of lunette (moon-shaped) earrings of common Canaanite origin and a number of gold items. Archaeologist David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University, co-director of the excavation, speculates that the jewelry belonged to a Canaanite woman who was forced to flee the site.

Chemists are now analyzing the composition of the earring. If it is pure gold, it was probably made in Egypt, where there was little silver available to strengthen gold alloys. If there is a significant amount of silver, the item was probably made locally.


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