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Rare 2,200-year-old earring gives golden glimpse into Hellenistic-era Jerusalem

The gold earring belonged to an upper class man or woman in Jerusalem during the Hellenistic era.
Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists' discovery of a 2,200-year-old gold earring in excavations near Jerusalem’s Old City has offered a rare glimpse of life in the holy city during the early Hellenistic period, an era of the city about which very little is known

The spectacular gold earring, shaped like a horned animal, dates back to the second or third century BCE and was discovered during archaeological digs by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University at the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park encircling the Old City‘s walls.

Experts assess that the earring, which bears the head of a horned animal -- possibly an antelope or deer -- was crafted using a technique known as filigree, in which threads and tiny metal beads are used to create delicate and complex patterns, a style which first appeared in Greece during the early Hellenistic period.

Similar earrings have been found across the Mediterranean, but are extremely rare in Israel.

Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

“The jewelry was found inside a building that was unearthed during the excavation, dating to the early Hellenistic period—a fascinating era about which we know very little when it comes to Jerusalem,” according to the directors of the excavation, Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Antiquities Authority.

“During the course of over a century of archaeological digs in the city, many small discoveries have been made from this period—mainly consisting of pottery fragments and a few coins—but hardly any remains of buildings that could be accurately dated to this period,” they said.

Nearby, excavators also found a gold bead with intricate embroidered ornamentation resembling a thin rope pattern, dividing the beads into two parts with six spirals on each side.

The discoveries offered a rare glimpse into Hellinistic-era Jerusalem, allowing researchers to extrapolate societal insights and even information about the layout of the conquered city.

Kobi Harati, City of David

“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, evidencing the proximity of the discovery to the Temple Mount and Temple, which was functional at the time, and to the quality of the jewelry.

“The residents of this area were not peasants who settled in empty areas on the periphery of the central area, but rather the opposite—they were well-off people. The discovery of familiar Hellenistic pieces of jewelry can teach us about how Hellenistic influences reached Jerusalem during this time,” the researchers said.

The discovery indicates that that city limits of Hellenistic Jerusalem did not reach farther than the top of the hill in the City of David, but then spread west into the Tyropoeon Valley.

The Hellenistic period of Jerusalem began in 323 BCE with the conquest of Alexander the Great. The period was characterized by a widening gap between the Hellenistic elites, who ascribed to Greek culture, and the city’s observant Jewish population, a rift that would eventually lead to the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BCE.

The earring will be on display for the general public at the City of David‘s annual archaeological conference, slated to take place at the beginning of September.

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