A 1,500-year-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a six-branched menorah, which was likely part of a box housing a Torah scroll, was recently found at the ancient Roman city of Caesarea, on Israel’s coast, archaeologists announced Wednesday.
The artifact, the first of its kind made of the precious material bearing Jewish iconography, was among an assortment of discoveries made by the Israel Antiquities Authority amid new excavations carried out as part of the restoration of the ancient port. It was found close to a Roman-era temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar that was constructed by King Herod in the first century BCE, but dates to the fourth or fifth centuries CE.
The find was made just a few days before the Jewish festival of Passover, which began on April 10, said Israel Antiques Authority archaeologist Peter Gendelman.
The announcement was made at a joint news conference to unveil parts of the NIS 100 million ($27 million) restoration project.
According to Gendelman the small slab of mother-of-pearl, likely dating from the late Roman-Byzantine period of the 4th-5th centuries CE, “points to clear Jewish presence at Caesarea during this period.”
The tablet came from what was “probably some kind of box,” he added, “I can even say probably for a Sefer Torah,” the handwritten scroll containing the first five books of the Old Testament that lie at the heart of Jewish law.
It was found near the Augusteum, the temple dedicated to Herod’s patron Augustus, which dominated the harbor in antiquity. Gendelman and his team also found Augusteum’s altar and part of a Greek inscription that has yet to be studied.
“We’re making new discoveries on a daily basis,” Gendelman told reporters. He said the mother-of-pearl etching was just “a small portion of the wealth of Caesarea.”
The restoration is being carried out by the IAA, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and the Caesarea Development Corporation, and focuses on the ancient harbor, its storehouses and the temple built on a podium atop the massive vaults.
One of the major preservation projects focuses on the large, iconic aqueduct constructed by the Romans that brought water into the city from the north. Archaeologists plan to uncover another 10 arches of the large aqueduct, which was one of seven bringing water to Caesarea.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.