Building project unearths ancient history in Tel Aviv suburb

Construction of new residential neighborhood in Ramat Hasharon reveals human activity dating back 1,500 years, including a winepress and gold coin much prized by its owner

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An ancient winepress unveiled in Ramat Hasharon. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
An ancient winepress unveiled in Ramat Hasharon. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeological finds at a construction site indicate there was residential and industrial activity at the location of a Tel Aviv suburb some 1,500 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The modern city of Ramat Hasharon, where the excavation was carried out, was established in 1923 as an agricultural community by Jewish immigrants from Poland.

Among the items uncovered at the site of a new residential neighborhood were a mosaic-floored wine press, a chandelier chain, and a gold coin that appeared to have been hand-signed by its owner.

The coin was minted in 638 or 639 CE by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, the IAA said. One side shows the emperor with his two sons and the other the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem, which Christian tradition identifies as the site for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Scratched out on the coin in Greek, and possibly also Arabic, is an inscription that experts assess is likely the name of its owner, according to Robert Kool, head of the IAA’s Numismatics Department.

“The coin encapsulates fascinating data on the decline of Byzantine rule in the country and contemporary historical events, such as the Persian invasion and the emergence of Islam, and provides information on Christian and pagan symbolism and the local population who lived here,” Kool said in a statement.

A 7th Century CE gold coin unearthed during excavations in Ramat Hasharon. (Amir Gorzalczany/Israel Antiquities Authority)

The winepress has a mosaic floor and plastered installations as well as foundations that might have been a large warehouse, the IAA said.

“Inside the buildings and installations, we found many fragments of storage jars and cooking pots that were evidently used by laborers working in the fields here,” said Yoav Arbel, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA.

The chandelier chain is unusual, the IAA said, as such items were usually found in churches. It likely supported glass lamp holders.

Stone mortars and millstones, which were made of basalt from the Golan Heights and Galilee and were used to grind wheat, were also found at the site, along with a glass-making workshop and a warehouse that included four “massive jars” sunk into the floor. Such jars would have been used to store grain.

“In this period, people were not only working at the site but also living there, because we discovered the remains of houses and two large baking ovens,” Arbel said.

Using clues gleaned from complete pottery lamps as well as local and imported serving ware, archaeologists were able to assess the site was in use until the 11th century CE.

IAA Tel Aviv district archaeologist Diego Barkan said it was the first excavation carried out at the site, which had previously been only partially identified in an archaeological field survey.

He said the IAA saw an “excellent opportunity to integrate the ancient remains into plans for the future municipal park.”

The statement did not say when the excavations started or the items were found, but they came as Ramat Hasharon prepares to celebrate its centenary in two years’ time.

Avi Gruber, the city’s mayor, said work has already started on incorporating the finds into the future neighborhood.

“I want all our residents to enjoy learning about life here in antiquity and in the Middle Ages,” Gruber said in the statement. “As we plan heritage-related events for the upcoming centenary, this opens up a whole new perspective on how people once lived in this part of the country.”

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