Archaeology'I started to wash the rubble and saw something shiny'

Rare 1,600-year-old gold bead found by teenager in Jerusalem’s City of David

Piece of jewelry, which required unique expertise to make, discovered in earth sifted from magnificent Roman structure in Pilgrimage Road, near Old City

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

  • A 1,600-year-old gold bead found in the City of David in Jerusalem, February 2023. (Koby Harati/City of David)
    A 1,600-year-old gold bead found in the City of David in Jerusalem, February 2023. (Koby Harati/City of David)
  • A 1,600-year-old gold bead found in the City of David in Jerusalem, February 2023. (Koby Harati/City of David)
    A 1,600-year-old gold bead found in the City of David in Jerusalem, February 2023. (Koby Harati/City of David)

A rare gold bead made by hand in Jerusalem some 1,600 years ago was recently discovered by an 18-year-old volunteer in the City of David, not far from the Old City, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The tiny bead, found intact in an imposing Roman structure on what is known as the Pilgrimage Road, was created in a complex method that required the maker to delicately weld together more than a dozen granules of pure gold, the IAA said in a statement.

“Everyone here was in tremendous excitement,” said Hallel Feidman, the teenager who made the discovery as part of a project called the Archaeological Experience, in which earth from the Pilgrimage Road is sifted at the nearby Emek Tzurim National Park.

“I remember that I poured the bucket into the strainer and started to wash the rubble,” said Feidman, a National Service volunteer who lives in the small town of Bnei Ayish in central Israel.

“I then suddenly saw, in the corner of the strainer, something shiny, something I don’t usually see. To confirm what I was thinking, I went to the archaeologist, who confirmed that I had found a gold bead.”

“Throughout all my years in archaeology, I have found gold perhaps once or twice, so to find gold jewelry is something very, very special,” said Dr. Amir Golani, an ancient jewelry expert at the IAA.

He noted that the bead was probably just a small part of a necklace or bracelet that included additional beads: “Whoever could afford a piece like this made from gold was a wealthy person of means.”

The bead was possibly created before the period of the structure in which it was found, or in a different location, according to IAA researchers, but it is reasonable to assume that those who lived in the structure had used it. They said the bead may have been lost when the necklace or bracelet containing it broke.

Teenager Hallel Feidman holding a 1,600-year-old gold bead she found in the City of David in Jerusalem, February 2023. (Koby Harati/City of David)

“The most interesting aspect of the bead is its unique and complex production method,” said Golani. “A good understanding of the materials and their properties is required, as well as control over the heat, in order to on the one hand solder the tiny balls together to create a tiny ring, while also preventing overheating, which may lead all the gold to melt. Only a professional craftsman could produce such a bead, which is another reason that this find holds great value.”

IAA Director Eli Escusido said: “Even with today’s advanced technology, creating something like this would be very complex. A close examination of this object fills one with a deep sense of admiration for the technical skill and ability of those who came before us many centuries ago.”

Excavation directors Shlomo Greenberg and Ari Levy were quoted by the IAA as saying the bead “originated in a grandiose structure which is at least 25 meters long.”

They added: “The structure was built on the Pilgrimage Road in the City of David, in a building style that characterizes upscale buildings. The wealth of the building’s occupants is evidenced by additional finds that were discovered in it, like imported clay vessels and a decorated mosaic floor.”

A section of the Roman structure in the Pilgrimage Road in the City of David in Jerusalem, where a 1,600-year-old gold bead was found in February 2023. (Ari Levy/City of David)

According to the IAA, similar beads, albeit made of silver, have been discovered in burial caves from 2,500 years ago — the end of the First Temple period — in Ketef Hinnom near the City of David.

To date, only a few dozen gold beads have been found in Israel, including one that was found two years ago by a 9-year-old while sifting earth from the Temple Mount.

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