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Rare coin rediscovered during conservation project of Jerusalem museum tower

Tower of David Museum’s team begins to treat structural crack in citadel’s highest viewpoint; conservationists find rare ‘Tyre shekel’ thought to be used for Temple upkeep tax

  • Tyre coin uncovered during renewal project, which will be displayed at the Tower of David Museum next year. (Tal Rogovski/ Tower of David Museum)
    Tyre coin uncovered during renewal project, which will be displayed at the Tower of David Museum next year. (Tal Rogovski/ Tower of David Museum)
  • Two workers help conserve Phasael tower as part of renewal project in Tower of David complex. (Ricky Rachman/ Tower of David Museum)
    Two workers help conserve Phasael tower as part of renewal project in Tower of David complex. (Ricky Rachman/ Tower of David Museum)
  • The Tower of David Museum, which is currently pursuing a $40 million renewal project (Naftali Hilger/ Tower of David Museum)
    The Tower of David Museum, which is currently pursuing a $40 million renewal project (Naftali Hilger/ Tower of David Museum)

A box of artifacts was rediscovered during a major conservation project to restore the stones of the “Phasael” tower of the Jerusalem citadel’s $40 million renewal project, the Tower of David Museum said Monday.

Additionally, the team discovered a box of artifacts, originally excavated in the 1980s. Within it, they uncovered a rare silver coin from the Second Temple period  — a “Tyre shekel.”

Two images are imprinted on either side of the coin: On one face is Melqart, the chief god of the Phoenician city of Tyre, and on the other, an eagle.

The coins were struck at some point between 125 BCE and the outbreak of the Great Revolt in 66 CE, when they were used to pay a half-shekel tax. Talmudic sources suggest that the Tyrian shekel was likely the only means of paying the head tax at the Temple for its upkeep.

Two workers help conserve Phasael tower as part of renewal project in Tower of David complex. (Ricky Rachman/ Tower of David Museum)

Although well-known in ancient and biblical sources, these coins are rare — only a few have been found. The coin will be displayed as part of the museum’s new permanent exhibition next year.

During the planning stages of the project, conservationists discovered a large, structural crack running from the top to the bottom of the tower, which soon became the project’s central focus, according to the museum.

As part of the team’s renewal project, conservationists cleaned and treated the stones of the tower — dating back more than 2,000 years — with temporary glue to maintain stability.

A pipe system was then threaded within the tower, and liquid lime-based mortar injected into the cracks. This process helps the team ascertain how large the cracks are, by examining how far up the mortar rises.

Workers at the Phasael tower conservation site (Ricky Rachman/ Tower of David Museum)

“The Tower of David is one of the most important structures in Israel, both in terms of its history and location. The last conservation project at the Tower of David was carried out in the 1980s. Since then, the citadel has been in desperate need of conservation,” said engineering manager Yotam Carmel.

The final stage of conservation will be inserting metal anchors into the stones, which will be hidden from sight.

The conservation team reported that a new monitoring system is being installed, which will detect movements in the tower’s structure.

“In conservation of this kind, traditional materials such as lime plaster and traditional techniques such as stone carving are used in conjunction with high-tech solutions,” Carmel explained.

The Tower of David Museum, which is currently pursuing a $40 million renewal project (Naftali Hilger/ Tower of David Museum)

The Phasael Tower is the only tower in the citadel which rises to substantial height, offering striking, panoramic views of Jerusalem. One of three large towers within King Herod’s ancient royal compound, it was the Phasael tower that was first dubbed the “Tower of David.”

“Jerusalem touches millions of people throughout the world and I am aware of the huge responsibility in looking after one of its national heritage sites,” said Eilat Lieber, director and chief curator of the Tower of David Museum.

“At this holiday time, we are grateful for this unique opportunity to physically preserve the walls and towers of this ancient site – that stood during the time of the Second Temple thousands of years ago, helping to preserve and conserve the site so that it continues to be a beacon in Jerusalem for future generations to come,” said Lieber.

The Tower of David Museum chronicles the long, lively history of the city of Jerusalem and launched a massive renovation project when visitor numbers plummeted due to the pandemic.

Next year, the museum will reopen to the public — in accordance with future health guidelines — with permanent and temporary exhibitions, archeological tours, and multi-sensory experiences.

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