When archaeologists first uncovered the little piece of jewelry, they knew it was unique to the area. While it is unclear exactly what animal the earring is depicting, possibly an antelope or a deer, the piece clearly resembles Grecian earrings dating to the third or early second centuries BCE.
Discovered just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, the earring was unearthed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University in their excavations at the Givati Parking Lot, near the Temple Mount. The directors of the dig, Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the IAA and Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University, say that a very few such earrings have been found along Israel's coast, and one slightly different example found in a tomb in the Hinnom. "However," they say, "this is the first time that such an earring has been found in Jerusalem inside of archeological ruins from that time."
Several questions surround the little golden piece. "The moment you see something like that," Gadot says, "you begin to ask yourself, ‘who was the person wearing the earring?’” Was it worn by a man or a woman? What was the person’s ethnic and religious identity? While these questions are yet unanswered, we do know that the golden earring would have graced the features of one of Jerusalem’s Hellenistic elites. Researchers say they are “certain that whoever wore this earring definitely belonged to Jerusalem’s upper class.”
This was determined largely by the earring’s high quality craftsmanship which, according to Ariel Polokoff and Dr. Adi Erlich from the archeological department at Haifa University, was made by a technique called filigree. Filigree uses threads and tiny metal beads to create the complex designs, such as the spiraled hoop and detailed animal head. Not far from the earring, a golden filigree bead was also discovered. These pieces of fine jewelry are particularly interesting because of the glimpse they provide into the domestic life of Hellenistic Jerusalem.
According to Dr. Shalev and Professor Gadot, the Hellenistic Period is “a fascinating era about which we know very little when it comes to Jerusalem.” Part of the challenge archaeologists have faced is that while many small discoveries from the Hellenistic period have been made in Jerusalem, hardly any buildings can be accurately dated to the Hellenistic period. This excavation, revealing a Hellenistic building containing distinctly Hellenistic jewelry, provides a much more useful context for archaeologist to understand the city of Jerusalem during this period.
The earring and bead show that the Hellenistic 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 researchers say. It seems that the Hellenistic city did not extend beyond the crest of the hill within the City of David, but instead would have spread into Jerusalem’s central valley.
Although we may never know the details of who owned this stunning earring, or how they acquired it, its distinctive style and fine quality does help us understand the people who were living in the near the 'City of David' in Hellenistic times.
Video: Gil Mezuman, City of David.
Courtesy of the IAA