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Early medieval objects discovered in Israel

Archaeologists working in Israel have discovered a number of early medieval objects, including a large winepress, a gold coin, and a bronze chain, which date as far back as 1500 years ago.

Excavations are being carried out at the town of Ramat Ha-Sharon, which is near the Israeli capital city of Tel Aviv, in preparation for a new residential neighbourhood. “The excavation unearthed evidence of agricultural-industrial activity at the site during the Byzantine period – about 1,500 years ago,” explains Dr. Yoav Arbel, Director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “Among other finds, we discovered a large winepress paved with a mosaic as well as plastered installations and the foundations of a large structure that may have been used as a warehouse or even a farmstead.”

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“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. We also recovered stone mortars and millstones that were used to grind wheat and barley and probably also to crush herbs and medicinal plants. Most of the stone implements are made of basalt from the Golan Heights and Galilee.”

The winepress unveiled in Ramat Hasharon. Photo : Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

One of the rare and unexpected finds retrieved from the excavation is a gold coin, minted in 638 or 639 CE by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. On one side, the emperor is depicted with his two sons and the reverse shows a cross on the hill of Golgotha where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified. An interesting addition to the coin is an inscription scratched in Greek, and possibly also in Arabic. This is probably the name of the coin’s owner, who ‘marked’ it as highly valuable property. According to Dr. Robert Kool, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’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.”

The gold coin unearthed in the excavation. Photo: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority

Another unusual find is a bronze chain that was used to suspend a chandelier containing glass lamp holders. Chandeliers of this type are usually found in churches.

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A bronze chain that was used to suspend a chandelier. Photo : Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Installations built at the site after the Arabic conquest in the seventh century CE include a glass-making workshop and a warehouse, where four massive jars were found. The jars, which were sunk into the floor, were evidently used to store grain and other products as a precaution against pests and damp conditions. “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,” says Arbel. The pottery from this period includes complete pottery lamps for lighting, and local and imported serving ware, some of it decorated. Based on the assemblage of finds, the site continued to be inhabited until the eleventh century CE.

Ancient oil lamps found in the excavation. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Diego Barkan, the District Archaeologist for the Tel Aviv office of the Israel Antiquities Authority, notes “This is the first archaeological excavation ever conducted at the site, and only part of it was previously identified in an archaeological field survey. The Israel Antiquities Authority views this as an excellent opportunity to integrate the ancient remains into plans for the future municipal park.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority hopes to make these findings accessible to the public, and are working with local groups to realize this. Avi Gruber, Mayor of Ramat Ha-Sharon adds, “I am thrilled by the finds and we have already started working with the directors of the Neve Gan North project on exactly how to integrate the current finds into the future neighborhood. I want all our residents to enjoy learning about life here in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. 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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Top Image: Storage jars and oil lamps exposed in Ramat Hasharon. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

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