A rare gold bead from the end of the Roman era was uncovered within the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation of the Pilgrimage Road in the City of David, part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park. The gold bead, which a volunteer discovered, is handmade in a delicate and complicated process.
A unique bead made from pure gold and dated to at least 1,600 years ago was uncovered at the sifting project at the Archaeological Experience in the Emek Tzurim National Park. The bead was found in dirt removed from a magnificent Roman structure discovered in the Pilgrimage Road Excavation. It was created using a unique technique that required delicate craft to affix tens of tiny balls together in the shape of a ring to make one small bead.
Hallel Feidman, age 18, from Bnei Ayish, is the volunteer who found the gold bead. She is a National Service volunteer who is working on the sifting project. “I poured the pail onto the sieve and began to wash the material that was brought from the excavations in the City of David,” Feidman says as she describes the moment she made the discovery. “And then I saw something shiny in the corner of the sieve, different, that I don’t usually see. I immediately approached the archaeologist, and he confirmed that I had found a gold bead. Everyone here was very excited.”
According to Dr. Amir Golani, an ancient jewelry expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority: “Throughout all my years in archaeology, I have found gold perhaps once or twice, so to find gold jewelry is very, very special.” He points out that the bead, which survived unscathed, is probably only a tiny part of a necklace or bracelet that included additional beads. “Whoever could afford a piece like this made from gold was an affluent person with means.”
According to Shlomo Greenberg and Ari Levy, Excavation Directors on behalf of the Israel Antiques Authority, “The bead originated in a magnificent structure which is at least 25 meters long. The structure was built on Pilgrimage Road in the City of David in a 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.”
The researchers point out that it is possible that the bead was created in a period that precedes the period of the structure in which it was found. However, it is reasonable to assume that the people that lived in the structure used the bead, which may have accidentally been lost when the necklace broke.
The find holds distinctive importance due to the lack of gold items in archaeological excavations and because beads of this style are not common due to the unique and complex technique used to create them. The method most probably originates from Mesopotamia, which was known from approximately 4500 years ago.
“The most interesting aspect of the bead is its unique and complex production method,” explains Dr. Golani. “A good understanding of the materials and their properties are required, as well as control over the heat. 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.” He says, “Only a professional craftsman could produce such a bead, which is another reason this find holds great value.”
The unique technique, which came from outside of Israel, coupled with the use of gold in creating this bead, speaks to the wealth of its owner. It is possible that the bead was created in a different area and made its way to the City of David due to the extensive trade relations between Jerusalem and other regions at that time. Another theory is that the bead was gifted to a Jerusalem resident, or, possibly due to its unique nature, it was passed within the family from one generation to another as an inheritance.
Similar beads have been discovered in burial caves from 2500 years ago (end of the First Temple period) in Ketef Hinnom near the City of David during excavations carried out by Professor Gabriel Barkay. Still, even those beads were made from silver. To this day, only a few dozen gold beads have been found in Israel.
According to Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Although it is a small find, it is precisely the personal, day-to-day items that manage to touch and connect us, more than anything else, directly to a certain person. 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.” The Emek Tzurim National Park operates all year long and, over the years has uncovered numerous finds from different periods in Jerusalem’s history, including rare jewelry and coins, and pottery fragments.