National Service volunteer Hallel Feidman, 18, from Bnei Ayish, who is assigned to the sifting project of the Archaeological Experience in the Emek Tzurim National Park, recently discovered a gold bead.
“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 described the moment of her discovery and continued: “And then I saw something shiny in the corner of the sieve, different, that I don’t normally see. I immediately approached the archaeologist and he confirmed that I found a gold bead. Everyone here was very excited.”
You bet they were. The unique bead is pure gold, dating to at least 1,600 years ago. The dirt from which it was sifted had been removed from a palatial Roman structure uncovered at the Pilgrimage Road Excavation. The gold bead was forged using a unique technique that required delicate workmanship to affix dozens of tiny balls together and shape them like a ring, to create one small bead.
Dr. Amir Golani, an ancient jewelry expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “In all my years in archaeology, I have found gold maybe once or twice, so to find gold jewelry is something very, very special.”
Golani pointed out that the bead, which survived sixteen harrowing centuries unscathed, was likely a small part of a necklace or bracelet that included additional beads. “Whoever could afford a piece like this made from gold, was an affluent person, they had means,” he said.
According to IAA excavation directors Shlomo Greenberg and Ari Levy, “the bead originated in a grandiose structure which is at least 25 meters long. The structure was built on Pilgrimage Road in the City of David, in a building style that characterizes upscale buildings. The wealth of the building’s occupants is evident by additional finds that were discovered in it, such as imported clay vessels, and a decorative mosaic floor.”
The researchers pointed out that the bead may have been created before the structure in which it was found was built, but it is reasonable to assume that the dwellers used the bead and accidentally lost it when the necklace broke.
One imagines lots of crying and yelling, possibly with servants being flogged. Archaeology is so cool!
Beads of the kind discovered by Hallel Feidman are not common – their manufacturing technique originated in Mesopotamia, where it has been known for some 4,500 years.
“The most interesting aspect of the bead is its unique and complex production method”, explained Dr. Golani. “A good understanding of the materials and their properties was required, as well as control over the heat, to solder the tiny balls together to create a tiny ring while also preventing overheating which would melt the gold. Only a professional craftsman could produce such a bead, which is another reason this find holds great value.”
Similar beads have been discovered in burial caves from 2,500 years ago (end of the First Temple period) in Ketef Hinnom near the City of David, during excavations carried out by Professor Gabriel Barkay, but those beads were made from silver. To this day, only a few dozen gold beads have been found in Israel.