Because of the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions over the past few months, it took a while until we managed to go over the multitude of artifacts found in the sifting over August. We finally finished sorting through the finds from that very busy Summer month, and we were excited to find among them a tiny gold bead from the time of the First Temple.
On the day the bead was found, the sifting was inundated with visitors, and the boy who found the bead and brought it to the supervising archaeologist hurried back to continue sifting. The archaeologist thought it looked like an unidentified modern item and didn’t manage to write down the boy’s details or to photograph him. After the uniqueness of the bead became clear, we tried to locate the boy and called all the families who took part in the sifting at the time the bead was found and discovered that it was found by Binyamin Milt, aged 9, from Jerusalem.
We sorted through the Summer’s artifacts in Dr. Gaby Barkay’s back yard since because of the Covid-19 virus he hardly leaves his house. When Gaby held the bead, his first response was: “I recognize this type of bead!”, and recalled that he found several similar items when he excavated burial systems from the First Temple period in Katef Hinom (next to the Menachem Begin Center). There the beads were made of silver, but were identical in shape and in their manufacturing method, called granulation. Beads of this type were also found in several other sites over the country, and the layers in which they were found were dated to various periods, from the 13th century BCE up to the 4th century BCE, with the overwhelming majority dating to the Iron Age (12th century BCE up to the 6th century BCE). Several similar beads made of gold were also found in Megiddo, in Tel el-Ajjul, and Tel el-Farah (south), in layers dated to the 12th to 9th centuries BCE.
The bead is roughly cylindrical, with a hole at its center. Its diameter measures 6mm and its height 4mm, and it is built of four layers each made of tiny gold balls adhered one to another in a flower shape. Gold being a precious metal that does not tarnish or rust, the bead’s state of preservation is excellent, and it looks as if it had been manufactured just yesterday.
From the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Amir Golani of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which surveys the different jewelry types from the First Temple period, it appears that pieces of gold jewelry are rarely found among archaeological artifacts from the Iron Age II (First Temple period). Gold in that period was not refined and generally contained a significant percentage of silver. In Ancient Egypt, magical significance was attributed to gold due to its properties of shine and excellent preservation over time, qualities which bestowed on it connotations of eternity and connection with the Sun God.
The Bible relates that the source of gold in the Land of Israel in biblical times was South Arabia and Ophir, on the horn of Africa (Somalia). Gold may even have arrived in Israel from Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Greece, by way of Phoenician traders, although its main source was likely to have been Egypt.
The granulation technique was used for jewelry design in this period by attaching silver or gold balls, or granules, to one another or to a piece of metal in a 2- or 3-dimensional fashion. One of the most common uses of this technique was in the manufacture of beads, made from five or more granules of metal, in a circular arrangement. The process of granule formation used by artisans of the time was complex and advanced. The technique involves several manufacturing stages and several components and requires the ability to melt metal at high temperatures, demanding a high level of skill from the artisan. The granules are shaped from tiny metal pieces that are melted on a bed of charcoal or charcoal powder, which adsorbs air, preventing oxidation. Once the metal melts, the surface tension of the liquid produces ball-shaped drops. An alternative method involves dripping the liquid metal from a height into a bowl and constantly stirring the drops. Granulation is a technique that demanded of the goldsmith a considerable amount of expertise and experience.
Beads of this kind are prevalent in burial offerings, strengthening the conjecture that they had an apotropaic function – a magic spell or ritual act to ward off the evil eye. The use of the beads was widespread in jewelry and generally, they were part of necklaces, ornamental belts, tiaras, bracelets, or as an ornament on the fringe of a garment. There are cases where beads made in this way decorate pendants, stamps, amulets, pins, spinning whorls, weights, and other objects.
Various types of jewelry are mentioned in the Bible, and different suggestions have been made in the research of their identification, but the identity of most of the terms has yet to be settled. The most detailed list of types of jewelry appears in the book of Isaiah (chapter 3 verses 18-23), where among others the netifot are mentioned. The accepted meaning of this term is a pendant hanging from a necklace. Nevertheless, in light of the information above, one could offer a new interpretation, being beads fashioned in the granulation technique, in which balls are formed by melting gold and creating from it drops. The word netifot (נטיפות) might have derived from the root n-t-f (נט”פ) which refers to drops.
At this stage, it is not clear to what purpose the bead we found served, whether it was part of an ornament worn by an important personage who visited the Temple, or by a priest. This bead joins the many thousands of ancient pieces of jewelry from different periods collected over the years by the Sifting Project, and further information about it will be published after the completion of the work of processing and research on all the jewelry artifacts.
This article was originally published by The Sifting Project.