Ancient Canaanite Gold and Silver Jewelry Hoard Reveals Past Secrets

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Jewelry Hoard Survived Burning

So why didn’t the owner of the jewelry come back for such a gorgeous collection?

“The house of the hoard was destroyed in a big conflagration,” Dr Arie tells us. “Some seventy complete pottery vessels and other small-finds were found in the three rooms of the house. We will never be able to know the exact reason for this fire. The fact that the fire is limited to this building may hint that its cause was also local and can’t be explained with any historical event.

The fire that destroyed the house is definitely the reason why the owners of the jewelry never returned to pick up their belongings.”

Hacksilver clips lie among gold and carnelean beads, scraps of linen still attached: Image © The Megiddo Expedition

How Do Archaeologists Analyze Ancient Jewelry?

The analysis of ancient jewelry is a complex process, and requires comparison with other jewelry found in similar circumstances, as well as a knowledge of the history and customs of a region. According to Dr. Arie, “Because we know that the origin of the gold in Canaan is from Egypt, we can assume that the gold items in the hoard were either robbed from the ruins of the nearby Canaanite palace or were heirlooms from the time when Egypt ruled this region.” The silver objects in the hoard suggest a more complicated story.

 “At least 25 silver hoards dated to the Iron Age (1,130-586 BCE) are known from Israel. They all contain (exactly as the jug from Megiddo) jewelry together with scraps and hacksilber – the latter two could have been used as a kind of currency,” Dr. Arie believes. In many ancient cultures, silver was weighed to determine value in commercial transactions, and hacksilver, sometimes clipped or hacked from coins, was acceptable.

Tel Megiddo Jewelry Hoard: Testing Materials

The silver will be examined with lead isotope analysis in order to determine its origin, and metallurgists from the Weizmann Institute are currently checking with XRF, X-Ray Fluorescence, a non-destructive analytical technique, to define the ingredients of the silver alloy, Dr. Arie told Decoded Science.

The physics of decay and origin of carbon 14 for radiocarbon dating: Image by Sgbeer

Dr. Orit Shamir, at the Israel Antiquity Authority, who is an expert curator of organic materials, has identified the textile wrapping the hoard as linen.

“Linen threads of this kind are typical to the Land of Israel from the Neolithic period to the middle Ages,” Dr. Arie reports. “The textile was removed and sent to Carbon 14 analysis. “

Tel Megiddo World Heritage Site

Tel Megiddo, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, was built on top of the Canaan settlement on a trade route between Assyria and Egypt. The excavation, which has so far discovered twenty-three layers of successive occupation of the site, overlooks the plain in northern Israel where certain religions believe that a battle known as Armageddon, the last battle, will take place. Tourists can visit the Tel Megiddo site, but the jewelry hoard will not go on public display until analyses are completed.

The Tel Megiddo excavation, Israel, UNESCO World Heritage Site: Photo by Golf Bravo

Resources

American Friends of Tel Aviv. Unique Gold Earring Found in Intriguing Collection of Ancient Jewelry at Tel Megiddo. (2012). Accessed June 5, 2012.

Brian M. Fagan, ed. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. (1996). Oxford University Press. Accessed June 5, 2012.

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