update deskArchaeology

Jerusalem burial cave yields 1,800-year-old gold against evil eye

Young girls were interred with jewelry dedicated to the Roman goddess Luna.

The assemblage of fine gold jewelry. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority.
The assemblage of fine gold jewelry. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority.

Jerusalem, it appears, was the city of Gold even after death.

That conclusion comes to mind as scholars ponder why young girls buried in Jerusalem in the Roman period were adorned with fine gold jewelry.

The impressive jewelry found in a burial cave in Jerusalem was worn as amulets against the evil eye 1,800 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Monday.

The jewelry will be presented to the public for the first time in Jerusalem on Monday, at the 48th Annual Archaeological Congress in Israel.

The jewels were originally discovered in 1971, in an excavation whose finds were not previously published.

The remains of a lead coffin were found on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem containing jewels including gold earrings, a hairpin, a gold pendant and gold beads, carnelian beads and a glass bead.

The jewels were recently located in the context of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Publication of Past Excavations Project, whereby old excavations that were not fully published are now being publicized.

“The location of the original reports that gathered dust over the years in the Israel Antiquities Authority archives, and physically tracing the whereabouts of the items themselves, has shed light on long-forgotten treasures,” says Ayelet Dayan, who heads this project. “The beautiful jewelry that we researched is an example of such treasures.”

Dayan, Ayelet Gruber and Yuval Baruch of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who carried out the research on the jewelry, believe that the very valuable items that bear the symbols of Luna, the Roman moon goddess, accompanied the girls in their lifetime, and were buried with them to continue to protect them in the afterlife.

According to their research, two similar gold earrings were discovered in another excavation carried out on the Mount of Olives in 1975.

“It seems that the girl was buried with an expensive set of gold jewelry that included earrings, a chain with a lunula pendant (named after the goddess), and a hairpin,” say the researchers. “These items of jewelry are known in the Roman world, and are characteristic of young girl burials, possibly providing evidence of the people who were buried at these sites.”

Late Roman Jerusalem—renamed Aelia Capitolina—had a mixed population that reached the city after the destruction of the Second Temple and the evacuation of the Jewish residents. People from different parts of the Roman Empire settled in the city, bringing with them a different set of values, beliefs and rituals. The pagan cult of the city’s new population was rich and varied, including gods and goddesses, among them the cult of Luna.

According to Eli Escusido, director of the Antiquities Authority: “The interring of the jewelry together with the young girl is touching. One can imagine that their parents or relatives parted from the girl, either adorned with the jewelry, or [with it] possibly lying by her side, and thinking of the protection that the jewelry provided in the world to come. This is a very human situation, and all can identify with the need to protect one’s offspring, whatever the culture or the period.”

The Archaeological Congress is organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Exploration Society and the Israel Archaeological Association.

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