Archaeologists from the U.S. and Israel say they have discovered 3,300-year-old silver earrings in northern Israel that they believe once may have been used for trade before the invention of coins.
The earrings along with other silver ingots were found in a clay jug at an archeological dig at Abel Beth Maacah just south of the border with Lebanon.
“The jug and its contents appear to be Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, in the 13th century BC, the time of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings described in the Hebrew Scriptures,” archaeologist Robert Mullins, an associate professor of biblical studies at Azusa Pacific University, who led the dig said in a university press release. “This is one of only 20 silver hoards ever found in Israel.”
The silver objects were found in a large ball-like mass wrapped in plant fibers.
Teams from Azusa Pacific and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem last summer also found a large stone structure that may once have comprised the tower section of a fortification for the settlement. They described their findings in the journal Strata.
“For Mullins, the intriguing discovery confirmed his belief that this biblically significant site, once an ancient guardian city on the border of Lebanon, lies rich with treasures waiting to be unearthed,” Azusa Pacific University said in a press release on Friday.
Researchers noted two biblical citations for the location of Abel Beth Maacah.
Mullins said that in the Second Book of Samuel Chapter 20, the location was noted during a description of the rebellion against King David.
“You get the sense that this city is an important guardian for the northern approaches into Israel,” Mullins told his team at the site in a video posted online.
The Times of Israel pointed to another biblical citation of the location: “The Book of Kings chronicles its conquest by Ben-hadad I of Damascus in the early 9th century BCE and by Neo-Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III in 733 BCE.”
The team first found a jug and later revealed that it contained the silver objects, including earrings and ingots, that were wrapped in plant fibers.
The silver was found in a conjoined mass that was later divided into its 12 units by conservator Mimi Lavi of the Hebrew University. “Five complete silver earrings, three earring fragments and four scrap pieces that may have been used for monetary transactions,” wrote the Times of Israel.
Mullins said that earrings at the time were considered accessories for both men and women.
He told the Times of Israel that the jewelry would have been used to purchase goods, as currency was invented much later.
“Before coins were invented in the 5th century BCE, people would weigh out bits of silver on pan scales against known weights, such as the famous shekel of the Bible,” Mullins said. “These pieces were evidently placed into a jug whose neck was missing, probably for safekeeping, though we have no proof that the jug and its contents were hidden below a floor.”
LiveScience noted one question that may never be answered about the find, writing, “Why the treasure was not retrieved, and apparently not even hidden, is a mystery.”
“Perhaps the family needed to leave their home suddenly and hoped to return to retrieve this jug and its contents, but were unable to,” LiveScience quoted the researchers.
Later, “this area was covered by accumulating debris and earth over the centuries, [and] no one knew that the treasure was there,” the researchers added.