When the Israeli government wants to commission infrastructure projects, it often carries out an archaeological survey first, because the history-rich land holds ancient treasures — sometimes in the most unassuming places.
Last week, archaeologists were examining an area of Mount Carmel in northern Israel before the water company Mekorot began construction of a reservoir. There, they discovered a fragment of a 1,600-year-old glass bracelet decorated with depictions of a menorah from the Second Temple.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said Tuesday that its researchers discovered the remnant on Thursday while sifting through a box holding hundreds of glass fragments that had been thrown into what they believed was an ancient trash pit.
After cleaning the dirt from the bracelet shard, excavation directors Limor Talmi and Dan Kirzner said in a statement, they were "excited to discover that the bracelet, which is made of turquoise colored glass, is decorated with symbols of the seven-branched menorah – the same menorah which according to tradition was kept alight in the Temple for eight days by means of a single cruse of oil.”
They were able to make out the impressions of two candelabras embossed on the glass fragment, “one a plain seven-branched menorah, of which only the surface of the menorah is visible and the other one consisting of a seven-branched menorah with flames depicted above its branches."
In Exodus 25, God commanded Moses to construct a seven-branched candelabra, or menorah, using pure gold which was to be decorated with blossoms and petals.
Some biblical scholars believe the seven lamps of the menorah symbolize the seven days of creation.
Archaeologists on the site excavated what they believe was once an industrial region along with trash pits dating to the late Roman and early Byzantine periods (end of fourth century/early fifth century A.D.)
“Jewelry such as this was found in excavations, usually in the context of funerary offerings. It is unusual to find such objects in settlement strata, and even rarer to discover them in an ancient refuse pit,” said Yael Gorin-Rosen, head of the Ancient Glass Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Archaeologists are unsure who lived in the ancient settlement. It could have been Jews, Samaritans, Christians or pagans.
They do, however, believe the population was prosperous.
“Glass jewelry was used extensively in the late Roman period and we can reasonably assume that those items that were specially decorated were more expensive than the plain unornamented ones,” the antiquities authority said. “The refuse that was discovered in the pit included numerous glass vessels and fragments of glass window panes, as well as a selection of jewelry, indicating of a population that lived a life of comfort and affluence.”