Treasure in Israel

11 08 2008
During excavations in Israel a team led by Prof. Manfred Oeming of the Department of Scientific Theology (University of Heidelberg) and Prof. Oded Lipschits (University of Tel Aviv) have discovered coins dating from 70 AD and the Byzantine era
In ancient Israel, pigeons both for eating and as sacrificial birds for the temple in Jerusalem were bred in underground dovecotes known as columbaria. For four years now, a team of German and Israeli archaeologists and theologians have been excavating an exciting site inhabited in antiquity for over 1700 years.

A few days ago they discovered a small clay cooking pot in a niche on the floor of such a columbarium. The metal detector almost flipped its lid and it had every reason to do so. In the pot there were 15 large silver coins dating from the period of the destruction of the second temple around 70 AD. “A find like this is very rare and very exciting,” said Prof. Manfred Oeming, who is in Israel with 56 Heidelberg students. Prof. Oded Lipschits, in charge of the excavations with 20 students from Tel Aviv, explained how such a cooking pot can end up in a cavity where pigeons were bred. “The pot was scantily covered with earth,” he said. “It must have been hidden with very great haste. Probably the little treasure trove was hidden at the time when the Romans destroyed the temple. The person who hid it probably intended to return and fetch it when the trouble was over but was unable to carry out his plan. Something must have happened to him.”

This find is not the only “treasure” the German-Israeli archaeologists have hit upon. Another major find dates from the Byzantine era (4th-5th century BC) and consists of 380 coins and a further 70 coins found on the stone floor in the immediate vicinity.

The exciting story of the significant Ramat Rahel site is gradually taking shape. The name of the site as referred to in the Bible is still uncertain. There are various possible candidates, including Bet-Keren, Mamshit, the holding of Kimham, the House of Baal, Rama or Bethlehem-Ephrata. Initially (approx. 700 BC) there was a royal citadel here and a large-scale palace of the sons of David (approx. 6,000 sqm.). The precise function of this palace, which was very close to the main palace within the city walls of Jerusalem, is still a matter of controversy. It could have been a luxurious palace for women, an administrative centre, a summer residence or the headquarters of the Assyrian invaders. In the Persian era (538-322 BC) Ramat Rahel was an administrative centre with an opulent “paradise” garden. After that it was a Jewish settlement in the Hasmonean period, a late Roman villa with baths, a Byzantine church with a monastery (5th-7th century) and finally an Arab villa (7th-11th century).

Some 120 students are taking part in the excavations, half of them from Germany. Alongside the archaeological discoveries the project is of major significance for German-Israeli and Jewish-Christian relations.

Further information
Prof. Dr. Manfred Oeming (at present in Israel)
mobile phone: 00972/(0)526037125

Journalists can also address their inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Editor: Email
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