Rare Ancient Gold Bead Discovered in the City of David

“Whoever wore it was certainly affluent.”
Rare gold bead
Koby Harati/City of David

A delicate gold bead dating to at least 1,600 years ago was discovered during a sifting project held at the Emek Tzurim National Park, according to a press release on Wednesday. The dirt was sourced from an impressive Roman structure uncovered during the Israel Antiquities Authority (iaa) excavations of the Pilgrimage Road, located in the City of David.

A section of the grandiose Roman structure where the bead was found
Ari Levy/Israel Antiquities Authority

This unique piece was originally created by affixing a number of miniscule, solid gold balls together to form a single bead. Such a fine item would have required an exceptionally high degree of skill and quality craftsmanship to fabricate. An intimate knowledge of heat and metal was needed to bind the balls together without melting the whole bead.

The press release stated: “The find holds distinctive importance due to the lack of gold items found in archaeological excavations, and because beads of this style are not common, due to the unique and complex technique used to create them. The technique most probably originates from the region of Mesopotamia, where it was known from approximately 4,500 years ago.”

The bead was unscathed and was likely part of a larger necklace or bracelet. Dr. Amir Golani, an ancient-jewelry expert with the iaa, points out: “Whoever could afford a piece like this made from gold was an affluent person, with means.”

Rare gold bead
Koby Harati/City of David

Despite being found among later-context material, it is quite possible that the pure gold bead itself is from a much earlier time period. Certainly, a unique bead such as this would constitute part of heirloom jewelry passed down from generation to generation.

Only a few dozen gold beads have ever been discovered in Israel. Similarly designed silver beads have been found nearby in Ketef Hinnom, dating to over 2,500 years ago (alongside the earliest-known scrolls of biblical text—see our article here).

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact history of this exquisite gold bead, but as Eli Eskosido, director of the iaa, commented: “Although it is a tiny find, it is precisely the personal, day-to-day items that manage to touch and connect us more than anything else, directly, to a certain person. … A close examination of this object fills one with a deep sense of admiration for the technical skill and ability of those who came before us many centuries ago.”

Let the Stones Speak