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Conflagration at biblical Armageddon preserved gold and silver trove

Archaeologists digging at Tel Megiddo in northern Israel have unearthed what turns out to be one of the largest troves of Canaanite treasures ever found, buried in rubble from destruction 3,100 years ago. The treasure was hidden inside a clay vessel that had been unearthed in the summer of 2010. The pot had been filled with dirt and sent for testing. It was only recently that the dirt was examined in a restoration laboratory and the treasure revealed to their great surprise.

The hoard includes a collection of gold and silver jewelry, beads, a ring and a pair of unique gold earrings with molded ibexes and wild goats that was likely made in Egypt. "We find about 10 [whole] vessels every year. The only thing that was unusual was that the jug was found inside a bowl. It was put inside a bowl 3,000 years ago and was covered by another bowl and it was put in the corner of a court yard," archaeologist Eran Arie told The Media Line.

The hoard is one of the largest and most intriguing ever found in Israel. The treasure likely belonged to a wealthy, perhaps royal, family and was found in the layer of settlement dating to 1,100 B.C., about 150 years prior to the Israelite conquest of Canaan, Arie says.

Israel Finkelstein, a professor Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, who has been digging at Megiddo for nearly two decades, says the jug was discovered in the remains of a private home in the northern part of the site. It was dated to a period called Iron I.

The ancient city of Megiddo lies on the western border of the Jezreel Valley and had dozens of layers of civilization. It is mentioned repeatedly in Egyptian chronicles and was a major city during the era of the biblical Jewish kings. Christian prophecy holds that it is Armageddon, the site of the final battle between good and evil.

It's another fascinating find from a unique archaeological site. Tel Megiddo was an important Canaanite city-state until the early 10th century B.C.E. and a pivotal center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the following centuries. It is a multi-layered site comprising clearly differentiated time periods.

In this time period there are 10 or 11 strata well-dated through radiocarbon analysis. "Such a sequence of radiocarbon dates doesn't exist anywhere else in the region," says Finkelstein.

The hoard contained nine pairs of lunette [moon-shaped] earrings of common Canaanite origin made out of gold and a gold ring with a seal. There were also over one thousand beads made from semi-precious carnelian, which was frequently used in the making of Egyptian jewellery in the same period. It also contained a number of silver jewellery pieces.

Arie was supervising the area where the jug was found. He says the layer his team was excavating had gone through a conflagration, or destruction, perhaps connected to the treasure.

"Maybe somebody knew that the family had this kind of hoard and they were looking for it and when they didn't find it they set it all on fire," Arie speculates. "It was not hidden under the floor, but on the floor. So the people didn't know that they were going to perish. It was probably hidden by some kind of organic material, sacks, textile, leaves something that we didn't find."

He says an examination of the jewelry showed that some of it had originated from a different period. "Probably part of it was stolen or robbed from an earlier strata. Or some of it may have been heirloom," he says.

"What was unique in this hoard is that it contained gold and silver jewelry together. This is exactly the period that the Egyptians are not here anymore," he adds.

At the time this was going on Israelites began to appear in the central mountains and Philistines in the coastal plane. But Megiddo remained a strong Canaanite city well into the Israelite period.

Arie says the source of the silver was to the north, while the gold came from Egypt in the south. The mixture of the silver and gold jewelry can be seen as evidence of the waning Egyptian influence on the area.

"The hoard itself showed that they knew of and still appreciated the Egyptian style," he says.

Excavations at Megiddo resume next month.