Some people think of archaeology—incorrectly—as a treasure hunt. Not many archaeologists are as lucky as Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of King Tut with all its glorious treasures. More often than not, archaeologists find neither gold nor silver. And if they do find a precious metal, it is usually a matter of luck, rather than design. Let me tell you, though, that I am one of the few lucky ones: I had the good fortune to discover a gold hoard!
In the summer of 1972 I was an Area Supervisor for the excavations at Tell Gezer, in Israel. I was assigned to an Area in Field IVa, where a large gateway from the Middle Bronze period (about 1750–1550 B.C.) was discovered. A complex of store-rooms was adjacent to the gateway. Everything in the store-rooms had been left untouched, protected by a heavy layer of mudbricks which had collapsed from the city-wall when the city was destroyed in the late 15th century B.C., probably by the advancing 18th Dynasty Egyptians (1546–1512).
There must have been a great fire in these rooms just before the mudbrick walls tumbled, because several of the storage jars were filled with carbonized grain and charred beams lay on top of the debris. There is also evidence that the destruction probably occurred suddenly. On the floor in one room we found the skeleton of a woman who had been crushed under the wall when it collapsed. Apparently the destruction of the wall caught her by surprise.
Our first task was to carefully remove all jars so they could be restored. After their removal, we were supposed to clean the floor or on which they rested. The floor was made of compacted dirt. To make sure that we reached all parts of the floor, we scraped it with a trowel. Because the ancient floors are not as even as modern tiled floors, tracing a dirt floor is quite difficult and sometimes frustrating. To trace a dirt floor, one has to lay the flat part of the trowel on and parallel to the floor, and push the trowel gently forward while letting the compacted dirt beneath guide the trowel.
As I was showing one of the students who worked in this area how to trace the floor, the pointed end of the trowel bumped into the floor and something popped out. When we examined the object, we discovered that it was a gold ring or earring decorated with something like a cluster of grapes. I carefully examined it and put it in the proper container, while we excitedly continued to trace the floor in the unfulfilled hope of finding more gold.
The rumor of a gold find reached the Bedouin laborers working with us. They asked me if it was true that we had found three jars full of gold … How quickly rumors exaggerate the truth! I assured them that no gold had been found; I did not want them to start digging up the place after the season was over.
During most of the following season (1973) I worked in Field IX, where we excavated the city dump from the Hellenistic period. Digging an ancient dump can be very interesting, but that is another story. When we finished our work in 059Field IX, my team and I were asked to go back to the same room in Field IV where the gold ring or earring had been found the previous year. In 1972, we did not finish clearing the whole room because we had to leave a balkb standing. A short season was conducted in the spring of 1972 during which most of the balk was taken down almost to the level of the floor. Our task in the following summer was to complete the removal of the balk and then to finish tracing the floor, which we had begun in 1972. During the last few days of the season, we were working to finish clearing the store-room.
When we completed the removal of the balk, we proceeded to trace the floor. The as-yet untraced section lay in the southwestern corner of the room. As before, I took my trusty trowel and started showing one of the students how to trace the floor. As I was pushing the trowel forward something again popped out and landed on the floor beside me. At first glance I did not realize what it was, and a quick thought went through my mind: “What is a dry, crumpled eucalyptus leaf doing here?” I lifted the object very carefully and to my astonishment was able to identify it as a gold-leaf female figurine. “Gold!” was the shout that went over the intercom to the pottery shed, where the director of the dig and all the “big wheels” were congregating at the time.
“Stop digging!” was the answer, and the photographer was sent immediately to take pictures of whatever was still in place. Joe Seger, the director, came running and went down into the ancient store-room. With a brush and dental tools he cleaned the rest of the corner where we found another gold-leaf female figurine, three rings similar to the one found the year before, and a gold frame for a scarab.c In all, nine pieces of jewelry were found.
If it was not luck what else could it be? The hoard was found on the last day of the final year of the 10-year dig at Gezer.
Some people think of archaeology—incorrectly—as a treasure hunt. Not many archaeologists are as lucky as Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of King Tut with all its glorious treasures. More often than not, archaeologists find neither gold nor silver. And if they do find a precious metal, it is usually a matter of luck, rather than design. Let me tell you, though, that I am one of the few lucky ones: I had the good fortune to discover a gold hoard! In the summer of 1972 I was an Area Supervisor for the excavations at Tell Gezer, in Israel. […]
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