Israeli archaeologists have unearthed a Byzantine-era hoard of gold in Jerusalem's Old City, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced on Monday.
Dig director Eilat Mazar described the excavation of 36 gold coins, a gold medallion inscribed with a Jewish ritual candelabrum and a selection of gold and silver jewellery as "a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery."
A statement said that the treasure was found about 50 metres (yards) from the southern wall of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount and venerated as the site of the Jewish temples of kings Solomon and Herod.
Mazar, of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, said that while excavations in the same area had revealed artifacts from the time of Solomon's temple, which according to Jewish tradition was razed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, the seventh century finds were completely unexpected.
"It would appear that the most likely explanation is that the...cache was earmarked as a contribution toward the building of a new synagogue, at a location that is near the Temple Mount," the statement quoted her as saying.
"What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful. The treasure was abandoned, and its owners could never return to collect it."
Mazar estimates they were abandoned in the context of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE," the statement said.
"After the Persians conquered Jerusalem, many Jews returned to the city and formed the majority of its population, hoping for political and religious freedom.
"But as Persian power waned, instead of forming an alliance with the Jews, the Persians sought the support of Christians and ultimately allowed them to expel the Jews from Jerusalem."
[Image via Agence France-Presse]