BOSTON — Long before anyone opened a bank account or rented a safe deposit box, wealth protection demanded a bit of guile and a broken beer jug. A 3,100-year-old jewelry stash was discovered in just such a vessel, unearthed from an ancient settlement in Israel called Megiddo in 2010. Now the find is providing clues to how affluent folk hoarded their valuables at a time when fortunes rested on fancy metalwork, not money.
At the fortress city of Megiddo, a high-ranking Canaanite family stashed jewelry in a beer jug and hid it in a courtyard’s corner under a bowl, possibly under a veil of cloth, Eran Arie of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, said November 17 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
The hoard’s owners removed the jug’s neck and inserted a bundle of 35 silver items, including earrings and a bracelet, which were wrapped in two linen cloths. Other valuables were then added to the jug, including around 1,300 beads of silver and electrum — an alloy of gold and silver — that had probably been threaded into an elaborate necklace. There were 10 additional pieces of electrum jewelry, including a pair of basket-shaped earrings, each displaying a carved, long-legged bird.
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A Canaanite city palace stood only about 30 meters from the Iron Age building that housed the courtyard, Arie said. Due to the lesser building’s strategic location, its inhabitants must have held key government positions, he proposed. “For the family that lived there, the hoard represented the lion’s share of their wealth.” Those family members presumably fled around the time the structure that held the jewelry hoard was destroyed in a catastrophic event, possibly a battle.
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The Megiddo hoard was hidden but not buried, giving its owners quick access to their valuables. But no one ever retrieved the treasure. “We will never know why no one returned to claim this hoard,” Arie said.