History's dumping ground: 400 Byzantine coins, gold jewelry found discarded in refuse pit

Hundreds of ancient coins, oil lamps and gold jewelry have been discovered in Israel, mysteriously thrown away centuries ago in a Byzantine garbage dump.

The excavation site is located on the outskirts of the ancient Israeli city of Arsuf, just north of Tel Aviv. This is not the first discovery made at the site; archaeologists previously uncovered a large winepress and a miniature model of a Byzantine church from 500 A.D.

However, Professors Oren Tal and Moshe Ajami say their latest find is the most fascinating so far.

"The most intriguing find in the area is a number of Byzantine refuse pits," Tal of Tel Aviv University and Ajami of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement. "One of them is especially large (more than 30 meters in diameter) and contained fragments of pottery vessels, fragments of glass vessels, industrial glass waste and animal bones."

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What stood out to Tal and Ajami was the large number of "usable artifacts" found in the refuse pit. This discovery "raises questions," they said.

"This is very fascinating," Tal told the Jerusalem Post. "You don't expect [intact lamps] to be found in dumps and refuse, because they need to be used and they need to be sold. Our understanding is that there is some sort of probable cultic aspect of intentionally discarding usable and intact vessels among the Samaritan community that inhabited Apollonia in the late Byzantine period."

A noteworthy find includes an octagonal ring with excerpts of versus from the Samaritan Pentateuch, a version of the Old Testament, engraved on both sides. One reads "Adonai is his name," and the other side reads, "One God, and so on."

"Approximately a dozen Samaritan rings have been published so far in scientific literature, and this ring constitutes an important addition given the assemblage in which it was discovered," the archaeologists explained. The ring may indicate that the community was more religious than previously thought.

The excavation also helped shed light on who was living in the Arsuf area during the fifth and sixth centuries.

"We didn’t know that in this site we had so many Samaritan people in this period," Tal told the Jerusalem Post. "It's a huge community."