Israeli archaeologist uncovers ancient treasure trove

An Israeli archaeologist says she has uncovered a rare trove of ancient gold coins and medallions near Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Eilat Mazar of Jerusalem's Hebrew University says among the finds are jewelry and a gold medallion with the Jewish menorah symbol etched into it. Other findings include items with additional Jewish symbols such as a ram's horn and a Torah scroll.

"I have never found so much gold in my life!" Mazar said at a press conference on Mount Scopus, the Times of Israel reported. "I was frozen. It was unexpected."

Excavators uncovered a total of 36 gold coins marked with images of Byzantine emperors ranging 250 years from Constantine II to Mauricius. The Byzantine Empire ruled over Israel until Muslim leader Umar ibn Khattab conquered the city in 634.

Mazar said the treasure, which can be dated back to the seventh century, was discovered in a ruined Byzantine public structure a mere 50 meters from the southern wall of the hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount -- where the two biblical Jewish Temples once stood.

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The site is also considered holy by Muslims who call it the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

At the same site, Mazar in July uncovered a 3,000-year-old inscribed piece of an earthenware jug dating back to the time of King David.

The ancient inscription is the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in Jerusalem, dating to the 10th century B.C. It is engraved on a large "pithos," a type of ceramic jar, along with six others at the excavation site.

The inscription is written in the Canaanite language, which was spoken by a Biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel, and is the only of its kind to be found in Israel. The artifact predates the previously oldest inscription found in the area by 250 years and predates the Biblical Israelites' rule.

Reading from left to right, the text is composed of a combination of letters that translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n and have no known meaning in west-Semitic languages.

The meaning of the text remains a mystery but Mazar suspects it relates to the jar's contents or the name of its owner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.