School pupils help find 900-year-old Crusader jewelry trove

Some 2,500 Israeli pupils and volunteers from Modiin-Maccabim-Re’ut participated in an archaeological excavation in their own community, coming away with a new sense of history — and a treasure trove of 900-year-old Crusader-period jewelry.

The 4th- through 12th-grade pupils engaged in a cultural-educational archaeological excavation as part of a joint Israel Antiquities Authority and municipality venture at Givat Tittora over the past year. Alongside the pupils, volunteers of all ages were also uncovering their town’s history and heritage — and having good, dirty fun in the process.

Participating in the dig was “as good as going to the beach,” said Netiv Zevulun Elementary School 4th grader Kinneret Goodman. She enjoyed her experience at the dig about a month ago and said she found several pottery shards, including a special green piece from “a very long time ago,” and an animal bone.

“You get to find things and then you can take pictures and remember the time that you found things from hundreds of years ago, and even more,” said Goodman, almost 10.

The Tel Tittora ancient archaeological mound has evidence of settlement beginning in the Chalcolithic period (c. 6,000 years ago) through modernity. The hill’s strategic location, surrounded by arable valleys on the main route from the coast to Jerusalem, explains its continual settlement. According to excavation director Avraham Tendler, the site has offered up artifacts from the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the First Temple period through the Second Temple period, and even houses hiding complexes from the Bar Kochba Revolt.

Tendler’s team is currently excavating a Crusader fortress, where an impressive mass of 900-year-old jewelry was curiously all found in its inner courtyard. The finds included dozens of items, many of them in pristine condition.

“In the courtyard is where the women would cook and bake in clay ovens and apparently women who worked in the cooking and baking wore jewelry — necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, hair pins. Through the hundreds of years of activity in the courtyard, some of that jewelry fell,” said Tendler.

For Tendler, the opportunity for the schoolchildren to work alongside his team at the dig lets them break through the museum glass and discover their own history and heritage.

“The students and volunteers from Modiin have exposed the inner courtyard of the Crusader fortress. Here, the fortress’s occupants cooked and baked for hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, some 900 years ago. Ancient clay ovens (tabuns), cooking pots, jars, serving dishes, and a table were discovered in the ancient kitchen, as well as numerous remains of food such as olive pits, pulses, charred grape pips, and animal bones,” said Tendler.

Municipality residents and other volunteers are excavating the foundations of the fortress. There they have exposed a large Roman period building beneath the Crusader fortress, which will also become part of the eventual public urban nature park on the hill.

The use of local residents in the excavation has manifold benefits, according to Vered Bosidan, the IAA’s project coordinator for the dig, and strengthens their connection to Tittora Hill.

“The enthusiasm begins with the younger generation, with activities carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the schools, and makes its way into the homes, to the parents and the extended family. It is there that the seeds are sown that result in the development of an awareness of antiquity preservation,” said Bosidan.

The Modiin municipality is taking note.

“In view of its tremendous success, the project will continue next year,” announced Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas. “We will continue to work in cooperation with all the relevant authorities to make Tittora Hill an urban nature site that is accessible to all and provides a mine of information about the region’s local treasures.”

Told by The Times of Israel that she may get to participate in the dig again next year, 4th-grader Goodman said that made her really happy because “it’s fun to dig and find things.”

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