A centuries-old spectacular precious stone ring has been recovered from an excavation site in the city of Yavne in central Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority has announced . The type of stone set in the sold gold ring is known as amethyst, and in A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ folklore this stone was reputed to have the power to ward off the symptoms of a hangover . The ring was dated to the seventh century AD, which was the period when Palestine transitioned from Byzantine to Muslim rule.
Precious Stone Ring From Either Byzantine or Islamic Period
The delicate, finely-crafted ring was found in a layer that had previously been dated to the seventh century AD. Since control of Palestine passed from Byzantine authorities to Muslim conquerors in the year 636, it could have been left their during either the Byzantine or Early Islamic periods.
But the ring may not have been manufactured during that time period. As a precious and valuable item, it may have been a family heirloom that was passed down for several generations.
Rings of this style were frequently worn by the Romans, who occupied Yavne before the Byzantine period. This raises the possibility that the ring might have been a few centuries old when its final owner dropped it in the location where it was found. According to excavation directors Dr. Eli Hadad, Liat Nadav-Ziv, and Dr. Jon Seligman, the ring could have been worn by a Roman elite living in Yavne as long ago as the third century AD.
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Based on the ring’s fine design and choice of raw materials, it is clear that it once belonged to someone of high status.
“The person who held the ring was a wealthy man, and the wearing of the jewel indicated his status and wealth,” explained Dr. Amir Golani, a jewelry expert affiliated with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Amethyst is a name given to purple-colored quartz. Dr. Golani identified amethyst as one of the 12 stones that were added to the breastplates used by high priests in the Temple, as described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible.
However, it was used in more A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ times, in the first millennium AD amethyst was most widely known for its alleged ability to counteract the effects of alcohol consumption. The Greeks and Romans wore jewelry inlayed amethyst stones for this purpose (the Greeks appear to have started the custom), and the Byzantines might very well have shared a belief in this seemingly odd superstition.
Notably, the ring found in Yavne was recovered during excavations at a sprawling Byzantine winery complex, which was unearthed just this past summer. This factory produced a highly-coveted regional wine known as Gaza or Ashkelon wine, in honor of the ports from which it was shipped across the Mediterranean. The presence of the ring there strongly suggests it was worn by someone who knew of amethyst’s purported alcohol-negating capacity and hoped to take advantage of it.
“Did the person who wore the ring want to avoid intoxication due to drinking a lot of wine?” Dr. Elie Haddad asked rhetorically. “We probably will never know.”
Perhaps the ring was worn (before being unfortunately lost) by an important visitor, who planned to take the opportunity to sample the winery’s prized products. Or it could have been worn and lost by the factory’s owner, who needed some type of protection while performing taste-testing duties.
The Winemakers of Yavne
The Yavne winery was constructed in either the fourth or fifth century AD. It was extraordinarily large for its time, with the capacity to produce up to 500,000 gallons (two million liters) of wine in a single year. Gaza or Ashkelon wine was in high demand during the Byzantine period , and the products made in Yavne would have been shipped to ports on all sides of the Mediterranean.
“The ring was found just 150 meters from the remains of a long warehouse, which was used to store wine jars,” Haddad said. “Some of the jars were found upside down on their mouths and it may have been a warehouse full of empty jars before they were taken to the winepresses, to fill with wine .”
During summer excavations at the winemaking complex, Haddad and his team found the remains of an A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ winepress in a layer dated to around the fourth century BC, when Palestine was under the control of the Persian Empire. The site was likely considered ideal for winemaking because of its proximity to highly productive vineyards.
Over the years, Yavne has proven to be fertile ground for archaeologists. The city was first settled around 3,000 years ago , and excavations there have produced ample evidence of occupation covering many different time periods.
When the Winds of Change Blew Through Yavne
Given the obvious value of the ring, it is hard to imagine anyone would have left it behind on purpose. How exactly it was lost is a mystery, since it wouldn’t have just fallen off of someone’s finger.
Regardless of how it got there, the ring does reveal something about the beliefs and practices of the people of seventh century Yavne. Or at least about their belief in a certain superstition, which claimed a shiny purple stone could somehow cancel out the effects of alcohol.
“The small, everyday finds that are discovered in our excavations tell us human stories and connect us directly to the past,” Israel Antiquities Authority director Eli Eskozido told the Times of Israel . “It is exciting to imagine the man or woman to whom the ring belonged, walking right here, in a different reality to what we know in today’s city of Yavne.”
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The seventh century was a tumultuous time in Yavne. It entered the century as a Byzantine Christian city with a significant Jewish population. But it exited the century under the control of Muslim invaders, who broadened the culture and brought a new religion to the region.
The person who owned and then lost the ring may have been there to witness this profound transformation. If so, they may have had some remarkable tales to tell.