Archaeologists in Israel have discovered an amethyst and gold ring dated to as far back as the seventh century C.E.—and possibly much earlier.
The team found the ring in Yavne, south of Tel Aviv in central Israel, at a site that was home to a huge wine-making operation during the Byzantine era, reports Stuart Winer for the Times of Israel. The location is particularly striking given ancient lore regarding amethysts.
“Many virtues have been attached to this gem, including the prevention of the side effect of drinking, the hangover,” says Amir Golani, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), in a statement.
Researchers made the find near a warehouse used to store wine at the production facility, reports Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post. They were able to date the landfill where it was unearthed to the seventh century—a tumultuous time when the Byzantine Empire lost control of the region to Arab Muslim forces. The ring itself may predate this period. As Haaretz’s Ruth Schuster writes, it’s generally impossible to directly date inorganic objects like metal and gems through methods like carbon dating.
Similar gold bands with inlaid amethysts were common in the Roman world and may have been worn by a member of Yavne’s elite as early as the third century C.E. By the seventh century, the ring found at the winery could have been an heirloom handed down over many generations.
Both men and women wore similar rings. Whoever owned the jewelry would have been a person of wealth and high status.
“Finding an ancient ring with a semi-precious stone intact is rare,” Golani tells Anshel Pfeffer of the London Times. “Its size and ostentatiousness indicates it belonged to someone who wanted to flaunt their wealth.”
In the statement, archaeologist Elie Haddad, a co-director of the IAA excavation, says, “It is possible that the splendid ring belonged to the owner of the magnificent warehouse, to a foreman, or simply to an unlucky visitor, who dropped and lost their precious ring, until it was finally discovered by us.”
The IAA has been conducting large-scale excavations at Yavne ahead of a construction project. In addition to the winemaking facility, they’ve found artifacts including a colorful, 1,600-year-old mosaic and an intact, 1,000-year-old chicken egg (which researchers subsequently broke by mistake). Last year, teenage volunteers working on a dig in the city discovered a trove of hundreds of coins from 1,100 years ago.
Per Haaretz, the word amethyst comes from the Greek word amethystos, meaning “not intoxicating,” and is related to medhu, meaning mead. Ancient Greeks sometimes incorporated amethysts into wine glasses or wore the gems while drinking in hopes of avoiding intoxication. The connection between amethysts and sobriety dates back at least to the time of the Greek poet Asclepiades of Samos, who was born around 320 B.C.E. and mentioned the phenomenon in a poem, according to the Gemmological Association of Great Britain.
“Because of their blood-like hues, amethysts, like rubies, were believed in the ancient world to contain energy and healing powers,” Golani tells the Times.