Archaeology is among the fields of research that tends to interest many, in part due to natural curiosity about human history. Moreover, the idea of ruins of ancient cultures buried underground and the possibility of discovering treasures hidden in the distant past have created an aura of romance and adventure around archaeology that has inspired authors and filmmakers. The antiquities laws are intended to restrain treasure seekers, whose rummaging in ancient sites causes irreversible damage to archaeology research, since looted hoards – even if they are subsequently confiscated by the authorities – lose their archaeological context, and consequently they cannot contribute to our understanding of archaeological or historical issues.
An archaeologist who discovers a hoard has to consider several issues: To whom did the hoard belong? Was it privately or publicly owned? Why was it hidden? Was it valuable property whose owners chose to hide it from others’ eyes in the same way as we would use a safe today, or was it hidden in a time of insecurity and uncertainty about the future, when individuals and communities increasingly felt the need to hide their valuable possessions? What information does the hoard provide on the economy of the period, commercial ties and cultural influences?
The exhibition includes hoards belonging to individuals as well as those belonging to the community, such as community savings discovered in ancient synagogues. The rather large number of public hoards indicates that both kinds were abandoned due to war and unforeseen disasters.
Archaeological excavations bring to light not only hoards placed in “safes” to preserve and hide them, but also favissae. These are hoards of objects that served in a cultic context and, due to their sanctity, were not disposed of when they were damaged or no longer needed, but instead were set aside in a designated place. The archaeological finds teach us that the practice, even today, of burying objects with religious significance began very early in the history of human societies – apparently in the Neolithic period, some ten thousand years ago.
The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue are intended to represent the rich variety of hoards and favissae uncovered in archaeological excavations in Israel, focusing on understanding the motives for hiding them, cultic traditions or historical vicissitudes at the time.