A TINY, exquisitely made box found on an excavated street in Jerusalem is a token of Christian faith from 1400 years ago, Israeli archeologists say.
The box, carved from an animal bone, decorated with a cross on the lid and measuring 2cm by 1.5cm, was probably carried by a Christian around the end of the 6th century AD, according to Yana Tchekhanovets of the Israel Antiquities Authority, one of the directors of the excavation where the box was found.
When the lid is removed, the remains of two portraits are visible in paint and gold leaf. A man and a woman, they are probably Christian saints and possibly Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
The box was found outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in the remains of a Byzantine-era road. Uncovered two years ago, it was treated by preservation experts and researched before it was unveiled at an archeological conference last week. The box offers the first archeological evidence that the use of icons in the Byzantine period was not limited to church ceremonies.
Part of a similar box was found in Jordan three decades ago, but this is the only well-preserved whole example found so far. Similar icons are carried today by some Christians, especially from the eastern Orthodox churches.
The relic was found in the City of David excavation, named for the biblical monarch thought to have ruled a Jewish kingdom from the site.
The politically sensitive dig is in the Palestinian area of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls in east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israeli forces in 1967 and still claimed by Palestinians as their capital.