A worker in the Jezreel Valley community of Moshav Yogev discovered a 700-year-old bronze ring, bearing the image of a bald man with a staff next to him, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday. The IAA said the engraving is probably the image of St. Nicholas, an early Greek Bishop known for giving gifts to the needy. The saint eventually became the prototype for the legend of Santa Claus.
The ring, discovered by Dekel Ben-Shitrit, a 26-year-old gardener while performing landscaping work in the garden of a private home in Moshav Yogev, dates to the Mamluk Period (12-15th century) and probably belonged to a pilgrim who had traveled to Galilee along the main road.
"I rubbed it slightly, and saw it was carved with a human image inside a frame," said Ben-Shitrit.
According to Yana Tchekhanovetz, an IAA archaeologist specializing in the Byzantine period, the icon of St. Nicholas was a common patron saint for Christian pilgrims who traveled to the Land of Israel from all over the Byzantine Empire, including from Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, and present-day Russia. The travelers believed he would protect them from harm during the journey.
"This special ring is amazingly well preserved and will contribute a great deal to science," Tchekhanovetz said. "On preliminary examination, this seems to be St. Nicholas holding a bishop's crook — his hallmark. It is probable that the ring belonged to a pilgrim who sought the protection of St. Nicholas on his travels."
The IAA said that Ben-Shitrit will receive a good citizenship certificate for handing the finding to archeology officials. .
"(By doing this, he has) enrich(ed) and deepen(ed) archaeological understanding of the past that belongs to all of us," said Nir Distelfeld, the Israel Antiquities Authority anti-theft inspector.
Written by Mara Vigevani