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Photograph: Photo by Jeroen van Abeelen, used under CC BY

A "strong" Jewish woman must have been the owner of a 2,500-year-old personal seal recently found in East Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) said Monday, in an announcement timed to go out a day ahead of International Women's Day.

Personal seals were used for signing documents in ancient times and were often inlaid in a ring worn by the owner. Few belonging to women of the time have ever been found.

"This is because of the generally inferior economic status of women, apart from extraordinary instances such as this," said Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaelogist Hagai Misgav.

"The fact that she possessed a seal demonstrates her high social status," he said. 

The IAA agreed, noting in a press release that she must have been "a strong woman" who was exceptional and had an unusually high, legal status, which allowed her to conduct business and own property. 

The name "Elihana bat Gael" appears written in mirror image in in ancient Hebrew letters on the seal, made of semi-precious stone.

"Eilhana bat Gael" means "Elihana daughter of Gael."

Another seal belonging to a man named “Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu” was found nearby.

The seals were discovered when archaeologists, after nine years of digging in an ancient building, reached the strata of ancient Jerusalem dating to the period of the first Biblical Jewish Temple.

They were found in the City of David - an archaeological park where people can visit and view ancient ruins - which lies under both today's Arab neighbourhood of Wadi Hilweh and the Old City of Jerusalem's southern walls.

The Temple was built in 1006 BC) and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

The Second Temple, built by Herod the Great, stood on the site from 516 BC until 70 AD, when it was destroyed by the Romans. 

"Finding seals that bear names from the time of the First Temple is hardly a commonplace occurrence. Finding a seal that belonged to a woman is an even rarer phenomenon," said the IAA. 

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