Issue P981 of 15 Jan. 1998

Archaeological Jerusalem

On the following day the Romans, having routed the brigands from the lower town, set the whole on fire as far as Siloam. This is how the historian Josephus Flavius describes a major destruction of the city of Jerusalem throughout the centuries. Such events, which were followed by a reconstruction by the various kings and rulers, have made the task of archaeologists very difficult, but also extremely important and interesting. The hill in the S.E section of Jerusalem known as the "City of David" is best offered for the reconstruction of the mosaic of Jerusalem's rich past.

The "City of David" is the section of Jerusalem where the explorers have drawn for the past years much attention. When Dame Kathleen Kenyon began excavations there in 1961, information about Bronze and Iron Age Jerusalem was minimum. What Kenyon uncovered was a line of fortifications of Canaanite - Jebusite city period. In the late 60's more excavations took place before the reconstruction of the city which was damaged during previous wars. In 1978 an important archaeological project began mostly because the area was dangerous for the population due to previous excavations and also because there was a need to preserve the remains. The primary purpose of the excavations was to fill the gap of the Bronze and Iron Age Jerusalem but also of the Persian and Itellenistic times. A difficulty for archaeologists was that they had to excavate only unbuilt state lands. But inspite of the difficulties they managed to unearth several items and constructions which help the effort to reconstruct Jerusalem's past.

Some finds of the Early Bronze Age I period and of the Chalcolithic Age are of great importance. Especially the Chalcolithic finds are the earliest proof of the finding of Jerusalem. They also coincide with the beginning of the urbanization process 4000 years BCE. Some other remains give information about the period when Jerusalem was conquered by king David and became capital. Because the top of the hill offers just a space of 8 acres, the Iron Age builders found a way to exploit the eastern slope. This was accomplished with a series of platforms supported by walls the lowest of which was the fortification wall. Outside the city wall an inscription was found which is probably associated to a large construction above the findspot which must have served as a storehouse and was used until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. Archaeological evidence appears also for the period when the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile and it includes Persian pottery and inscriptions of the name of the sub-satrapy of Persian Judaea and of its governor.

The finds of the Hellenistic period are some handles of Rhodian amphorae and an ivory relief with the kidnapping of Ganymedes by Zeus. With the uprising of the Jews against Antiochus IV of Syria begins the Hasmonean period during which a great fortification wall was constructed and was meant to strengthen the slope. The last of the Hasmonean kings, king Herod remained famous in the history, about his architectural projects. One of the most interesting constructions examined by archaeologists is a system of fortifications which served both as a dam for the Typoroeon Valley reservoirs but also as a defensive wall. An important find dating to the first century AD is a flute made of a cow's large bone which offers information about ancient musical instruments. Other bones, human this time, of the same century give information about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. Apart from the bones which imply the great massacre, ruins of burnt houses were excavated to complete the picture of destruction.

Of all the finds demonstrating the different periods of Jerusalem's past what impressed archaeologists a lot was the underground water systems of the Iron Age, which show a great deal of planning and complex construction knowledge.

Although archaeologists feel satisfied by the results of the projects in the City of David up to know, they hope that in the future excavations and investigation there, will fill up even more gaps.

Lydia kapournioti

Info Source: Archaeology, 33/5 (1980) by the excavator late Dr. Yigal Shiloh

The City of David Excavations in Jerusalem
The Jerusalem Mosaic [A virtual Tour of the History of the City]

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