They did not expect to find anything this special when they began digging near what is now the Armon Hanatziv Promenade
By TZVI JOFFRE SEPTEMBER 3, 2020 21:16
A “once in a lifetime” find is how the City of David described three immaculately preserved 2,700-year-old decorated column heads, or capitals, from the First Temple period that indicate a connection to the Davidic Dynasty. Archaeologists from the City of David did not expect to find anything this special when they began digging near what is now the Armon Hanatziv Promenade.
“I’m still excited,” said Yaakov Billig, an archaeologist with the City of David who began exploring the Armon Hanatziv area about 30 years ago. He was working at the site when the sound of a spade scraping a stone slab surprised him. After a careful excavation, archaeologists at the site uncovered the capital, whose style is found in royal and official buildings in the kingdoms of Israel and Judea during the First Temple period. “I thought, ‘Yaakov, maybe you’ve been in the sun too long.’ But I looked again, and it was still there,” Billig told The Jerusalem Post.
While lifting the capital out of the ground, they were stunned to find not only that the stone was decorated on both side, but that there was yet another identical capital directly underneath it. A third identical stone was found nearby.
The stones seem to have been hidden intentionally due to their seemingly careful placement. It may have been the only thing that saved them from being destroyed, as the rest of the site was “just about leveled,” with many of the surviving stones being recycled in other buildings, Billing said. Why the stones were so carefully hidden may never be known, he added. The capitals are linked to the Davidic Dynasty because such designs from the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea have only been found within the areas they ruled. The design has been found from later periods in other locations throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. The royal design can be found today on NIS 5 coins and on signs pointing to archaeological sites in Israel. Besides the capitals, additional artifacts found at the site indicate a royal or noble building as well, including a toilet, which was only found in the homes of the wealthy in that period, Billig said. The findings were revealed at a press conference attended by Billig, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch, Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper and City of David Foundation chairman David Be’eri. Using evidence from artifacts found at the site and the level at which they were found, archaeologists dated the capitals to the seventh century BCE, between the rule of King Hezekiah and the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.
The location of the site seems to indicate a sort of “exit from the walls” of Jerusalem, showing that the people felt more secure in their surroundings after the Assyrian siege of the city failed. The biblical story of the siege describes the defeat of the Assyrians as a miraculous event against all odds, which may explain why the residents of the city suddenly felt secure enough to settle outside the walls, Billig said. The other archaeological sites in the area tend to be from the Second Temple period, he said, adding that if additional digs are conducted, other mansions and palaces may be found in the strategically located area. About 20 to 30 similar capitals exist, but these are generally larger and reconstructed. The ones found in Armon Hanatziv are medium-sized and smaller than the more commonly found capitals and may have been used to decorate pillars in a courtyard or patio. Smaller stones of a similar design were found at the site as well and seem to have been used in a decorative window sill.
Archaeological findings are usually revealed to the public only after a long process of research and study. But the City of David and the Israeli officials decided that these findings were too important to keep hidden. The decision to reveal the findings in such an early stage was made “based on the idea and deep belief that these archaeological remains – this built, physical legacy – are the inheritance of the entire public,” Baruch said. “We are making every effort so that the public will see how professional, scientific and impartial Israeli archaeology is – which is relevant to everyone, no matter where they’re located, whether in Israel or anywhere else,” he said.
“This discovery is really a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” City of David Foundation vice president Doron Spielman said. “It’s not every day that we’re able to discover something that four billion people around the world – who have some type of identity to the bible, to ancient Jerusalem, to the idea of discovering the bible and unearthing the archaeology underneath the ground and connecting it to the actual place” – can relate to. A large number of additional artifacts from the same period were found at the site as well. But the capitals may be some of the greatest treasures, connecting the site to the stories of the Davidic kingdom in the Bible. The additional artifacts found at the site are being studied and will be revealed to the public at a later date.