New Jerusalem finds are evidence of Babylonian siege, archaeologists say

Jewel, arrowheads found buried in layer of ash at Mount Zion are part of jumble indicating a household ruined ‘following a raid or battle’

An earring found during an excavation at Mount Zion is cited as evidence of Babylonian conquest of city in 586 BCE (Mount Zion Archaeological Expedition)
An earring found during an excavation at Mount Zion is cited as evidence of Babylonian conquest of city in 586 BCE (Mount Zion Archaeological Expedition)

Archaeologists at Mount Zion alongside Jerusalem’s Old City have unearthed ancient arrowheads, a rare piece of gold jewelry, lamps and pottery sherds, embedded in a layer of ash, in what researchers say is evidence of the Babylonian conquest of the city 2,600 years ago.

The discoveries by University of North Carolina at Charlotte researchers were announced on Sunday, as Jews somberly marked the Tisha B’av fast, which commemorates the destruction of the first Jewish Temple in 586-587 BCE by the Babylonians, of the Second Temple in 70 CE during the Roman conquest, and a series of calamities that befell the Jews since.

The finds were vividly evocative of the sort of plunder that Jews living in ancient Jerusalem would have encountered, researchers said.

“It’s the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle,” said UNC Charlotte history professor Shimon Gibson, who co-directs the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, according to reports. “Household objects, lamps, broken bits from pottery which had been overturned and shattered… and arrowheads and a piece of jewelry which might have been lost and buried in the destruction.”

Shimon Gibson (YouTube screenshot)

“Frankly, jewelry is a rare find at conflict sites, because this is exactly the sort of thing that attackers will loot and later melt down,” he added.

The piece of jewelry appeared to be a gold tasseled earring. The arrowheads are “fairly commonplace in this period and are known to be used by the Babylonian warriors,” said Gibson.

“For archaeologists, an ashen layer can mean a number of different things,” Gibson said. “It could be ashy deposits removed from ovens; or it could be localized burning of garbage. However, in this case, the combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts, mixed with arrowheads, and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction. Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse.”

The find, in the telling of the archaeologists, dovetails with the traditional accounts of the conquest of the city by the army of Nebuchadnezzar II.

The archaeological site at Jerusalem’s Mount Zion (Shimon Gibson)

“I like to think that we are excavating inside one of the ‘Great Man’s houses’ mentioned in the second book of Kings 25:9,” Gibson said. “This spot would have been at an ideal location, situated as it is close to the western summit of the city with a good view overlooking Solomon’s Temple and Mount Moriah to the northeast. We have high expectations of finding much more of the Iron Age city in future seasons of work.”

In July, the Mount Zion Project announced it discovered an 11th century moat, the first archaeological evidence of a historically chronicled Crusader siege conducted by Raymond of Saint-Gilles on the Fatimid-controlled city, which ended on July 15, 1099.

Founded in 2008, the ongoing excavations are located along the southern part of the Old City wall close to Zion Gate and are led by Gibson and Prof. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte in cooperation with Dr. Rafi Lewis of Ashkelon Academic College. The site is part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, which is under the auspices of the Israel Parks and Nature Authority.

Amanda Borschel-Dan contributed to this report.

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