ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Researchers baffled by unique, mysterious Jerusalem structure from First Temple era

Channels unearthed in City of David site, last in use around 9th century BCE, likely formed part of city’s economy due to location near temple and palace

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

  • Excavations of a unique ancient installation at the Givati Parking Lot dig in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Kobi Harathi/City of David)
    Excavations of a unique ancient installation at the Givati Parking Lot dig in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Kobi Harathi/City of David)
  • The southern channels of a unique ancient structure discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
    The southern channels of a unique ancient structure discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
  • Prof. Yuval Gadot examines mysterious channels at a unique archaeological installation at the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Arik Marmor/Damka Jerusalem Production House)
    Prof. Yuval Gadot examines mysterious channels at a unique archaeological installation at the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Arik Marmor/Damka Jerusalem Production House)
  • An archaeologist works in ancient channels discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
    An archaeologist works in ancient channels discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
  • The northern channels of a unique ancient installation discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
    The northern channels of a unique ancient installation discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
  • Researchers Prof. Yuval Gadot (right) and Dr. Yiftah Shalev examine mysterious ancient channels uncovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Asaf Perry/City of David)
    Researchers Prof. Yuval Gadot (right) and Dr. Yiftah Shalev examine mysterious ancient channels uncovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Asaf Perry/City of David)
  • Dr. Yiftah Shalev examines mysterious ancient channels uncovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
    Dr. Yiftah Shalev examines mysterious ancient channels uncovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
  • Archaeologists work on mysterious channels found at a unique ancient installation in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
    Archaeologists work on mysterious channels found at a unique ancient installation in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
  • The northern channels of a unique ancient installation discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
    The northern channels of a unique ancient installation discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
  • The northern channels discovered at a unique ancient installation in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)
    The northern channels discovered at a unique ancient installation in the City of David, Jerusalem, August 2023. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)

Archaeologists recently unearthed two unique structures used for an unclear purpose during the First Temple period 2,800 years ago in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The installations, dating to around the 9th century BCE and found at the City of David archaeological site, were likely an important part of the economy, due to their proximity to the royal palace and temple, the IAA stated.

Researchers have struggled to pinpoint their precise use since no site of its kind has ever been found in Israel.

“The excavators found the first installation at the northeastern end of the Givati Parking Lot excavation, which includes a series of at least nine channels that were smoothed. On top of the rock cliff that encloses the installation to the south can be found seven drain pipes, which carried liquid from the top of the cliff, which served as an activity area, to the channel installation,” the IAA said in its description of the site.

The second site includes five channels that could carry liquids, according to the statement.

Dr. Yiftah Shalev, a senior researcher at the IAA, said efforts to identify the exact purpose of the site have been fruitless.

“We brought a number of experts to the site to see if there were any residues in the soil or rock that are not visible with the naked eye, and to help us understand what flowed or stood in the channels. We wanted to check whether there were any organic remains or traces of blood, so we even recruited the help of the police forensic unit and its research colleagues around the world, but so far – to no avail,” she said.

Shalev added that a possible use of the site may have been to soak products, such as flax for the production of linen.

“Another possibility is that the channels held dates that were left out to be heated by the sun to produce silan (date honey), like similarly shaped installations discovered in distant places such as Oman, Bahrain, and Iran,” she said.

Prof. Yuval Gadot, of Tel Aviv University’s Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations department, said the site was in use up until the days of the eighth and ninth Judean kings Joash and Amaziah.

“This is an era when we know that Jerusalem covered an area that included
the City of David and the Temple Mount, which served as the heart of Jerusalem,” Gadot said. “The central location of the channels near the city’s most prominent areas indicates that the product made using them was connected to the economy of the temple or palace.”

“One should note that ritual activity includes bringing agricultural animal and plant produce to the Temple. Many times, temple visitors would bring back products that carried the sanctity of the place,” she explained.

IAA director Eli Escusido said findings from the First Temple period are rare due to “modern disturbances,” calling the installations “fascinating and stimulating the imagination.”

“From time to time we come across surprising, enigmatic finds that challenge us and spark research interest. With the help of collaboration with other institutions, we crack these mysteries and advance our knowledge of past societies. I congratulate all institutions for this successful collaboration,” he said.

The excavation was carried out by researchers from the IAA and Tel Aviv University, funded by the Elad Foundation.

The site will be open to the public next week as part of the 24th City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem event.

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