A rare stone seal believed to date from the 10th century BCE was recently found in rubble removed from the Temple Mount, archaeologists announced.
The artifact was found some time in the past half year by a 10-year-old Russian boy who volunteered for a day at the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which sorts through rubble that was excavated from the contested holy site during the construction of the Marwani mosque in the late 1990s. Only recently, however, was the seal deciphered, the group said.
The seal, carved from brown limestone, features two crudely engraved animals, one atop the other, “perhaps representing a predator and its prey,” Dr. Gabriel Barkay, the co-founder and director of the project, said in a statement Thursday.
While later stone seals with inscriptions have been found in Jerusalem, Barkay said in a phone call with The Times of Israel that it was unique inasmuch as it was the first of its type and from that period found in Jerusalem.
He said the design might have been a family emblem, but it wasn’t immediately clear.
Seals of this sort would have been used to stamp documents or clay vessels. The one found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project had a hole punched into the tip for wearing on a string.
The archaeologists said they determined the date of the seal to be from the 11th or 10th centuries BCE, the period traditionally attributed to the reigns of the biblical kings David and Solomon, based on stylistic comparison to other seals found at sites around the region.
“In recent years, using newly developed statistical methodologies and technologies, we have managed to overcome the challenge of having finds with no exact context since they were not recovered in a proper archaeological excavation,” Zachi Dvira, co-founder of the project, said in the statement. He said over a half a million other finds from the fill remain to be analyzed at the TMSP’s labs.
Barkay said the seal’s discovery attests to “the administrative activity which took place upon the Temple Mount during those times.”
“The dating of the seal corresponds to the historical period of the Jebusites and the conquest of Jerusalem by King David, as well as the construction of the Temple and the royal official compound by his son, King Solomon,” he said. “What makes this discovery particularly significant is that it originated from upon the Temple Mount itself.”
Critics, however, cautioned against attributing too much significance to a single object, especially not found in situ. Antiquities collector Lenny Wolfe, an expert on ancient stamp seals, said the object’s very high mobility means it could have been brought to Jerusalem at some point in antiquity and forgotten there.
“The importance of an individual seal is very limited,” he said.
Barkay insisted, however, that while that was possible, it was found in Jerusalem, in fill from the Temple Mount, and must be understood as from that context.