Sunday, March 04, 2007

Excavations in the City of David

And now.. back to the City of David.
Today, the land purchased by the Jewish Agency nearly a century ago which does not have Arab "absentee tenants" is in the hands of Elad. However, because this land is on such an archaeological gold mine, and because the ancient City of David was build on such a steel slope, it is very difficult to build. Each new building triggers an automatic archaeological salvage operation by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The discoveries made during these digs typically result in major finds. Once the initial state-run archaeological dig is over, Elad donors often finance a continuation of the dig.
I went with the Machon Meir group. We had to wake up quite early for minyan.

Since my last visit to the City of David in 2000, there have been major changes. For 33 years, the State of Israel had claimed the land, and was eager to avoid conflict with neighboring Muslim countries by staking a claim, so archaeological exploration was limited and very few Jews were allowed to live here. Today, what used to be a few rocks poking out of the ground has, thanks to private donations for archaeology and restoration, become a massive, high-tech visitor's center. Tours include a 3-D movie recreating the ancient city, as well as guided trips through the tunnels and walls buried below.

Entrance at the visitor's center.

Standing on the City of David visitor's center platform, looking East across the Kidron Valley towards Ras Al Amud, today an Arab neighborhood, one can still see burial caves from the First Temple Period, from 3935-3320 (825Bce-510BCE) carved into the cliff face between the homes.
Looking east. Burial caves carved in stone bottom right.

A close up of burial caves.

Looking south, in the direction of Hebron, one can see excavations of the First Temple Period city walls. Staircase down to look at the ancient city walls.

The Machon Meir group looking at the city walls.

At the base of the city walls are the ruins of ancient residences. Seals from vases, likely used to contain administrative documents, have been discovered in the ruins. Some of the seals bear the names of prominent individuals and families mentioned in the book of Melachim (Kings) or of prominent priestly families.

One discovery includes a carved bowl with a hole in the center. It is, in fact, a First Temple Period toilet. Analysis of some of the, eh, "organic matter" still on the toilet indicate the presence of pathogens and parasitic worms which are typically contracted after eating raw meat. This would seem to jive with the Tanachic explanation of the long siege of the city prior to its destruction, a time of great scarcity during which wood was unavailable for cooking meat.

The First Temple Period toilet.

Continuing on our merry way, we pass a few houses bearing Israeli flags, interspersed with the Arab. The neighborhood is being gradually reclaimed one house at a time, using the same process used by Ateret Cohanim in the Old City. Today, the City of David is creeping up on a Jewish majority.

Foreground: Ancient city walls. Midground: Kollel (yeshivah for married men with families.) Background: Silwan.

Next we go down the stairs, into the tunnels and caves beneath the city surface.

Stay tuned...

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