EXPLORING ANCIENT JERUSALEM

Excavations in Area D3
Dr. Yuval Gadot,
Institute of Archaeology, Tel-Aviv University and Israel Antiquity Authority 

Introduction

This document presents a research plan for an excavation at the eastern slopes of the Southeastern Hill (known also as the ‘City of David’ or ‘Silwan’), at the vicinity of Area D, which was excavated by the late Y. Shiloh (Hebrew University) and just above the Kidron streambed. This plot of land was purchased by Baron de Rothschild as early as the beginning of the 20th century for the purpose of conducting archaeological excavations, a purchase that enabled the conduct of scientific research at the site. Today these lands form what is known as “The City of David National Park.    

The ‘Southeastern Hill’, Jerusalem’s ancient core, has attracted the attention of scholars for more than a hundred years. Each of the site’s many explorers added new and challenging information to the discussion of the city’s history and its material culture. Over the years as research questions changed, the aim and nature of the excavations and their field methods were also modified and updated.

Within the framework of the new excavations, we aim at exposing both domestic quarters built along the slope in different periods and the possible eastern fortifications of the city. Fieldwork will be conducted that applies up-to-date methods and integrates standard techniques used in the natural sciences. Research will focus around two main concerns: A) household archaeology and everyday life in Jerusalem over the ages as a reflection of social order and cultural identity, and B) the size and growth pattern of Jerusalem.

Previous Research 

The lower, eastern slopes of the ‘Southeastern Hill’ were explored in the past by a number of expeditions (Figs. 1 and 2), each of which contributed new information regarding the city’s scope and nature in the different periods. The first explorer of the area was Conrad Schick (1886). He was the first to obtain information regarding the course of ‘Channel II’ (documented later by L.H. Vincent). The first real excavations were conducted by R. Weill during 1913 and 1914 (Weill 1920), and again between 1923 and 1924 as part of the international excavation project of the City of David (Organized by the Department of Antiquities, Government of Palestine and see Reich 2011). Most of the finds from Weill’s excavations were found at the top of the hill, but the area exposed by him also stretched down the slope towards the Kidron streambed. Here he found architecture dating to the Iron Age and Hellenistic period. He also documented the water channels as they pass through the area.

The eastern slopes constituted an important part of Y. Shiloh’s large-scale excavations between the years 1978 and 1985. Especially significant to this account are Areas B (including the re-cleaning of the area excavated before by Weill), D, and E (Ariel 2000; De Groot and Bernick-Greenberg 2012). Domestic quarters built along the slope dating to the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, and Iron Ages were exposed. Other periods represented are the Chalcolithic, Late Bronze, Persian, Hellenistic and Early Roman, during which permanent settlement ceased and the area was used mainly for dumping garbage.

The eastern edge of the city was marked by Shiloh along the course of Wall 219, built half way down the slope, which he claimed to be the city fortification wall during the Middle Bronze II and Iron Age IIB periods. Houses revealed down the slope and to the east of the fortification line were interpreted as part of an “extramural quarter”. For this reason Shiloh chose not to expand his excavations downslope towards the Kidron streambed. 

The excavations carried out by R. Reich and E. Shukron (starting in 1995, see: Reich 2011) contributed new information regarding the lower part of the eastern slope. Their excavations included area A (four squares spread along the streambed) and area J, located downslope from of area E, which had been previously excavated by Shiloh. 

The biggest surprise from those excavations was the unearthing of a city wall, dated by Reich and Shukron to the 8th century BCE, the same period as Wall 219 exposed on the upper part of the slope). If the proposed date of the newly discovered city wall is correct, then the houses of the extramural quarter exposed by Shiloh are actually protected by the city’s fortification wall.  

Reich and Shukron also documented ‘Channel II’ and offered a Middle Bronze Age date for its northern part. They emphasized the technological difference between the northern portion of the channel (e.g., an open channel with a built roof) and the southern portion (a tunnel hewn into the rock) and suggested that this difference has chronological significance. The seam between the two parts was identified but not exposed, and it was suggested that ‘Channel II’ originally directed the spring water into a hypothetical pool located further to the east in the Kidron streambed.

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Fig 1. Excavations along the eastern slope prior to 1967 (after Reich 2011: 11) 

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The Renewed Excavations

The renewed excavations will challenge and re-examine existing assumptions regarding the finds along the eastern slope of the ‘Southeastern Hill’. Previous excavations have defined the research questions with which the renewed excavations must contend. 

  • Household archaeology and daily habits in Jerusalem through the ages:

Archaeology in general, and that of Israel specifically, has highlighted the value of excavating households as a reflection of the social order, the economy, and of the cognitive sphere of the inhabitants. The way a household is organized, the food habits of its occupants, and other aspects of their daily lives are all culturally constructed and are influenced by and at the same time holds influence on cultural perceptions and group identity (c.f. the recent publication by Meyers 2013; Parker and Foster 2012; Yasur-Landau et al., 2011). 

Previous excavations along the eastern slopes have shown that starting from the Early Bronze Age this area served mainly as living quarters. Domestic architecture dating to the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, as well as the Iron Age IIB, were exposed. Other finds include agricultural installations such as terraces and columbaria for raising pigeons dating to the Hellenistic period.  A rich layer of damped refuse dating to the first century AD covers the slope. 

It is our intention to implement new excavation methods that will allow us to collect micro- and macro-archaeological finds from within newly exposed households, and from that reconstruct activity zones inside the building and the surrounding area. The fact that the area was settled for hundreds of years by different cultural groups will enable us to view Jerusalem’s social tissue in the long range and compare its different periods and cultures. 

Chronology and the size of the city 

The size of Jerusalem and its nature during each of its settled periods are hotly debated issues among scholars. One aspect of this debate is the riddle of the location and date of the city’s fortification walls. After many years of research, it remains unclear whether Jerusalem was fortified during the Middle Bronze Age, or whether only its spring was fortified. (Cf. Reich and Shukron 2010).  Were there indeed two city walls built during the 8th century BCE? Is there an alternative explanation for the function of one of the two walls and their dating? We will also be concerned with reconstructing the fashion and pace of the city’s growth during the 8th century. Was it a gradual growth process, which took place over decades, or was it the result of a dramatic increase taking place at the end of the 8th century BCE? (see Na’aman 2007; Finkelstein 2008).

The renewed excavations in Area D3 hold great potential for addressing these and other questions regarding the size of Jerusalem. Whether fortified or not, domestic quarters serve as sensitive monitors for the pace of the city’s growth and decline. Exposing the lower city wall, found previously in Areas J and possibly also A, and dating it using related domestic architecture will assist in evaluating afresh the function and nature of Wall 219 found in Area E: Was this Jerusalem’s city wall or was it a revetment wall?

Area D3: scope and location

The renewed excavations in area D3 are designed to be a cross-section oriented in a west-east fashion, starting at the lower eastern edge of Shiloh’s Area E and stretching to the Kidron streambed (but within the boundaries of the National Park; Fig. 3).  Stage one of the excavations includes six squares and is scheduled to be a four-month long project. It is designed to examine the potential of the area as a productive archaeological site.   

ir david_shetach E tachton 2 (2)

Fig 3: the location of Area D3.

The area designated for excavation served as an earth dump for all previous expeditions. Lately, modern terrace walls were built to assist in supporting the slope. All of these features will be mechanically removed, as part of the preparations, prior to the beginning of the excavations (Fig 4). 

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Fig. 4: Area D3 : the removal of modern terrace walls and previous excavation earth dump

The excavations will be conducted only within the fences of the National Park, and will stay clear of private houses and of urban infrastructure, such as pavements and roads. We will strive to communicate with the local residents of Silwan—our neighbors in the excavation area—and to find and create avenues of mutual respect.   

The excavations area will be open to visitors and a 24 hours web-cam will deliver photos from the excavations to anyone who wishes to be informed.

Selected Bibliography

Ariel, D.T. (ed.) 2000. Excavations at the City of David 1978-1985 Directed by Yigal Shiloh. Volume 5: Extramural Areas. Qedem 40. 

De Groot, A. and Bernick-Greenberg, H. 2012. Excavations at the City of David 1978-1985 Directed by Yigal Shiloh. Volume 7: Area E. Qedem 53 & 54.  

Finkelstein, I. 2008. The Settlement History of Jerusalem in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries BC. Revue biblique  115 (4): 499-515.

Meyers, C. 2013. Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Woman in Context. Oxford.  

Na’aman, N. 2007. When and How Did Jerusalem Become a Great City? The Rise of Jerusalem as Judah’s Premier City in the Eighth–Seventh Centuries B.C.E. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 347: 21-56.

Parker, B.J. and Foster, C.P. 2012. New Perspective on Household Archaeology. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, MI. 

Riech. R. 2011. Excavating the City of David: Where Jerusalem’s History Began. Israel Exploration Society: Jerusalem.

Reich, R. and Shukron, E. 2010. A New Segment of the Middle Bronze Fortification in the City of David. Tel-Aviv 37: 141-153. 

Weill, R. 1920. La Cite de David. Compte Rendu des Fouilles executes, a Jerusalem, Sur la site de la Ville Primitive Campagne de 1913-1914. Paul Geuthner: Paris. 

Yasur-Landau, Y., Ebeling, J.R. and Mazow L.B. (Eds.) 2011. Household Archaeology in ancient Israel and Beyond. Brill: Leiden & Boston.