Jerusalem from the Past – A Day Out to the Exciting Excavations of the City of David and Ramat Rachel

Posted by on Aug 25, 2013

Jerusalem from the Past – A Day Out to the Exciting Excavations of the City of David and Ramat Rachel

In the archaeological world there are debates as grand and as historical as the sites they dispute. It is of little surprise that Jerusalem has caused a few differences of opinion in the last few centuries, as it is the center of many historical reconstructions based upon biblical literature. Here, one can find a large number of excavations all looking for evidence concerning the shape, the size, and the people of ancient Jerusalem in the past 4,000 years. We adventured out to see what’s coming out of the ground at new excavations, hear the debates about the old, and find out what we can look forward to in the future of archaeology in the eastern section of the city.

The City of David:

We first met up with Sarah Hirschberg, a TAU (Tel Aviv Univesrity) archaeology graduate student and excavation staff member, at the Givati Parking Lot excavations. She and PhD student, Ido Koch, explained that three major occupation layers have been uncovered. The Hasmonean and Roman eras are well attested for, while excavators await more Iron Age evidence that will illuminate the small amount they can currently identify.

Ido and Sarah show the lay of the Roman villa at the excavation.

Modern Jerusalem may have lost a few parking spaces, but they’ve gained 3,000 years of history in the Givati Parking Lot Excavation in the City of David. A Roman-era mosaic (to the left) was uncovered on top of Hasmonean walls.

The Givati Parking Lot Excavation in the City of David

As it was one of the hottest days in the city, we went subterranean to escape the blazing sun. Ancient tunnels run every which way under Jerusalem’s ancient remains. Many of them are the consequence of water channels that were dug in the Middle Bronze Age with renewals and additions added throughout the millennia. Luckily for us they connect most of the excavation areas to one another and we were able to move from site to site without crisping in the sun. Our first underground destination was the much less publicized backside of the legendary Western Wall.

Marveling at the underground portion of the Western Wall

We stepped out of the tunnel and onto the Roman cardo. Scholars believe that the structures you see below were either the shops referenced in the New Testament or at least resemble the ones described by the text.

the Roman cardo

Originally identified as King David’s 10th c. palace, the name of the area you see below is under heavy debate. Archaeologists and historians disagree over the architectural style of the remains with some arguing Iron Age and others claiming a Hellenistic period building style.

Eilat Mazar’s City of David excavation

Another great debate pertains to the dating of this huge oddity. The slopped wall leads up to David’s Palace, pictured above. Its angle is unusual for a fortification and conjecture about its function generally lands on the idea of a supportive structure. When was it built? That is a question yet unanswered. Some believe it was erected in one swoop and has stood in its full glory since the Iron Age. Other scholars think this is a difficult claim to make and that it might be more probable that the stones were piled up over multiple occupations of the City of David. No matter the answer, it is an impressive wall.

We again traveled by tunnel from the Stepped Stone Structure to Tel Aviv University’s newest City of David excavation. Yuval Gadot heads an expedition here that addresses the timeless question: is one man’s trash another man’s treasure? Yes, yes it is says Professor Gadot, who explained that the best way we can understand domestic life in the city is by digging through the ancient garbage dump that amassed outside the city’s wall. This Roman period dump provides a narrative for the city’s inhabitants. Their eating, drinking, and storage habits can be extrapolated from what they threw over the edge.

Dr. Yuval Gadot addresses the timeless question: is one man’s trash another man’s treasure?


Ramat Rahel:

We piled back onto the bus and headed off to Ramat Rahel, a site that overlooks Jerusalem from the south. This site has a rich occupation history with known inhabitation starting the 8th c. BCE and continuing, with breaks, into the early Islamic. Our tour brought us through many of these eras. Ramat Rahel is rich with architecture and interesting features from each period such as a palace and administrative buildings from the Iron and Persian inhabitants, columbaria (pigeon coops) from the Second Temple period, and a church from the Byzantine Christian phase.

Iron/Persian Ramat Rahel

Through palynology, the study of ancient pollen grains, excavators were able to tell that an exquisite garden once stood in this spot. Many species of plants that were not native to the region in the Iron/Persian Periods were found here. The pollen was discovered in the plaster of the pool pictured here, which a TAU researcher figured was laid during a blooming season. Citrus fruit, nuts, exotic trees, and the like were well maintained by an intricate watering system.

With tunnels, maps, palaces, and pottery swirling in our heads, we returned to Tel Aviv. Though many of the debates about Jerusalem’s excavations have gone unsettled, we feel pretty confident that we’ll have them cleared up by summer vacation. Stay tuned.


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