The Thing about Archaeology…

A little Israeli history and a trip to the City of David.

Is that it’s ALWAYS changing.

Have a solid idea about the way things went down?  Just wait a year.  Someone will come along and prove you wrong.


Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it?

Since my last post, I went on my first field trip with my Archaeology of Jerusalem class.  I think the prospect of going over all the history that I learned in class in order to add it into my post along with the pictures is what kept me from writing this blog.

But now I’m in my Issues in Israeli Society class, completely bored out of my mind.  I also have a quiz tomorrow in my Archaeology class, so I’ve gone over the history and am making myself memorize it…so there we go!

I guess it really all started during the Early/Middle/Late Bronze Period (3300-2200/2000-1550/1550-1200 B.C.E.).  However…not much happened during this time (that we can prove)!  MOVING ON!

Stuff got interesting during the Iron Ages.  Let’s sum up! (Keep in mind that at this time, what we see as Israel was actually two countries: Israel and Judea/Judah.  See: )Divided Kingdom of Israel

Iron Age I – 1200-1000 B.C.E

  • Stepped-stone structure and retaining wall
    • This structure is very controversial and scholars cannot agree whether or not this is solely from that time period.

Iron Age II – The First Temple Period

  • Kings David & Solomon: 1000 B.C.E.
    • No walls were found dated to the time of King Solomon or David.  If there were walls, they were already there when they got there when King David arrived.
    • King David attacks and captures Jerusalem, turning the area around it into the City of David.
    • 962 B.C.E. King Solomon builds the First Temple.
    • 732 B.C.E.: The Assyrians (who were looming dangerously above Israel), decided to attack Israel.  They destroyed every single city in Israel.  (Some Israelites escaped into Judah).  However, they bypass Judah in favor of heading to Egypt…so long as Hezekiah, the king of Judah, keeps paying taxes.
    • 701 B.C.E.: Hezekiah stops paying taxes.
      • Assyrians attack.  (However, there is controversy surrounding this attack…)
        • Bible states: A plague or some-such struck the Assyrians…so they never took Jerusalem.
        • Assyrian documents state: There was a revolution in Assyria while the troops were gone so they decided to go home instead of attempting to take Jerusalem.
    • 586 B.C.E.: Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem and burned it all down to the ground.  They left behind (for us to find…how thoughtful!) the House of Ahi’el, the Burnt Room, and the Bullae House.  But more about those later.

So!  As we began our tour, we left Mount Scopus and headed to the Mount of Olives which is right across the way in the middle of a largely Arab city.  This is considered the City of David.  From this outlook, the view was great.  If we looked straight down, we were looking at the Kidron Valley and a large cemetery that had been around since ancient times.

From here, there was a great view of the Old City:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThe best view I’ve seen so far of the courtyard at the Temple Mount:

And the ever-beautiful Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene:

From here, we got back on the bus and drove across the Kidron Valley (of course, we had to take the long way…couldn’t just jump over) and into the heart of the City of David.  We got off the bus right outside of Dung Gate into the Old City (the gate that leads straight to the Western Wall).  However, instead of heading into the Old City, we walked down the hill a bit to the entrance of Warren’s Shaft System.

See, in the 700s B.C.E. (and still to this day), the City of David was surrounded by both the Kidron Valley and the Hinnom Valley as a natural deterrent to those attempting to take the city.  However ideal these accommodations were during times of war, the real question was how to get water into the city.

Throughout his reign, Hezekiah built an awesome tunnel!

Hezekiah's Tunnel Map

See, there was Gihon Spring which was originally believed to be right outside of the city.  (It was later uncovered that it was actually in the city and that construction had been expanded just to surround the spring.)  However, since it was all the way on the East side, in the middle of a valley no-less, it was necessary to channel the water into the city somehow.

It was originally believed that diggers tunneled from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool in order to create what is now known as the Siloam Channel.  However, recent archaeological discoveries have proven this theory wrong.  As excavators explored the channel, they found an inscription in the middle called the Siloam Inscription.  Here they found a detailed plaque (of sorts) that explained that the diggers started at both the Gihon Spring and the Siloam Pool and met in the middle to create what is now known as the Siloam Channel.  As part of our field trip, we got to walk through Warren’s Shaft System.

To this day, there is evidence that it was dug by hand via hammer and chisel.  Here are the marks that can be found throughout the entire tunnel:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFrom here we descended (using modern steps, thank goodness) into Warren’s Shaft System.  This is what it’s called today, after the first excavator who explored it.  Here is the new entrance to the System.  If you can’t tell from the picture, this was a straight ahead shot.  You are literally dropping almost straight down.  Imagine a slide:

And here is the original entrance, or what they had to climb through waaay back when.  It’s extremely narrow:

One of the mysteries that surrounds this tunnel is the giant hole in the middle of it.  When the second group of people living in the city happened upon the tunnel, they started digging to expand it.  They found a very deep hole that went straight into the ground.  They naturally assumed that it was a sort of well that the previous dwellers had used to get water.  They ignored the hole and kept digging another way.  It was then rediscovered by Warren in 1867.  Today, we think that it’s a natural sinkhole that was never used because there aren’t any chisel marks in the rock or pottery shards at the bottom of the hole.

Upon leaving the underground tunnel, we happened across a model of the Siloam Inscription:

From here, we climbed a bit of a ways up the mountain and went to a lookout opposite the Mount of Olives lookout.  We looked down in to the Kidron Valley from the other side:

and our professor pointed out something interesting.

According to the ancient ways, the dead could not be buried within in the confines of the city.  This is one way that we can tell that this is where the ancient City of David was.  Every surrounding valley has tombs.  Those window-looking holes in the side of the mountain were actually ancient burial tombs.  Nowadays, they serve as basements to the current tenants…which is kinda creepy.  But hey!  Whatever works.

Now, all the way at the end of the eye line was a special tomb.  This has been proven as the Pharaoh’s Daughter’s Tomb.  The story goes, when Solomon became king, he allied himself with the Pharaoh of Egypt by marriage and took for himself the Pharaoh’s daughter, bringing her into the City of David.  The sheer fact that this specific wife is mentioned…even if not by name…meant that she was special.  After all, he did have over 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Man was a player!  When she died, he had a special tomb made for her.

From there, my professor took us to the potential location of King David’s Palace.  Potential being the key word.  Here are some pictures of the archaic architecture.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

As we walked down further into the Kidron Valley, we turned and looked back up.  Here, we found the stepped stone structure that is just so controversial.  See, many many people have lived in Jerusalem and the City of David through time.  Many of these people, instead of building their own structures, simply built on top of previously existing places.  That is one reason that so much confusion surrounds the stepped-stone structure.  There is no way to date the stone.  For now, we believe that it was a retaining wall surrounding David’s palace…but who knows if it was there before David was.

Right at the base of the stepped stone structure is one of archaeology’s biggest finds in the City of David.  Here is a location entirely excavated from 7th-6th century B.C.E.

Excavators discovered a house built into the retaining wall (which leads historians to believe that the City soon grew too big and had to expand outside the city walls…).  This house is called the House of Ahi’el and is named so because of an inscription they found on the doorway that listed that name…and only that name.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Funny story.  In all of the excavations, they actually found two toilets in the City of David.  This was extremely rare and the fact that they found any at all went a long ways to helping explain what kinds of houses these were.  Obviously, the owners were affluent and with the times if they had a toilet!SANYO DIGITAL CAMERATo the right of the House of Ahi’el, they found a room that they dubbed the Burnt Room.  Now, when the Babylonian’s sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. they set everything on fire.  The Burnt Room contained many elaborate pieces of wood.  These charred, wooden remains allowed archaeologists to date the fire and to place where the wood came from in order to know who the residents traded with.

Aerial view!

The last discovery at this dig site was the Bullae House.  A bullae can be likened to a wax seal.  It was a small clay lump that was stuck to letters to keep them closed.  They had inscriptions on them to indicate who the sender was.  We are lead to believe that the Bullae House was like a post office since we found so many with so many names perfectly preserved.  Perfectly preserved you say?  Yes, says I!  See…when you set fire to clay…it hardens.  😉  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any actual Bullae yet (maybe when we go to the Israel Museum), so for now…you must suffice with a google image…bullaeThe very last place that we zoomed past was the potential burial place of King David and King Solomon.  However, there were no bones (or anything having to do with burial methods) ever found within.  So now it’s just a gaping hole in history as to what purpose holes served:

From there we got back on the bus and went back to Mount Scopus.  It was a delightful first field trip…and I can’t help but be excited about the upcoming three or four more.  But tomorrow?  We have our “midterm”.  It’s technically a quiz…but it counts for 30% of our final grade.  EEP!

Guess I should go to sleep.

Until next time…

Author: alisonlcohn

Graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Communications Advertising. Traveled a bit. Taught for two years. Administered aptitude tests for a while. Worked as a Training Associate for Guardian Mortgage and a Quiz Master for Geeks Who Drink. Obtained my Master's in Film, Television and Screen Media in London, England. Now working as a small-group travel coordinator. Nice to meet you!

3 thoughts on “The Thing about Archaeology…”

  1. Hi Alison! We would like to publish a photo that you took on Siloam inscription in our book, which is about Biblical archaeology. Of course, we will include in our book a reference to the authorship of the photo. Would it be okay with you?
    Thank you!

    Ava Xue

      1. Hi Alison, The picture from you that we are going to use is for a book entitled *The Bible and Hebrew Archaeology*, the first book of a series on biblical archaeology and Bible translation. Here is the picture:

        It will be used especially for the introduction of a biblical archaeologist named Charles Clermont-Ganneau, who participated the identification of Siloam Inscription. Due to the limitation of space, we will crop about 1/3 of the image.

        Your help will be much appreciated. Please let me know if you have any question 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s