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Rare remains of biblical royal structure found at Jerusalem promenade excavation

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The stone artifacts date back to the First Temple times during the period of the Kings of Judah

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a rare find, several stone artifacts dating back to the First Temple Period were found neatly buried during an excavation at the Armon HaNetiv promenade by archaeologists from the City of David and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

On Thursday, the IAA and City of David said that this special collection of several dozen adorned architectural stone artifacts made up part of a magnificent structure, which was discovered in the Antiquities Authority’s excavations in preparation for the establishment of a visitor center on the promenade, at the site where the home of artist Shaul Schatz once stood. 

The City of David and IAA explained that the stone artifacts found are made “of soft limestone, with decorative carvings, and among them are capitals of various sizes in the architectural style known as ‘Proto-Aeolian.’” 

Pro-Aeolian, the archaeologists explained, is one of the “most significant royal building features of the First Temple period, and one of the visual symbols of the period. 

“The importance of this artistic motif as a symbol representing the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel,” they said. 

It’s of such importance that the Bank of Israel chose this as the image that adorns the five shekel coin used today in the State of Israel.

Speaking about this magnificent find, the IAA’s director of the excavation Yaakov Billig, said “this is is a very exciting discovery. 

“This is a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant Proto-Aeolian capitals…found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel,” he said 

Billig added that these designs were also incorporated above the royal palace gates. 

“The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare,” he stressed.

Among the treasured find was three complete medium-sized stone capitals, as well as items from lavish window frames, incorporating balustrades composed of stylish columns on which a series of Proto-Aeolian style capitals of a tiny size were affixed. 

Above Image:   Five shekel coin against the background of the capital discovered. (Credit: Yaniv Berman/IAA)
Featured Image: The Director of the excavation, Yaakov Billig, with the capitals. (Credit: Yoli Shwartz/IAA)

For Billig, the mystery of how these artifacts were found so neatly buried is still a mystery.

“At this point,” he said, “it is still difficult to say who hid the capitals in the way they were discovered, and why he did so, but there is no doubt that this is one of the mysteries at this unique site to which we will try to offer a solution.”

Billig pointed out that although the capitals discovered were preserved in excellent condition, “the rest of the building [from which they were from] was destroyed, probably in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE or thereabout. 

“The remains of the building were demolished and dismantled for the purpose of making secondary use of the valuable items,” he added.

Addressing how far this magnificent structure possibly dated back to, Billig believes it was built in the period between the days of King Hezekiah and King Josiah.

“[This] indicates the restoration of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege of the city in 701 BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah – a siege which the city barely survived,” he continued. “This discovery, along with the palace previously uncovered in Ramat Rachel and the administrative center recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority on the slopes of Arnona, attests to a new revival in the city and a somewhat ‘exit from the walls’ of the First Temple period, after the Assyrian siege.” 

Billig pointed out that the IAA had also revealed villas, mansions and government buildings in the area outside the walls of the city, which “testifies to the relief felt by the city’s residents and the recovery of Jerusalem’s development after the Assyrian threat was over.”

Commenting on the find, Culture and Sport Minister Hili Tropper said that “the uncovering of the remains of the building reflects the glorious roots of the Jewish people and our rich past here in the capital city Jerusalem.”

The findings will be displayed at an exhibition at the City of David over the next few days with an account of their significance to be given online at the Megalim Conference, to be held this Tuesday on the City of David website.

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