A large public water cistern, dating back to the period of the First Temple, was recently discovered in archaeological excavations conducted in Jerusalem. The cistern is the first of its kind to be uncovered in Jerusalem.

The excavations, conducted at a site in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden not far from the Western Wall, are being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and funded by the Elad foundation.

In recent years, archaeologists with the Antiquities Authority have been excavating a large channel running from the Temple Mount area to around the Siloam Pool. Today, visitors can already tour a part of the channel which is located near the Western Wall.

The excavation revealed a number of earlier structures, which were demolished in order to construct the channel, along with the street above the channel, and what appears to be parts of the Western Wall.

Over the last few weeks, the excavators discovered that construction of the channel closed up the 250 cubic meter cistern, which was carved out of the stone during the First Temple period, roughly 3,000 years ago. 

Discoveries from the First Temple period in Jerusalem are relatively rare, compared to findings from later periods. Despite the fact that archaeological digs have been going on in Jerusalem since the 19th century, this is the first large cistern to be found within the city.

The cistern walls were found to be thoroughly plastered, in the same fashion as other cisterns from the same period found in different areas throughout Israel, including Bet Shemesh and Be'er Sheva. The discovery of the cistern changes current perceptions held by archaeologists, regarding Jerusalem's water supply during the First Temple Period.

Until now, researchers believed that most of Jerusalem's water during that period reached the city directly from the Gihon Spring, which runs from lower Silwan.

According to Eli Shukron, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority,"The exposure of the current reservoir, as well as smaller cisterns that were revealed along the Tyropoeon Valley, unequivocally indicates that Jerusalem’s water consumption in the First Temple period was not solely based on the output of the Gihon Spring water-works, but also on more available water resources, such as the one we have just discovered.

According to Dr. Tvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist of the Nature and Parks Authority and an expert on ancient water systems “Presumably the large water reservoir, which is situated near the Temple Mount, was used for the everyday activities of the Temple Mount itself and also by the pilgrims who went up to the Temple and required water for bathing and drinking”.

Left-leaning archaeologists attacked the Israel Antiquities Authority in light of the findings, claiming that the organization conducted the dig for political purposes, and in contrast with proper archaeological methods.

“Ancient structers cannot be dated properly when the excavation is not conducted using the stratigraphic method – from ground level, [straight] down,” said Yoni Mizrahi, an archaeologist from the organiation  “Emek Shaveh,” which unites archaeoogists critical of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Elad foundation. 

“The tunnel digging method is a process from the 19th century, before archaeology was recnogzied as an academic discipline.  This dig is meant to create a series of tunnels from the Palestinian village of Silwan, to the Western Wall Plaza, through to the Muslim Quarter.

From what we understand, the antiquities authority has once again been harnest with political objectives by right wing organizations, under the guise of archaeological activities,” continued Mizrahi.