The view from the garbage
The secrets of life in Second Temple-era Jerusalem can be found in a trash heap
Two discs made of bone, which apparently served as buttons, are among the objects found in the municipal dump that served Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple era. These buttons were intended to be not only practical, but decorative as well. In addition the dump has yielded a handful of glass fragments, which testify to the use of prestigious objects.
However, the vast majority of finds at the dump were very much everyday objects: fragments of household utensils including cooking pots, storage jars, pottery and lamps, coins of low denominations and a large number of animal bones. The dump is located on the eastern slope of the hill where the City of David is located. It was first unearthed in 1867 by Charles Warren, and many other archaeologists excavated there after him, but they did not realize they were digging through garbage. Only in 1995 did Professor Ronny Reich, of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, and Eli Shukron, of the Antiquities Authority, who directed the dig at the site, realize it was a dump.
The researchers estimate that the dump held a total of 300,000 tons of refuse. Reich says it came from the upper city ?(today's Jewish Quarter?), from the area adjacent to the Temple Mount and from the City of David. They calculate that every year, about 3,000 tons of waste was dumped there. This quantity of garbage, which was carried a fair distance from its source, could not have been brought there by individuals, they reason: The garbage must have been transported in a centralized and planned way from the residential area to the dump.
Reich, Shukron and their colleagues excavated in two places at the dump and systematically sorted and examined the material they collected. They found that the most significant portion of the manmade objects there were pottery shards, among which the most common were pieces of cooking utensils. These constituted about 30 percent of the shards, three times more than was found at a dwelling excavated by Professor Nachman Avigad in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter.
Reich believes that the reason for the large quantity of cooking utensils in the trash stems from the gradual increase toward the end of the Second Temple period in the number of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem on Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. Some brought pots and cooking utensils, and others purchased them in Jerusalem. In any case, the pilgrims' broken pots were dumped at the site, increasing their relative proportion among the rubbish.
Apart from the pottery shards, the rubbish offered little evidence of the use of stone utensils, which were also common during that period. In the dozens of cubic meters of dirt taken from the dump, only two fragments of stone utensils were found. At private homes in the upper city of Jerusalem, however, stone utensils were much more popular.
Compared to pottery, stone utensils were relatively resilient ? and relatively prestigious ? which explains their absence in the dump. According to Jewish religious law in those days, stone utensils could not be considered ritually contaminated. While a contaminated piece of pottery had to be broken and discarded, stone utensils never faced that similar fate. Furthermore, stone utensils were apparently considered much more prestigious, and therefore better care was taken of them.
Evidence of Jewish life
The difference between the frequency of stone vessels in the waste versus in homes is one of the clear signs of the Jewish character of the city. However, more obvious signs can be found in the animal bones collected at the dump. Most of the bones, Says Dr. Guy Bar-Oz, an archaeo-zoologist from the University of Haifa, were of domesticated animals, goats, sheep and cattle. Not a single pig bone was found. A thorough examination of the bones showed that most of the animals eaten in the city were young. This fact concords with the Jewish religious injunction to sacrifice young, unblemished animals.
Signs of cutting were found on the bones, from which Bar-Oz concluded that they had been slaughtered by professional slaughters in accordance with Jewish law. The cuts were always found in specific areas of the animal's body. Ram Buchnik, a student writing a doctorate under the supervision of Bar-Oz and Reich, is examining the signs of cutting and comparing them to the slaughtering laws in the Talmud and the Mishna. Thus far he has found complete congruence between the writings and bones. Apart from the two buttons, the researchers found bones only of animals slaughtered to be eaten by the city inhabitants and the pilgrims. Manmade objects like beads, buttons or other items were not fund.
This phenomenon, according to Bar-Oz, characterizes all the findings at the dump. The inhabitants discarded only objects and materials that they could not recycle or that required too much effort to keep at home.
The dimensions of the municipal dump and the quantities of refuse that accumulated there about 2,000 years ago are indicative of the size and the development of the city at that time.
"Jerusalem was a very large and wealthy city that lived on constant domestic tourism," says Reich. "The pilgrims who came there regularly brought food, utensils and money, and all of these contributed to the development of the city and its inhabitants."
Therefore, the finds recently excavated not far from the city dump, in the national park encircling Jerusalem, did not surprise Reich. Rescue excavations on the planned site of the Beit Ha'asor building turned up a dwelling of impressive dimensions. The dig was directed by Zvi Greenhut of the Antiquities Authority, on land owned by the Elad Association. Along the entire length of the rock slope above the Shiloah Pool, which soars to a height of 13 meters, four stories of rooms were excavated. The walls were plastered in stucco and were girded with wooden beams or by means of hewing into the rock.
Greenhut also found evidence in the dwelling of a cellar with a plastered dome, next to a storeroom. Alongside the storeroom was a ritual bath, which also served as a source of water in case the purification pools fell below the level stipulated in Jewish law.
Since the domed structure is so close to the Shiloah Pool, which could provide enough pure water for the house's inhabitants, the question arises as to why they needed a reservoir. Of all the ancient ritual baths that have been excavated to date in Jerusalem, this is the second or third next to a reservoir. In Greenhut's opinion, the investment in the construction of the reserve pool shows that the dwelling's inhabitants were wealthy, and preferred not to go down to dip with the commoners but rather to do so within the walls of their comfortable home.
The discovery of such a large house in this part of the city, contradicts the prevailing view of town planning in Jerusalem during that period. Michael Avi Yonah had drawn up Jerusalem of that period as a city where the wealthy lived in large villas on the slopes of the hill, while the poor lived in shaky huts farther down. The lovely building that Greenhut excavated is located in the lower city, contrary to Avi Yonah's conjecture. But Reich is not surprised.
"Because Jerusalem was a wealthy city, there were also beautiful houses in the lower city. Certainly not miserable shacks," he says. "If there were poor people in Jerusalem, they probably lived by the dump and lived by gleaning off what the rich threw away."
This way of life was truncated with the destruction of the city in 70 C.E. This is witnessed by, among other things, the coins that went into the dump. The researchers found there 126 coins, of which 50 have been cleaned and identified. Of them, only four or five are dated to the days of Alexander Yannai, in the first century B.C.E. All the rest belong to the early Roman period, in the first century C.E. The later coins are from the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans: One is from the year 67, and the other from 68. The Roman conquest two years later is also evident in the garbage.
"After the year 70 the Jewish city ceased to exist and its inhabitants fled, were killed or went into exile, and garbage ceased being taken to the dump. In Jerusalem remained only a Roman garrison, and you can see that the garbage piled up in the streets," says Reich.