An extremely rare find has been made in a parking lot in the Old City of Jerusalem: a gemstone seal from the First Temple era - bearing the name of a woman, Elihana Bat Gael.
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First Temple-era artifacts are rare; seals from that time are rarer; and a seal bearing the name of a woman is rarest of all.
The Givati Brigade parking lot by the City of David has been undergoing excavation for nine years now. The goal is to unearth the antiquities at the site and ultimately build a new visitors’ center for the City of David National Park, abutting the predominantly Arab, East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
The dig has yielded an abundance of discoveries from all the periods of inhabitation in the city. Recently the Akra – a Hellenistic citadel erected in the heart of Jerusalem by Seleucid conquerors, after they first destroyed the city in the second-century B.C.E. – was discovered there. Findings at the site from subsequent eras include a large Roman villa, a street and buildings from the Byzantine era, remains of the Muslim period including a cache of gold, and more.
In one of the deeper trenches unearthed in recent months, archaeologists discovered the vestiges of a structure from the latter part of the First Temple period (1006 – 586 B.C.E.). This era is relatively unrepresented in the digs at the City of David and in Jerusalem in general, due to the large amount of construction in the city during subsequent periods of antiquity.
The structure discovered was apparently not a residential building but a monumental public structure. Among the discoveries were the capital of a column typical of the period, pottery shards, weights, bulla seals (inscribed pieces of clay) and fragments of statues of fertility goddesses.
“There is a sense that this was an administrative building – indeed, the entire belt surrounding the Temple was apparently not meant for simple buildings,” says the head of the excavation, Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
But the most impressive finding in this part of the dig was found about a week ago: of two rare seals more than 2,500 years old, made of semi-precious stones inscribed with the names Elihana bat Gael and Sa'aryahu ben Shabenyahu.
According to Hebrew University cultural historian Haggai Misgav, the appearance of a woman’s name on a seal is very rare. The name Elihana does not appear in the Bible, although scholars are familiar with a similar name, Eliya, which has been found on a contemporary Ammonite seal – a name that is the female form of the biblical name “Eli.” The script on the newly discovered seal is similar in style to Ammonite script: It is known that toward the end of the First Temple period, the Kingdom of Ammon wielded great influence in the Jerusalem region, and thus the owner of the seal may have come from Transjordan.
The name on the other seal, Sa'aryahu, is also not found in the Bible. It has been found on a pottery shard originating in Arabia and probably means “the god who is revealed in a storm.” A similar phrase is found in the Book of Job.
The excavation at the City of David is being conducted under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority and is being funded by Elad, a right-wing settlers’ NGO. Most of the smaller findings were unearthed as part of the organization's Temple Mount Sifting Project, in Emek Tzurim National Park on the foot of the Mount of Olives. There, streams of water and sieves are used to wash the soil, in order to expose archaeological artifacts.