A 3,000-year old seal crudely inscribed with animals has been found in rubble evacuated from Temple Mount in Jerusalem, by a 10-year old boy participating in the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The rare artifact adds to finds showing that Jerusalem in the early Iron Age II was an important city, not a mere village, say archaeologists.
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Artifacts from the First Temple period, some 3,000 years ago, are rare to begin with, and this seal is all but unique. Only one other seal from the early Iron Age II of this peculiar style has been found in Jerusalem, by archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Hers was found recently in the Ophel, the area between the City of David and the Temple Mount.
Just like today, the seals were apparently used to seal documents, or parcels, but using clay, not wax, says archaeologist Zachi Dvira, Bar-Ilan University, adding that altogether, only four seals of the unique type, from the period, have been found.
The limestone seal, no bigger in diameter than an adult fingertip, was found in December, 2014 in the rubble being investigated by the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is directed by Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira. That is an international effort – which has recruited some 170,000 volunteers to date, say its organizers - to comb through material evacuated from within Temple Mount by the waqf (a religious authority controlled by Jordan). Tons upon tons of material was discarded in Kidron Valley north-east of the Old City of Jerusalem and in other places, and is being literally sifted for artifacts. Ten-year old Matvei Tcepliaev, a tourist from Russia, who found the rare seal, was one such volunteer.
Since it wasn't found in situ (not that most archaeological artifacts are, observes Dvira), how do we know the seal dates from the First Temple era, also known as the "Early Iron Age IIa" era?
Mainly by comparing it with similar finds whose context and dating are unambiguous, explains Dvira. One especially helpful find was no less than 18 similar seals found in Tel Rehov, an excavation near Beit She'an, which were very clearly dated from the late 11th century BCE to the early 9th century BCE.
"We can see the different styles very clearly," says Dvira. "The style of this seal is very crude, which is typical of the earlier style." In short, it could be from even earlier, or later, but the experts believe the seal dates from the Davidic era or the following Solomonic era, meaning around the 10th century BCE. Which means around 3,000 years. In contrast to certain media reports, however, there is no reason to think the seal was used by or in connection with any specific king.
Jerusalem: Not a picayune village
The Davidic period, according to Jewish lore, began when King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6: "And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spake unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither. Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David" – which is being excavated by Mazar and her team.)
There only known archaeological indication that King David existed (as opposed to being legend) is an Aramaic inscription from the 9th century BCE found in northern Israel, noting an Aramean king's triumph over the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David”, by which historians suspect the boastful victor was referring to the kings Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah.
While Temple Mount itself has been entirely unexcavated, properly at least, the environs have been and are being. Discoveries over the last 10 years disprove the theory touted by some scholars, that Jerusalem in the early Iron Age was some unimportant hilltop village, says Dvira. The evidence, he says, clearly shows that it was a very important city indeed. Finds of the period, as said some 3,000 years ago, include monumental buildings, massive protective walls, as well as a royal compound found south to the Temple Mount.
Aside from the seal, hundreds of pottery sherds dating to the 10th century BCE have been discovered within the soil removed from the Temple Mount, Dvira adds. Additionally, a rare arrowhead made of bronze, from the same period, by its features, has been discovered.
While we have evidence that Jerusalem have been inhabited for thousands of years previously too, - "We have little evidence for a significant presences in the Temple Mount during these era, while it clearly had significant occupation since the 10th century BCE," says Dvira.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project is directed by Barkay and Dvira, under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University and is supported by the Israel Archaeology Fund, The City of David Foundation and the Israel National Parks Authority.