If the central sewage line for Jerusalem’s Old City, which runs down the slope of the village of Silwan, had not gotten blocked a year ago, it would probably have been many years before we would have discovered the real dimensions of the historic Pool of Siloam from the Second Temple Period.
The pool, whose present small dimensions date from Byzantine times, is the outlet for the spring water coursing through the ancient Hezekiah’s tunnel. It was once huge – three to four dunams.
And if the huge dimensions of the pool had not been discovered, it is doubtful that the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Elad association, which is working for the development of the area also known as the City of David, would not have come across the dramatic discovery now underway: the far end of a street dating from the Herodian period, which begins at the outer southwestern corner of the Temple Mount and is familiar to visitors to the Western Wall.
When the sewage main first backed up during the winter of 2004, the Israel Nature and Parks Protection Authority, responsible for the archaeological sites around the Old City’s walls, called for a halt to the repair work and took advantage of the opportunity to dig a heretofore unexcavated part of the City of David.
Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, who are directing the dig for the IAA and Elad, say that for the first time they are now able to trace the street that connected the Temple Mount in Second Temple times with the Pool of Siloam. Other portions of the road were revealed by the 19th-century Jerusalem explorers Bliss and Dickey and in 1963 by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. Now, the last piece of the puzzle has come to light near the pool.
Among the finds near the street are coins from the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans, from the years 67, 68, and 69 C.E.
Dozens of workers are involved in the project – all are residents of Silwan who have been working on it for years.
The finds near the Pool of Siloam, which is mentioned in both ancient Jewish sources and the New Testament, have meant a major development push for the City of David neighborhood: the city is building and repairing sewage lines, water lines and streets, garbage is being collected on a regular basis and souvenir stores and snack bars are enjoying new business.
The Herodian street is not the only piece of ancient history in the area. In the excavations near Warren’s Shaft, long believed to be part of Jerusalem’s ancient water system and named after its 19th-century discoverer, Charles Warren, the first archaeological evidence of Jerusalem as an administrative center during the period of the Kingdom of Judah (the ninth century BCE) is now coming to light. A group of over 40 clay cylinder seals and stamps were recently unearthed by the IAA. Some of them bear human, animal and bird images, and one even shows the fingerprint of the person who used it in signing a letter written at the time. A number of ivory plaques also found are believed to have been used as calendars.
Reich and Shukron say this is the first time such a large assemblage of cylinder seals from the early period of the kings of Judah have been unearthed in one place in the city of David, attesting to its importance during the reigns of kings Jehoshaphat and Yehoram. According to Shukron, it shows the city was “an administrative center that conducted correspondence during the period between David and Solomon and the period of Hezekiah” and those who reigned around his time. “Until now, Shukron says, “all the cylinder seals found in Jerusalem are from the end of the First Temple period. This is the first time we find seals that can be dated earlier, to the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah.”
Another interesting find is 1,700 bones of Mediterranean fish (so far), attesting to trade with the coastal area; the bones are being studied by Prof. Omri Lernau.
A number of finds in the IAA-Elad excavation have shed light on the study of Jerusalem over the past 140 years. For example, Charles Warren believed the shaft he discovered had been used by ancient Jerusalemites to draw water, an opinion that was widespread until recently. However the discovery of a pool and surrounding fortifications, now in the Elad’s Spring House visitor center, have changed this idea. A ritual bath and water cistern from the Second Temple period were discovered in the excavation in the Givati parking lot across from the entrance to the City of David below the Dung Gate. Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Shalem Center has uncovered a palace or fortress covering an area of 300 meters and dated to the 10th century BCE. Next to this structure, the regal capital of a pillar was discovered, dating from the ninth century BCE (the period of David and Solomon).
Reich says the area of the City of David has become the most excavated area in the country. “We are the 12th expedition to work here, and in no small way it is thanks to the contributions that flow in to the project from the Elad association. They may be disagreed with politically, but without them we would not have been able to make the dramatic discoveries of recent years here, in the place where Jerusalem began, where the story began of the Jewish people in this land.”