Ancient stone fortifications that were recently uncovered outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City date back some 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about the era, according to archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who spoke to a group of reporters at the site on Monday.
If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the 10th century BCE.
"It's the most significant construction we have from First Temple days in Israel," Mazar said on Monday. "And it means that at that time, the 10th century, in Jerusalem there was a regime capable of carrying out such construction."
The section of the city wall revealed, which is 70 meters long and six meters high, is located in the area known as the Ophel, between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
An inner gatehouse for access into the royal quarter of the city was uncovered in the city wall complex, along with a royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse and a corner tower that overlooks a substantial section of the adjacent Kidron Valley.
The excavations in the Ophel area were carried out over a three-month period under the auspices of Hebrew University and with funding provided by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, a New York couple interested in biblical archeology.
The excavations were carried out in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Company for the Development of East Jerusalem. Archeology students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as volunteer students from the Herbert W. Armstrong College in Edmond, Oklahoma and hired workers all participated in the excavation work.
"The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence," Mazar said. "Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering, and the city wall is at the eastern end of the Ophel area in a high, strategic location atop the western slope of the Kidron Valley.
"A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate, with a great degree of assurance, that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century BCE," she continued.
"This is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon's building in Jerusalem," she added.
"The Bible tells us that Solomon built - with the assistance of the Phoenicians, who were outstanding builders - the Temple and his new palace and surrounded them with a city, most probably connected to the more ancient wall of the City of David."
Mazar specifically cited the third chapter of Kings I, which includes the words "until he [Solomon] had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about."
The six-meter-high gatehouse of the uncovered city wall complex is built in a style typical of those from the period of the First Temple, like Megiddo, Beersheba and Ashdod. It has a symmetrical plan of four identical small rooms, two on each side of the main passageway.
A large, adjacent tower also stood at the site, covering an area of 24 by 18 meters, where it served as a watchtower to protect entry to the city. Today the tower is located under the nearby road and still needs to be excavated.
Pottery shards discovered within the fill of the lowest floor of the royal building near the gatehouse also testify to the 10th-century-BCE dating of the complex. On the floor, excavators found remnants of large storage jars that survived destruction by fire and that were found in rooms that apparently served as storage areas on the ground floor of the building. One of the jars shows a partial inscription in ancient Hebrew indicating it belonged to a high-level government official.
"The jars that were found are the largest ever found in Jerusalem," said Mazar, adding that "the inscription found on one of them shows that it belonged to a government official, apparently the person responsible for overseeing the provision of baked goods to the royal court."
In addition to the pottery shards, cult figurines were also found in the area, as were seal impressions on jar handles with the word "to the king," testifying to their usage within the monarchy. Also found were seal impressions (bullae) with Hebrew names, indicating the royal nature of the structure.
Nonetheless, other archeologists posit that the biblical narrative reflecting the existence of a powerful monarchy in Jerusalem is largely mythical and that there was no strong government to speak of in that era.
Aren Maeir, an archeology professor at Bar Ilan University, said he has
yet to see evidence that the fortifications are as old as Mazar claims.
There are remains from the 10th century in Jerusalem, he said, but
proof of a strong, centralized kingdom at that time remains "tenuous."
While some see the biblical account of the kingdoms of David and
Solomon as accurate and others reject it entirely, Maeir said the truth
was likely somewhere in the middle.
"There's a kernel of historicity in the story of the kingdom of David," he said.
AP contributed to this report