Finding a room with a "V" (or three Vs be exact) and baffled by their origins and meaning, archeologists
in Jerusalem have turned to Facebook for ideas about what could be behind the
carvings etched into its limestone floor.
The three Vs were uncovered in
a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock near the Gihon Spring, the oldest
section of the city whose founding dates back to the fourth millennium BCE. They
were carved to a depth of some five centimeters, with each arm of the Vs
extending about 30 centimeters. Nothing found in the vicinity offered
much help in identifying who made them or their purpose.
strange. I’d never seen such a thing in my life,” Ronny Reich, a University of
Haifa archeologist who has excavated in Jerusalem for more than 40 years, told
The Media Line, recalling the day he found them.
They were outside
Jerusalem’s walls in the remains of a house occupied about 2,800 years ago. That
was when Jerusalem was ruled by the kings of Judea and was mostly located in an
area just south of the presentday Old City. Today, the area is known both as the
City of David and as Silwan, a residential neighborhood where a majority-Arab
population lives uncomfortably with Israelis.
In fact, the Vs may not be
such a rarity, as Reich realized as he was studying archeological reports
several weeks after the discovery. Capt. Montague Parker, a British adventurer
and proto-archeologist, reported finding similar carvings a century ago in
another house nearby and published them.
“So, now I have two locations
with enigmatic carvings, so it must be a more widespread phenomenon, not
something unique,” Reich said. But Parker’s dig has since been covered over and
his discovery will probably never be confirmed. “Since Parker’s time many
houses have been built and we cannot dig where we like.”
campaign has elicited a lot of responses and lots of questions about the size
Among the suggestions proffered are that they are
characters written in Egyptian, Paleo- Hebrew or Yarmukian, a prehistoric
culture that the writer says used “herringbone” glyphs on their pottery. Others
propose that the Vs are an image or images – “a person... head and all,” or a
symbol for water, “particularly if it was located near a spring.”
proposed a more practical use, either as a holder for tools, a mold for metal
hinges or that they were used to hold something upright.
they are an “ancient version of HTML,” adding a :-) in case the archeologists
were thinking of pursuing the conjecture.
The Facebook campaign was
organized by the City of David Foundation, a non-profit group that funds
excavations in the area and operates a visitors’ center. As for himself, Reich
said he is relying more on his colleagues than the public for help in trying to
fathom the mystery of the Vs.
So far, they have not been much help, but
such things take time, he said. In October, he presented the Vs at a conference
attended by some 200 of his colleagues, but no one had anything to suggest.
Although Reich has been an archeologist for more than four decades and spent 15
years excavating in the City of David, the Iron Age era that the house dates
from is not his specialty.
“I’m a classical archeologist, dealing mainly
with the Second Temple period, not the Iron Age. Yet I am digging there so I
have to deal with strata that are less my expertise, so some of my findings I
delegate to others to others,” he explained.
What archeologists can say
with certainty is that potsherds found nearby indicate that the rooms with the
Vs were last used around 800 BCE, at which point they were filled with rubble to
support the construction of a defensive wall. This was around the reign of
Joash, the king of Judea.
The straight lines of the house’s walls and
level floors suggest that special effort was put into building the complex, and
its location next to the Gihon Spring point to their having an important
purpose. But the findings also suggest that the rooms were an ordinary
place where the daily life of a biblical city went on.
discovered nearby the remains of olive presses and a small upright stone used
for pagan rites, known as a matzeva
. While Jerusalem is the birthplace of
monotheism, it was a lengthy birth and remains from the era of the Vs show that
many people followed the pagan practices of their neighbors in the shadow of
God’s Temple in the privacy of their homes.
“We don’t know what this is
for either. It might have been used for domestic worship, someone commemorating
an event or a forefather, nothing public,” Reich said.
There is a pointer
to what the writing on the floor is all about in the form of a dozen or so
weights used to hold down threads from a loom, which were discovered in an
adjacent room. “It’s possible that these Vs were used to hold upright vertical
looms,” Reich said, admitting that that would be a disappointingly prosaic
solution to the mystery. “You always have to look for the simple
explanation and not rush into something dramatic.”