When a floor begins to give way in one of the 2,000-year-old tunnels underneath
the Old City during excavations, archeologists get excited. Holes in the floor
can be dangerous, but they’re also a sign that there are even more layers of
history underneath, waiting to be discovered.
Recently, when part of the
floor collapsed in a massive underground drainage ditch deep below the Western
Wall as archeologists were taking it apart to see how the floor was constructed,
they could barely contain themselves.
They were so excited to see what
was down there that they couldn’t wait for additional lighting, and used their
cellphones to see what they had found. Chief archeologist Eli Shukron, who has
been digging around Jerusalem for 25 years, was his first to stick his head in
the hole. He was blown away by the size of the room they had
Based on previous research and excavations in the area,
Shukron was immediately convinced they had stumbled on an enormous underground
well from the First Temple Period. The finding is significant because it is the
first evidence of stored water next to the Temple. Previously, experts believed
that pilgrims and residents used to hike to the Gihon Spring – located in a wadi
at the bottom of the City of David park – in order to get water for rituals and
daily life around the First Temple.
“It gives us an opportunity to
understand their day-to-day life,” said Shukron on Thursday.
one-tenth the size of an Olympic swimming pool, the reservoir measures 12 meters
by 5 meters by 4.5 meters and can hold approximately 250 cubic meters of
Shukron dates the reservoir to the First Temple Period because it
uses the same type of plaster as other reservoirs in the Gihon Spring area, from
the same era.
He is fairly certain that the pool was a public reservoir
because the private wells could only hold a few dozen cubic meters of
While the reservoir was in use, spring water running downhill from
the Temple Mount would have seeped through one side of the reservoir and filled
the entire room to capacity. On Thursday, a pool of fresh water was still
standing at the bottom in one of the corners, even though it is the end of
Dr. Tvika Tsuk, the chief archeologist of the Israel Nature and
Parks Authority and an expert on ancient water systems, said the reservoir was
similar to ones found in Beit Shemesh and Beersheba from the same time
“Presumably the large water reservoir, which is situated near the
Temple Mount, was used for the everyday activities of the Temple Mount itself
and also by the pilgrims who went up to the Temple and required water for
bathing and drinking,” he said. The excavations were carried out by the
Antiquities Authority, funded by the Ir David Foundation, and with the support
of the Nature and Parks Authority.
Even today, the handprints of the
laborers who added the plaster are still visible.
discovery was presented on Thursday at the 13th annual City of David Studies of
Ancient Jerusalem conference, which deals with findings from the past year in
the City of David archeological park.
The drainage channels underneath
the Western Wall Plaza are part of a giant engineering project undertaken in the
Second Temple Period. Even the debris filling the water channels contains unique
discoveries: shards of pottery dating back 2,000 years, an ornamental golden
bell that possibly belonged to a high priest, and seals – one of which offered
the earliest written reference to Bethlehem.