What would happen if archaeologists could excavate tears? Looking at burned stones and beams clearly visible in the ruins of a building recently exposed at the excavation known as the “Givati Parking Lot” while touring the site, I could not help asking myself the question.Those blackened remains have been there for more than 2,600 years. The researchers have been able to pin down the moment of their destruction to 586 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and devastated its temple, which stood just a few minutes away from the prominent two-story building.How many tears were shed, how many cries could be heard during that blaze which likely added torridness to the already proverbially hot Jerusalem summer days?archaeological activity that is carried out in the numerous sites around the city, and specifically, the Iron Age, the Persian and the Hellenistic eras.The cooperation between the two institutions has been especially fruitful in advancing the project, also in consideration of its sensitive location, the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, many residents of which oppose the excavation as well as the whole City of David site.The structure offering such a vivid testimony of one of the greatest catastrophes ever befallen on the Jewish people, which also marked the beginning of their first exile, is located just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem on the western slope of the Tyropoeon Valley.Excavated for more than a decade, the Givati dig is considered part of the National Park of the City of David, located just across the street, and it offers traces of many of the most iconic periods of Jerusalem’s history.The current expedition, headed by Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has focused on researching times that have been less documented in the intense
Usually, summers are a particularly busy period for archaeology: Academic digs open all over Israel and thousands of students, volunteers and temporary workers join them, as well as the more permanent projects where archaeologists work year-round.Because of the coronavirus crisis though, in 2020 most of this activity is not happening.However, at Givati, the expedition managed to organize a few weeks of digging to complete excavating the destroyed building, as Gadot explained on a bright August morning.“One of the features that makes this area special is that we can really look at it as a ‘tel,’” he said, referring to a mound formed from the remains of several periods accumulating on top of each other. “We can identify the layers dating back to as early as the ninth century BCE in the Iron Age to the 10th century CE and the Abbasid period, which in Jerusalem is extremely unique.”The scholar also highlighted that the excavation at Givati represents the largest exposure of archaeological remains of the western slope of the valley, after for decades researchers focused on the eastern one.Looking at the excavation from above, an inexperienced eye will only spot a maze of walls erected in typical golden white Jerusalem stones of different sizes.
However, those spaces once marked the rooms, cellars and courtyards of houses, public facilities and fortifications and for the researchers, they represent three-dimensional pages narrating excerpts of the history of Jerusalem.Routinely, the ruins also give back inestimable treasures: a trove of golden coins, rare seals and seals impressions, pottery and other objects bearing witness to the daily life of ancient Jerusalemites.“The expedition before us exposed a market from the Abbasid period; below it they found a Byzantine mansion and under it a late Roman villa, almost complete, with a courtyard and several rooms,” Gadot said. “They also unearthed another villa and several Jewish ritual baths from the early Roman period as well as fortifications which date back to either the Hasmonean period or the Seleucid one.”One element that seems to have remained consistent through the ages is that by virtue of its exclusive location, just a few minutes from the Temple Mount, the area was devoted to either private houses for prominent families or public buildings.This is the case of the building burned down by the Babylonians, which has offered the archaeologists also unprecedented insights on the next chapter of the story, the one that followed the destruction, as Shalev explained to The Jerusalem Post.“We were intrigued to discover that later on, during the fifth century BCE, people came back to Jerusalem and established themselves in the ruins, cleared out part of the structure and settled inside it, which we take as an indication of the poor state in which both them and the city found themselves at the time,” he explained. Artifacts uncovered from this period include coins and pottery vessels as well as modest quality construction materials.Were those people Jews returning to their promised land after the exile and driven to settle where their ancestors had lived and thrived? Or perhaps members of the small group of Jews allowed to remain? At this juncture, it is impossible to say with certainty.“What we can say for sure is that this period of poverty did not last long because we also found traces of another large public structure dated to the late third/early second century BCE, so we know that by this point Jerusalem, its status and its economy were rising again,” Shalev said.“There is still much we don’t know, but the long black hole we had before that stretched from the early sixth century to the late second century is at least narrowed down,” he added.
Uncovering new evidence to bridge this gap is one of the goals of the TAU-IAA project, for this year and for the future.The Hellenistic building unearthed is the first one found in Jerusalem. Partially exposed in the previous excavations, the expedition led by Gadot and Shalev has uncovered several new parts of it, including a large room presenting pottery vessels on the floor, within the floor and under the floor, which allowed researchers to reach very precise dating. Many artifacts, including a gold ring and numerous seals, were also found in the construction.As meaningful as the findings exposed so far have been to understand more about the history of Jerusalem, the researchers highlighted that there is still a lot to do in the area.“We know there is another structure to the north of the one we have already dug, for example, and we still have plenty of questions,” Shalev concluded. “We will hopefully address some of them in the future, and some we will leave for the generation after us, as it is always important to do in archaeological excavations.”