Ophel excavation director discusses biblical discoveries, Temple Mount

“The Ophel was built by King Solomon in the 10th century, and it was the biblical equivalent of an acropolis in Jerusalem where royalty ruled from.”

AN AERIAL view of the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN AERIAL view of the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Days after announcing the discovery of what may be a seal impression from Prophet Isaiah unearthed at the foot of the Temple Mount, the archeologist in charge of the Ophel excavations discussed her find, as well as the politics that surround her field in Jerusalem.
Dr. Eilat Mazar, a senior researcher from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s department of archeology, has been involved in the Ophel excavations since 1981, where she initially worked under the supervision of her grandfather, former Hebrew University president Dr. Benjamin Mazar.
“Ophel” means to “rise above,” and refers to a higher element of the natural landscape.
The excavations take place some 50 meters between the City of David and the Temple Mount’s southern wall.
“The Ophel was built by King Solomon in the 10th century, and it was the biblical equivalent of an acropolis in Jerusalem where royalty ruled from,” said Mazar.
Since the 1980s, the researcher has led the discoveries of such unprecedented finds as the “Ophel Treasure,” a collection of 36 gold coins and a large gold medallion believed to date back to the year 614, as well as an impression of the royal seal of King Hezekiah from the First Temple period.
All of the discoveries were unearthed in a 50-meter radius surrounding the southern wall of the Temple Mount – the closest any Israeli archeologist has ever gotten to excavating the top of the contested compound, which is overseen by Jordan’s Muslim Wakf.
Still, Mazar said on Sunday that the southern wall area has unusually well-preserved antiquities.
“The bedrock on the southern wall is very sticky, so the remains from as early as the First Temple period appear to have been considerably well preserved for over 5 meters from the bedrock up to the surface layer,” she said.
“And the bedrock has fallen so rapidly that as you go downwards, the preservation of earlier periods are much better preserved. So, for the over 30 years I have been involved in the Ophel excavations we have revealed remains that were left in their original place two layers down.”
Utilizing the wet-sifting method, Mazar said the remains found include hundreds of pottery fragments, jewelry, coins and the aforementioned seal impressions.
“I feel most fortunate to have revealed the whole complex of structures,” she said.
“Of course, we were very fortunate to find a Judean king’s private seal impression, but it’s not just an item thing – it’s understanding the complex and where its fortification line was built, building by building.”
She continued: “This is a very specific style of construction that King Solomon planned to surround the Ophel area, and likely the Temple Mount area.”
According to Mazar, both King Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s seal impressions were found within one meter of each other in the same layer of earth.
“The Bible says King Hezekiah was second to King David himself, and Isaiah advised him, so these finds are extraordinary,” she said.
Mazar said “politics” precludes any archeologists from conducting research on the Temple Mount compound itself, including from the destroyed First and Second Temples, considered by many to contain the richest relics in Jewish history.
Asked what hidden treasure she most hopes to discover, Mazar said any written materials from antiquity.
“The most important finds are written materials, because if you can get the archives of royalty from King David and Solomon until the destruction of the Temples, you learn the true history,” she said.
To date, the most ancient document found in Jerusalem is a portion of a Canaanite archive written in Akkadian from the 14th century BCE, unearthed in 2012, she said.
“It was [inscribed] on a tiny piece of clay that had very few letters, but was written by a high official and highly skilled scribe that shows they kept records before Jerusalem became the capital of Israel,” said Mazar.
“There is no doubt that some of these archives were kept in the royal archive of King David,” she added.
In terms of UNESCO’s recent vote ruling that Jerusalem has no connection to Jewish history, Mazar suggested the organization’s members take a history lesson.
“You know, they should really sit and study very elementary history and archeology,” she said. “Anybody can declare whatever they like, but this is so ignorant.
They are ignoring very wellknown, clear history and evidence from the biblical stories which reflects the history of the people and Land of Israel.”