Neolithic ruins among year’s J'lem-area discoveries

Sixth annual archeology conference showcases antiquities found as result of new construction.

9500-year-old figurine 370 (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority/Yael Yolovitch)
9500-year-old figurine 370
(photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority/Yael Yolovitch)
The historical richness waiting just a few centimeters below the surface of the Jerusalem area is nothing new. Nevertheless, the annual review of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s new archeological discoveries in the Jerusalem region was breathtaking in its scope on Thursday, during the sixth annual Innovations in Archeology in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area conference.
Co-sponsoring the conference were the National Parks Authority, the Jerusalem Development Authority and Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology.
One of the central dilemmas of archeologists and the IAA is striking the right balance between preserving history and allowing new development for a growing population.
Many times, however, new development is the reason for archeological discoveries, a phenomenon that repeated itself often during the past year.
In order to secure the necessary construction permits from the Interior Ministry, public works projects need approval from the IAA. Preconstruction surveys during preparation for the expansion of Highway 1 around the Motza Interchange have yielded a plethora of new discoveries, including Iron Age buildings at Tel Motza, explained Dr. Doron Ben Ami, a chief researcher at the HU archeology institute. At the Motza Stream, archeologists discovered ruins dating back to the Neolithic period and an enormous underground water reservoir from the Crusaders.
Pre-construction surveys of the Ramot highway have yielded discoveries of Roman terraces. And when baseball fans in Ramat Beit Shemesh decided to build a baseball field, they discovered a new field of dreams: Just a few centimeters below the surface, there were hundreds of clay pots and figurines.
Nearby, archeologists discovered an enormous burial ground from the Bronze Age.
Even in the posh Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, construction of fancy new apartments can sometimes lead to the most startling archeological discoveries. A 6-meter-high column was unearthed during construction of a new apartment building on the leafy neighborhood’s Abarbanel Street, leading scholars to believe it could have been a Byzantineera quarry. The column was mostly likely destined for one the magnificent cathedrals of the era before it cracked and became dangerous to move.
At the start of the conference, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat addressed the challenges and importance of the capital’s archeological discoveries.
“A picture is worth 1,000 words,” he told the packed room of archeology scholars.
“If we want to prove our right to be here and our history here, there is no better way than to market our archeology.”
Barkat noted that Jerusalem, especially the Old City and the archeological and political hot spots surrounding the Temple Mount, needed “extra consideration and carefulness” during digs and research. The First and Second Temple-period drainage tunnels that stretch beneath the Western Wall Plaza toward the City of David are a perfect example of how an amazing discovery needs to be presented to the public with care so as not to be spun into a political move.
The tunnels will only gradually be opened to the public.
“[The tunnels] show us that we need to market such a dramatic discovery gently and correctly so that it won’t in the end cause, heaven forbid, riots around the world,” he said.