Unprecedented finding from Hasmonean period unearthed in City of David

"This discovery bridges a certain gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence," says excavation co-director.

City of David 370 (photo credit: Assaf Peretz/Antiquities Authority)
City of David 370
(photo credit: Assaf Peretz/Antiquities Authority)
Despite over 100 years of exhaustive excavations throughout Jerusalem’s City of David, archeologists have been unable to find a single significant structure from the Hasmonean period, until now.
On Tuesday, following months of delicate probing and analysis, the Antiquities Authority announced an unprecedented finding – a 4- meter-high building from the second century BCE, covering some 64 square meters, with dozens of ancient coins still lying on its floors.
The structure, enclosed by walls made of roughly hewn limestone blocks more than a meter thick, was found earlier this year in the Givati parking lot, located by the walls surrounding the City of David National Park.
“More than 100 years of archeological excavation has failed to find the buildings of the Hasmonean period,” Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, one of the excavation’s directors, said on Tuesday. “We have not had good evidence of Hasmonean buildings, until now.”
The Hasmonean dynasty, descendants of the Maccabee family, ruled Judea and surrounding areas from 141-37 BCE, during classical antiquity.
In 37 BCE the Hasmoneans fell to Herod the Great, of Edomite descent, and the Herodian dynasty began.
Although numerous pottery vessels were discovered inside the building, Ben-Ami said it was the discovery of more than 40 silver and bronze coins found on the floor that surprised him most.
“These indicated the structure was erected in the early 2nd century BCE and continued into the Hasmonean period, during which time significant changes were made inside it,” he said.
Ben-Ami said the coins are presently in the Antiquities Authority laboratory, where they continue to be cleaned, and will not be displayed for another year.
“The silver coins are easier to clean than the bronze ones, which take a tremendous amount of time to uncover the small details,” he said.
While descriptions of the Hasmonean city were vividly articulated in the works of Flavius Josephus, Ben- Ami said that apart from remains of the city’s fortifications discovered in different parts of Jerusalem, none of the Hasmonean city’s buildings had been uncovered.
Calling the finding unprecedented, the archeologist said the structure bridges the gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence by adding “tangible expression.”
“We are filling a gap in the sequence of periods in Jerusalem’s history,” he said. “We know it is welldocumented in different texts that it flourished in the 2nd century BCE, but there has been almost nothing found there until now.”
Noting that the building’s structure precluded it from being residential, Ben-Ami said although only a small portion has been excavated, it was likely a public space.
“The way it was built was not suitable for living, so our guess is that it was an administrative building,” he said. “As we uncover more we hope to learn more about the nature of the building.”
Asked if he expects to make other significant findings in the area, Ben-Ami said he was sanguine.
“Absolutely, once you find one [building], I guess there are many more to be found,” he said.
The excavation is sponsored by the Ir David Foundation.