Thursday, February 18, 2010

High Level Aqueduct Discovered in Jerusalem

I noted recently that archaeologists had discovered an ancient aqueduct in the Jaffa Gate excavations.  Today the Israel Antiquities Authority reports that they have excavated a well-preserved portion of the High-Level Aqueduct (temporary link) that carried water to Hezekiah’s Pool (aka Towers Pool) and Herod’s Palace.  Though the excavated portion dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, it apparently follows the route of an aqueduct from Herod’s time. 

According to Dr. Ofer Sion, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The side of the aqueduct was discovered during the course of the excavation. When we removed the stones in its side and peeked into it we saw a splendidly built aqueduct covered with stone slabs where one can walk crouched down for a distance of approximately 40 meters [130 feet]. It is very exciting to think that no one has set foot there for many hundreds of years.”

This is a fantastic discovery, but the last sentence strikes me as a bit odd.  (I confess I’ve never walked in the water pipes in my town.)

According to Sion, “The noted Land of Israel scholar, Dr. Conrad Schick, described a specific section of the aqueduct in a survey he conducted at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1898 a building was erected in this area which afterward became what we know of today as the Imperial Hotel. Schick’s documentation provided us with the clue that led to exposing this section of the aqueduct.”

If you want to see Schick’s drawings for yourself, Tom Powers posted some on his blog a couple of weeks ago.

The aqueduct is c. 60 centimeters [2 feet] wide and 1.5 meters [5 feet] high. Shafts were exposed at fifteen meter [50 foot] intervals or so that allowed the ancients to check the state of the aqueduct from what was the surface level in those days.

Up until the end of the Second Temple period, in the first century BCE, Jerusalem’s water supply was derived from the Gihon Spring; however, as the number of residents steadily increased, the city’s water resources proved insufficient. The shortage of water was the principal factor that led to the construction of Jerusalem’s magnificent waterworks during Herod’s reign.

The press release includes two photos (direct link here), with one that shows the archaeologists’ access and the other of the aqueduct itself.  Since the second photo does not have give a sense of scale, you’ll have to remember that it is 5 feet high.

Gravity and very sophisticated engineering were employed to carry water to the city from springs located in the Hebron Hills, which were sufficiently high enough to convey the water by way of aqueducts to Jerusalem. The water was brought dozens of kilometers on its way to Jerusalem until it reached Solomon’s Pools and was distributed from there via two main aqueducts: the Low-Level Aqueduct and the High-Level Aqueduct. The High-Level Aqueduct conveyed water to the high part of the city where King Herod’s palace and Hezekiah’s Pool were situated, the latter being the main source of water for all those arriving in the city; and the Low-Level Aqueduct carried water to the Temple Mount and the Temple.

An important point here is that the aqueduct portion that they found dates to the Late Roman period, after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 135.  But this is believed to be the replacement of an aqueduct from Herod’s time.  Herod built a large palace on the Western Hill and he needed water.  He built aqueduct systems for his palaces at Masada and Herodium as well.

Arutz-7 has the story here.  I commented on a discovery of a portion of the Low Level Aqueduct last summer.  If you’re interested in learning more about the aqueduct system (and it is quite a marvel), I’d encourage you to get Tom Powers’ illustrated article, available at his blog for free.

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