Ophel City Wall Site Inaugurated
From a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority:
In a festive ceremony to be held Today - Tuesday, June 21, 2011, the Ophel City Wall site, a complex of buildings uncovered along the route of the fortifications from the First Temple period (tenth-sixth centuries BCE), and the display of the earliest written document ever uncovered in Jerusalem will be inaugurated. The opening of the site, located in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, and the exhibit in the Davidson Center are made possible through the generous donation by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman.
Upon completion of the excavation and conservation work at the Ophel City Wall site, visitors will now be able to touch the stones and walls whose construction tells the history of Jerusalem throughout the ages. It is now possible to walk comfortably through the built remains, in places that were previously closed to the public, to sense their splendor and learn about the history of the region by the signage and the different means of presentation and illustration.
The highlight of the excavations is the complete exposure of the gate house. The plan of this impressive building includes four rooms of identical size, arranged on both sides of a broad corridor paved with crushed limestone. The plan of the gate house is characteristic of the First Temple period (tenth-sixth centuries BCE) and is similar to contemporaneous gates that were revealed at Megiddo, Be‘er Sheva’ and Ashdod. The excavator, Eilat Mazar, suggests identifying the gate house here with the ‘water gate’ mentioned in the Bible: “…and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower” (Nehemiah 3:26). The ground floor of a large building that was destroyed in a fierce conflagration can be seen east of the gate. Mazar suggests that this structure was destroyed by the Babylonian conquest of the city in 586 BCE. Twelve very large, clay store jars (pithoi), which probably contained wine or oil, were discovered on the floor of the building. Engraved on the shoulder of one of these pithoi is the Hebrew inscription “לשר האו...”. The inscription indicates that this pithos belonged to one of the kingdom’s ministers, perhaps the overseer of the bakers.
During the course of the excavation the earliest written document to be exposed to date in Jerusalem was discovered. This unique find, which is of extraordinary importance to the history of the city, will now be on permanent display to the public in the Davidson Center. This is a very small fragment of a clay tablet engraved in Akkadian cuneiform script, which was the lingua franca of the time. Among the very skillfully written words that can be read are the words: “you were”, “later”, “to do” and “they”. The tablet and the writing are typical of the tablets that were used in antiquity throughout Mesopotamia for international correspondence.
The full press release, along with 19 photographs (including the one above), is available at the IAA site (temporary link). I’d be curious to know if there are any other archaeologists who agree with Mazar’s identification of the structure she excavated as a gate. Some years ago it seemed that even those most sympathetic to her views did not follow her on this, but perhaps that has changed. I note that the press release does not state that this is a gate but that “Mazar suggests” that it is a gate.
Temple Mount of Jerusalem from the southwest
UPDATE (6/22): Leen Ritmeyer provides his response to my question about the identification of the building.