Archaeologists in southern Jerusalem have discovered the ruins of a luxurious, 2,700-year-old palace, report Ruth Schuster and Ariel David for Haaretz.
The finds—unearthed along a ridge near the Armon Hanatziv Promenade—include three limestone column capitals, or toppers, and dozens of stone artifacts, per a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
Based on the capitals’ proto-Aeolic design, the team dated the trove to the time of the biblical First Temple, which was allegedly built by King Solomon around 1006 B.C. This distinctive column shape features a triangle flanked by two large spirals; today, the same pattern adorns the Israeli five-shekel coin.
“This is a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, where they were incorporated above the royal palace gates,” says Yaakov Billig, the archaeologist who directed the excavation, in the statement. “The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare."
Fragments of pottery found at the site helped the researchers narrow down the palace’s heyday even further, placing its peak during the early seventh century B.C.
“The pottery, jugs, cooking pots, lamps, repertoire of fractured clay vessels are all from that time period,” Billig tells Haaretz.
Future studies will seek to corroborate the artifacts’ age by performing tests related to their materials’ physical properties.
As the Times of Israel notes, the researchers suspect that the stone mansion was built between the reigns of Hezekiah, who led Judah between about 715 and 686 B.C., and Josiah, who served as king between roughly 640 and 609 B.C. Likely constructed following the end of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C., the estate offers evidence of the region’s revival.
“We reveal villas, mansions and government buildings in the area outside the walls of the city,” says Billig in the statement. “This testifies to the relief felt by the city’s residents and the recovery of Jerusalem’s development after the Assyrian threat was over.”
The IAA speculates that the palace’s owner may have been a king of Judah, or perhaps a wealthy member of one of Jerusalem’s noble families. Regardless of their identity, this mysterious occupant would have enjoyed a commanding view of the the First Jewish Temple, as well as the area now known as the City of David, or Wadi Hilweh in Arabic, reports BBC News.
According to the statement, archaeologists found two of the three capitals stacked neatly on top of one another, as if they’d been carefully buried or hidden.
“Was it a matter of sanctity? Someone didn't want them to be desecrated? For now, we don’t know,” Billig tells Haaretz.
Invaders likely destroyed the remainder of the opulent dwelling during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., says Yuval Baruch, head archaeologist for the Jerusalem District at the IAA, to Haaretz. Aside from the buried capitals, any fragments that survived the destruction were probably repurposed in new buildings.