Ancient Stone Discovered Bearing Oldest Known Inscription Describing Jerusalem In Modern Hebrew

The unique inscription from Jerusalem, as displayed at the Israel Museum. Laura Lachman, Courtesy of the Israel Museum

The area encompassing modern-day Israel is rich with artifacts representing millennia of human history. First inhabited by ancient nomadic tribes some 200,000 years ago, this slice of the Fertile Crescent went on to host some of the most influential early western civilizations after we transitioned into settlement-building agricultural societies roughly 15,000 years ago. The city of Jerusalem specifically, a site central to many key narratives in the Semitic and Christian faiths, has existed for roughly 6,000 years.

As a consequence, exciting relics of the past are continually being discovered; often simply as soon as one starts digging somewhere new.

In the latest example of this omnipresent archaeology, a large stone bearing the earliest known written inscription mentioning Jerusalem with its full Hebrew spelling has been found near the city center. According to a press release sent to IFLScience by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) the block, which was once part of a carved column in a Roman-style structure, was unearthed near the International Convention Center last winter, during a routine excavation undertaken before a road construction project could begin.

The stone, which has been dated to the first century CE, near the end of the Second Temple Period in Jewish history, reads: Hanania Bar, Dodalos, M’Yerushalaim or Hananiah, son of Dodalos of Jerusalem.

Yuval Baruch, a Jerusalem specialist with the IAA, and Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, who studied the inscription, note that First and Second Temple period inscriptions mentioning Jerusalem are quite rare.

The archaeological excavations at Binyanei Ha'Uma. Yoli Shwartz, IAA

“But even more unique is the complete spelling of the name as we know it today, which usually appears in the shorthand version," they said in the statement.

"This is the only stone inscription of the Second Temple period known where the full spelling appears. This spelling is only known in one other instance, on a coin of the Great Revolt against the Romans (66-70 CE). The unusual spelling is also attested to in the Bible, where Jerusalem appears 660 times, with only five mentions – of a relatively late date – having the full spelling." 

Located next to where the stone was found are ruins of what was once the largest ancient pottery production site in the region of Jerusalem for 300 years, according to the IAA’s Danit Levy. The site, which features kilns, pools for preparing clay, plastered water cisterns, and workspaces for drying and storing the vessels, appears to have been focused mainly on creating cookware. The pots were then sold in large quantities to the people of the city.

Dudy Mevorach, Chief Curator of Archaeology at the Israel Museum, said: "[T]he archaeological context of the inscription does not allow us to determine where it was originally displayed, or who Hananiah son of Dodalos was. But it is likely that he was an artist-potter, the son of an artist-potter, who adopted a name from the Greek mythological realm, following Daedalus, the infamous artist."

The pillar stone and pottery from the nearby production site. Laura Lachman, Courtesy of the Israel Museum

 

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