Archaeologists in Jerusalem say they have found evidence of damage in their excavations that was caused by an earthquake mentioned in two books of the Bible. References in the Old Testament have led to previous archaeological discoveries across the Middle East, and this new discovery might finally help to put a more precise date on events. This could help synchronize archaeological findings throughout the region.
The new discovery was found in the City of David National Park, located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Archaeologists found evidence of a destructive event with broken dishes, cookware, and storage jars dating from the eighth century BCE that appeared to have been smashed as walls came down. Other archaeological sites have shown an earthquake occurred in Israel 2,800 years ago, but this is the first to show it reached Jerusalem.
"When we excavated the structure and uncovered an 8th century BCE layer of destruction, we were very surprised, because we know that Jerusalem continued to exist in succession until the Babylonian destruction, which occurred about 200 years later. We asked ourselves what could have caused that dramatic layer of destruction we uncovered," Dr Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf, the directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiques Authority, said in a statement sent to IFLScience.
"Examining the excavation findings, we tried to check if there is a reference to it in the biblical text. Interestingly, the earthquake that appears in the Bible in the books of Amos and Zechariah, occurred at the time when the building we excavated in the City of David collapsed. The combination of the finds in the field together with the biblical description led us to the conclusion that the earthquake that struck the Land of Israel during the reign of Uzziah king of Judah, also hit the capital of the kingdom, Jerusalem."
The first mention of the earthquake in the Bible is found in the Book of Amos, which begins by saying that Amos’ prophecy took place “in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” Based on geological evidence, the quake happened between 785 and 735 BCE, with historical evidence suggesting dates in the middle of that. Historical references related to the two kings suggest the quake happened in the 760s/750s BCE.
The second reference is in the Book of Zacharia which says “ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.” The quake is believed to have been significant, easily over magnitude 7.8 but likely stronger. Six archaeological sites have evidence of such event, and now this seventh one has been discovered.
"The earthquake that occurred in the middle of the 8th century BCE was probably one of the strongest and most damaging earthquakes in ancient times, and evidence of its occurrence has been discovered in the past in excavations conducted at a variety of sites throughout Israel, such as Hazor, Gezer, Tel Agol, and Tell es-Safi/Gath," Dr Uziel and Chalaf continued.
The team concluded the items were destroyed as the wall where they were stored came crashing down on them, which is consistent with a major earthquake. They excluded other causes, like lack of fire indicating it wasn't a deliberate event. They also ruled out this was an isolated incident ie. a single building collapsing due to some unique structural damage. What happened there was evidence of something more widespread.
??Since there were no fire signs found, this is not a deliberate event, and the reason for the collapse of the structure is an earthquake that occurred in Israel during the 8th century BC, during the Kingdom of Judea," Dr Uziel and Chalaf explained in a Facebook post.
The pottery was reconstructed in the labs of the Israel Antique Authority. Detailed analysis of the specimens as well as more findings of this catastrophic earthquake will be presented in September at the annual archaeological conference of the Megalam Institute.