The anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of King Solomon’s temple, one of the Old Testament’s most significant events, has been marked with the announcement of archaeological discoveries from the site. Digging on Mount Zion has uncovered ash from the fires that burned much of the city, arrows of the invaders, and an earring left behind in the panic. The earing is only the second piece of jewelry found from this era in all the digging conducted in and around Jerusalem.
A siege of Jerusalem by Babylonian forces, ending in 586 or 587 BCE with the sacking of Jerusalem, was sufficiently important in Jewish history to be described repeatedly in the Bible. Much of the population of Judah were killed, and many others were taken to Babylon as prisoners, whose tortures were recorded in gruesome detail. Their exile lasted almost 50 years, and the temple’s destruction remains commemorated by the fast of Tisha B’Av, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.
The Bible is not always a reliable historical document, but in 2017 layers of ash and smashed pottery were found, revealing it got this one largely right, even if it did somewhat exaggerate the proportion of the city that was burned.
Further examination has now confirmed the layer as coming from the city’s destruction, and revealed some of its contents. Located on Mount Zion, outside the “old city” walls, the ash contains arrowheads of the Scythian-style, known to have been used by the Babylonians, and pieces of broken pots. It also contains rarer items, such as an earing made of a mixture of gold and silver, and lamps.
Archaeological excavation is a slow process and so far only a small piece of the ancient city has been dug at this layer. Dr Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina thinks the site may be one of the "great man’s houses" referred to in the biblical Book of Kings as being burnt when the Babylonian armies stormed the city. It’s location, overlooking the Temple and with other superb views, would have made it prime real estate at the time.
Ash layers can signal a dumping ground for the leftovers of hearth fires, but Gibson argues this doesn’t fit with the other findings. “Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse," he said in a statement timed for release on Tisha B’Av.
"It's the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle," Gibson added. "Household objects, lamps, broken bits from pottery which had been overturned and shattered… Frankly, jewelry is a rare find at conflict sites, because this is exactly the sort of thing that attackers will loot and later melt down."
So many periods of history have laid down markers on top of each other in Jerusalem that excavations of many different eras are occurring side by side. This summer has also revealed basements from the time of King Herod and part of the defenses used to forestall Crusaders in 1099.