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Shards of evidence: Palace of King David Found

Shards of evidence

The Jerusalem Post

In what could turn out to be the archeological find of the century, a prominent Israeli archeologist claims to have uncovered the ancient palace of King David near the Old City of Jerusalem.

The 10th Century BC building discovered by Dr. Eilat Mazar in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, following a six-month dig at the site, has stirred international interest, igniting a debate in the archeological world whether the building is indeed the Biblical palace built for the victorious King David by King Hiram of Tyre as recounted in Samuel II: 5.

Just outside the Old City's Dung Gate, a five-minute walk from the Temple Mount, lies the ancient-history-rich City of David.

It is here that Mazar - the 48-year-old widowed mother of four and granddaughter of renowned archeologist Professor Benjamin Mazar - began excavating in February, in a dig sponsored by the conservative Jerusalem think tank, the Shalem Center, where she is a senior fellow, together with the academic support of the Hebrew University.

The first thing Mazar found, surprisingly intact a mere two meters below ground level, were Byzantine-era artifacts, including a fully-preserved room with mosaic floorings, dating back to the 4th-6th century CE.

Beneath this room, water cisterns, pools and a purification bath from the Second Temple period were next uncovered.

But it was what was under these pools of water that would prove to be the most startling find of all, what Mazar calls "monumental" foundation walls on which the Second Temple remains had been built. These suddenly came into view, protruding out in all directions, even beyond the length and width of her 30x10-meter excavation site, located within the compound of the present-day visitor center at the City of David. (The visitor center is run by the right-wing Elad organization, which seeks to resettle Jews in east Jerusalem, and which owns the land where the excavation took place.)

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Mazar, who completed her PhD at the Hebrew University and works in its archeological institute, said she chose the site after researching the earlier finds there of other archeologists: Irish archeologist Robert Macalister, who worked at the site in the 1920s; British archeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated there in the 1960s; and, most recently, Israeli archeologist Yigal Shilo, who dug in the area during the 1970s and '80s.

At the foot of a nearby cliff on the edge of the site, Kenyon had found evidence of well-worked stones dating back to the First Temple period, which were characteristic of the construction of a royal structure.

Kenyon thought she had uncovered part of a Solomonic construction site added on to the City of David.

Shilo found more of these well-worked stones nearby.

"It was obvious to them, too, that these stones had fallen from a major construction site that stood up above on the hill," Mazar said.

Eighty years ago, excavating in the very same spot, Macalister had reached the bedrock Mazar found in her excavations. The Irish archeologist had attributed the huge boulders to the ruins of of the Jebusite city wall that King David broke as he conquered the city in about 1000 BC.

After his excavations, it was thought that no remains of the Citadel of Zion were left in this area, although it was commonly accepted that this was the place where the citadel should have stood, Mazar said.

But now, with the help of a $500,000 grant provided by American Jewish investment banker and Shalem board chairman Roger Hertog, Mazar and her team peeled away the fallen stones, one by one, revealing that what lay immediately underneath the boulders were not ruined city walls, as had previously been thought, but rather the ruins of an immense 3,000-year-old stone building which was surprisingly well-preserved.

Inside the building, Mazar subsequently found a variety of pottery shards dating back to the time of King David and his son, Solomon, as well as a government seal impression, or bulla, of an official, Jehucal son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi, who is named twice in the book of Jeremiah (37:3 and 38:1), which was hidden in between stones on the northeast side of the construction.

But it is the piles of pottery found in and around the building that is of the most critical importance to archeologists, since it is through the pottery that the building can be dated. The pottery found under the building dated back to the last phase of the Iron Age I, 12th-11th century BC, just before David conquered Jerusalem, and predates the construction of the building.

In one of the rooms, Mazar's team also found pottery from Iron Age II of the 10th-9th century BC, leading her to conclude that the building was in use at the time, roughly the period of David?s reign in Jerusalem.

"It is obvious that whoever constructed this building not only built a monumental structure in and of itself, but was creating and initiating a whole new concept relating to the planning of the ancient city," she said.

Mazar's team did not find any construction predating the 11th century BC at the site, leading her to exclude the possibility that the building served as a Jebusite citadel, such as the Fortress of Zion that David captured from the Jebusites, as recounted in Samuel II 5:7. "It is unrealistic to assume that the Fortress of Zion was built in the very last days before King David captured the city," she said.

OTHER ARCHEOLOGISTS, in spite of the attention they have heaped on the find, are not convinced that Mazar has truly stumbled upon the fabled palace of King David, with some voicing guarded optimism over the discovery and others downright skeptical.

"This is an extremely impressive find, and the first of its kind which can be associated with the 10th century [BC]" said Seymour Gitin, the (Dorot) Director of archeological research at Jerusalem's W. F. Albright Institute. "But, due to all the possible historical implications, we need to look carefully at the pottery and to further excavate the area."

With such a potentially historical find, it is not surprising that skeptics in the highly competitive archeological world abound. "I am not at all certain that this is what has been found," said Haifa University archeologist Professor Ronny Reich, adding that it was still in the realm of "wishful thinking."

He noted that in order to determine that the site was indeed David's palace, the pottery and the walls had to be found "in the same context," and "living together."

"Whether this is the case here is still an open question," he said.

Mazar, however, is no stranger to controversy. With her outspoken views and no-nonsense manner, she has long been considered something of a black sheep in the world of archeology for her public campaign against unsupervised and illegal Arab building and destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount over the last five years, something that did not sit too well in the predominantly liberal world of Israeli academia.

In the meantime, the area of the dig has been temporarily sealed.

Mazar, who plans on continuing the dig in the months ahead in an expanded area nearby the site after first studying her finds in her laboratory, is pretty sure that she has hit gold.

"For me, this is akin to a miracle," she concluded.


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