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Uncovering the City of David

Major new discoveries highlight third season of excavations
in the City of David, Jerusalem.


SOUTH of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, near the Gihon spring, lies the biblically famous City of David. Here, astounding discoveries are being revealed each new season.

More than 250 volunteers from Israel and from abroad — including students from Ambassador College, Pasadena, California — have helped uncover hitherto unknown evidence of the city in the time of David and his son Solomon. Dr. Yigal Shiloh, of the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University, directs the work.


The Surprising 1980 Season

This past year especially surprising discoveries occurred, in the northernmost area of the City of David approximately 2300 feet from the Temple Mount. Evidence is now accumulating that will reverse some long accepted basic assumptions in the research of Jerusalem. For example, between 1923 and 1925 the archaeologists MacAlister and Duncan excavated in this area. They uncovered parts of the city's fortification system, made up of a wall, towers and a stepped stone "glacis." This complex of fortifications was at first attributed to the time of the Israelite monarchy.

Dame Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated in the City of a David from 1961 to 1967, reexamined this complex. She came to completely different conclusions. She fixed the date of most of the elements in this fortification system to the Second Temple Period — not earlier than the time of Nehemiah. This season's excavation uncovered more of the stepped-stone glacis, whose date according to Miss Kenyon belonged to the Hellenistic period. It's an impressive monument in its dimensions and in the size of its stones. The glacis now rises up above the base of the excavated level to a height of approximately fifty feet! Two new facts have become apparent. On the lower portion of this glacis are built a group of houses — rich in finds — belonging to the First Temple Period! The glacis itself was built upon remains of the Canaanite city of the 14th to 13th centuries B.C. The 1980 season uncovered support walls and massive fills of stone of this pre Davidic period. Therefore the monumental stepped glacis is properly to be attributed to the period of the United Monarchy at the latest. Kathleen Kenyon was mistaken in dating of the glacis in the light of these new findings. This discovery is the most impressive construction project in ancient Jerusalem thus far discovered from the time of David and Solomon. Until this day, no monumental construction such as this has been uncovered in any other biblical city! It is important to emphasize that this building was found inside the city, at the top of the eastern slope, in an area very close to the Temple Mount area. The main fortification line of the city is to be found approximately 100 feet lower down on the eastern slope.

North of this impressive building an additional important building is being carefully uncovered. It is built of ashlar masonry. The building points to the importance of this area in the City of David.

Another important subject investigated this season was "Warren's Shaft." It is part of an underground water system. This system is composed of a wide tunnel, hewn in the bedrock, connecting the inner city with a vertical shaft descending more than forty feet to the Gihon spring and Hezekiah's tunnel. This water system is named after Charles Warren who discovered it about 115 years ago. It had been blocked completely since the work of the scholar Parker there in 1909.

This past season a group of mountain climbers headed by Elia Kantrovitz of Jerusalem scaled the famous vertical shaft from below. With the help of two mining engineers from South Africa the horizontal tunnel was penetrated. Clearing of the entire system has begun. Today it is again possible to descend to Hezekiah's tunnel and the Gihon spring by way of this impressive water system. In places this tunnel is twenty feet high and eight wide!


Background of the City of David Project

The City of David Project involves an area of approximately forty acres. It lies along the eastern slope of the long, narrow spur that projects southward from the Temple Mount area along the Kidron Valley (to the east). This area is known as "The Ophel" or the "City of David." This area (small by modern standards) was long thought to contain the remains of the earliest settlements in Jerusalem because of the Gihon spring. This spring is situated in the Kidron Valley below the eastern slope and provides the most important requirement for the existence of a settled community — a reliable supply of water.

During the past century and a half, several individuals explored the eastern slope of this spur, seeking signs of early Jerusalem. Edward Robinson, an American, became the first to explore Hezekiah's tunnel (built to supply water to Jerusalem during the siege of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib — II Kings 20:20 and II Chronicles 32:30). Charles Warren, an Englishman, discovered The even earlier supply system already mentioned.

Until recently, however, most of what was known about the City of David was the result of the work of one of the world's most distinguished archaeologists, the late Dame Kathleen Kenyon. Between 1961 and 1967, Miss Kenyon conducted an extensive excavation at the site. At its conclusion, Miss Kenyon remarked that she strongly doubted whether anything further could be learned about the history of early Jerusalem. All other evidence, she thought, was either located under recently constructed buildings or had undoubtedly been removed as part of ancient quarrying operations.

Largely for this reason, following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli archaeologists concentrated their efforts on the area adjacent to the Temple Mount (with which the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF) was also associated) and in the Old City's "Jewish Quarter." In 1978 it became obvious that planned municipal improvements would significantly affect the character of the City of David. Land along the eastern slope previously owned by the Rothschilds had been donated to the state of Israel, so the decision was made to see if, despite Miss Kenyon's pessimistic conclusions, anything further could be learned about the early history of Jerusalem.

In the summer of 1978, the City of David Society was organized for the purpose of supervising the excavation, restoration and preservation of the City of David. Composed of representatives of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Exploration Society, a group of South African sponsors and the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, the Society appointed Dr. Yigal Shiloh to be the director of the excavation. Dr. Shiloh recently presented a slide lecture on the excavation to the student body of Ambassador College. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for our Plain Truth readers.

Here are excerpts from that interview to keep you abreast of the latest discoveries in the City of David.

Question: What special problems are faced by an archaeologist digging in Jerusalem?

Answer: Jerusalem itself. Archaeology in Jerusalem is special since Jerusalem is so important to people all over the world. Despite claims that Israelis are only interested in the Jewish past of Jerusalem, we are conducting a pure scientific work which places the same importance on every historical phase.

Our work is complicated by the fact that we are digging in a settled area. Fortunately we have available to us state-owned lands [donated to the state of Israel by the Rothschilds].

Then there is the nature of the area. The ancient city of Jerusalem was built on a steep slope. Uncovering the remains is a complicated task because ancient periods have been covered by the debris of generations. During the first season we had to remove more than twenty-five feet of debris before we reached any historical remains. The stratigraphy is more difficult to determine since buildings were built on a slope. An archaeologist cannot rely upon the usual vertical position as a clue to dating the remains.

Question: Some people have said that whether a campaign yields significant results is largely a matter of chance. What do you think of this?

Answer: Chance certainly plays a part as in all other aspects of life. Factors aside from chance can greatly increase your possibilities for success. For example, efficiency. Rather than excavate one area intensively, you work in from three to six different areas. It's like not putting your eggs all in one basket. Then, do the work correctly. You have to plan your tactics correctly. This is where experience comes into play. Professor Yadin in his excavations in Israel achieved major results, not because of chance, but by good strategy based upon experience. At the City of David we are making sections in the slope which are wider than normal in order to see more of the overall plan of the city. We can see much of the overall plan now. As a result we can anticipate certain future finds.

Question: Since an archaeologist must work with limited evidence, or evidence from a limited area of a given site, conclusions of even the most distinguished archaeologists are frequently modified or overturned in the light of later evidence. How do you feel when this happens to your work?

Answer: Sometimes an archaeologist's conclusions are overturned because of faulty interpretation. This was the case with Kathleen Kenyon's opinion of the date when the city of Jerusalem expanded to the western hill. Sometimes, too, the evidence used to arrive at a conclusion is reevaluated. For example: An archaeologist may date a building to a particular period based upon the commonly accepted date of the pottery found in the building. If later on, the pottery is redated to a different period, obviously the building will have to be redated, too. This is unavoidable. In my own case, I am ready for my conclusions to be judged by finds on which the conclusions are based. If the finds are later reevaluated, this is no problem since I did my job. My conclusions were based upon the evidence as they were understood at the time.

Question: In the last fifty years, archaeological methods have changed. How have these changes strengthened the discipline?

Answer: Archaeologists now have several new scientific tools, including computers, available to them. But archaeology is still a humanistic discipline. There will always be enough space left for the human brain to interpret and analyze the evidence. The nature of excavation staffs have changed. We used to see one director with perhaps 200 workers. This one man was responsible for making all the conclusions. Today, we have a director, thirty staff assistants and perhaps ten experts in various fields important to archaeology (paleobotany, geology, architecture, etc.) and fewer workers. These experts — each a specialist in his own field — make significant contributions to the evaluation of the evidence. Today there is not the heavy emphasis upon artistic finds. More attention is being paid to a systematic restoration of the material culture of ancient civilizations.

Question: Do you think that "Warren's Shaft" is the tsinnor ("gutter") that Joab used to gain access to Jebusite Jerusalem and to capture the city for David?

Answer: No. Benjamin Mazar, Yigael Yadin and Yohanan Aharoni [now deceased] all were in agreement on this point. Although their reasons differed, they all agreed that the word tsinnor could not refer to the Warren Shaft. To date, all water shafts found in Israel can be dated as belonging to the Israelite period and were part of the town planning of that period. If we are to reopen the question of the date of the Warren Shaft, we would have to find evidence of a similar water shaft which was clearly of Canaanite workmanship.

Question: Much discussion has revolved around the question of whether the Pool of Siloam was inside or outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Kathleen Kenyon was of the opinion that it was outside. You believe it was inside. What evidence has been uncovered that would substantiate your view?

Answer: The evidence is not yet definite. It is clear that during a certain period the Pool of Siloam was outside the city walls. I believe that from the time of Hezekiah, the pool was included within the walls. Isaiah states that the pool was "between the walls." Also, the pool was a major part of the water system which Hezekiah built to make the city secure from Assyrian attack. Its purpose would be defeated if the pool were located outside the city wall.