Archaeologists find a First Temple-era palace

Archaeologists find a First Temple-era palace

Rare column heads located at Armon Hanatziv walkway, indicating residents of ancient city found their fortunes outside the walls after easing of Assyrian siege 2,700 years ago

Archaeologists have uncovered majestic column heads from a First Temple-era palace at Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv promenade, with the remnants of the ancient building going on public display for the first time on Thursday.

The owner of the lavish Jerusalem mansion — which would have enjoyed a monumental view of the Old City and the Temple — remains a mystery, but archaeologists were able to date the finds back to the era of the Judean kings, due to the proto-Aeolic features of the soft limestone architecture.

The finds include three complete medium-sized limestone “capitals” and items from lavish window frames, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Thursday.

The column head design will appear strikingly familiar to Israelis — it adorns the five-shekel coin of the modern State of Israel in tribute to the First Temple era.

A five-shekel coin juxtaposed with a column head found at Armon HaNatziv (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

“This is a very exciting discovery,” said Yaakov Billig, of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This is a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, where they were incorporated above the royal palace gates. The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare.”

Experts believe the residence was built between the reigns of kings Hezekiah and Josiah, after the Assyrian siege on the city was lifted. Residents of Jerusalem then ventured outside the walled City of David and expanded the city, said Billig.

“This find, alongside the palace that was found in the past at Ramat Rachel and the administrative center found on the slopes of Arnona attest to a revival of the city and leaving the walled areas of the First Temple era after the Assyrian siege,” which ended in 701 BCE, he said.

“We find villas, mansions, and government buildings in the unwalled areas outside the city and this attests to the relief felt by the residents of the city after the siege was lifted.”

The three columns and other remnants of the building are on display at the City of David archaeological center. It’s unclear when the archaeological dig at the Armon Hanatziv promenade, a popular Jerusalem site, was conducted.

Whether it was the home of a Judean king or one of Jerusalem’s wealthier residents, someone took great care to preserve the column heads. The IAA said two of the three columns had been neatly buried at the site, while the rest of the mansion appears to have been destroyed in the Babylonian pillage of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, with its materials repurposed.

“At this stage, it’s still difficult to say who buried the columns in the way they were found and why they did it,” said Billig, “but there is no doubt that this is one of the mysteries of this special site and we will try to propose an answer.”