Archaeologists from the University of North Carolina made a remarkable discovery while digging on Mount Zion in Jerusalem that is evidence of the Babylonian conquest of the city in 586 BCE: a golden earring.
Dr. Rafi Lewis, co-director of the project, explained the importance of the tiny earring.
“With finds like this, there is a material value but, more importantly, there is a spiritual and emotional value,” Dr. Lewis told Breaking Israel News. “On that level, this find is quite literally priceless. We can establish the context as the destruction of the First Temple without any doubt. We have made similar finds outside of the city but this is the first time we made such finds inside the city.”
Lewis noted that the earring hinted at many aspects of the era.
“It gives us an idea of the richness of Jerusalem at the time,” Dr. Lewis said. “This is something aristocratic. It could have been a piece of jewelry or hung from an article of clothing or even a bigger artifact. It was clearly something important. If I had something similar, references, I would know more. But this find was really unique.”
The dig has been conducted for over a decade by the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, co-directed by UNC Charlotte professor of history Shimon Gibson, Dr. Lewis, a senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College and a fellow of Haifa University, and James Tabor, UNC Charlotte professor of religious studies.
“This is not proof of the destruction of the Temple since the dig is on Mount Zion, some distance from the Temple Mount,” Lewis said, noting that there has been no archaeological work permitted on the Temple Mount due to the political and religious sensitivity. “But this is certainly proof of the destruction of Jerusalem.”
The last time there were studies done on the Temple Mount were under Charles Warren in 1867.
The earring was found in a layer of ash that also contained bronze and iron arrowheads, Iron Age potsherds, and lamps. Lewis explained that the arrowheads were of Scythian origin. The Scythians, believed to be Eurasian nomads, were mercenary archers hired by the Babylonians. Such arrowheads have been found at other archaeological conflict sites in Israel and outside dating from the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.
“They were like the special forces since the Scythians were the best archers of the time,” Lewis said. “Also from this, we know that this was a scene of a Babylonian battle. We can say for certain that the archaeological context of the site was the taking of Jerusalem.”
The researchers noted that the location helped identify the story behind the find.
“We know where the ancient fortification line ran,” Dr. Gibson said in a press release on Eureka Alert. “so we know we are within the city. We know that this is not some dumping area, but the south-western neighborhood of the Iron Age city—during the 8th century BCE the urban area extended from the City of David area to the south-east and as far as the Western Hill where we are digging.”
The ashen layer was a clear sign to the researchers that they were investigating the scene of a battle.
“For archaeologists, an ashen layer can mean a number of different things,” Gibson said. “It could be ashy deposits removed from ovens, or it could be localized burning of garbage. However, in this case, the combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts, mixed with arrowheads, and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction. Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse.”
The researchers were able to date the layer by the potsherds found. The disarray suggested that it coincided with a battle.
“It’s the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle,” Gibson said. “Household objects, lamps, broken bits from pottery which had been overturned and shattered… and arrowheads and a piece of jewelry which might have been lost and buried in the destruction.”
The lamps were identified as the typical high-based pinched lamps of the period and were typical of such sites but the jewelry, most notably the gold and silver earring, was unusual for sites that had undergone a battle.
“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,” Gibson said.
Gibson associated the site with a section of the Book of II Kings describing the destruction of Jerusalem.
“This spot would have been at an ideal location, situated as it is close to the western summit of the city with a good view overlooking Solomon’s Temple and Mount Moriah to the north-east,” Gibson said. “We have high expectations of finding much more of the Iron Age city in future seasons of work. “
The researchers were excited that their find was linked to an event with such historical and Biblical significance.
Dr. Lewis noted that in the field of archaeology, the Bible and science could coexist.
“The Bible is certainly one of our sources,” Dr. Lewis said. “You have to treat it respectfully. It represents something spiritual and was not written as a history book. It was written as a religious book but there is a historical base and root. But we cannot reject the Bible when studying archaeology. I would not rely on the Bible exclusively just like I would not rely on any other source exclusively. We need as many sources as possible and the Bible can be one of them.”