Rare Archaeological Find Uncovered at Kindergarten Construction Site

August 6, 2015

2 min read

A rare inscription was found during a routine archaeological excavation in preparation for a construction project in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced in a press release. The discovery was made about two months ago when an ancient ritual bath was revealed during the dig.

The site, in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, is being prepared for the construction of two new kindergartens. Prior to any new building project in Israel, an archaeological survey must be conducted to preserve any possible antiquities buried beneath the site. Frequently, fascinating layers of history are discovered this way.

The large ritual bath was located inside an underground cave, and dates back to the time of the Second Temple, around the first century CE. It included a large anteroom lined with benches for immersion preparations. A winepress was also excavated nearby.

Most alluring to archaeologists, however, were the decorations and inscriptions on the ritual bath walls. Numerous wall paintings and inscriptions, written in mud, soot and incising, were found. The writing is Aramaic, recorded in Hebrew cursive letters, a practice common at the time. Among the symbols which adorn the walls are a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and what might be a menorah.

According to Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing.”

In the two months that have passed since its discovery, researchers have yet to determine the meaning of the mysterious inscriptions. Some of the words might be names, and the images themselves contain motifs common to the Second Temple era.

The image which looks like a menorah, however, is unusual, since the people generally refrained from portraying holy vessels from the Temple in art at the time. Excavators are baffled: “On the one hand the symbols can be interpreted as secular, and on the other as symbols of religious significance and deep spirituality.”

Moshe (Kinley) Tur-Paz, head of the Education Administration at the Jerusalem Municipality, shared his excitement over the find. “The large education system in Jerusalem is always in need of additional school buildings. The unique find was discovered in a compound where two nursery schools are slated to be built, and the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently carrying out the conservation process there. The archaeological and historical site that was exposed is of tremendous value to our identity as a Jewish people which might shine more light on the lives of our ancestors in the city of Jerusalem. We will maintain contact with the Israel Antiquities Authority, and together we will examine how we can give educational and symbolic expression to the discovery that was found.”

The exact purpose of the inscriptions and the reason they were placed in the ritual bath are questions which researchers hope to address in time. Meanwhile, due to the delicacy of the inscriptions which can be damaged just by exposure to air, preservation efforts which began immediately on site are being continued in the conservation laboratories of the IAA, to which they were brought after removal from the ritual bath. The IAA plans to display the preserved inscriptions to the general public in the future.

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