Following the announcement, the Israel Antiquities Authority issued a clarification revealing that the artifact was found to be not authentic. An expert who participated in the excavation expedition last August admitted she had demonstrated to a group of students the manner in which sherds were inscribed in ancient times and had left the sherd on the site, which led to the erroneous identification.
A unique potsherd bearing the name of Persian King Darius the Great – the father of Ahasuerus, who features prominently in the biblical book of Esther – was found in an archaeological park in central Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.
The artifact, dating back to some 2,500 years ago, was spotted by chance by two visitors in December. One of them happened to be Eylon Levy, international media advisor to the President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog, who was visiting Tel Lachish National Park with his friend Yakov Ashkenazi.
“When I picked up the ostracon and saw the inscription, my hands shook,” Levy recalled. “I looked left and right for the cameras, because I was sure someone was playing an elaborate prank on me.”
Indeed, the potsherd turned out to be a very rare find, as it is the first time that the name of Darius is found in Israel.
Darius reigned over the Persian Achaemenid Empire for several decades (522–486 BCE). Under his rule, the empire dramatically expanded. His son Ahasuerus would find himself reigning over millions of square miles, spanning from Egypt and the Balkans in the West to India and Central Asia in the Est.
“It happened in the days of Ahasuerus—that Ahasuerus who reigned over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia,” reads the first verse of the book of Esther, who Jews all over the world will read out loud next week to celebrate the festival of Purim.
The artifact from Tel Lachish reads “Year 24 of Darius,” (in Aramaic), dating it to 498 BCE. At the time, Lachish belonged to the province of Edom/Idumea within the “Beyond the River” satrapy. As it was custom at the time, the province would pay taxes to the Persian administrative system. The taxes were collected and dispatched in Lachish, a major fortified city in the area. According to researchers at the IAA, the inscribed sherd may have been a dispatchment note written by a storeroom official working in the central administrative building.
“The British Archaeological Expedition that carried out excavations at Tel Lachish in the 1930s uncovered an elaborate administrative building from the Persian period, built on top of the podium of the destroyed palace-fort of the Judean kings,” IAA’s expert Saar Ganor and Dr. Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explained.
“The Persian-era residence extended over a large area and comprised elaborate halls and courtyards with a majestic columned portico entrance in Persian style,” they added. “Today, only the pillar bases remain in place on the mound as the British expedition dismantled the remains of the elaborate Persian building in order to excavate the underlying Judean palace.”
The inscribed potsherd will be published in the Israel Antiquities Authority journal ‘Atiqot, vol. 110: The Ancient Written Wor(l)d.
“It’s amazing that visitors to the site come across such a rare inscription ‘reviving’ the Persian King Darius known to us from the sources!” said IAA Director Eli Escuzido. “His son King Ahasuerus, who ruled ‘from India to Cush’, could never have imagined that we would find evidence of his father in Israel 2,500 years after the dramatic events in his royal court!”