Photo by Assaf Peretz Israel/Antiquities Authority
A 2,700-year-old administrative storage center from the days of the kings Hezekiah and Menashe was recently uncovered by Israeli archeologists in Jerusalem near the US Embassy, shedding new light on the understanding of the dramatic period.
Excavation at the site in the Arnona neighborhood revealed a large structure built of concentric ashlar walls.
Some 120 jar handles were found bearing seal impressions containing ancient Hebrew script, many of them bearing the inscription “LMLK” – belonging to the King- with the name of an ancient city.
The LMLK seals are characterized by a sun disk, flanked with two wings. Above the sun disc appears the word “to the King,” and below, one of four cities in the kingdom of Judah: Hebron, Ziph, Socho or Mmst. The identity of Mmst is contested while the other three sites are well known.
Other seals feature the names of senior officials or wealthy individuals from the First Temple Period.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) noted that this is one of the largest and most important collections of seal impressions ever uncovered in archaeological excavations in Israel.
Neria Sapir and Nathan Ben-Ari, directors of the excavations on behalf of the IAA, said that “this is one of the most significant discoveries from the period of the Kings in Jerusalem made in recent years.”
The site was apparently used for governmental activity that managed and distributed food supplies for a time of shortage as well as agricultural surplus and the amassing of commodities and wealth.
Evidence shows that taxes were collected for agricultural products such as wine and olive oil at the site.
The site once dominated large agricultural plots and orchards of olive trees and grapevines which included agricultural industrial facilities such as winepresses for winemaking.
The site is dated to a period documented in the Bible and noted for upheavals such as that of the Assyrian conquest campaign under the command of King Sennacherib in the days of King Hezekiah.
It is interesting to note that some of the names that appear on the seals – Naham Abdi, Naham Hatzlihu, Meshalem Elnatan, Zafan Abmetz, Shaneah Azaria, Shalem Acha and Shivna Shachar – appear on storage jar handles at various other sites across the Kingdom of Judah and attest to the elite position of those whose names are impressed on the jars.
It is estimated that they were senior officials who oversaw specific economic areas, or perhaps wealthy individuals who owned large agricultural lands, propelled the economy of their district and owned private seals.
At some point, for reasons yet understood, the large building at the site was covered with a massive pile of flint stones forming an artificial hill measuring 20 meters high and extending over seven dunams. Today, this huge pile of stones stands out and is visible from a great distance.
These artificial stone hills have been identified at several sites in Jerusalem, but the reason for the huge effort made in stacking them over many acres remains an unresolved archaeological mystery.
Another finding that sheds light on the character of the period is a collection of figurines, clay statuettes.
Sapir and Ben-Ari explained that “some of the figurines are designed in the form of women, horse riders or as animals. These figurines are usually interpreted as objects used in pagan worship and idolatry, a phenomenon, which according to the Bible, was prevalent in the Kingdom of Judah.”
The researchers added that it seems that shortly after the site was abandoned, with the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE and the Babylonian exile, the site was resettled and administrative activity resumed. During this time governmental activity at the site was connected to the Judean province upon the Return to Zion in 538 BCE under the auspices of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which then ruled over the entire ancient Near East and Central Asia.
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