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Digging in a Persian Garden (2006)

The archaeological site of Ramat Rachel is named after a nearby kibbutz (communal settlement) of the same name, which was established in 1926 on a hill in the vicinity of the tomb of Rachel, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Dr. Y. Aharoni, who conducted salvage excavation at the hilltop in 1954, discovered the archaeological site. He realized the site was a Biblical period palace complex, and so returned to the site to excavate most of it in the years 1959-1962. The site proved to be an Iron Age palatial complex, with architectural remains typical of the Israelites—large rectangular shaped structure, with an inner courtyard and casemate walls. Architectural elements included the use of smoothed square stones, proto-aeolic capitals, and even remains of a unique stone balustrade of a window. The capital and the balustrade are displayed today in the Israel Museum. Aharoni dated the site to the period of the last kings of Judah—Menasseh, Josiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah (697-586 BCE). He even argued the site is mentioned in the complaint of Jeremiah against Jehoiakim: He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with

spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it(Jeremiah 22:14). Aharoni argued the window he found could be the one mentioned by Jeremiah. The famous Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin argued the site should really be dated to an earlier period, and should be identified as the “house of Ba’al” made by Atalyah, the mother of king Ahaziah (II Kings 11:18). His strongest argument was based mostly on the architectural similarity of the site with Israelite sites, which are different to building traditions in Judah. Yadin however ignored the dating of the site to the 7th-5th centuries BCE, some 200 years after the days of Atalyah. Aharoni and Yadin are two of the most reputable and well-known Israeli Biblical archaeologists. They were also known for being in perpetual academic rivalry. At some point Aharoni left theHebrew University and founded the department of Archeology at the Tel-Aviv University. After Aharoni passed away Yadin turned to politics and became a member of parliament and head of a political party. The rumor was that he did so because with the death of Aharoni, Yadin had no one to fight with in academia.

Yigael Yadin

Yigael Yadin

Y. Aharoni

Y. Aharoni

The Palace Pools and channels

The excavations at the Ramat Rachel were renewed two years ago by Dr. O. Lipschits from Tel-Aviv University, in collaboration with M. Oeming from HeidelbergUniversity in Germany.

Renewed excavation work in progress at Ramat Rachel. Photo © Oded Lipschits

Renewed excavation work in progress at Ramat Rachel. Photo © Oded Lipschits

A clay bowl insitu discovered in the renewed excavations at Ramat Rachel.

A clay bowl insitu discovered in the renewed excavations at Ramat Rachel.

Lipschits specializes in the Jews and Judah in the Neo-Babylonian period, and recently published a book on this period (Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian period). Since Aharoni’s excavations at Ramat Rachel yielded many seal impressions from the Babylon and Persian periods, Lipschits wanted to excavate further, hoping to reveal more evidence from these periods. Lipschits’ expedition found so far 18 more seal impressions and stamped jar handles, but the most surprising find was revealed in the western wing of the palace.

One of the stamped jar handles found in the dig, portraying a lion.

One of the stamped jar handles found in the dig, portraying a lion.

An elaborate set of pools and water channels on different levels were constructed with terra-rosa earth filling some of the spaces between them. Lipschits believes these remains are part of a Persian garden complex. Such gardens decorated Persian palaces and mansions. The concept was known also in the Neo-Babylonian period, as in the “Hanging Gardens” in Babylon, which was considered one of the “seven wonders” of the ancient world. So far only a small section of the presumed garden complex has been discovered, but next year Lipschits plans to enlarge the excavation area and discover the rest of the garden.

Dr Oded Lipschits explaining the function of one of the newly discovered water channels. © Danny Herman

Dr Oded Lipschits explaining the function of one of the newly discovered water channels. © Danny Herman

The expedition needs students and volunteers, and Dr Lipschits welcomes anybody who wants to join!. To find out more about the expedition go to:http://www.tau.ac.il/~rmtrachl/

And to contact, email to: lipschit@post.tau.ac.il

Renewed excavation work in progress at Ramat Rachel. Photo © Oded Lipschits

Another photo of the renewed excavations at Ramat Rachel. The team begins to work at 5:30am every morning but is protected from the hot summer sun by shade cloth over much of the excavation area. Photo © Oded Lipschits