Most people think the core of ancient Jerusalem is within the walls of the today’s old city. Indeed occasional finds in the old city do show the long duration of habitation in this area, but the city’s history begins actually outside the walls, on the slope descending from the Temple Mount between the Kidron Valley and theHinnom Valley.
The area is known by the name “The City of David” or by the Arabic name “Silwan”. Although archaeological work in the City of David began over 150 years ago, the most intensive archaeological project in that area was carried out by an expedition conducted by the Hebrew University, led by the late Professor Yigeal Shiloh in the 1970s.
These excavations uncovered many chapters in the history of Jerusalem, from the Chalcolithic age and up to the Muslim period. The most important finds however were from the period of First Jewish Temple Period (c.1000 – 586 BCE).
It appears that this area was the location of the small Canaanite village named “Jebus”. David conquered it and renamed it as “The city of David”, declaring it to be the new capital of his united kingdom. He united his tribe of Judah with the other 11 Israelite tribes.
Between 1989 and 1999 the finds from this excavation were shown around the world as a traveling exhibition, presented at institutions such as the Harvard Semitic Museum in Cambridge, MA; The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; The National Museum in Prague; The Jewish Museum in Cape Town; the Art Centre in Seoul and the National Museum in New Delhi.
Now the exhibition is back home, and it is being presented in the main hall of the department of humanities of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
It includes not only the finds with explanations, but also models of both the excavated houses and the whole city of David.
Of the finds, I think the most important ones are the cache of bullae: 51 lumps of clay which served to seal documents and letters. The Babylonian destruction ofJerusalem in 586 BC burned the archive completely, but the bullae that sealed the documents were baked, and so have survived in excellent condition.
Additional dramatic evidence for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians can be seen in the reassembled pottery vessels. Some have been darkened by the fire, indicating that the conquerors first smashed the pottery and then set the house on fire.
Other finds include Canaanite cultic objects, bone inlays originally part of a decorated Canaanite box, Israelite pottery, a stamped jar handled inscribed “YRSLM” (“Jerusalem”), and a model of an Israelite “four room” house, nick-named “Ahiel’s house”.