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Behind the Headlines a Major Archaeological Find

August 9, 1985
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The very first houses built in Jerusalem have been unearthed in the Kidron Valley, just southeast of the Old City walls.

Hebrew University archaeologist Yigal Shilo, coming to the end of his eighth and last season’s dig at the City of David, last month struck bedrock — and exposed on the bedrock neat little homes built 3,000 years ago.

His team of local students and overseas volunteers are now smashing through a section of a later wall to discover whether these first houses — the beginning of settlement in the city 1,000 years before King David — were surrounded by a protective wall or were merely a village-like complex open to the surrounding hillsides.

The unearthed houses comprise walls with built-in benches protruding from them and surrounding a central living area. Shilo told reporters that such construction is common in this proto-urban phase in Palestine — the early Bronze Period contemporaneous with the Patriarchs.


He noted that much older dwellings have been discovered, in Jericho and elsewhere. But the exciting aspect of the Kidron Valley settlement, close to the Siloam spring, is that it marks the start of uninterrupted settlement in Jerusalem from 3,000 years ago to the present day.

Archaeologists have not been able to trace a continuous proto-urban development in Jericho or in the other more ancient sites: there is an unexplained lacuna between the prehistoric remains and the more modern ruins.

Shilo said it was natural for the first, nomadic settlers to choose a site close to the source of fresh water — even though this was not the highest or best protected site in the area.

Subsequent development of Jerusalem tended to take place higher up the slope — so that the City of David itself, extensively excavated by Shilo and his team in recent years, sits several hundred feet above the Kidron Valley houses. Later still, under Solomon, the Temple was built still higher — in what Shilo termed Jerusalem’s acropolis. The two sections of the city, the original City of David and the acropolis, were linked.


Shilo’s finds in the City of David are gradually being incorporated into an archaeological park, with the help of Mayor Teddy Kollek’s Jerusalem Foundation.

Opened only recently, and still far from completion, the park already promises to become one of Jerusalem’s most attractive tourist sites, for local and overseas visitors. Thoughtful landscaping has contributed to effective exhibition of the excavated structures against a backdrop of unobtrusive modern concrete buttresses relieved by green gardens.

Among the most arresting finds are a six-story stepped stone structure, built along the slope of the hill. Under this, Shilo found, veritably intact, houses of the Davidic Period, complete with pillars, plaster, and even indoor latrines. Signet rings and shards afforded precise dating — and in some cases corresponded to actual Biblical names.

But the centerpiece of the archaeological park is without doubt Warren’s shaft, the huge and eerie tunnel leading down, under the ground, from the City of David to a point deep within the bowels of the rock, whence the ancient Israelites could draw water from the Siloam, undetected by potential enemies.

The tunnel is named after an American naval officer and explorer, Capt. Charles Warren, who first discovered it more than a century ago. He entered it from below, that is from the Siloam, and managed to make his way through the accretion of silt and rubble almost till the top.

Subsequently, the shaft was once again clogged with rubbish and rubble, and Shilo and the Jerusalem Foundation employed South African mining engineers to help clear it, and an Alpine climber to transverse the vertical section from the Siloam to the place where the Israelites drew their water.

(The fact that the key stretch was narrow and vertical made the shaft ideally secure from enemy invaders.)

Shilo explained that modern geological research has proved the shaft was in part a natural formation–coinciding as it does with the coming together of two different layers of rock. The upper layer is the more porous, and aeons of water seeping through it created a tunnel — which engineers working for the kings of Judah later enlarged.

Now, the shaft is well lit and airy — which does not detract from the visitor’s sense of adventure. Access is through a restored Turkish house which the Jerusalem Foundation, under Shiloh’s meticulous guidance, has wrought into a small but fascinating museum of the entire excavation.

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