2,500-Year-Old Smashed Jewel Found at Site of Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem
Archaeologists working at Mount Zion in Jerusalem have unearthed a rare, gold and silver jewel and a Scythian arrowhead in a layer of ash that dates to the Babylonian destruction of the city (587 BC).
In the 6th-century BC, the armies of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah. They tore down the city walls, burned the temples, and ran down every person who tried to escape. The few survivors were dragged out of their homeland and forced to live in Babylon.
Their conquests were brutal. Nebuchadnezzar II, the Babylonian King, completely devastated the cities he conquered. He boasted, after defeating Egypt, that “not a single man escaped” his onslaught, and the archaeological evidence shows he wasn’t exaggerating. Based on the ruins he left behind, he left the countries he conquered completely barren. The survivors were dragged into his country, and the scorched earth that had once been their home was left empty and desolate.
Haaretz reports on the archaeologists’ discovery in the ashen layer at Mount Zion, revealing that the artifacts and their location tell us something about the events of over 2,500 years ago:
“The combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts, mixed with arrowheads, and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction,” UNC Charlotte professors Shimon Gibson told Haaretz. “Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse.”
Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem, located just outside the walls of the Old City. Excavations have been carried out there by an international team of researchers from the Universities of Carolina and Haifa, who have been collaborating on the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, which has been running for over ten years. The purpose of the Mount Zion Project is to expose, examine and preserve all levels of habitation over the course of Jerusalem’s 3,000-year history.
The project is co-directed by Prof. Shimon Gibson, Dr. Rafi Lewis, and Prof James Tabor. According to Eurekalert.org it ‘‘has made numerous significant finds relating to the ancient city’’ including some in relation to the Crusaders siege of the city in 1099 AD.
Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Credit: Rostislav Glinsky / Adobe Stock
Fragment of Silver Jewelry
During the 2019 season the experts, who were joined by graduate students from the University of Carolina were working in an area between a busy road and the ancient walls of the city. They came across a piece of jewelry, which is gold and bell-shaped and a part is ‘’clasping a bunch of silver grapes’’ reports Haaretz. It is probably from an earring or possibly an ornate tassel.
Dr. Lewis of Haifa University told Haaretz that the jewelry seems to have been “detached from its golden case as if the jewel had been violently torn from somebody”. It appears that it was lost during a violent attack on the wearer. “It went through trauma itself, was smashed somehow,” Dr. Lewis told Haaretz.
The piece of jewelry indicates that the population of Jerusalem was wealthy. This corresponds to the Biblical claims that the city was very rich in the period before the Babylonian siege. They also found pottery shards, a lamp and the remains of an iron-age building in a layer that was filled with ash and debris. They also found a great many distinctive Scythian arrowheads.
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Excavation site at Mount Zion. Credit: Mount Zion Archaeological Project
Researchers were able to identify them as Scythian arrowheads that have been ‘’found at other archaeological battle sites from the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E.’’ reports Haaretz. This provides evidence that the arrows were most likely from the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. It has long been established that these arrowheads were used by archers in the armies of successive Babylonian monarchs.
Because it was found within the ancient walls, the site of the finds was not the remains of a dumping ground. Moreover, the discovery of a piece of jewelry would indicate that the site was once connected to members of the elite. The mix of ash, smashed pottery and other items would suggest that the structure that once stood there was destroyed violently.
Dr. Gibson is quoted by GeekWire as stating that ‘"It's the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle".
Examples of Scythian Arrowheads (CC by SA 3.0)
Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem
Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah some 2,600 years ago, but it was a vassal of the great Neo-Babylonian Empire. However, Judah revolted under King Zedekiah and this led to a siege directed by the mighty Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar.
The siege lasted for over two years and during this time the people of Jerusalem starved and wanted a negotiated end to the siege, but Zedekiah refused. This led to famine in the city and countless died. The Babylonians stormed the city and destroyed it completely enslaved the inhabitants and deported them to their homeland. This was one of the greatest tragedies ever experienced by the Jewish people and they commemorate it ‘‘with mourning and fasting every year on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av’’ reports Yahoo Finance.
The Flight of the Prisoners by James Tissot (public domain)
New insights into Jerusalem
The discovery of the jewel and the other artifacts on Mount Zion are changing researchers’ belief about the extent of ancient Jerusalem. They support the view that the city was large and was not some rustic hilltop town or settlement. It appears that the city grew westward in the 7 th and 6 th century BC, possibly as a result of refugees fleeing the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians.
The find of the piece of jewelry is the first physical evidence of the brutality and ruthlessness of the Babylonian conquest of the city. It is helping researchers to understand the suffering of the population during the siege and the city’s destruction. The find also supports those who have theorized that Jerusalem was a sprawling and rich city.
Top image: Jewel made of gold and silver found at Mt Zion. Credit: Mt Zion Archaeological Expedition/Virginia Withers
By Ed Whelan