Earliest Known Inscription of the Word ‘Jerusalem’ Discovered at Ancient City’s Entrance
The earliest-ever carved inscription of the word ‘Jerusalem’ has been discovered on a waist-high lime stone column, in a Roman building, near the ancient city's entrance.
Whispers From A Holy Past
Part of a Roman structure dating to the 1st century BC was been unearthed in Jerusalem and the drum of a stone column was found with a 2,100-year-old Hebrew inscription which is “the earliest-known mention of the full name of the city that is spelled as it is today,” the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.
The discovery was made during salvage excavations while workers prepared to pave a road near the Binyanei Ha'uma convention center, at the entrance to the city of Jerusalem. The artifact was found by IAA archaeologist Danit Levy who told reporters at Hareetz that the inscription “Was written in Hebrew letters,” and reads: "Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem.”
Ahead of the column’s unveiling today, Levy told reporters that “A worker came to me in the office towards the end of the day and excitedly told me to grab my camera and writing materials because he’d found something written.” When Levy first saw the inscription, she said:
“My heart started to pound and I was sure everyone could hear it. My hands were trembling so badly I couldn’t properly take a picture.”
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IAA archaeologist Danit Levy, with the stone bearing the most ancient inscription with the full name of Jerusalem, as it is spelled in modern times. Image: Yuli Schwartz/ IAA
Near the inscription, archaeologists found what “appears to be the site of a pottery factory,” which is believed to have operated for at least 300 years from the Hasmonean period up until the end of the Roman era. “This is the largest ancient pottery production site in the region of Jerusalem,” says Levy, who told reporters at Times Of Israel that during Roman times, “notably during the reign of King Herod the Great the factory initially produced cooking vessels, but later manufactured roofing tiles, bricks and pipes.” Among the other discoveries at the site were remains of “kilns for firing the pottery, storage areas, plastered water cisterns, and ritual baths - a sign of the Jewish presence there” said Levy.
The site where the earliest-ever inscription bearing Jerusalem’s full name was discovered. Image: Yuli Schwartz / IAA
The reason this particular inscription is causing such a stir is that most of the inscriptions mentioning Jerusalem dating to the First and Second Temple periods (1000 BC to AD 70) “typically use abbreviated spellings of the city’s name,” according to Israeli archaeologists Dr. Yuval Baruch, head of the IAA's Jerusalem district, and Prof. Ronny Reich, of the University of Haifa, who have both been involved researching this discovery. The fully spelled-out name of Jerusalem has never before been found on artifacts from this ancient era and the only other known inscription appears on a coin from the Jewish ‘Great Revolt’ against the Romans, towards the end of the Second Temple period.
The inscription in situ when found. It is now displayed in the Israel Museum, (Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority )
While several theories exist to explain the meaning of the name Jerusalem, Baruch explained that the word is actually the amalgamation of two ancient Canaanite words: “ Yeru” (founded) and “ Shalem” (the name of an important Canaanite god ); thus, the city name means “the city founded by the god Shalem.” During the Second Temple era, said Baruch, the city was usually referred to as Yerushalem, spelled with only one Hebrew letter ‘ yod’ whereas the modern version is pronounced “Y erushalayim," and has two yods. Baruch and Reich note that “out of a total of 660 mentions of the name of the holy city in the Bible, the unusual full spelling appears only five times.
The word Hananiah on the inscription was a relatively common name in ancient Jerusalem, but specialists are struggling with the word “Dodalos.” Baruch and Reich suggested it may be a variation of ‘Daedalus’ - a famous artist and craftsman in ancient Greek mythology. Baruch told reporters that it might be the case that “the Jewish Dodalos and his son Hananiah were craftsmen as well” adding that they might have been “employed at the ancient pottery factory that was also unearthed in the vicinity.”
Top image: The inscription bearing the word ‘Jerusalem’, was found in the excavation near the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Source: Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ashley Cowie