Jerusalem (Israël): First-ever Hasmonean structure found

Nir Hasson

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Hasmonean-era structure uncovered in Jerusalem archaeological digging. Photo by Emil Salman

The first-ever Hasmonean structure to be found in Jerusalem has been uncovered in recent months in the City of David area.

Archaeologists found the huge Hasmonean-period structure in the Givati parking lot, across from the entrance to the City of David National Park and mere dozens of meters from the Temple Mount.

Hasmonean-era Jerusalem is well known from the historic descriptions of Josephus and small archeological finds, including pottery and coins, from the period. But this is the first time that a structure from that period has been discovered in Jerusalem.

To date, over more than a hundred years of archeological research in Jerusalem, we had not found any Hasmonean structure,” said Dr. Doron Ben Ami, who is leading the dig with Yana Tchekhanovets. “This building will help us sketch out another part of the map that had been unknown until now.”

The dig is being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and is being funded by the Elad Association, which manages the adjacent national park.

Thick walls from 2 BCE

The excavation, the largest to be conducted in Jerusalem in recent years, had until now yielded numerous findings from the Roman period, which is later than the Hasmonean era. But in one corner, the excavators went down to an earlier layer and exposed the remains of a building – two thick, well-built walls, four meters high – that were dated at the second century B.C.E., the period of Hasmonean rule.

Researchers have no definite answer for why Hasmonean Jerusalem seemed to have “disappeared.” Part of the answer probably lies with the city’s centrality and power during the end of the Second Temple period, when new construction demolished and covered structures from earlier periods.

Though no Hasmonean buildings had been previously found in Jerusalem, sections of the Hasmonean-era wall have been uncovered in the City of David and on Mount Zion.

The building was dated by both its construction method, which was unique to the period, and by coins found on and below the floor. Among the coins found were coins from Antiochus II, IV and VII.

The coins indicate that the building was first built before the Hasmonean era, during Seleucid rule of the country (Antiochus III). The coins of Antiochus IV, the one whose decrees spurred the Hasmonean revolt that we recall on Hanukkah, are evidence that the building still stood during the uprising.

Antiochus VII controlled the region during the reign of Yohanan Hyrcanus (who collected taxes for him) and his coins, which bear no image of him, because of the prohibition against idols and graven images, were issued by Hyrcanus himself in Jerusalem. Ben-Ami cautiously speculates that the royal mint may have been very close to the building that was discovered, given the very large number of coins in the building and because it is known that Hasmonean Jerusalem was a fairly small town.

Ben-Ami believes that the structure found was not used for residential purposes, but was some sort of public building, because of its size. Many pottery items characteristic of the period were also found in the structure.

A plan was recently approved to build a large visitors center at the City of David archaeological site. Under the plan, a building will be built over the site and visitors will be able to down into the basement to view the archaeological findings.