2 March 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Rare ivory plaques from First Temple Period were discovered in Jerusalem

An extraordinary find was made in Jerusalem: an assemblage of ivory plaques from the First Temple period, one of only a few found anywhere in the world and the first of its kind in Jerusalem.

The site contained other priceless objects in addition to the ivories that were found there. Agate, a semi-precious stone, a seal impression bearing the name “Natan-Melech servant of the king,” jars of wine spiced with vanilla, decorated stone objects, and wooden objects that appeared to be a part of larger wooden furnishings were also discovered.

The plaques, which are approximately 2,700 years old, were discovered during excavations at the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David archaeological and tourism site, which is part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University.

The ivories, considered one of the most expensive raw materials in the ancient world – even more expensive than gold – were discovered among the ruins of a palatial building used when Jerusalem was at its peak of power (the eighth and seventh centuries BCE).

Experts believe that the decorated ivories were inlaid in wooden furnishings used by the building’s residents, who were likely people of means, influence, and power, such as high government officials or priests.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA): “To date, we only knew of decorated ivories from the capitals of the great kingdoms in the First Temple period, such as Nimrud, the capital of Assyria, or Samaria, the capital of the Israelite Kingdom. Now, for the first time, Jerusalem joins these capitals. We were already aware of Jerusalem’s importance and centrality in the region in the First Temple period, but the new finds illustrate how important it was and places it in the same league as the capitals of Assyria and Israel. The discovery of the ivories is a step forward in understanding the political and economic status of the city as part of global administration and economy.”

The impressive structure where the ivories were discovered was completely destroyed by a massive fire, which is believed to have occurred during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and the ivories were found broken into small pieces and burned.

Ivory is mentioned only a few times in the Bible, always in connection with royalty or great wealth – the description of the throne of King Solomon (I Kings 10:18); an ivory palace built by King Ahab in Samaria (1 Kings 22:39); and the prophet Amos’ castigation of Israelite nobility: “They lie on ivory beds, lolling on their couches” (Amos 6:4).

Photo: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority.

No less than 1,500 fragments were discovered during excavations as part of the Emek Tsurim National Park wet-sieving project. Only following a unique restoration project led by conservator Orna Cohen and Ilan Naor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, were the plaques restored, and the richness of the collection revealed.

“At the end of the process of joining and ‘fusing’ hundreds of the fragments, we were able to understand that the assemblage includes remnants of at least 12 small square plaques – about 5 cm x 5 cm, at most 0.5 cm thick – which were originally inlaid in wooden furnishings,” Cohen and Naor said.

The decorations on the majority of the ivories were the same, consisting of frames incised with rosettes and a stylized tree in the center. Other plaques had lotus flowers and a geometric pattern on them.

Photo: Gil Mezuman, City of David.

According to Dr. Ido Koch and Reli Avisar of Tel Aviv University, who studied the objects, the rosette and the tree were popular symbols in the Mesopotamian visual repertoire and in other cultural centers.

Ivory objects with similar decorations were discovered in the Samaria assemblage as well as in more distant palaces such as Nimrud and Khorsabad in the heart of the Assyrian Empire. During the Assyrian Empire’s reign over Judah, the Judahite elite adopted these symbols (beginning in the second half of the eighth century BCE).

It’s interesting to note that these three images appeared at that time in Judah as the kingdom’s emblems on both the stone capitals found in Jerusalem’s Armon HaNatziv, Ramat Rachel, and Nahal Rephaim (decorated stone capitals), as well as seals used in the king’s administration (rosette seals were used to stamp jars, marking their contents as belonging to the royal household). What’s even more intriguing is the absence of animal and human mythological figures from the ivory artifacts found in Samaria, Nimrud, and other locations from the Jerusalem assemblage.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

“It’s possible that what we have here is evidence of a cultural choice by the Jerusalem elite as to which global symbols to adopt and which to reject,” the researchers say.

The ivories will be on display at the 23rd Conference of the City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem on Tuesday, September 13th. They will also be on display in October at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem Conference, Tel Aviv University, and the Hebrew University.

Cover Photo: The ivories were inlaid in a furnishing. Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Related Articles

Archaeologists reveal 4,000-year-old rock-cut tomb, artifacts in Saqqara

8 January 2024

8 January 2024

A team of Egyptian and Japanese archaeologists has unveiled a rock-cut tomb believed to be more than 4,000 years old...

Archaeologists find Viking Age shipyard in Swedish island

15 June 2022

15 June 2022

Archaeologists from Stockholm University have discovered a Viking Age shipyard at Birka on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren,...

Magnificent Romanesque and Peasant war fury in the lost Kaltenborn monastery near Allstedt

18 August 2023

18 August 2023

From the 12th to the 16th century, the Kaltenborn monastery near Allstedt was a religious, cultural, and economic center of...

A farmer discovered artifacts of the Unetice culture in his field

19 August 2021

19 August 2021

A farmer in Sulęcin county in Poland’s Lubusz province discovered a rare treasure while trying to clear stones from his...

A tiny 2,300-year-old votive vessel presented to the gods by the poor was found in the Ancient City of Troy

27 August 2022

27 August 2022

A 3-centimeter in size tiny vessel made of clay was found in the ancient city of Troy located at Hisarlik...

Freshwater and marine shells used as ornaments 30,000 years ago discovered in Spain

7 June 2023

7 June 2023

In Malaga’s Cueva de Ardales, up to 13 freshwater and marine shells that were carefully transformed by humans between 25,000...

Iron Age and Roman Skeletons Discovered on Alderney

19 May 2021

19 May 2021

Well-preserved skeletons from the late Iron Age and Roman periods were found in Alderney, one of the channel islands. The...

The ancient necropolis area in Turkey’s Antalya becomes a museum

22 July 2023

22 July 2023

The East Garage Necropolis Area, which was once a public market in the southern province of Antalya and where archaeological...

In the Mediterranean Oldest Hand-Sewn Boat is Preparing for its Next Journey

25 January 2024

25 January 2024

The oldest hand-sewn boat in the Mediterranean was discovered in the Bay of Zambratija near Umag on Croatia’s Istrian peninsula....

Ushabti figurines on display at Izmir Archeology Museum

18 September 2021

18 September 2021

The 2,700-year-old “Ushabti” statuettes, discovered in archaeological digs in western Turkey and used in Egyptian burial ceremonies, are being shown...

A very Rare Medieval Pocket Sundial Discovered in Germany

31 July 2023

31 July 2023

A rare Medieval sundial, which is approximately the size of a matchbox was discovered in the old town of Marburg,...

Ancient Murals of Two-faced Figures Found in Peru

21 March 2023

21 March 2023

Archaeologists are reporting a number of fascinating discoveries as work on the excavations at Pañamarca progresses that are helping to...

Neanderthals too may have Developed a System of Numerical Notation

2 June 2021

2 June 2021

People developed numbers tens of thousands of years ago, according to archeological findings. Scholars are now investigating the first comprehensive...

New research determines portable toilets of the ancient Roman world

11 February 2022

11 February 2022

New research published today reveals how archeologists can determine when a pot was used by Romans as a portable toilet,...

1,600-year-old Roman-era wine shop unearthed in Greece

29 January 2024

29 January 2024

A team led by Scott Gallimore of Wilfrid Laurier University and Martin Wells of Austin College discovered a 1,600-year-old Roman-era...