Arrowheads and layers of ash point to Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem

This is one of the Scythian type arrowheads found in the destruction layer from 587/586 BCE.(Photo: Mt Zion Archaeological Expedition/Virginia Withers)

Ancient arrowheads and layers of ash are among the finds by archaeologists pointing to more evidence of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem recorded in the Bible.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte have been digging on Mount Zion and found what they say is "clear evidence" of the Babylonian conquest of the city from 587/586 BC. 

They have uncovered Scythian-type bronze and iron arrowheads from the period as well as pot sherds, lamps and a "significant" piece of jewellery, identified as a gold and silver tassel or earring. 

The jewellery, a "rare" and "unexpected" find, according to the team, is formed of a bell-shaped piece of gold above a piece of silver made in the shape of a cluster of grapes. 

Shimon Gibson, UNC Charlotte professor and co-director of the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, said it "is a unique find and it is a clear indication of the wealth of the inhabitants of the city at the time of the siege".

The last time jewellery from this period was discovered in Jerusalem was in 1979 at an Iron Age tomb at Ketef Hinnom outside the city. 

"Frankly, jewellery is a rare find at conflict sites, because this is exactly the sort of thing that attackers will loot and later melt down," he explained. 

The discoveries have been found in layers of soil above the remains of a "significant" Iron Age structure that has yet to be excavated.

This is an earring or tassle ornament made of gold and silver from the destruction layer of 587/586 BCE.(Photo: Mt Zion Archaeological Expedition/Rafi Lewis)

The team said that the ash deposits were not in themselves evidence of the siege but when taken together with the location and arrowheads typical of the period, they eliminated other explanations.

"For archaeologists, an ashen layer can mean a number of different things," Gibson said.

"It could be ashy deposits removed from ovens; or it could be localized burning of garbage. However, in this case, the combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts, mixed with arrowheads, and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction. Nobody abandons golden jewellery and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse."

He said that the mix of finds was typical for a dwelling that had been raided. 

"It's the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle," Gibson said.

"Household objects, lamps, broken bits from pottery which had been overturned and shattered... and arrowheads and a piece of jewellery which might have been lost and buried in the destruction."

He believes the building may have been the home of someone important. 

"I like to think that we are excavating inside one of the 'great man's houses' mentioned in the second book of Kings 25:9," Gibson speculated.

"This spot would have been at an ideal location, situated as it is close to the western summit of the city with a good view overlooking Solomon's Temple and Mount Moriah to the north-east. We have high expectations of finding much more of the Iron Age city in future seasons of work. "

The location of the dig has only added to his conviction that it is part of the site where the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem.

"We know where the ancient fortification line ran, so we know we are within the city," explained Gibson.

This is one of the students of UNC Charlotte's Levine Program, Miles Shen, holding in his hands a lamp dating from the Iron Age.(Photo: Mt Zion Archaeological Expedition/James Tabor)

"We know that this is not some dumping area, but the south-western neighborhood of the Iron Age city - during the 8th century BCE the urban area extended from the 'City of David' area to the south-east and as far as the Western Hill where we are digging."

The area has been the subject of excavations for the last 10 years, but still has much more to tell archaeologists, with the team expecting to reach down to the building layers of the site next year at the earliest. 

Rafi Lewis, a senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College and a fellow of Haifa University, said: "It is very exciting to be able to excavate the material signature of any given historical event, and even more so regarding an important historical event such as the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem."

The Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem was led by King Nebuchadnezzar and was by all accounts a devastating battle that resulted in the destruction of the city and Solomon's Temple, and King Zedekiah and his people being taken into captivity. 

Prior to the destruction, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were subjected to a lengthy siege of the city that resulted in a famine.  

2 Kings 25: 1-3 describes the desperation of the inhabitants: "So in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat."

It goes on to describe how Nebuzaradan, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and proceeded to burn down the Temple, the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem. 

"Every important building he burned down," reads 2 Kings 25:9. 

To this day, Jews remember the event with prayer and mourning on Tisha B' Av.

"King Zedekiah simply was not willing to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and the direct result of this was the destruction of the city and the Temple," said Gibson.