Photo Credit: Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority
Workers exposing the ancient canals in Jerusalem.

What was the unknown product that was so important to the economy of ancient Jerusalem, the Temple, or the palace under the kings of Judah?

The excavation of the Givati parking lot has recently unearthed unique, large-scale production facilities that are carved into the rock, dated to 900 BCE. The archaeologists are not sure what they were for, but their uniqueness and location, close to the Temple and the Palace, imply that their products may have been part of the economy of either or both of these institutions.

The Givati parking lot excavation in the city of David. / Kobi Harathi, City of David

The excavation, managed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University in the City of David National Park, and funded by the Elad association, has so far revealed two production facilities, about 10 meters apart, which may have belonged to one large facility. The facilities are not known anywhere else in Israel, hence their uniqueness.

The first facility was discovered at the northeastern end of the Givati parking lot, and it includes a series of at least nine canals smoothed over with meticulous finish. The rock that borders the facility to the south contains seven gutters, which moved liquid from the top of the rock, where industrial activity took place, down to the canals.

Dr. Yiftach Shalev in the ancient canals. / Emil Eljam, Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Yeftah Shalev, a senior researcher at the IAA, says: “We looked at the facility and realized that we had stumbled upon something unique, but since we had never seen a similar facility in Israel, we didn’t know how to interpret it. Its date was also unclear.”

Shalev continues: “We brought several experts to the area, to check whether there are any remains in the ground or the rock that are not visible, to help us understand what flowed or was deposited in the canals. We wanted to check whether there were any organic remains or traces of blood, and to that end, we even used the police forensics unit, but so far to no avail.”

Prof. Yuval Gadot examines the mysterious canals. / Eric Marmor, Damka Yerushalmi Production House

“The mystery only thickened when we found the second facility to the south,” says Prof. Yuval Gadot from the Department of Archeology at Tel Aviv University. “That facility consists of at least five canals that carried liquids.”

“Despite some differences in the way the canals were dug and designed, it’s clear that the second facility is very similar to the first,” adds Gadot. “This time, we were also able to date when the facility went out of service, the end of the 9th century BCE, in the days of King Jehoash and King Amaziah. We presume that the installations, which, as mentioned, may have been used in tandem, were carved several decades earlier.”

According to Prof. Gadot, “We know that in that time, Jerusalem spread over an area that included the City of David extension, as well as the Temple Mount that stood at the very heart of the city. The central location of the canal facilities, near the most important parts of the city, indicates that the product that was being produced with the help of the canals was connected to the economy of the Temple or the palace.”

The northern complex of canals that were uncovered in the City of David. / Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

Gadit and Shalev note that since the ritual activity in the Temple included animals and plants, pilgrims may have taken back with them products that were suffused with the sanctity of the place.

Shalev speculates: “Since the canals do not lead to a large drainage basin and the direction of their flow alternates, it’s possible that the canals, at least in the northern facility, were used for soaking products and not for draining liquids.”

“Making threads from linen, for example, requires soaking the linen for a long time to soften it,” he points out. “Another possibility is that the canals contained dates that were left in the sun to produce date honey. Similarly shaped facilities have been discovered in Oman, Bahrain, and Iran.”

Gadot and Shalev are not giving up, and plan to run a new course of soil and fragment tests to crack the mystery of Jerusalem’s eerie canals.

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