Photo Credit: Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Aerial photograph of the 2300-year-old village discovered outside Jerusalem.

The remnants of a rural town that was lived in for some two centuries during the Second Temple period were uncovered near the main route to Jerusalem. In June 2013, Israel Natural Gas Lines began construction of the 22 mile-long project, which runs from the coast to the outskirts of Jerusalem, and in the process the village was uncovered. For the past six months the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been conducting an archaeological salvage excavation of the site.

The excavations, which cover about 750 square meters, revealed a small rural town with a few stone houses and a network of narrow alleys. Each building, which probably housed a single nuclear family, consisted of several rooms and an open courtyard. According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “The rooms generally served as residential and storage rooms, while domestic tasks were carried out in the courtyards.”

Coin from the reign of King Antiochus III. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The town, whose name is unknown, is nestled at the top of a hill some 900 feet above sea level, with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. These large tracts of land were used to cultivate orchards and vineyards, the economic mainstay of the region’s inhabitants.

The excavations have shown that the site reached the peak of its development in the Hellenistic period (3rd century BCE), when Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire, established by one of Alexander the Great’s lieutenants. The town was probably abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.

It is not known why the site was abandoned, but the event was probably related to economic problems and not to a violent incident. Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch explained: “The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty or the beginning of Herod’s rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea, and it may be related to Herod’s massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction at the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects.”

The excavations yielded numerous and varied archeological findings, including basalt and limestone grinding and milling tools for domestic use, pottery cooking pots, jars for storing oil and wine, pottery oil lamps for domestic use, and more than sixty coins, including coins from the reigns of the Seleucid King Antiochus III and the Hasmonean King Alexander Yanai.

In light of these finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the INGL have agreed that engineering plans for the gas line are to be revised, bypassing the site and preserving it as an accessible archaeological site for the public.

Aerial photograph of the site. Photo credit: Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.