Ancient Jewish city seen under Palestinian suburb


Mar 31, 2007

JERUSALEM - Workers digging a new Jerusalem tram line have stumbled upon the remains of an ancient Jewish city from the first century AD under what is now a Palestinian suburb of the Holy City.

Archaeologists are frantically working to unearth the nameless settlement that lies beneath the bustling streets of the Shuafat neighbourhood before they have to bury it again in order to lay tracks for a long-planned light rail line.

The newly discovered settlement dates back to the period of the second Jewish temple.

Although some archaeologists have argued that this is the site of the biblical city of Nob, a refuge for ancient priests where Saul was anointed King of Israel, the find has excited scholars.

‘No one knew of a city of this importance just a few kilometres (miles) north of Jerusalem, and its name remains unknown,’ said Rachel Bar Nathan, one of the three archaeologists from Israel’s National Antiquities Authority working on the site.

The city is believed to have been built after Roman legions sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple of Herod in the year 70 AD, Bar Nathan said.

It was abandoned in the year 130, at the time of the last Jewish revolt against Rome, during the reign of Hardian.

Bulldozers have ploughed through the heart of modern-day Shuafat to make way for a tram line that will serve Jewish districts north of Jerusalem on land occupied and annexed after the Six Day War of 1967.

Armed with spades, shovels, picks and brushes, more than 50 Palestinian workmen are painstakingly digging for clues in the ancient settlement, sheltered from the sun by an overhead tarpaulin.

They have discovered traces of a fire that swept through the city almost 2,000 years ago.

Pots filled with coins have also been found buried in walls, suggesting that the residents hoped one day to return to their pillaged settlement.

A rare gold coin emblazoned with the face of the Roman emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98 to 117 AD, was among them.

The city was built facing west towards the ancient Roman road which connected Jerusalem to Flavia Neapolis, modern-day Nablus, the city founded in 72 AD by Titus, the Roman general who crushed the Jewish rebellion and was later made emperor.

Its layout and the large number of water cisterns found have led archaeologists to conclude that this city was probably a supply stop for travellers using the north-south Roman road.

Archaeologists have also uncovered private homes, public buildings, and stone cooking utensils used by Jews of the era because they believed them to be immune to impurities.

Coarse stone steps were found leading down to the remains of thermal baths, decorated with colourful mosaics, in which the faithful cleansed themselves.

The residents had also learned from their tormentors. The baths were heated by the same Roman technology found in the recently discovered bathhouse used by the 10th Roman Legion that had sacked Jerusalem and destroyed its temple.

The remains of that bathhouse were found at the city’s western edge in 2005 by workers on the same tramline project.