In 2016, conservation work was conducted under archaeological supervision inside an area excavated in 2005–2010 in the northwest of the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem (the Eastern Cardo; map ref. 222191–209/631504–553; Weksler-Bdolah et al. 2009
; Weksler-Bdolah, Kisilevitz and Onn 2015
; Ornan, Weksler-Bdolah and Sass 2017; Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019). The conservation work was carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority's conservation department under the direction of H. Makureya and Y. Vaknin, with archaeological supervision by S. Weksler-Bdolah.
In August–December 2017, an excavation was conducted in this area (Permit No. A-8053) prior to the installation of concrete pillars along the site. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, was directed by S. Weksler-Bdolah (including field photography), with the assistance of S. Cohen (administration), V. Essman (surveying and drafting), L. Kupershmidt and I. Reznitsky (metallurgical laboratory), C. Amit and D. Gazit (studio photography), Y. Bukengolts (seal impression and legionary stamp cleaning, pottery restoration), R. Rosenthal-Heginbottom and T. Lieberman (Roman and Byzantine pottery), S. Kisilevitz (Iron Age pottery), N. Katsnelson (glass), G. Bijovsky and D.T. Ariel (numismatics), O. Peleg-Barkat (architectural elements), L. Kolska Horwitz (archaeozoology), T. Ornan and B. Sass (Iron Age seal impression) and A. Karasik (digital documentation).
The present excavation continued the extensive salvage excavations conducted at the site in 2005–2010, in which 15 strata dating from the late Iron Age (eighth–sixth centuries BCE) to the twentieth century CE were identified. The current finds are attributed to the strata identified in the past. Approximately 25 squares (up to 5 × 5 m each) were excavated at points slated for the construction of the concrete pillars. The excavation aimed to reach bedrock, thus completing the site’s excavation and documentation. An excavation was also conducted in a balk left untouched by previous excavations, located between the excavation area and a modern staircase to its north. The top of the balk was at roughly the same height as the tops of the walls of an Iron Age house that was partially excavated in previous seasons; the excavated soil fills were accumulated inside the building’s rooms. This report presents the finds from the conservation work and the current excavation (Fig. 1).
Iron Age (Strata 15, 14). Prior excavations in the north part of the area uncovered the remains of a quarry on which a four-room house was built; the north part of the building extends beyond the excavation area. The northern balk contained a wall (W170; preserved length 2.4 m, width 0.5 m, height 0.5 m; Fig. 2) inside the elongated eastern room of the Iron Age four-room house; the wall was built on an east–west alignment and preserved to a height of two courses above the room’s floor. It is not clear if this wall divides the building’s eastern room into two, or if it is part of an installation built inside the house.
Conservation work on a previously excavated wall (W521) in an alley to the west of the four-room house, near the corner with another wall (W640A), recovered a lump of fired clay with a seal impression of two figures holding a moon-like object above the inscription ‘Governor of the City’ in ancient Hebrew script (Ornan, Weksler-Bdolah and Sass 2017; Fig. 3). The clay lump was identified as a docket that may have been placed inside a vessel as proof of the sender’s identity, although its use is unconfirmed.
An excavation (1.0 × 2.4 m) in the north of the alley, where the seal impression was discovered uncovered soil layers without reaching bedrock. Between these layers was a whitish surface (L1721A) that probably represents the habitation level of the alley. A large ashlar was found in the stone rubble beneath this level, at the base of the corner between Walls 640 and 521. It is unclear if the stone should be attributed to the quarry that was in use before the house was built, or to W521. In the south of the alley, at the foot of a rock-hewn cliff, the excavation of a soil fill revealed the quarry floor with signs of building-stone extraction and severance channels. The four-room house’s western wall (W524) was founded on the quarry floor. The wall’s foundation trench (L1731A) was dug through an earthen fill that had accumulated at the bottom of the abandoned quarry (L1730A) . The four-room house was clearly built sometime after the quarry fell into disuse.
Second Temple Period (Stratum 13). Remains of the Low-level Aqueduct (L116) from the Second Temple period were previously identified at the top of the rock cliff on the west side of the excavation area. The aqueduct’s construction is attributed to the Hasmonean kings in the second century BCE, and it continued to be used, with modifications, until the twentieth century CE. The aqueduct is hewn in the rock from south to north, and a ceramic pipe laid in the Ottoman period is preserved along it. The southern part of the rock cliff and the hewn aqueduct were damaged in recent times, prior to the excavations. The current excavation cleaned the cliff section and identified several construction phases.
The western rock-hewn wall of the aqueduct is attributed to its earliest phases. The aqueduct is slightly stepped, and its lower part is narrower than its upper part; the lower part is coated with plaster containing small potsherds. It is impossible to determine whether these are two technical or chronological stages. Either way, the aqueduct appears to have been hewn in the Second Temple period, with a floor level of 738.2 m asl. At a later stage the floor of the aqueduct was deepened to 737.2 m asl (Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:24–25, Plan 2.1: Section 10–10, Figs. 2.5). A ceramic pipe embedded in a layer of stone and mortar (debesh) is attributed to the aqueduct’s latest phase, dating from the Ottoman period; the base of the pipe is at an elevation of 737.9 m asl. In this phase, the cliff wall was coated with mortar, and a retaining wall built on the mortar replaced the aqueduct’s eastern wall. The ceramic pipe was laid in the mortar (debesh) blocking the space between the retaining wall and the hewn face of the cliff.
Two stepped rock-hewn installations (L2022, L2050A) were examined at the top of the cliff, north of the aqueduct. They may be miqva’ot (ritual baths) that were installed in the basements of Second Temple period houses and were demolished in the Late Roman period. Most of Installation 2022 (length 4.5 m, width up to 2 m) was excavated in the past (Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:22–23, Plan 2.1: Section 4–4); the excavated area was expanded to gain a complete plan of the installation. It contains a flight of steps and an immersion pool coated with gray hydraulic plaster.Installation 2050 (1.5 × 1.5 m; Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:19–22, Plan 2.1: Section 2–2; Fig. 4) also has hewn steps, but it bore no remains of plaster. It apparently was never completed, possibly because during its quarrying, a large natural karstic cavity opened up, and it became clear that the planned facility would not be able to store water.
Remains of a stone-built arch (W91A; excavated length 1.8 m, width 0.7 m; Fig. 5) were found in the southeast of the area. The arch is built of ashlars with finely combed dressing and smooth marginal drafting typical of the Second Temple period. The narrowness of the arch and the way in which it is incorporated in the rock-hewn walls to its north and west suggest that it was part of the ceiling of an underground installation. Inside the arch was a fill of stones, which was dated by small finds to the Byzantine period. Steps (L9050) built over the arch connect the Eastern Cardo to a street (L4108) that branched eastward from the cardo in the Byzantine period. The space inside the arch was not fully excavated, and the date of its construction remains unclear.Nevertheless, as the arch is sealed beneath a Roman–Byzantine street, it cannot postdate the Byzantine period. The Herodian-style dressing of the stones and the arch’s incorporation in the hewn rock allow for its attribution to the Herodian period.
Late Roman Period (Stratum 12). Most of the remains in the excavation area are attributed to this period. They include part of a wide colonnaded street (total width c. 24 m)—the Eastern Cardo of Aelia Capitolina—of which a 50 m stretch was excavated. Its central paved carriageway (width 8 m) is flanked on either side by a raised sidewalk (width 1.5 m), which is in turn delineated by a portico (width 6.5 m). The columns of the porticos on both sides of the street mark its width. Shops were housed in a row of rock-hewn cells to the west of the street (for a full description, see Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:29–115). The current excavation uncovered the following remains:
1. The hewn threshold and southern doorjamb (W2007) of the southernmost shop in the previously excavated row of stores on the cardo’s west side. The threshold is abutted by a stone paving (L709) found in an earlier excavation and dated to the Byzantine period (Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:82–83, Fig. 3.61).
2. Additional parts of the eastern stylobate (W811, W812) inside balks that were dismantled in the current excavation.
3. A Roman-period floor (L107A; second–third centuries CE) beneath the paving stones of a Byzantine-period street (L4108) that branches eastward from the cardo. Street 4108 may preserve the route of a street or a plaza from the Roman period, as proposed in the past (Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:77–78, Fig. 3.32).
4. A hewn and plastered water cistern (L300) dated to the fourth century CE in the southern part of the cardo’s western portico. The cistern was roofed with stone slabs that were laid on a series of stone-built arches (Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:78–80, Figs. 3.53–3.55, Plan 3.3). An ornamental stone panel (width 0.49 m, height 0.76 m, thickness 0.18 m; Fig. 6) discovered in secondary use during conservation work on the ceiling was removed from the site for further examination (Peleg-Barkat 2019:142–144, Fig. 4.21). The panel depicts a decorated attached pilaster, whose facade is adorned with a floral design and whose base and capital project from the narrow front of the stone panel. Based on the decorative style, the panel is attributed to the time of Aelia Capitolina in the Roman period. The panel’s original use is unknown; it may have served as a support for a stone table, the side of a small aedicule or a niche adorning the facade of a temple, or part of a scaenae frons in a theater or in some other public building. The slab was incorporated in secondary use in the cistern’s roof in the fourth century CE, indicating that the original structure from which it came was destroyed prior to that date.
5. A clay-brick fragment (Fig. 7) bearing the stamp of the Tenth Legion Fretensis LEGX (Weksler-Bdolah 2021)—the first of its kind to be found in the Eastern Cardo. The fragment was found in a deliberate fill (L2040A) of earth and small stones dumped in an ancient quarry in order to pave the Eastern Cardo in the Roman period. In the north, Fill 2040 rests against the outer southern wall (W620) of the Iron Age house, which was built at the bottom of the quarry and remained sealed beneath the level of the Roman cardo. The fill was originally sealed beneath the paving stones of the sidewalk to the west of the open street in the north part of the excavation area. Although these paving stones were later robbed, the underlying fill was left undisturbed. Part of this fill was excavated in the past; it yielded finds dated no later than 75–125 CE (L5326, L5332; Weksler-Bdolah and Onn 2019:33, Plan 3.2; Rosenthal-Heginbottom 2019:232–234, Fig. 3.11:1–20). An identical fill that was previously excavated c. 3 m to the north yielded a Hadrianic coin (Bijovsky 2019:174, Table 6.3: Cat. No. 35).
Although soil fills sealed by the cardo have yielded many fragments of bricks and roof tiles before, none of them bear the stamp of the Tenth Legion. The new find probably hints that during the foundation of Aelia Capitolina in the early Hadrianic reign, the custom of stamping military building materials in Jerusalem had already begun, but was still relatively rare.
Byzantine–Ottoman Periods (Strata 11–1). To the west of the row of stores on the Cardo’s west side, a row of hewn cells was previously excavated at a higher elevation; the date of the cell’s quarrying and use is uncertain. The three northern cells in this row (L3006, L6028, L6213) were excavated in the past and the current excavation unearthed two more cells to their south (L310, L5227).
Cell 310 was incorporated in the Mughrabi building that housed the Israel Police prior to 2007. Three steps in the Mughrabi building’s eastern room lead up to the cell. In the south and north, the walls of the original hewn cell were preserved under built walls that were dismantled in the earlier excavation. A plastered bench built in the cell’s western part was surmounted by a pointed arch supported by square pilasters. Beneath the modern floor tiles, a white plaster floor was set in a bedding of flattened fieldstones (L316A). The plaster floor is associated with a plastered rectangular trough-like installation along the cell’s eastern side that is lower than the floor; the floor and the installation date from the Ottoman period. Beneath the white plaster floor was a rounded asymmetrical hewn and plastered installation (L318A; diam. c. 3 m; Fig. 8) with a settling pit at the bottom. The installation’s hewing clearly damaged the north side of Ritual Bath 2022 and the floor of Room 310, and it was therefore probably quarried after the Roman period. Installation 318 was full of soil mixed with copious amounts of pottery and clay pipes from the early Ottoman period (sixteenth–seventeenth centuries CE). The installation was probably hewn between the Late Roman and the early Ottoman periods. The settling pit in its base and the plaster coating show that it was used to store liquids.
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