Iron Age ivory plaques unearthed in ancient Jerusalem mansion

Published September 6, 2022
A VIEW of ivory plaques unearthed in excavations at a parking lot near the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.—AFP
A VIEW of ivory plaques unearthed in excavations at a parking lot near the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.—AFP

JERUSALEM: Archaeologists revealed on Monday ivory plaques found in a luxurious Jerusalem Iron Age residence, a first-of-its-kind discovery at this location that sheds light on the owner’s wealth and social status.

The ivory pieces were found in a building from around the eighth or seventh century BC, the First Temple era, in the City of David just below the current location of the Old City in east Jerusalem.

Sifting through the ruins in the building, likely burnt during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, diggers found around 1,500 ivory fragments, said Reli Avisar from Tel Aviv University, which excavated the site along with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“This is a large collection, and when we took it to restoration, we discovered there was a finite number of motifs,” she said.

The decorations consisted of frames with rosettes and a tree in their centre, or lotus flowers and geometric patterns, and the plaques were probably used as decorations for wooden furniture.

Ivory, which is mentioned in the Bible in the context of royalty and wealth, was one of the most expensive goods in antiquity — pricier than gold — and the pieces at hand were taken from elephant tusks, the IAA said.

“Objects like these are usually discovered in royal palaces, so it shows the great wealth and abundance of the place, but also the ability of a Jerusalem elite to conduct long-distance trade, the financial ability to buy it,” Avisar said.

Another option is that the ivory plaques were “gifts from the Assyrian kings to the loyal vassals” of Judah, she said, or perhaps the social ambitions of the vassals.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2022

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