2,000–year-old stone inscription unearthed in Jerusalem
Rina Avner knew she had found something special when she hit the large stone during an excavation outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. The stone, weighing one ton, had a well-preserved Latin inscription. Researchers say this is among the most important Latin inscriptions ever found in Jerusalem.
“First I had a wave of adrenaline surge through me, and then I got all sweaty when I saw the inscription,” Avner told The Media Line as she stood near the giant stone on display in front of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem for the first time. “I knew this was a rare find.”
Originally uncovered in July, it was unveiled this week and will eventually be shown to the public. Avner said it is one of the highlights of a 30-year career as an archaeologist who has specialized in the much-later Byzantine period.
The huge stone was actually the second half of another inscription found in the late 19th century, and currently displayed in the courtyard of an Italian monastery in Jerusalem. The inscription is a dedication to the Emperor Hadrian from the 10th Roman Legion, and has the date of 129 A.D. inscribed. That is the year that Hadrian visited Jerusalem.
“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” Avner Ecker, a doctoral student who was called to decipher the inscription, as he traced the large Roman letters. “The first two lines are the genealogy of the Emperor Hadrian, and then the dedication. It was on the top of a monumental arch like a decoration.”
The Israel Antiquities Authority undertook the excavation as a “salvage excavation” in preparation for a shopping center being built at the site. The stone had apparently been used as part of a monumental arch. In ancient times, however, it was customary to recycle building materials and the large stone was apparently repurposes in a floor surrounding a giant water cistern.
There are few Latin inscriptions in Jerusalem, and this is believed to be one of the most important. It also gives credence to the theory that the Jewish revolt against the Romans, which erupted three years after the date of the inscription, was because of harsh treatment of the Jews.
Hadrian was known for anti-Jewish decrees and efforts to get the Jews to convert. The inscription from the Tenth Legion is further proof that the Roman army was in Jerusalem. It is not clear if the Jews rose up independently against their Roman rulers in what is called the Bar Kochba revolt, or were provoked by harsh Roman decrees.
Archaeologist Avner described the process of lifting the one-ton stone out of the ground.
“First you dig around it then you attach belts to it and lift it up by tractor,” she said. “You prepare a wooden platform and then you ease the stone onto the platform.”
The inscription on the local limestone was sharp and clear, even after 2000 years. Avner says she hopes it will further increase interest in archaeology in Jerusalem.
“People should know where they live,” she said. “They should be more aware of what was here before we built houses on top of everything.”
What about the planned shopping mall?
As this find was close to the bedrock, and archaeologists are sure there is nothing more to excavate, the construction will go ahead.