Jerusalem tunnel contains 2,000-year-old sword, pots and
The excavation of an ancient drainage tunnel beneath Jerusalem has
yielded a sword, oil lamps, pots and coins abandoned during a war
here 2,000 years ago, according to archaeologists.
7:15PM BST 08 Aug 2011
The Telegraph UK
The tunnel was built two millennia ago underneath one of Roman-era
Jerusalem's main streets, which today largely lies under an Arab
neighbourhood in the city's eastern sector.
After a four-year excavation, the tunnel is part of a growing
network of subterranean passages under the politically combustible
The tunnel was intended to drain rainwater, but is also thought to
have been used as a hiding place for the rebels during the time of
the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
That temple was razed, along with much of the city, by Roman
legionnaires putting down the Jewish uprising in 70AD.
On Monday, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority
unveiled a sword found in the tunnel late last month, measuring 24
inches in length and with its leather sheath intact. The sword
likely belonged to a member of the Roman garrison around the time
of the revolt, the archaeologists said.
"We found many things that we assume are linked to the rebels who
hid out here, like oil lamps, cooking pots, objects that people
used and took with them, perhaps, as a souvenir in the hope that
they would be going back," said Eli Shukron, the Israel
Antiquities Authority archaeologist in charge of the dig.
The archaeologists also found a bronze key from the same era,
coins minted by rebels with the slogan "Freedom of Zion," and a
crude carved depiction of a menorah.
The flight of the rebels to tunnels like the one currently being
excavated was described by the historian Josephus Flavius, a
Jewish rebel general who shifted his allegiance to Rome during the
revolt and penned the most important history of the uprising.
As the city burned, he wrote about five years afterward, the
rebels decided their "last hope" lay in the tunnels. They planned
to wait until the legions had departed and then emerge and escape.
"But this proved to be an idle dream, for they were not destined
to escape from either God or the Romans," he wrote. The
legionnaires tore up the paving stones above the drainage channels
and exposed their hiding place.
"There too were found the bodies of more than two thousand, some
slain by their own hands, some by another's; but most of them died
by starvation," Josephus wrote. The victors proceeded to loot, he
wrote, "for many precious objects were found in these passages."
The new tunnel, lit by fluorescent bulbs and smelling of damp
earth, has been cleared for much of its length but has not yet
been opened to the public. Earlier this month, a team from The
Associated Press walked through the tunnel from the biblical Pool
of Siloam, one of the city's original water sources, continuing
for 600 yards (meters) under the Palestinian neighbourhood named
for the pool – Silwan – before climbing out onto a sunlit
Roman-era street inside Jerusalem's Old City.
The tunnel is part of the expanding City of David excavation in
Silwan, which sits above the oldest section of Jerusalem. The dig
is named for the biblical monarch thought to have ruled from the
site. It is funded by a group affiliated with the Jewish
settlement movement and has drawn criticism from Palestinian
residents who have charged that the work is disruptive and
Israel and the Palestinians have conflicting claims over Jerusalem
that have scuttled peace efforts for decades. Both sides claim the
Old City, which includes sites holy to Christians, Muslims and
The excavation of the tunnel began in 2007. Last month, a worker
found a tiny golden bell that seemed to have been an ornament on
the clothing of a rich man, or possibly a Temple priest, and which
could still ring 2,000 years later.
When the tunnel opens to the public sometime in the coming months,
underground passages totalling about a mile (1.6 kilometres) in
length will be accessible beneath Jerusalem. The tunnels have
become one of the city's biggest tourist draws and the number of
visitors has risen in recent years to more than a million in 2010.
The tunnels remain, however, a sensitive political issue. While
for Israelis they are proof of the extent of Jewish roots here,
for many Palestinians, who reject Israel's sovereignty in the east
Jerusalem, they are a threat to their own claims to the city and
represent an exaggerated focus on Jewish history.
The 1996 opening of a new exit to a tunnel underneath the Old
City's Muslim Quarter sparked rumours among Palestinians that
Israel meant to damage the mosque compound, and dozens were killed
in the ensuing riots. In recent years, however, criticism has been
muted and work has largely gone ahead without incident.