The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on Tuesday announced the discovery of segments of an arched bridge and aqueduct at an excavation site outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Yehiel Zelinger, the IAA archaeologist responsible for the dig, termed the find "Spectacular." He said the bridge was originally part of an ancient aqueduct that brought water to the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period (between 536 BC and 70 AD), when an estimated number of 50,000 Jews returned from the Babylonian exile to build the Second Temple on the site of the destroyed First Temple.
"We actually excavated here the aqueduct that went from Bethlehem to the Temple Mount," Zelinger said of what he called a "salvage dig," that was initiated two weeks earlier, alongside a modern-day dig by the Jerusalem Municipality to lay new water lines.
ANCIENT FINDS BENEATH MODERN NEEDS
A salvage dig includes finds that are uncovered in the course of a non-archaeological excavation - a fairly common occurrence in Jerusalem, due to the thousands of years of human activity in and around the Old City. Archaeologists work with the construction crews to decide how to best preserve the finds. But not all sites are significant enough to remain open: some are staked off, investigated, marked and photographed - and then carefully covered over with sand for future archaeologists.
"If we can excavate and get the knowledge, and then let them work - that's what we usually do," Zelinger said, referring to the water company crew working alongside the dig site. "We're trying not to be in the way, but if there's something unique - we have the law on our side," Zelinger said.
The IAA said a carved inscription on the bridge showed that it was built by the Mamluk sultan Nasser al-Din Muhammed Ibn Qalawun in 1320 AD.
The find lies among lawns and olive trees in a landscaped park among the slopes of the narrow upper Hinnom Valley, between the Ottoman-era walls of the Old City to the East and the Yemin Moshe neighborhood to the west.
"It was probably built on the same route of the Second Temple bridge that's running over here," Zelinger told Xinhua, pointing to a copy of 18th-century topographic map of the area.
WATER: FROM BETHLEHEM TO JERUSALEM OVER CENTURIES
"The main thing over here is the bridge, because this is something we haven't found before in all our excavations on the water activity" in the vicinity, Zelinger said, referring to the archaeological significance of the site.
"The water supply to Jerusalem is a very big issue in all the ( historical) periods, since there's not enough rain here," Zelinger said, explaining the significance of the find. "So that's why they went all the way to Bethlehem to get (to) these springs, to bring the water over here to Jerusalem."
Bethlehem lies some 12 kilometers to the south, but the aqueduct, which hugs the hills and valleys in between, runs for about 20 kilometers.
The small dig is in two segments that lie about 10 meters apart with a footpath between them. Each segment is about two meters wide and five meters deep. Two arches and the aqueduct itself are visible.
Zelinger said the IAA is negotiating with the city to uncover another seven arches that appear in the 19th-century photos of the area, before it was covered over by later construction. He said there was also an 18th-century Ottoman-era water pipeline inside the more ancient aqueduct that also provided water to the Old City nearby.
"Second Temple, Roman Period, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Later Islamic - all the way: that was the water source for Jerusalem," Zelinger said, describing the previous conquerors that utilized the ancient causeway.
The massive hewn-stone Sultan's Pool lies directly to the south, and now serves as a popular concert venue.
"Right now, we'll stop, since the summer is the time for all the concerts here and we can't continue all our excavations. Hopefully, in the coming winter we'll find a fountain and we will have the opportunity to continue and open all the bridge," Zelinger said.