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UNC Charlotte students and professors discover artifacts from the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem

The discovery of jewelry, pottery, arrowheads and a building dating back to 587 BCE marks the second significant discovery at the Mount Zion excavation site this year. 

A team of students and professors from UNC Charlotte, along with a number of other volunteers, have announced a second significant discovery from the Mount Zion excavation site in Jerusalem. The latest discovery consists of a deposit of layers of ash, potsherds, iron age lamps, bronze and iron arrowheads and a gold and silver piece of jewelry believed to be an earring or tassel that date back to the Babylonain conquest of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. The team also believes they have discovered a structure dating back to the Iron Age, but the building has yet to be excavated because of its positioning under layers from later periods. 

These most recent discoveries mark the second major discovery at the Mount Zion excavation site. In July, the excavation team announced the discovery of artifacts dating back to the First Crusade including a defensive moat and jewelry. The most recent findings are thought to be some of the oldest and most historically significant discoveries because the Babylonain Conquest is a prominent event in Jerusalem’s history and biblical history. 

The Babylonian Empire, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, conquered the kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, twice in 6th century B.C.E. The first conquest is believed to have taken place around 597 B.C.E., and Nebuchadnezzar named Zedekiah the king of Judah. The second conquest took place around 587 B.C.E. when Zedekiah revolted against Babylon. The details of the second conquest are recorded in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings Chapter 25 which helps the research team determine the age of the artifacts found. Scripture from 2 Kings 25:9 about the second conquest says, “[Nebuchadnezzar] set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down.” Since the unique mix of artifacts were found near layers of ash and burnt wood, researchers are able to eliminate the possibility of the artifacts being from a different time period since the only major destruction to Jerusalem during this time period occurred around 587 B.C.E.

UNC Charlotte professor of history Dr. Shimon Gibson says the arrowheads helped determine the age of the artifacts. “The arrowheads are known as ‘Scythian arrowheads’ and have been found at other archaeological conflict sites from the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.E. They are known at sites outside of Israel as well. They were fairly commonplace in this period and are known to be used by the Babylonian warriors.”

The Mount Zion Archaeological Project is co-directed by UNC Charlotte professors Shimon Gibson and James Tabor, professor of religious studies and senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College, and a fellow at Haifa University, Dr. Rafi Lewis. The project has made a number of significant archaeological discoveries over the decade it has been in operation. Since UNC Charlotte is the only American university licensed to carry out excavations like the one on Mount Zion, students are given a rare opportunity to have hands on experience at an archaeological excavation site and learn about the history and culture of the region. 

UNC Charlotte junior Leila Abu-Hassan is an international studies and economics major that was on the study abroad trip to Jerusalem. She described the experience as “incredibly rewarding” and said, “I have completed three study abroad trips thus far but the Mount Zion excavation was by far the most educational.” Abu-Hassan spent two weeks on the Mount Zion excavation site and was a part of a team that discovered evidence of the Roman Empire’s destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Aside from the hands-on experience at the excavation site, Abu-Hassan valued the knowledge of her supervisors who have dedicated their lives to the work. She says, “I have never had such an impactful learning experience.”