“These remains are extraordinarily well-preserved, such that not only do we have the complete basements of houses with their rooms intact, but the first story of these houses are also very well-preserved,” Gibson told The Charlotte Observer. “This is truly amazing.”
Gibson explained that not many buildings from first-century Jerusalem have remained intact because of the Romans’ destruction of the city at the end of the First Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. and Roman emperor Hadrian’s subsequent rebuilding atop the ruins 65 years later.
“Then, in the Byzantine period (330–1453 C.E.), the buildings were filled in so the area could be flattened in order to build houses and structures on the top,” Gibson added.
It is remarkable, then, that the mansion being excavated by the Mt. Zion dig team is so well preserved.
The archaeologists believe that the mansion belonged to aristocrats or to a member of the wealthy Jewish priestly families. While this hypothesis seems to be a likely explanation from the types of artifacts found at the site—including a cache of murex shells, from which the highly sought-after rich purple dye was extracted—further evidence is needed, such as attestation from an inscription or other writing.
If the identities of the mansion residents can be verified, the site could offer scholars new insights into the lives of the ruling elites of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.
Excavation codirector James Tabor, Professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told The Charlotte Observer that he hopes the Mt. Zion site, along with some of the other dig sites in Jerusalem, will be open for public tours in the future.
Estelle Reed is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.