An ancient stone seal dated to the 10th century B.C. has been found in soil taken from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, according to a news release issued recently by the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is currently investigating the site. Temple Mount Sifting Project codirectors Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira attributed the seal to the time of David and Solomon in the Hebrew Bible.
The seal is a tiny piece of limestone whose purpose was probably to seal documents. Photographs published by the Temple Mount Sifting Project show that it is cone-shaped, with a circular sealing surface about the size of a fingertip. Figures carved into it show one animal on top of another, possibly its prey. The seal is perforated, so that a string can be inserted and used to hang it around a person’s neck.The seal was found by a 10-year-old Russian boy named Matvei Tcepliaev, who was visiting Jerusalem and volunteered to work at the site. The Sifting Project has been going on for 11 years and has seen 170,000 volunteers from all over the world come to sift rubble from the Temple Mount.
In describing the significance of the find, Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira said, “The seal is the first of its kind to be found in Jerusalem … The dating of the seal corresponds to the historical period of the Jebusites and the conquest of Jerusalem by King David, as well as the construction of the Temple and the royal official compound by his son, King Solomon.”
“[W]hat makes this discovery particularly significant is that it originated from upon the Temple Mount itself,” the codirectors added.
According to the archaeologists, other similar seals found in Israel, at sites such as Tel Beth Shemesh, Tel Gezer and Tel Rehov, have been dated to the 11th or 10th century B.C., and other finds from the Temple Mount and other Jerusalem sites suggest that Biblical descriptions of Jerusalem at that time “may, in fact, be authentic.” The seal indicates that “administrative activity … took place upon the Temple Mount during those times.”However, some scholars have questioned whether David and Solomon were actual historical figures and whether Jerusalem could have been the center of a vast empire, as described in the Hebrew Bible. Some archaeologists argue that discoveries in the City of David support the Biblical account of David. Others acknowledge that there is some extra-Biblical evidence for the historicity of David but suggest that in the 10th century B.C., Jerusalem may not have been a great imperial capital, but just a small highland settlement, and that the grand monumental works attributed to Solomon in the 10th century B.C. were actually the work of kings in the ninth century B.C., including Ahab.1
Some have also warned that too much importance should not be placed on a single seal. Lenny Wolfe, a collector of antiquities, told the Times of Israel that the fact that the seal can be easily moved from place to place means that it could have been carried to Jerusalem at any point and forgotten.
“The importance of an individual seal is very limited,” Wolfe said.
Gabriel Barkay, however, explained to the Times of Israel that the context of the seal must be understood to be the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project is run by Bar-Ilan University with the support of the City of David Foundation. Its purpose is to sift through tons of material that was unlawfully removed from the Temple Mount in 1999 by the Islamic Waqf with no archaeological oversight. Participants on the project have also discovered a bronze arrowhead believed to date to the 10th century B.C.—the time of David and Solomon—based on its characteristics, as well as numerous pottery sherds dated to the same period.
On the significance of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira explained in the project’s news release that “the ancient artifacts retrieved in the Sifting Project provide valuable and previously inaccessible information. The many categories of finds are among the largest and most varied ever found in Jerusalem.” One of the reasons for this is that “the Temple Mount has never been excavated.”
The Temple Mount, in fact, was mapped in the 19th century by Charles Wilson, and in 1867, Charles Warren began a series of explorations of the Temple Mount and its surroundings for the Palestine Exploration Fund. Barred by Ottoman authorities from excavating within the Haram al-Sharif grounds (the Noble Sanctuary, from where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven), Warren sank shafts up to the underground external walls of the Temple Mount, excavated at and near the walls, and made close observations, drawings and photographs of the external details of the walls. Then, after the Six-Day War in 1967, Benjamin Mazar, a leading Israeli archaeologist, carried out excavations at the southern and southwestern walls of the Temple Mount, which were later published in two volumes by his granddaughter Eilat Mazar. Two prominent archaeologists have noted that these excavations yielded no evidence of Solomon.2 However, some argue that evidence of Solomon has not been found because the Temple Mount is not freely accessible for excavation, and one scholar once claimed that earlier excavations showed that a wall of the Temple Mount actually belonged to Solomon’s Temple.
In addressing the fact that the artifacts examined by the Temple Mount Sifting Project have been removed from their original context, Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira said, “Even though they have been extracted from their archaeological context, most of these artifacts can be identified and dated by comparing them with those found at other sites.”
“In recent years, using newly developed statistical methodologies and technologies,” Barkay and Dvira continued, “we have managed to overcome the challenge of having finds with no exact context, since they were not recovered in a proper archaeological excavation.”
The Sifting Project codirectors noted that the project now has a significant backlog of finds—rivaling the size of many museums’ collections—that await processing. They said that the project “has focused its efforts on the enormous tasks of processing and studying the finds and preparing them for scientific publication. Presently, more than half a million finds are still waiting to be processed and analyzed in our laboratory.”
To aid in financing the Temple Mount Sifting Project, an international crowdfunding campaign has been established on the Israeli site, half-shekel.org.
Henry Curtis Pelgrift received his M.A. in Mediterranean archaeology from University College London in 2014 and his B.A. in archaeology from The George Washington University in 2012. He has excavated at Tel Kabri and Tel Megiddo in alternate summers since 2009 and has also dug in Italy, Jordan and Cyprus. Henry’s picture appeared on the cover of the January/February 2014 “Dig” issue of BAR. He is currently an intern in the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
1. Eric H. Cline, Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 63–65; Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), pp. 142, 158, 342–344.
2. Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p. 128.
Related reading in Bible History Daily:
What the Temple Mount Floor Looked Like
by Frankie Snyder, Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira
As published in Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2016
Did I Find King David’s Palace? by Eilat Mazar
As published in Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006
The Jerusalem Western Wall Tunnel by Dan Bahat
Reviewed by Leen Ritmeyer
The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by Leen Ritmeyer
Reviewed by Eric H. Cline