For the first time, ivories from the time of the First Temple of Solomon have been uncovered in Israel. Archeologists from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently discovered the artifacts during cooperative excavations in the City of David.
The ivories were originally assembled into intricately decorated ivory plaques, which the archeologists believe were created as inlays for wooden furniture used by priests or government officials.
The co-directors of the excavation, archeologists Yiftah Shalev of the IAA and Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University, presented their findings in a news release issued by the Israeli government.
The co-directors said that until recently they “only knew of decorated ivories from the capitals of the great kingdoms in the First Temple period, such as Nimrud, the capital of Assyria, or Samaria, the capital of the [Kingdom of Israel].”
They further reported that although they were already aware of the significance of Jerusalem and its regional centrality in the First Temple period, new finds actually prove how important it in fact was, placing Jerusalem in the same league as Assyria and Samaria. Furthermore, ivory discoveries have contributed to the overall deeper understanding of Jerusalem’s status as a global administrative and financial hub, Shalev and Gadot say.
Though this discovery was made at a historically significant location, the building’s ruins and the ivory plaques were found beneath a parking lot.
However, the most amazing archeological artifacts are frequently found in unanticipated locations, exposing the need for archeologists to plan excavations meticulously and thoroughly.
Ivory Pieces Belonged to Someone of High Status
Archaeologists are certain that the ivory pieces belonged to someone of high status and wealth—perhaps a priest or governor—and that they had been inlaid on timber furniture, possibly a reclining couch.
Several times in the Bible, ivory is referenced in relation to the wealthy and illustrious. For instance, it is said that the famous King Solomon “made a great throne of ivory and overlaid it with the finest gold” (1 Kings 10:18). This might refer to ivory inlays on a timber seat since a throne cannot be constructed from a tusk.
At the Givati Parking Lot site near the City of David, moist sifting uncovered more than 1,500 pieces of ivory. The crew was able to reassemble the expertly carved plaques after considerable restoration. Each plaque is about two by two inches in size and around one-fourth inch thick.
Ivories Were Manufactured From Elephant Tusk
The ivories were manufactured from elephant tusk, according to analysis. Although elephants did roam Israel in the past, it is clear that these ivories were not produced there. Instead, it seems likely that Assyrian craftsmen created them prior to bringing them to Judah, perhaps as a gift from an Assyrian monarch.
The ivory from Jerusalem does indeed resemble other ivory from Assyria in numerous ways. A modeled tree is framed by etched rosettes on the plaques with which they are embellished. Some of the ivory artifacts recovered in Samaria and Assyria are decorated with lotus flowers and geometric designs, which were all common symbols in Mesopotamia.
From the late eighth to the seventh centuries B.C.E, when Judea was a tributary kingdom of the Assyrian Empire, trade and political ties between Judea and Assyria were particularly robust. The kings of Judah acquired many Assyrian symbols during this time, which were used to decorate administrative buildings and palaces as well as to adorn both official and private seals.
The Jerusalem ivories, however, lack the depictions of animals and mythical characters found on both Assyrian and Samarian ivory.
According to Tel Aviv University‘s Ido Koch and Reli Avisar, “It’s possible that what we have here is evidence of a cultural choice by the Jerusalem elite as to which global symbols to adopt and which to reject.”