Archaeologists in Jerusalem have uncovered a 2,800-year-old channel installation that dates to the time of the biblical kings, but that – so far – is a mystery as to its purpose.
The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery in recent days, saying it was used during the time of Solomon's temple – a time known as the First Temple Period (970-596 B.C.) – and likely fell out of use during the reigns of Kings Joash and Amaziah of Judah. Both are mentioned in 2 Kings. Because the channels were likely constructed several decades earlier, it's possible they were built in or around the time of King Solomon.
"The channels were likely used to soak some type of product," the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a news release. "Their central location indicates that the product was connected to the Palace or Temple economy."
The channel installations, carved out of rock, were discovered during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University in the City of David National Park. So far, they've found two installations about 30 feet apart. On top of a rock cliff that "encloses the installation" are seven drain pipes, "which carried liquid from the top of the cliff, which served as an activity area, to the channel installation," the Israel Antiquities Authority said.
"We looked at the installation and realized that we had stumbled on something unique, but since we had never seen a structure like this in Israel, we didn't know how to interpret it," said Yiftah Shalev, a senior researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority. "... We brought a number of experts to the site to see if there were any residues in the soil or rock that are not visible with the naked eye and to help us understand what flowed or stood in the channels. We wanted to check whether there were any organic remains or traces of blood, so we even recruited the help of the police forensic unit and its research colleagues around the world, but so far – to no avail.
Because the channels don't lead to a drainage basin, Shalev said it is possible they "were used to soak products – and not to drain liquids."
"The production of linen, for example, requires soaking the flax for a long time to soften it. Another possibility is that the channels held dates that were left out to be heated by the sun to produce silan [date honey], like similarly shaped installations discovered in distant places such as Oman, Bahrain and Iran," he said.
Archaeologists in the future will take more soil samples to try again to determine the channels' use.
Eli Escusido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the channels "stimulate the imagination" and reveal "more fascinating details from the time of the Judahite kings, of which there are relatively few finds in the Old City due to modern disturbances."
"From time to time we come across surprising, enigmatic finds that challenge us and spark research interest," Escusido said. "With the help of collaboration with other institutions, we crack these mysteries and advance our knowledge of past societies."
Photo courtesy: ©Israel Antiquities Authority
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.