When a floor begins to give way in one the 2,000 year old tunnels underneath the Old City during excavations, archaeologists get excited. Holes in the floor can be dangerous, but they’re also a sign that there are even more layers of history underneath waiting to be discovered.
Recently, when part of the floor collapsed in a massive underground drainage ditch deep below the Western Wall, as archaeologists were taking it apart to see how the floor was constructed, they could barely contain themselves. They were so excited to see what was down there that they couldn’t wait for additional lighting, and used their cell phones to see what they had found. Chief Architect Eli Shukron, who has been digging around Jerusalem for 25 years, was his first to stick his head in the hole. He was blown away by the size of the room they uncovered.
Based on previous research and excavations in the area, Shukron was immediately convinced they had stumbled on an enormous underground well from the First Temple Period. The finding is significant because it is the first evidence of stored water next to the Temple. Previously, experts believed that pilgrims and residents used to hike to the Gihon Spring, located in a wadi at the bottom of the City of David park, in order to get water for rituals and daily life around the First Temple. “It gives us an opportunity to understand their day to day life,” said Shukron on Thursday.
The reservoir measures 12m x 5m x 4.5m and can hold approximately 250 cubic meters of water. It’s roughly the tenth of the size of an Olympic swimming pool, which holds 2,500 cubic meters of water. Shukron dates the reservoir from the First Temple period because it uses the same type of plaster as other reservoirs in the Gihon Springs area from the same time period. He is fairly certain that the reservoir was a public reservoir because the private wells could only hold a few dozen cubic meters of water. While the reservoir was in use, spring water running downhill from the Temple Mount would have seeped through one side of the reservoir and filled the entire room to capacity. On Thursday, a pool of fresh water was still standing at the bottom in one of the corners, even though it is the end of summer. continue...