During July–September 2008, an excavation was conducted on the southern slopes of Har Ziyyon (Permit No. A-5445; map ref. NIG 221748–834/630742–64; OIG 171748–834/130742–64), prior to the development of the site as part of a national park. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the El‘ad association, was directed by Y. Arbel, with the assistance of V. Avrutis (area supervision), Y. Ohayon and E. Bachar (administration), V. Essman and M. Kipnis (surveying), T. Sagiv (field photography), C. Amit (studio photography), N. Katsnelson (glass finds), K. Rafael (metal finds), D.T. Ariel (numismatics) and R. Buchnikand I. Katlav (archaeozoology), as well as a group of workers from Silwan.
The 2008 summer excavation continued the former excavations at the site (February 2007–May 2008), which were directed by Y. Zelinger (Permit No. A-5023). The site is located south of the Har Ziyyon bypass road and it overlooks the Valley of Hinnom. The first excavators at the site, F.J. Bliss and A.C. Dickie (Excavations at Jerusalem, 1894–1897, London), discovered the remains of a Hasmonean defensive wall from the first century BCE and a fifth century CE Byzantine city wall credited to the empress Eudocia. Both walls were described in contemporary historical texts, i.e, Book 5 of Josephus Jewish War and in the Book of Maccabees (1, 10:10, 13:10, 16:23, 24). Zelinger rediscovered the walls, which were no longer visible and exposed the large quarry upon which the walls were built, as well as an earlier wall of a possible Iron Age date and large vaulted Early Islamic cisterns. The current excavation concentrated on expanding westward and resuming the exposure of the Hasmonean and Byzantine walls.
Excavations at the western part of the site exposed an additional segment of the quarry (15 × 15 m; Fig. 1) on a gradually rising topography. The Hasmonean wall was built directly upon the quarry, adapting bedrock to accommodate the lowest foundation course; some hewing marks in the quarry matched the size of the wall's masonry stones. A large quantity of potsherds dating up to the first century CE was found in the quarry, suggesting that the bulk of quarrying occurred during the Hasmonean period and the construction of the wall may have been the incentive for quarrying at this site .Once quarrying stopped, part of the site was apparently exploited for the collection of water. A narrow plastered conduit (exposed length 5.1 m, width 0.2 m, depth 0.25 m; Fig. 2) with a stone-slab cover was cut into the quarry bed at the southern part of the site. It descended eastward to an unexcavated lower part of the quarry where a cistern may have existed. The only other mark of later activity in this area, except for the channel, were the remains of a rough solid wall built on a fill, c. 2.5m above the quarry bed. The wall was abruptly cut at both ends and no related architectural remains or associated surfaces were discerned. The layer next to the wall contained potsherds dating to the late Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.
Excavations at the eastern side of the site revealed an additional segment of the Hasmonean wall (length 3.8 m; Fig. 3), which is now exposed to a total length of 6 m. The masonry stones vary in length (0.65–0.90 m, average height 0.5 m) and most of them show the marginal dressing, characteristic of monumental Hasmonean architecture. Exposure along the southern face of the wall followed the course of one of Bliss and Dickie’s long collapsed excavation tunnels, which seems to have been partly blocked with stones for a still unknown and obscure reason. The Byzantine wall remained outside the scope of this excavation season.
The majority of finds were retrieved from the massive fill that accumulated over the generations in the quarry and near the walls. The numerous potsherds ranged from Iron III (seventh–sixth centuries BCE) to the Abbasid period (eighth–tenth centuries CE). Most of the ceramics nonetheless, dated to the Hasmonean and early Roman periods, comprising a representative selection of late Second Temple pottery vessels. Among the Iron Age finds were several animal figurines, a pillar figurineand several stamped handles of the late LMLK variety. One stamped handle dated to the Persian period and its mark read yhd, with the addition of the letter tet. Early Roman pottery was mostly locally produced, although imported vessels were noted, including the handle of a large black-slipped imported lamp. A large storage jar potsherd adorned with a pomegranate branch and two fruits belonged to the same period (Fig. 4). Two words in Greek, not yet deciphered, can be seen next to the branch. Nearly 150 coins were recovered, as well as several fragmentary architectural elements of nari limestone, including two parts of a pillar coated with white stucco in a delicate fluting pattern.
Archaeological work is expected to resume in the future. In addition to the further exposure of the quarry and the city walls, specific unresolved chronological and stratigraphic issues will be addressed. It is expected that the data collected so far, together with data from the final stage of this project, should be of vital importance in the reconstruction of the development and alterations of the Jerusalem defensive system throughout the ages.