Five strata (I–V; Fig. 3) were identified and ascribed to the following periods: Stratum V—the Byzantine period (fourth century CE [?]); Stratum IV— the Crusader or Mamluk periods (twelfth–fifteenth centuries CE); Stratum III—the Mamluk period (fourteenth–fifteenth centuries CE); Stratum II—the Ottoman period (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries CE) and Stratum I—the modern era. The strata are described below from earliest to latest.
A level or foundation of medium fieldstones (L68, L69) was cleaned at the bottom of the excavation square. It was bonded with hard yellowish brown clay mixed with several small potsherds, gravel and charcoal (Figs. 4–6). The stone level was apparently bounded by two large ashlars of unknown height (L62, L67; 0.27×0.60 m, 0.44×0.90 m). Together, the stones most likely comprised the remains of the top of a massive wall (W3), probably part of a large building (Fig. 7; black hatch marks). The wall (min. length 1 m, width 2.5 m), aligned east–west, was constructed from two proper rows of large ashlars (Stones L62 and L67) with a core of stones (Loci 68 and 69).
Several worn body fragments of pottery vessels, some of which are ribbed, were collected from the bonded material in the core of the wall. Given the nature of the material, the potsherds should probably be dated to the Roman–Byzantine periods. Two coins were also discovered, one dating to 383–395 CE (IAA 141707) and the other is probably also from the same years (IAA 141708).
Walls and an installation from Strata III and II were adjoined to the northern and southern sides of the presumed wall (W3) and were founded on the wall stump. The presumed continuation of W3 to the west was not excavated because of a penetration by Stratum IV. If W3 had indeed extended westward, then it was also severed by a cistern (L3), located in the center of the cloister’s courtyard.
Soil fill containing large amounts of osteological finds (L64) was found in the western and northern part at the bottom of the trial square. It was not possible to excavate the fill and therefore the nature and dating of the find is unclear. Fill 64 penetrated into the core of W3 and it seems that Stratum III also penetrated and severed the osteological finds. Fill 64 was sealed by soil fill from Stratum III (L50; see Fig. 6) that contained fragments of pottery vessels from the Mamluk period; hence, Fill 64 is dated to the Mamluk period or earlier, probably the Crusader period.
The cloister pillars and a wall (W2) are ascribed to this stratum. Pillar II was founded on W3 of Stratum V. The excavation alongside Pillar I was not possible and it is therefore unclear what lies below the pillar. The pillars were built of relatively small ashlars, some of which were square and some rectangular with drafted margins and a coarsely shaped smooth boss. This stylized construction was discerned on Pillar II down to its base. At the bottom of the excavation square, next to Pillar I, fragments of an engraved jar, dating from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries CE (Fig. 9:1), were found.
Wall 2 adjoined the northern side of Pillar 2 (see Fig. 4). Wall 2 was probably from the original construction phase of the cloister and it seems to have functioned as a girder between Pillar II and another pillar (III; see Fig. 3). Only the southern part of the wall and its western side were exposed. The wall was built of three courses; the two bottom courses consisted of small and medium fieldstones, whereas the upper course, given its little exposure, was composed of stone slabs (see Fig. 6; arrow). Wall 2 was constructed on a foundation (W2A) of small cast fieldstones and light gray mortar. The foundation and the wall abutted Pillar II and Stone 62. After the cloister pillars were set in place, a layer of soil fill (L50) was deposited, covering Foundation 2A and abutting the wall itself. Several fragments of pottery vessels dating to the Mamluk period, and perhaps to the beginning of the Ottoman period, were found in the fill, among them handmade vessels decorated with geometric designs (Fig. 9:2) and flasks (Fig. 9:3). In addition, a coin dating to the Mamluk period was discovered (IAA 141706).
Identifying the original floor of the cloister’s courtyard is problematic. On the one hand, we should probably not look for a floor level or pavement because the cloister courtyard was in fact a vegetable garden that the monks used for seclusion. If so, the soil layer (L50) presumably represents the level of the soil in the garden. On the other hand, the pavement slabs discovered atop W2 may be the remains of the cloister’s courtyard pavement, most of which was destroyed and robbed, probably in the Ottoman period. Furthermore, the pillars, which are well-built as far down as their base, might indicate that the cloister’s floor level should be sought at the bottom of the pillars, at the connection point with W3.
A water installation, the conduit adjacent to it, a wall and a robber pit are ascribed to this stratum.
The northwestern corner of an installation that might be a cistern (L26; Fig. 8) was exposed. The outside of the installation and a small part of the installation’s vaulted roof were cleaned. The upper part of the installation was built of roughly hewn medium-sized stones and light gray lime-based mortar mixed with bits of charcoal, and its bottom part consisted of cast stones and mortar. The installation was apparently square. Its interior was coated with a thick layer (c. 4 cm) of pale pink hydraulic plaster and ground potsherds, which is typical of the Ottoman period. The wall of the installation was next to Pillar I of the cloister from Stratum III and the hydraulic plaster covered the pillar’s southern face; hence its construction postdated that of the cloister. The continuation of the installation was located in the area of the walkway around the cloister’s courtyard. The sides of the installation were bonded with mortar to Stone 67 in W3 of Stratum V and the seam between them was clearly visible (see Fig. 4).
A section of a water conduit near the western side of Installation 26 and apparently connected to it was excavated (L25). The inside of the conduit was plastered (see Fig. 8; arrows) and its floor was built of stone slabs. The conduit was narrower than the stone slabs, which were probably part of the pavement from the cloister’s courtyard and hence, in secondary use. Fragments of pottery vessels dating to the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fifteenth centuries CE) were found in the fill beneath the conduit’s pavement (L66), among them a jar with a thickened rim (Fig. 9:4) and a vessel fragment imported from northern Italy (Italian Monochrome Sgraffito; Fig. 9:5). A wall (W1) that blocked the arched opening of the cloister was documented between Pillars I and II (Fig. 10). The wall was founded on W3 of Stratum V and its ends abutted Pillars I and II. The wall was carelessly built of different size fieldstones; judging by their size, they were removed from the core of W3, as evidenced by a robber pit (L71) that penetrated the core of the earlier wall (L69).
The Stratum II remains were sealed by blackish fill (L20) containing fragments of pottery vessels from the Ottoman period. Light gray fill composed of small stones and soil (L40; not marked in plan) was excavated below Fill 20. The fill contained fragments of pottery vessels from the Ottoman period, among them pieces of terracotta pipes.
It is assumed that the cloister was not standing in its present form during the Ottoman period. Changes were made to the courtyard and the peripheral arcades, including the sealing of openings, building of water installations and addition of new wings, probably as part of the Dawudiya neighborhood and the buildings of theal-Dejani family on Mount Zion.
Phase IA (first half of the twentieth century CE). The remains from the ancient layers were sealed by the flagstone pavement of the cloister’s courtyard (L2) which was built on a layer of clean beach sand (L10). This method of construction is typical of the modern era.
Phase IB (second half of the twentieth century CE). Marble slabs were placed on concrete bedding between the cloister’s pillars (L1; see Fig. 4). The slabs were evidently installed in the early 1950s by the Ministry of Religious Affairs after Mount Zion came under Israeli rule.
Although the scope of the excavation was limited, the exposure of archaeological remains—some of which are ancient and significant—several centimeters beneath the pavement of the David’s Tomb compound, emphasizes all the more the need for further archaeological investigation at the site. Numerous finds and remains are hidden in and around the David’s Tomb compound, and these can shed light on the history of Mount Zion in the Roman and Byzantine periods and on the subject of the ancient churches on Mount Zion. Further excavations will clarify if a massive wall from the fourth century CE was indeed exposed at the bottom of the trial square.