King David is one of the most celebrated figures of the Hebrew Bible, his name mentioned more often than even that of Moses. According to the Bible, David united the 12 tribes of ancient Israel into a great, unified kingdom stretching from Egypt to Mesopotamia, with Jerusalem as its capital. Yet some scholars today question whether this kingdom—and even David himself—ever existed. In the mid-1990s, Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar first proposed the idea of searching for the remains of David's palace at a site in the oldest area of Jerusalem. A decade later, with the support of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, she was able to realize this dream. In the interview below, which producer Gary Glassman conducted at Mazar's excavation site, we hear about her remarkable finds.
Q: Why did you want to excavate here, in this part of Jerusalem?
Eilat Mazar: We started excavations here because we wanted to examine the possibility that the remains of King David's palace are here. We could have been wrong, but we knew that whatever we would find would likely be important. We are in a very important spot of the City of David [the oldest part of Jerusalem], at the top of the city. It overlooks all the area around, and it's very narrow, only about 60 meters [about 200 feet] wide.
Q: Were there clues in the Bible that this might be the spot of David's palace?
Mazar: Yes. We knew from the Bible that King David went down to a fortress as he heard the Philistines coming to attack him. Now, where did he go down from? Most probably from where he stayed, meaning his palace.
Before our excavations, it was believed that the Stepped Stone Structure [a 60-foot high, terraced structure] here was a support structure for the fortress of Zion, a Canaanite fortress that, according to the Bible, King David captured. Our idea was to excavate just to the north of where we thought the fortress was built.
Q: Did archeologists before you think this area had remains from the time of David?
Mazar: Some did. In the 1960s, for instance, Kathleen Kenyon's excavation revealed building remains and pottery indicating that a significant structure was built here in the 10th century B.C., meaning more or less around the time of King David [according to the biblical chronology].
Q: When you started your excavation, what was the first sign that you had found something important?
Mazar: We began to see signs that we were dealing with a very massive structure. Huge boulders started to appear all over the area. And we found walls that were very thick, more than five meters [about 16 feet] thick. I thought it was probably the remains of the fortress, not David's palace. Then, a week or a week and a half later, we started to find a lot of pottery from the 12th or 11th century B.C. in different places under the massive structure. So it couldn't be the Canaanite fortress of Zion, because the fortress would have been built hundreds of years earlier.
Q: So you found pottery under the structure, and then you also found pottery on top of the structure, is that right?
Mazar: Yes. And this pottery together helps us to date the structure. So, under the structure we found a great quantity of pottery that is typical of the 12th–11th century B.C., the late Canaanite pottery. And on top of the structure we found later pottery, typical 10th-century pottery. The structure stands in between these two periods, meaning the building itself must have been built sometime around 1000 B.C.
Q: Is it possible that the dating of the site could be off, that the structure might have been built earlier or later than the time of David and Solomon?
Mazar: In archeology, it's very difficult to declare such a precise date. I say that the structure was built around 1000 B.C., but it could have been built 50 years before or 50 years after. It's a possibility, although it doesn't make sense to me to prefer these other dates, and I think it's important to take into account the biblical story of King David.
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