A Rare Second Temple Period Gold Bell Discovered Under Robinson’s Arch

July 22, 2011

A rare gold bell, about 1 cm in diameter, with a small loop at its end, was discovered several days ago in an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in an ancient drainage channel in the William Davidson Second Temple Period Park, under the Paved Street along the Western Wall immediately below Robinson’s Arch.

According to the excavation directors, archaeologists Eli Shukron and Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, “It seems the bell was sewn on the garment worn by a high official in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period.” (First Century CE).  The bell was discovered inside the Second Temple Period Jerusalem’s main drainage channel, among the layers of earth that had accumulated along its bottom. The drainage channel was built and hewn the length of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, on the bottom of the slope descending to the Tyropoeon Valley. This channel collected and directed rainwater from different parts of the city, by way of the City of David and the Shiloah Pool, to the Kidron Valley.

The archaeologists believe that the bell fell off an official’s clothing while he was walking along the road, and rolled into the drainage channel where it remained for nearly 2,000 years.

We know from the Bible that the High Priests, who served in the Temple, hung gold bells from the fringes of their robes. For example, in the ‘Tetzaveh’ Torah portion in the Book of Exodus, there is a description of the High Priest Aaron’s robe: “All of blue…it shall have a binding of woven work …And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about.” (Exodus 28:34,36).

The Paved Street

A street paved with large stone slabs and bordered with curbstones runs along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. From its location and method of construction, it is clear that it was the main street of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple period. Along the street, under it, run two drains. Large fallen Herodian building blocks, heaped up on the paving stones in the north part of the street, are clear evidence of the destruction of the Temple Mount after the Roman occupation.

The Drainage System Under the Paved Street

Two drains run under the paved street along the Western Wall. The lower of the two is wider and has higher sides; it channeled rainwater from the entire street to the area of the 'King's Garden' south of the city. The lower drain ran along the street at a depth of six meters below the paving stones. Its lower part hewn into the rock. Its upper part was stone-vaulted; its height, twice that of an average person. This was presumably the main channel that drained surface runoff from the paved street, perhaps also excess water from the streets of the Upper City. The water flowed along the drain to Birkat al-Hamra, one of the large reservoirs to the south of the city, at the confluence of the Tyropoeon and Kidron Valleys.

The drain was first discovered by Charles Warren, the renowned British excavator of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and southeastern hill who in 1867 was commissioned by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) to study the features of Jerusalem’s historic structures. 

The drain on the upper level is approximately one and a half meters below Paved Street level. Only a small section on the west side of the street near the corner of the Temple Mount has been exposed to date. At this point drainage was provided by a stone paving-slab with parallel grooves to channel rainwater into the drain.

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