There has been lots written in the last few weeks about a Proto-Aeolic column capital discovered in situ at Ein Joweizeh, in the Refaim Valley just outside Jerusalem. Proto-Aeolic (sometimes called Proto-Ionic) capitals have been found at many of the most important archaeological sites in Israel, including Megiddo, Hazor, Jerusalem, Samaria and Ramat Rachel (image above). Most date to the 9th-8th centuries BCE. They are considered the forerunners of the Greek Ionic order. Yigal Shiloh speculated that the volutes, a stylized motif based on the shape of a palm tree, were copied by the Israelites from the Phoenicians.
The Proto-Aeolic capital recently discovered at Ein Joweizeh ("Spring of the Little Nut" in Arabic) is a rare find because it is still connected to the column itself. It seems to have survived because it is carved directly into the bedrock several meters underground, at the opening to what is perhaps an even more impressive find: a water tunnel which dates to the First Temple Period and is the longest of its kind in the region (approx. 200 meters long). You can read an official report here. Much of the media coverage of the story has been focused on the political angle. Because Ein Joweizeh is located on the Palestinian side of the security barrier that surrounds the West Bank (this section has not yet been completed), the Israel Antiquities Authority was hoping to "let sleeping dogs lie" and did not initially publicize the find. Then all hell broke loose when the Kfar Etzion Field School announced the cover-up to the newspaper Mekor Rishon late last year. Last week the location of the capital was finally made public.
Today I was fortunate enough to visit this site, thanks to my friend and colleague Maayan Leshem. We were hoping to see the capital but were disappointed to find the opening to the tunnel filled in with dirt. Apparently all the media attention that the site has been getting in recent weeks has gotten the local inhabitants of Wallajeh (the Arab village where the spring is located) quite nervous. Presumably they are worried that if archaeologists begin to excavate the site, something of major importance will no doubt turn up which will result in the confiscation of their agricultural lands. Let's hope that the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Kfar Etzion Field School are able to come to a compromise with the local residents that satisfies everyone. In addition to the Proto-Aeolic capital and the water system, there might well be remains of a royal estate or an administrative center associated with the kings of Judah dating to the 8th century. The nicely chiseled ashlars one can see distributed around the area are a good hint that something big is lurking beneath the surface. Some have even proposed that this site is ממשת (MMST), the unidentified fourth royal city found on the LMLK jar handles, the other three being Soccoh, Hebron and Ziph.
I am Jonathan Lipnick, tour guide and educator specializing in Christianity and Judaism. In this blog I explore questions (historical, linguistic) that come up in the course of my teaching and reading.