At the beginning of the 20th century, when Jerusalem, still centered around its ancient core, was surrounded by agricultural land and orchards, 20 mysterious earth-and-stone mounds rose above the city’s western horizon, clearly visible from afar. Today several of them have disappeared, flattened by excavation or by the development of new neighborhoods. But these enigmatic man-made mounds have mystified archaeologists since they were first noticed in the 1870s. Were they burial mounds with tombs inside? Were they places for some kind of cultic observances? Why were they clustered on one side of Jerusalem and nowhere else in the country?
The new interpretation offered here links Biblical texts and archaeological evidence. I propose a startling explanation: Each of these tumuli—artificial, truncated, cone-shaped mounds—marks the place where crowds of ancient Judahites gathered to commemorate the death of one of the kings of Judah in the tenth to seventh centuries B.C.E., and each of them served as a memorial mound.