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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:1, Spring 2023

Ivory Riches from Ancient Jerusalem

More than 1,500 ivory fragments were discovered during wet sifting at the Givati Parking Lot site adjacent to the City of David. Following extensive restoration, the team was able to reassemble the skillfully crafted plaques, each measuring roughly 2 by 2 inches and about a quarter of an inch thick. A rare and expensive material, decorated ivory had previously been discovered only in the capitals of powerful Iron Age kingdoms (c. 1200–586 BCE), such as the Assyrian capitals of Nimrud and Dur-Sharrukin, as well as Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Now Jerusalem has joined this impressive list.

Ivory is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible in connection with wealth and royalty. King Solomon was said to have made for himself a “great ivory throne” overlaid with the “finest gold” (1 Kings 10:18), and the prophet Amos famously denounced the Israelite nobility who “lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches” (Amos 6:4).

The Jerusalem ivories were recovered from a large palatial residence, initially built in the eighth century BCE, which belonged to a member of the city’s elite. Analysis of the ivories revealed they were made from elephant tusk. They were probably crafted by Assyrian artisans and then brought to Judah, possibly as a gift from an Assyrian king.

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