The Israel Antiquities Authority recently announced that a Hebrew seal from the late First Temple period had been discovered on the floor of the remains of an ancient building next to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.
The remains were discovered below the base of an ancient drainage channel, currently being excavated under Robinson's Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, adjacent to the Western Wall. The building is the closest structure to the First Temple found to date by archaeologists.
The seal is made of semi-precious stone and is engraved with the name of its owner, "Lematanyahu Ben Ho..." ("Belonging to Matanyahu Ben Ho..."). The owner's full name and the rest of the inscription have eroded. Such seals, set in signet rings, were used during the First Temple period to sign letters and identify their owners, similar to the stamps that officials use today.
"The name Matanyahu, like the name Netanyahu, means giving to God,” said Eli Shukron, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “These names are mentioned several times in the Bible. They are typical of the names in the Kingdom of Judah in the latter part of the First Temple period, from the end of the eighth century B.C.E. until the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.E."
Archaeologists in charge of the excavation had decided that all soil removed from the site would be carefully sifted, including wet-sifting and a thorough sorting of the remnants left in sieves. Thousands of student visitors to the Tzurim Valley National Park, located on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives, north-east of the Old City, are responsible for the meticulous sorting. The tiny seal was discovered during the sieving process.
"To find a seal from the First Temple period at the foot of the Temple Mount walls is rare and very exciting," Shukron said. "This is a tangible greeting of sorts from a man named Matanyahu who lived here more than 2,700 years ago."
"We also found pottery shards characteristic of the period on the floor in the ancient building beneath the base of the drainage channel, as well as evidence of a stone collapse and fire," he said.