In an excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the remains of a residential building in the City of David in Jerusalem, an interesting find recently came to light. Careful sifting of the soil revealed a considerable quantity of animal bones. The bones of sheep, goat and cattle are routine discoveries but this sifting produced a substantial amount of fish bones. In Jerusalem, which is far from the sea and large rivers, the consumption of fish was not an insignificant matter.
The fish were identified by Professor Omri Lernau, a researcher from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Haifa, who is a renowned expert on the subject. In a preliminary examination, he identified the following species of fish: Nile perch, which was imported from Egypt; mullet, sea bream and red drum, which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and catfish from freshwater rivers.
Fish bones have already been found in buildings that date to the end of the Iron Age in previous excavations in the City of David. Now it seems that this fare, which in Jerusalem was most certainly considered a luxury, was served up on the residents’ tables already in the latter part of the 9th century and in the 8th century BCE.
This find is also associated with the name of one of the city’s gates during this period, the “Fish Gate”, which is mentioned several times in the Bible (Zephaniah 1:10; Nehemiah 3: 3; II Chron. 33; 14) and the local fish market probably existed nearby.
During the period of the Return to Zion (5th century BCE) Nehemiah, the governor of Judah, complained that the men of Tyre (Phoenician sailors) resided in Jerusalem and that they are the ones who brought the fish to the city and sold it to the residents of Jerusalem specifically on the Sabbath.
The excavations are being conducted in the City of David on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, under the direction of Eli Shukron of the Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa. The excavation was supported with assistance by the Elad Foundation and the Nature and Parks Authority.