Archaeologists have placed Judean column pediments on display at an archaeological dig of the garden in Ramat Rachel. The site is named after Rachel's tomb, which is located nearby. Photo courtesy the Israel Free Image Collection Project.
When I plant a garden, I hope that it’ll last. I want my vegetable garden to still be producing in fall, and my ornamental garden to be green and lush for many years. But I don’t expect that scientists in the future will take an interest in it the way they have Ramat Rahel.
Ramat Rahel is an ancient palace within a modern Kibbutz (agricultural compound) in present-day Jerusalem. The palace dates back to the biblical kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah (I think it’s pronounced like “Has a Kayak” only without the last K). Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judah after the country split away from Israel at the death of King Solomon.
During Hezekiah’s reign, he held off the Assyrian nation, which had already conquered Israel, instituted religious reforms and expanded the nation of Judah.
Archaeologists first discovered the palace in the 1930’s, but believed at the time that it was part of a biblical fortress. Only later excavations in 2004 have led archaeologists to conclude that the site is instead a palace, or possibly an administrative center. One of the features of the palace that archaeologists marvel at are the remains of incredibly complex water works system that included a luxurious garden complete with water features such as pools and channels.
Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, noted that the garden was impressive because the site had no permanent water source. Instead, rainwater collected in cisterns and pools was funneled to the plants via a system of channels, gutters and tunnels.
Scientists felt that local plants were probably what the biblical Judeans grew in the garden. But they were unable to determine for certain. Although they found ancient pollen in the soil of the garden, that pollen had oxidized.
Then the researchers noticed that the channels and pools were covered in plaster. They theorized that these water features would need to be periodically replastered, and that if the renovations occurred when the plants were in bloom, that the plaster might contain pollen.
This is an artist's rendering of what the complex at Ramat Rahel may have looked like. Based on impressions left in pottery shards found on the site, archaeologists believe that it may be either a palace or an administrative complex dating to the time of King Hezekiah of Judah. Photo courtesy the American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
When the researchers took samples of the plaster, they found pollen fossilized within the various layers. Most layers contained only local vegetation, but one layer that dated to the Persian occupation (5th-4th century B.C.E) contained pollen from introduced plants.
According to researchers, the garden contained willow and poplar – which required constant irrigation to grow, local fruit trees such as fig and olive as well as grape vines, imported trees including citron, Persian walnut, Lebanon cedar an birch as well as ornamental plants such as myrtles and water lilies.
The garden reconstruction is important because scientists believe that it pins down an exact time and place where imported plants, such as Citron were brought into the region. These plants later worked their way into Jewish tradition.
Researchers say that this is the first time that a garden has been reconstructed down to the botanical elements. They plan to recreate the garden so that future visitors can see what it looked like.
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