1000-year-old deep moat with mysterious handprint uncovered in Jerusalem

The 10-meter-wide channel, dating back to the 10th century, protected Jerusalem from invaders.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday that it has discovered a huge moat that once protected Jerusalem from those wishing to conquer Israel’s ancient capital.

The need for infrastructure improvements to benefit Jerusalem’s current residents led to the excavation under Sultan Suleiman Street, which runs adjacent to the Old City walls. IAA workers uncovered part of a defensive trench that is at least 1,000 years old, along with a mysterious handprint carved into one spot of its wall.

“People are not aware that this busy street is built directly over a huge moat, an enormous rock-hewn channel, at least 10 meters wide and between two-to-seven meters deep,” said Zubair Adawi, IAA’s excavation director. “The moat, surrounding the entire Old City, dates back … to the 10th century CE or earlier, and its function was to prevent the enemy besieging Jerusalem from approaching the walls and breaking into the city.”

“Moats,” he continued, “usually filled with water, are well-known from fortifications and castles in Europe, but here the moat was dry, its width and depth presenting an obstacle slowing down the attacking army.”

The enormous trench predates the Ottoman Empire’s construction of the walls and gates surrounding the Old City today by some 600 years.

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“The earlier fortification walls that surrounded the ancient city of Jerusalem were much stronger,” said IAA Jerusalem Regional Director Dr. Amit Re’em. “Armies trying to capture the city in the Middle Ages had to cross the deep moat and behind it two additional thick fortification walls, whilst the defenders of the city on the walls rained down on them fire and sulfur.”

“The historians who accompanied the First Crusade describe the arrival of the Crusaders at the walls of Jerusalem in June 1099,” he added. “Exhausted by the journey, they stood opposite the huge moat, and only after five weeks succeeded in crossing it with deploying tactics and at the cost of much blood, under heavy fire from the Moslem and Jewish defenders.”

The meaning of the exposed handprint in the rock is harder to decipher.

“Does it symbolize something? Does it point to a specific nearby element? Or is it just a local prank?” the IAA researchers asked, with no final answer yet on the horizon. “Time may tell,” they ended, hopefully.

Director Eli Escuzido was very excited about the archaeological find, saying that such discoveries “enable us to visualize the dramatic events and the upheavals that the city underwent. One can really imagine the tumult and almost smell the battle smoke.”

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He said that the IAA “will make great efforts to exhibit the finds to the general public” when the work is completed.