Archaeologists recently unearthed ivory plaques found in a luxurious Iron Age residence in Jerusalem, a first-of-its-kind discovery at the site, shedding light on the owner's wealth and social status.
The ivory pieces were found in a building from around the eighth or seventh century B.C., the First Temple era, in the City of David just below the current location of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem.
Sifting through the ruins in the building, likely burnt during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., diggers found around 1,500 ivory fragments, said Reli Avisar from Tel Aviv University, which excavated the site along with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
"This is a large collection, and when we took it for restoration, we discovered there was a finite number of motifs," she said.
The decorations consisted of frames with rosettes and a tree in their center, or lotus flowers and geometric patterns, and the plaques were probably used as decorations for wooden furniture.
Ivory, which is mentioned in the Bible in the context of royalty and wealth, was one of the most expensive goods in antiquity – pricier than gold – and the pieces at hand were taken from elephant tusks, the IAA said.
"Objects like these are usually discovered in royal palaces, so it shows the great wealth and abundance of the place, but also the ability of a Jerusalem elite to conduct long-distance trade, the financial ability to buy it," Avisar said.
Another option is that the ivory plaques were "gifts from the Assyrian kings to the loyal vassals" of Judah, she said, or perhaps the social ambitions of the vassals.
"It also shows their taste, their desire to be part of a high class that began as imperialistic with the Assyrian empire, but was part of all of the ancient East," she said.
"These are fancy items that can be found in all of the areas, very sparsely, but it shows an internationalism," Avisar said, noting that the motifs were typical to Judah.