The Jerusalem Post
2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in City of David
Questions remains if unpure animal found in First Temple period building was there to be eaten
The full skeleton of a pig has been found in a building dating back some 2,700 years, in the City of David in Jerusalem, just a few dozen meters from the Temple Mount, says a new paper published in the latest issue of the academic journal Near Eastern Archaeology. And despite the strong prohibition against consuming pork dictated by Jewish laws, it was most likely there to be eaten, Dr. Joe Uziel, a senior archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority and one of the authors of the study, said.
“We were excavating on the eastern slopes of the City of David, and we uncovered a building dating back to the second half of the Iron Age, also known as the First Temple period,” Uziel said. “We began exposing one of the rooms, where we saw several vessels smashed on the floor and soon we found the skeleton of a small animal wedged between the wall and the vessels.”
At first, the researchers were not sure which type of animal they had encountered.
“We are archaeologists, this is not our expertise,” Uziel said. For this reason, they consulted with Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoology expert from Tel Aviv University.
“She was able to tell us that it was a pig just by looking at a picture of a skeleton,” Uziel noted.
The archaeologists found that the room that they had excavated was clearly used for the purpose of processing and preparing food.
Remains of fire were uncovered, as well as a large amount of other animal bones, mostly sheep and some cattle. However, these bones presented clear traces of butchering and cooking. The pig on the other hand, appeared to be still alive when the building collapsed and trapped it to its death – perhaps as a consequence of an earthquake.
Asked whether it is possible that the pig was kept by the building’s residents as a pet, Uziel said it is very unlikely.
“In the Near East pigs were not kept as pets,” he remarked. “While pets were not as common as today, we have evidence of animals kept as pets, and usually they were more likely to be species that we would expect serving this function now, like dogs.”
“Considering where we found the pig, there is no reason to believe it was there for any purpose other than consumption,” he stressed.
In addition, the archaeologist said that there is no reason to believe that the people living in the building were not Judeans.
This find does not represent the first time that pork remains have been located in Jerusalem.
Less than 2% of animal remains found in excavations in the city belonged to pigs, suggesting that while eating pork was not very common, some people did do it, in spite of the biblical prohibition.
The new discovery might suggest that pig presence in First Temple Jerusalem went
a step further.
“Although pork consumption was clearly not preferred in the region of Judah, the presence of an articulated skeleton of a small pig seems to indicate that not only was pork consumed in small amounts (as noted in the sites above), but that pigs were raised for this purpose in the capital of Judah,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
Several elements suggest that the building belonged to wealthy owners, including its position near the Gihon spring and a number of decorative artifacts such as jewelry and an elaborated jar with zoomorphic handles that were unearthed in it.
For this reason, the hypothesis that the animal was raised in a poor context in light of its ability to provide a large amount of food is also not very plausible according to the scholars.
“It appears that this articulated pig may be evidence that although pork was largely not consumed in Judah and Jerusalem, this was not necessarily based on a very strict taboo,” they concluded. “The extent of culinary consumption based on laws of Kashrut in the Iron Age is still debatable.”