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Planet Earth

Archaeologists in Jerusalem Dug Up a Road Built by Pontius Pilate

A Roman-era street connecting two religious destinations in Jerusalem was likely built by Pontius Pilate.

By Leslie NemoOctober 23, 2019 2:00 PM
Dome-of-the-Rock
The Dome of the Rock, on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. An ancient road leading to the site was likely built by Pontius Pilate. (Credit: FrancisOD/Shutterstock)

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An archaeological excavation begun 125 years ago has wrapped up with a fascinating discovery: A Roman-era street connecting two religious destinations in Jerusalem was likely built by Pontius Pilate. 

Researchers were able to date the 720 feet of uncovered road to about A.D. 30, thanks to coins found along the pavement. That lines up with the governorship of Pontius Pilate, a prominent figure in the Bible. If Pilate commissioned this ornate road, he spent more time building public infrastructure than historians previously gave him credit for, the authors explain in a paper published in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology.

Walking in Ancient Footsteps

This ancient walkway began at the city’s southernmost gate and connects two monuments with special significance to Jews and Christians: the Pool of Siloam and the Temple Mount. It was likely used by pilgrims journeying to the city to view the holy sites. Fittingly, the street is elaborate — it’s about 26 feet wide and the estimated 10,000 tons of limestone needed to build it are delicately carved.

Previously, streets of this importance and grandeur were only thought to have been built in an earlier Roman era, the study authors write via email. Additionally, the only known Pilate project in the area was an aqueduct. The discovery indicates that Roman rulers were building public infrastructure across a greater time span than historians expected.

Though several research teams have worked on this roadway before, this particular group from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority wanted to see if excavated materials could help pinpoint when it was built. Not all of the original street was intact, the authors say, so the researchers dug down to the drainage channel running underneath the pavement as a marker of when the project might have been under construction. 

Three probes into this part of the street underbelly turned up 101 coins, all stamped with the years they were minted. The coins date to around A.D. 30, which is when Pilate was the most prominent governor in the area, the authors write in their paper. He was also the last governor to put out coins before a new ruler moved into Judea around A.D. 40, and minted what have become the most common ancient coins in the area. The researchers found no money from this new ruler in their excavations, an indication the street must have been finished before those coins were issued.

This discovery is also the first important ancient site in Jerusalem that can be attributed to a Roman official, the authors say.

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