Garden of Eden: Paradise lost -- and found

October 28, 2010
This is an aerial view of the Ramat Rachel archaeological dig. Credit: AFTAU

Ancient gardens are the stuff of legend, from the Garden of Eden to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Heidelberg University in Germany, have uncovered an ancient royal garden at the site of Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem, and are leading the first full-scale excavation of this type of archaeological site anywhere in the pre-Hellenistic Levant.

According to Prof. Oded Lipschits and graduate student Boaz Gross of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, this dig is an unparalleled look into the structure and function of ancient gardens. "We have uncovered a very rare find," says Prof. Lipschits, who believes that this excavation will lead to invaluable archaeological knowledge about ancient royal gardens in the Middle East.

The discovery, which dates back to the 7th century B.C.E., was recently reported in Quadmoniot, the journal of the Israel Exploration Society, and another paper on the dig is forthcoming in Near Eastern Archaeology.

Flower power in the ancient world

According to Gross, such gardens were once the ultimate symbol of power. It makes an obvious statement of status, he explains, to have a massive and lush green space surrounding one's palace, especially when the surrounding area is bare, as it would have been in the of the Judean Hills only two miles from the Old City of Jerusalem. In fact, he says, the would have been the most prominent feature of Ramat Rachel, visible from the west, north and south.

One of the dig's most important aspects is water management. In ancient times, control over water indicated political strength, says Gross. A main feature of the Ramat Rachel gardens is its intricate , the likes of which have never been seen before outside of Mesopotamia. Features include open channels and closed tunnels, stone carved gutters and the framework for elaborate waterfalls.

In similar Assyrian gardens, trees and plants would have been brought in from all over the empire, explains Prof. Lipschits, who says that this type of garden, also in the Babylonian or Persian kingdoms, would have also served a spiritual function as a place of peace, tranquillity and connection to nature.

A global village?

Preliminary results show that while Ramat Rachel was built by the Judeans, the people of the ancient kingdom of Judah, it was commissioned by foreign powers. These results may reveal information about a wide variety of empires that ruled in Israel at one time. This site, says Gross, was in use from the 7th to the 4th century B.C.E., a time period which saw many wars and exchanges of power with the garden evolving under each civilization.

Researchers are excited about what more this unique dig will be able to tell them. There has never been anything like it, explains Gross, who says that the TAU team will be pioneering a method for excavating gardens. "Proper excavation will provide an essential tool to future researchers," he says. "We are carefully deciphering what we have in front of us. There are no parallels to it."

The team hopes to delve deeper into the history of the garden with a close analysis of soil and other findings to determine what kind of plant life would have grown there, and which, if any, animals called the garden home.

Explore further: Digging biblical history, or the end of the world

Related Stories

Digging biblical history, or the end of the world

November 20, 2007

Some come to dig the Tel Aviv University-directed archeological site at Tel Megiddo because they are enchanted by ancient stories of King Solomon. Others come because they believe in a New Testament prophecy that the mound ...

New roadside beautification concept studied

July 17, 2008

Travel America's highways or drive down any city street this summer and you'll probably see them. From small, manicured beds of flowers maintained by community volunteers to extensive landscaping projects along America's ...

Israeli archaeologists find ancient fortification

September 2, 2009

(AP) -- Archaeologists digging in Jerusalem have uncovered a 3,700-year-old wall that is the oldest example of massive fortifications ever found in the city, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

Community gardens don't impact crime rate

September 8, 2009

Urban residents across the United States have dug in to create green spaces in their neighborhoods, transforming vacant lots into colorful and crowd-pleasing community gardens. According to the American Community Gardening ...

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.