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Monday, December 12, 2011

Experts stumped by ancient Jerusalem markings


JERUSALEM (AP) — Mysterious stone carvings made thousands of years ago and recently uncovered in an excavation underneath Jerusalem have archaeologists stumped.

Israeli diggers who uncovered a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock in the oldest section of the city recently found the markings: Three "V'' shapes cut next to each other into the limestone floor of one of the rooms, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) deep and 20 inches (50 centimeters) long. There were no finds to offer any clues pointing to the identity of who made them or what purpose they served.

The archaeologists in charge of the dig know so little that they have been unable even to posit a theory about their nature, said Eli Shukron, one of the two directors of the dig.

"The markings are very strange, and very intriguing. I've never seen anything like them," Shukron said.

The shapes were found in a dig known as the City of David, a politically sensitive excavation conducted by Israeli government archaeologists and funded by a nationalist Jewish group under the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem. The rooms were unearthed as part of the excavation of fortifications around the ancient city's only natural water source, the Gihon spring.

It is possible, the dig's archaeologists say, that when the markings were made at least 2,800 years ago the shapes might have accommodated some kind of wooden structure that stood inside them, or they might have served some other purpose on their own. They might have had a ritual function or one that was entirely mundane. Archaeologists faced by a curious artifact can usually at least venture a guess about its nature, but in this case no one, including outside experts consulted by Shukron and the dig's co-director, archaeologists with decades of experience between them, has any idea.

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