A team of archaeologists in Jerusalem has unearthed a rare biblical-era seal impression bearing the name of King Hezekiah, during excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount's southern wall.
Led by Dr. Eilat Mazar, experts from the Institute of Archaeology in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found an oval seal impression that measured 9.7 by 8.6 mm (0.4 inches by 0.3 inches) and was inscribed on a 3 mm (0.1 inch) thick soft bulla, or piece of clay. Around the object was the depression left by the frame of a ring in which the seal was set.
On the impression, an inscription was set in ancient Hebrew script: Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah. There was also an engraved image of a two-winged sun. Its wings were downward, and on its side were two ankh symbols that represented life.
"It's always a question, what the real facts [are] behind the biblical stories," said Mazar. "Here we have a chance to get as close as possible to the person himself, to the king himself."
Researchers said the bulla may have been used to seal a papyrus scroll and that the seal may have once enclosed a document signed by the king himself. Although the seal was discovered in 2009, the inscription was only deciphered this year.
King Hezekiah ruled around 715 and 686 B.C. In the Bible, he was described as a monarch who was daring: "There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him." (2 Kings, 18:5) He was determined to eliminate idolatry in his kingdom, researchers said, and was also mentioned in the annals of Sennacherib, a king of Assyria.
Reut Ben Arieh, the archaeologist who deciphered the bulla, first thought the inscription read "Melkiyahu," but she noticed that the words had been separated, thus, it actually read "king of Judea."
Mazar explained that the discovery of the seal impression marked the first time that such an object was found in a scientific excavation. The area in which the seal was found is considered to be the holiest site in Jerusalem and the third holiest site in Islam, experts said.
Meanwhile, Mazar announced the discovery of other artifacts at the same excavation site two years ago. These objects—a huge gold medallion and a trove of pieces of gold, among others—are on display at a museum in Jerusalem.