Scientists Confirm Remains Found on Mt. Kilimanjaro Parallel a Biblical Story
For many of us, ice is just a way to cool down a drink. For scientists, however, ice is like a time machine. If read correctly, it can tell us what the world was like thousands of years ago. Using ice samples from Mount Kilimanjaro, scientists have been able to study large-scale climate changes.
Their scientific findings have also shown how an ancient biblical story ended up being true. Similarly, modern-day archeologists working at a site in Jerusalem were able to provide material evidence for certain ancient stories. In this post, we’re going to look at how some of these biblical stories gained further credibility due to the work of scientists.
Learning from the Ice
Glaciers and ice fields form over centuries, and during that slow process, each new layer creates a record of changes in the climate. This provides scientists with lots of valuable information. For example, scientists can learn about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from air bubbles locked in the ice.
The information embedded in ice cores not only helps scientists understand climate change better but also helps them understand human history more effectively. It does this by providing evidence to back up ancient stories or records.
Drilling to the Core
In 2000, Ohio State University geologist Lonnie Thompson led a group of researchers to Mount Kilimanjaro in the East African country of Tanzania to collect ice cores. They camped for a few weeks at 19,300 feet to drill for six cores. This was meant to determine why the frozen water had been steadily disappearing.
There were other difficulties beyond staying at 19,300 feet for a few weeks. Thompson’s team had to get 25 or so different permissions from agencies in Tanzania and then hire around 92 porters to help lug up the equipment and provisions.
The holes they dug ranged from 30 to almost 170 feet in length. After extracting the ice cores and transporting them back, the team spent two years analyzing them. The results were published in “Kilimanjaro Ice Core Records: Evidence of Holocene Climate Change in Tropical Africa.”
As the title suggests, Thompson’s team endured all the challenges they did to further understand how the climate has changed. Although that was their main purpose, their research inadvertently provided evidence for a story from the Book of Genesis.
Kilimanjaro Evidence for a Drought
Knowledge of how to date ice cores came from work on nuclear bombs in the 1950s. It was found that a certain isotope decayed at a predictable rate, and this allowed scientists to date things over long periods. Thompson’s team used this knowledge to understand what was happening in the ice cores.
They found evidence of a 500-year drought that started around 8,300 years ago. In a press release, Thompson said, “We believe that this represents a time when the lakes of Africa were drying up.”
Droughts in the Bible
That was the first of three droughts; the third one is where things get interesting. It happened around 4,000 to 3,700 years ago, coinciding with the story of Joseph as told in the Book of Genesis.
For those unfamiliar with the text, Joseph’s life events are described in chapters 37 to 50 of Genesis. Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob and his second wife, Rachel. Of all Jacob’s many sons, Joseph was the favorite.
To show his affection and favoritism, Jacob gave Joseph “a coat of many colors.” This gift, however, made Joseph’s brothers intensely jealous. Their jealousy grew upon learning of Joseph’s ability to interpret his mystical dreams.
One day the brothers grabbed Joseph in a fit of anger. Although some wanted to murder him immediately, they eventually settled on selling him to a band of traders on their way to Egypt. Then, the brothers smeared goat blood on Joseph’s coat and said he died.
Joseph and Dreams
Joseph became enslaved to a wealthy Egyptian named Potiphar. His wife Zuleika grew a little too fond of Joseph, and although Joseph turned down her advances, he was still imprisoned because she gave false rape charges.
While in jail, Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams grew. Other prisoners asked Joseph to interpret their dreams. For one, his dream meant that he was to be executed. For another, he was to regain his social position. Both came true.
A few years later, the pharaoh had a strange dream that no one could interpret accurately. However, the pharaoh’s cup-bearer, who just regained his position, remembered Joseph’s abilities and told the pharaoh.
Joseph was to interpret the pharaoh’s dream of seeing seven emaciated cattle eating seven well-fed cows and seven wilted ears of corn eating seven healthy ears of grain. Joseph told him it meant Egypt would have seven years of feasting followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh was impressed and made Joseph a senior adviser and official.
Joseph and the Grain
With this vision of the future, Joseph set about mitigating the harmful effects. During the seven years of good harvest, Joseph ordered a huge quantity of grain to be stored away. When the seven years of drought and famine finally came, the people lived off the stored grain.
Scholars claim that this period of drought occurred around 3,600 to 3,700 years ago. This perfectly aligns with the data that Thompson’s team found in the ice cores of Kilimanjaro!
The scientific evidence, alongside biblical accounts and other ancient Egyptian records, points toward a massive drought—one so severe that it put the authority of the pharaohs at risk.
This odd mix of biblical storytelling and modern science work together to support the tale of Joseph and the drought. Although the Old Testament is rarely taken as literal history, the Kilimanjaro ice cores show that it’s not a complete work of fiction—verifiable facts also made it into the stories.
A decade after Thompson’s ice core discovery, another biblical story was starting to get backed up by scientific evidence. At Mount Zion, archeologists were combing through thousands of years of history.
The archeologists were excavating the ruins of a great city that dated back to the 6th century BCE. That city, as you might have guessed, was Jerusalem. In the Bible, Jerusalem was described as a place of culture and wealth. Was that true? That was something the experts were trying to figure out.
Jerusalem Gets Destroyed
In 586 BCE, Jerusalem fell to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. His armies destroyed Judean King Zedekiah alongside most of the city—including King Solomon’s Temple! This has sparked archaeological interest ever since. How much is a legend, and how much is fact?
Nowadays, Mount Zion refers to an area of Jerusalem just outside the ancient walls of the Old City. This mound is a popular area for modern archeological digs. According to legend, Mount Zion is also where the biblical King David made his palace.
Jerusalem was first inhabited around 4,500 BCE, and things were relatively stable for a while. Around the 12th century, the Canaanite people came to the area. A few centuries later, the invasions came.
Around 1000 BCE, King David came to Jerusalem and destroyed the city in order to establish his own. A fabulous palace was built, and the city became the heart of the Kingdom of Israel. Later on, when David’s son Solomon became king, he built his own temple.
Jerusalem is hugely important to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For this reason and others, amateurs and experts have been trying to excavate the area since at least the late 19th century.
In 2007, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) launched the Mount Zion Archaeological Project. This represented the first time an institution outside of Israel supported large-scale work. During each summer season, new finds cropped up to reveal more about this ancient city.
Exploring Mount Zion
One find, for example, came in the form of an ancient coin. The UNCC archeologists and students found it at Mount Zion and dated it back to 56 CE. The coin showed Emperor Nero’s face on it. This unique insignia showed that the Romans were in Jerusalem at least 14 years before they sacked it.
The coin was probably owned by a wealthy Jewish family living in the area. It was a significant find—far from their only significant discovery!
An Important Discovery
The archaeologists also unearthed a stone cup inscribed with Hebrew letters. These letters were the same as those found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Digging elsewhere, the archeologists also came across a gate that dated back to the First Crusades.
As history buffs will tell you, that’s about 1095 CE. The First Crusade was part of a larger religious war that involved armies of Christian soldiers violently reclaiming the city of Jerusalem. This gate, alongside other evidence, filled in some details of what happened.
The First Crusades
Jerusalem was under Islamic control from the 7th century CE until the First Crusades. In 1099, Jerusalem came under Christian control after four years of warfare. Flash-forward to modern times—archeologists on Mount Zion unearthed evidence that seemed to show how this 11th-century battle went down.
One historical account said that Crusaders were held up by a low ditch surrounding the city. Some soldiers were offered gold coins to fill the trench up with stones to allow the army to pass. Many see it as fiction, but it might be true.
Artifacts from the First Crusades
When excavating the old city, archaeologists found a filled-in ditch. Not only that, but nearby, they unearthed a piece of beautifully designed jewelry. This was thought to have belonged to a Muslim person defending the city against Crusader attacks.
Since the jewelry was found so close to other Christian artifacts, archaeologists argued that the filled-in ditch and the ornate jewelry were from the same time—the 1099 siege of Jerusalem. This was quite the groundbreaking find for the archeologist’s 2019 summer season!
An Old Find
While archaeologists were working on their excavations at Western Hill, they unearthed another piece of jewelry. This one, however, was found to be far older than the First Crusades—at least 1,700 years older!
This gold and silver piece must have been greatly adored during its time. As you can see from the picture above, the lower part resembles a bunch of grapes. The upper part is shaped like a bell. Despite the ravages of time, this piece is still enthralling.
How Old Is the Site?
Jewelry wasn’t the only thing found at the dig site. Archaeologists also discovered a lot of ash, some household items (lamps, pottery), and a few arrowheads.
Through analyzing these artifacts, experts could date this site to around 586 BCE. This is quite an important year in the history of Jerusalem. As you’ll recall from earlier, 586 BCE was the year when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II launched a full-scale attack on the city of Jerusalem, leading to its destruction.
King Nebuchadnezzar II put Zedekiah in charge of Jerusalem, and during Zedekiah’s reign, Jerusalem became a wealthy city. However, Zedekiah defied the man who put him in charge by allying with the Egyptians. This caused an angered Nebuchadnezzar to attack the city.
Accounts differ, but supposedly the attack lasted anywhere from a few months to a few years! It was a massive hardship for the citizens, and soon after the city fell to Nebuchadnezzar, it was completely destroyed. King Zedekiah was caught, blinded, and imprisoned in Babylon.
True or Not?
It’s hard to know how much is true. The minimalist school of thought seeks independent evidence to show what happened. The maximalist school uses archaeology to support scripture.
The latest findings from Mount Zion tend to boost the maximalist side because it provides evidence for a period of violence—just as the Bible says. “Here we captured a moment in time, an event in an exact year, with everything that comes with destruction—ash, complete vessels, Scythian arrows,” said Dr. Rafi in August 2019.
Context of Ancient Discovery
Shimon Gibson, a professor from UNCC, explained the context of their archeological finds to the Haaretz newspaper. “For archaeologists, an ashen layer can mean a number of different things,” he said. This can range from oven remnants to the burning of garbage.
“However,” Gibson continued, “in this case, the combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts mixed with arrowheads and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction.” That’s because people don’t abandon fine jewelry or throw out arrowheads with their food waste.
The biblical scriptures claim that Jerusalem was quite a wealthy place before Nebuchadnezzar II came along and destroyed it. Supposedly, Nebuchadnezzar and his army were seen taking gold and copper vessels from the sacked city. Recent archaeological finds seem to support that claim.
However, oddly enough, these recent discoveries were the first time that great treasures were uncovered there. Although jewelry was indeed uncovered in Eastern Hill in 1979, experts say that site was outside of the city boundaries in Nebuchadnezzar II’s time.
Jerusalem Was Huge
Archaeologists are now fairly certain that the location of present-day Mount Zion was part of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Further excavations at the site found structures on the Western Hill that were centuries older than that. This led to the conclusion that the city of 586 BCE was larger than previously thought.
Not only was it larger, but it was also more prosperous—a bustling city rather than a small village. This is exactly the image of it told in biblical accounts.
How Did It Survive?
Discoveries like this aren’t made all the time. “Frankly, jewelry is a rare find at conflict sites,” Gibson told the Daily Mail, “because this is exactly the sort of thing that attackers will loot and later meltdown.”
The condition that the jewelry was found in speaks to the conflicts in 6th-century Jerusalem. It feels like it was ripped from someone’s body and then dropped. For some unknown reason, call it luck, the jewelry then managed to lay undisturbed for thousands of years.
Happiness at Finding the Artifact
As mentioned above, arrowheads were also found near the jewelry. These iron and bronze weapons were historically significant because they were tied to the Scythian people, which in turn, links the story back to the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
That’s because Scythian arrowheads have been found at sites that date between the 6th and 7th centuries BCE. It seems they were part of the Babylonian’s weapons arsenal, which provides further evidence that this particular area was attacked by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II.
The recent archaeological finds have left many researchers excited because it allows them to better understand historical events like the fall of Jerusalem. Shimon Gibson, in particular, is excited at how these finds relate to stories in Kings 25:9.
Since archaeology is slow work, it will take a while for them to look through the relics at Mount Zion. Their next big project is to start excavating a building associated with the ash layer described above. Through this, they hope to uncover more evidence for biblical stories.
As far as history goes, Nebuchadnezzar’s brutal battle against Jerusalem was far from the last battle that Jerusalem underwent. In 70 CE, the Romans attacked it, and the Crusades saw it destroyed multiple times. Modern-day Jews honor this tragic history by fasting on Tisha B’Av.
On a more upbeat note, the archaeological digs at Mount Zion have been bringing people together rather than tearing them apart. Many students have taken part in the dig, which has deepened their appreciation for history, archaeology, and the human story.
Elevator Project In Jerusalem Unearths Archaeological Surprises
Near Jerusalem’s Western Wall, archaeologists discovered something quite remarkable during an elevator’s installation. Even construction projects that should be simple end up being much more interesting than expected.
As part of standard procedure before any construction project, archaeologists must perform salvage excavations to conduct a scientific study of ancient artifacts and buildings before they are removed.
What Is The Western Wall?
The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to engage in prayer. Every year, millions of tourists and worshipers visit the wall.
However, to even get to the holy site from the adjacent Jewish Quarter, guests go down 142 steps (or they must take a detour around the city walls to one of the gates close by).
The Green Light For Construction Happened In 2017
The Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company got the go-ahead to start the construction of two elevators to allow visitors to access the wall easier.
The location where construction began was a tight sliver of the mostly undeveloped slope. It was adjacent to the existing staircase on the Jewish Quarter’s eastern edge.
Progress Slowed Down
The archaeological finds at the wall significantly slowed down construction progress, such is the same with modern development projects in ancient cities such as Istanbul, Rome, and Athens.
Michael Haber, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: “This plot of land where the elevator is going to be built remained undisturbed, giving us the great opportunity of digging through all the strata, all the layers of ancient Jerusalem.”
What Did Archaeologists Find?
While conducting their dig, archaeologists unearthed layers of construction and debris that accumulated over two millennia (more than 30 feet total). They discovered Ottoman pipes built into a 2,000-year-old aqueduct that supplied Jerusalem with spring water near Bethlehem.
They also found early Islamic oil lamps, bricks with the name of the 10th Legion stamped in them, and the remains of the Judean villa from the last days before the ancient Jewish temple was destroyed in AD 70.