Image: Persian Palace at Ramat Rahel
Archaeologists have conducted a study of fossilized pollen found at the garden at Ramat Rahel and discovered evidence that the garden contained not only local plants and trees but also exotic plants not native of the area.
According to Randall W. Younker’s article “Ramat Rahel” (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, Page 615), Ramat Rahel was “an important archaeological site located on a prominent hill almost midway between the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”
Archaeologists agree that Ramat Rahel was one of the five districts of the province of Judah during the Persian period. Ramat Rahel was the Assyrian administrative center for the southern half of the Jerusalem district.
In describing the architectural elements found at Ramat Rahel, Younker wrote:
“The architectural elements, which are similar to those found at Samaria, would suggest a construction time closer to the fall of that kingdom—perhaps the builders were even refugees from the N. The presence of Assyrian ‘palace ware’ in this stratum also argues for an earlier date in the 7th century b.c., perhaps during the reign of Manasseh, who was known to be an Assyrian vassal. The ‘Elyaqim steward of Yokhin’ seal found in this stratum, and thought by Aharoni to belong to the steward of King Jehoiachin, has now been redated to the late 8th century b.c., removing one of the main arguments for dating this level to the late 7th/earlier 6th centuries b.c.”
An article published in Science Daily describes the significance of the fossilized pollen found at Ramat Rahel:
According to Prof. Oded Lipschits, Dr. Yuval Gadot, and Dr. Dafna Langgut, the garden featured the expected local vegetation such as common fig and grapevine, but also included a bevy of exotic plants such as citron and Persian walnut trees. The citron, which apparently emigrated from India via Persia, made its first appearance in the modern-day Middle East in Ramat Rahel’s royal garden.
Early attempts to remove pollen grains from the site’s soil in order to reconstruct the botanical components of the garden were unfruitful because the pollen had oxidized. But after noticing that the channels and pools themselves were coated with plaster, probably due to renovation, the researchers theorized that if the plaster had ever been renewed while the garden was in bloom, pollen could have stuck to the wet plaster, acting as a “trap,” and dried within it. Luckily, this hunch proved to be correct.
While some plaster layers included only typical native vegetation, one of the layers, dated to the Persian period (the 5th-4th centuries B.C.E.), also included local fruit trees, ornamentals, and imported trees from far-off lands. “This is a very unique pollen assemblage,” explains Dr. Langgut, a pollen expert. Among the unusual vegetation are willow and poplar, which required irrigation in order to grow in the garden; ornamentals such as myrtle and water lilies; native fruit trees including the grape vine, the common fig, and the olive; and imported citron, Persian walnut, cedar of Lebanon, and birch trees. Researchers theorize that these exotics were imported by the ruling Persian authorities from remote parts of the empire to flaunt the power of their imperial administration.
This study of the fossilized pollen at Ramat Rahel is very significant for two reasons. First, it reveals the variety of the vegetation at the site. Second, it shows how the Assyrians tried to impress their Judean vassals with the splendor and exuberance of the garden. The garden was evidence of the wealth Assyria had accumulated through the plunder of conquered nations.
This demonstration of luxury illustrates the words of Nahum concerning Nineveh. According to Nahum, Nineveh was a city “full of booty–no end to the plunder” (Nah. 3:1). Because in the wars of conquest, the Assyrians plundered an abundance of silver and gold, Nahum said that in Nineveh there was an endless supply of wealth, an abundance of every precious thing (Nah. 2:9).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary