The Archaeology of the East Slope of Jerusalem and the Terraces of the Kidron

The Archaeology of the East Slope of Jerusalem and the Terraces of the Kidron

During excavations between 1961 and 1967, the famous archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon discovered tier after tier of architectural terracing buried beneath an avalanche of stone and debris on the east slope of Jerusalem. This was once the site where Soloman’s Temple was presumed to have been constructed. Kenyon believed she had found the much-disputed millo from the Bible but in fact, she found part of sadmot qidron.

“Three or four centuries before the east slope was terraced, the MB II inhabitants of Jerusalem built a fortification wall some 50 m below the crest of the hill.2 Founded on bedrock and laid at right angles to the slope which inclined at 25′ (the modern surface has a steeper gradient of ca. 45′), this wall served as part of the eastern defence line into the eighth century BCE. Upslope and contemporary with the early stages of the fortification, Kenyon discovered less substantial wall fragments from buildings that had once clung to the hillside, unsupported by anchoring platforms”.

The people who lived here learnt how to construct terraces on slopes by the 14th century BCE. The terraces built on the east slop required constant maintenance until they were destroyed by the Neo-Babylonians in 587 BCE.

The Canaanites, and later the Israelites, constructed agricultural terraces undressed, un-mortared stones along the natural contours. Here, they ran from north to south. “The construction and fill behind the retaining walls were, however, quite different from those of an agricultural terrace in which deep profiles of imported soil were leveled up to the top of the revetment. Instead, the builders set rib-walls at 1.00 m intervals or more behind, and at right angles to, the retaining wall. They then filled in this series of compartments with medium-sized stones packed in with a little soil and rubble. In this way they provided flat and, if maintained, stable platforms for buildings and other structures on the steep terrain. The side walls and roof supports of a few houses set on these stone platforms remained intact even after their destruction by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar”.

For enemies approaching from the Kidron Valley, these terraces would have looked a lot like a massive flight of stairs with gardens and houses on each step.

Kenyon’s theory of these being a millo is completely unjustified. The location is completely different to that described in the Bible and not only this, but the terraces predate the Biblical age, with the terraces being built in the Late Bronze Age.

The archaeology of the east slope of Jerusalem and the terraces of the Kidron are teaching us much about the history of this region right from the Neolithic up until now, making them a site of historical importance and significance.


Stager, Lawrence E. (1982) The Archaeology of the East Slope of Jerusalem and the Terraces of the Kidron, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, The University of Chicago Press.