Israeli archaeologists digging beneath Jerusalem's Western Wall have unearthed evidence that King Herod (73 BC to 4 BC) did not complete the construction of the structure as previously believed, but rather died long before it was finished.
The Western Wall, or Kotel in Hebrew, is a retaining wall that held up the Biblical Temple Mount compound. Due to its location it is revered by Jews as their holiest site.
Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said Wednesday that the debris found by archaeologists excavating inside a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) built alongside an ancient drainage channel and the Western Wall, revealed four coins with the name of a Roman official engraved on them.
"The coins with the name of the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus, who ruled in Jerusalem sometime around the 15 or 16 AD, proved that the construction of the Western Wall continued even after Herod's death, since they were coined almost 20 years later, " Prof. Ronny Reigh from the IAA, who conducted the excavation, said during a press conference to reveal the find.
The mikvah belonged to a private house in a residential neighborhood that existed before Herod decided to enlarge the Temple Mount compound. Because the ritual bath lay in the path of the wall, builders filled it in with debris and stones used to build the first layer of the bulwark.
"Herod only got to see 18 years of the construction, and it was his heirs -- or the successive Roman procurators who continued it, " Reigh said, adding that "the master plan of the Temple Mount belongs entirely to Herod, therefore we can still say that it was him who built the walls."
Before the discovery of the coins, Reigh pointed out, there was no evidence to show that the construction of the Temple Mount walls had been an enormous project that had lasted for decades, even after Herod's death.
"Herod began the enlargement of the Temple Mount in 22 BC and died in 4 BC, and we know, as it was written by Roman historian Flavius Josephus, that the construction was not complete until 50 AD," Reigh said.
"We see that this period, the construction of such a project, was much more complex and involved more people than just Herod," the archaeologist said.
"This find will extend our understanding on the construction of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount," Reigh said.