Archaeologists are revising their understanding of the earliest days of the city of Jerusalem following two seasons of excavations in an area surrounding the spring of Gihon.

The spring at the foot of the hill crowned by the Temple Mount is one of the few water sources in the Judean Hills. Archaeologist Roni Reich has found evidence, mostly from Canaanite pottery, that as early as 1800 b.c. Canaanite residents dug a tunnel inside the hill to give access to the spring.

The new information adds interesting detail but ultimately fails to clarify the biblical account of David's conquest of Jerusalem approximately 800 years later. "It just means the water systems of ancient Jerusalem are much earlier than people thought and were not first created by the ancient Israelites but simply reused from Canaanite times," says archaeologist William Dever of the University of Arizona.

According to 2 Samuel 5:8, David challenged his soldiers to enter Jebusite Jerusalem through the tsinnor, a word that occurs only once in the Bible. In modern Hebrew, it is translated as a plumbing conduit.

The lack of clear archaeological evidence to the time of David and Saul has led some archaeologists to question biblical accounts.

Earlier in the summer, Tel Aviv University archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin stirred controversy by suggesting there was insufficient room in ancient Jerusalem for the kind of temple described in the Bible. The two are directors of a new excavation at Megiddo where they contend the construction traditionally attributed to Solomon was actually done later by King Ahab. Other archaeologists disagree, saying there is a lack of excavation opportunities in politically sensitive areas of Jerusalem.

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