Stone Toilet Suggests Biblical Tale Is True

The limestone toilet in the ancient city of Tel Lachish was installed in a symbolic act of desecration.

A stone toilet unearthed at a 2,800-year-old shrine in Israel has provided compelling evidence for the Biblical tale of King Hezekiah, according to archaeologists at the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

One of the most prominent kings of Judah, Hezekiah is known for the religious reforms he carried out in the Eighth century B.C., when he centralized all worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem, banishing cult sites of other deities.

According to the account in the book of Kings, King Hezekiah "removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles."

The limestone toilet, fashioned in the shape of a chair with a hole in its center, was found inside one of the six chambers of the monumental gate in the ancient city of Tel Lachish, some 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

The gate served as a shrine and the toilet was installed there in a symbolic act of desecration.

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The practice of destroying cult locations by installing a toilet in them is documented in the Bible, particularly in the case of King Jehu's fight against worshippers of the pagan god Baal.

"And they demolished the pillar of Baʽal, and demolished the house of Baʽal, and made it a latrine to this day," the Book of Kings reads.

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According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), this is the first time archaeological evidence has been found for the practice of desecrating a site in this way.

The gate-shrine in Tel Lachish National Park was uncovered decades ago, but the current excavation has now completely exposed the massive structure.

Preserved at a height of 13 feet, the portal featured six chambers, three on either side of the main street that passed between them.

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Benches with armrests were found in the first chamber.

"According to the biblical narrative, the cities' gates were the place where 'everything took place': the city elders, judges, governors, kings and officials -- everyone would sit on these benches," Sa'ar Ganor, the IAA's excavation director, said.

His team also uncovered jars, scoops for loading grain, terracotta lamps and stamped pot handles.

The seal impressions bear Hezekiah's royal mark and the name of a senior official during Hezekiah's reign, evidence of the military and administrative preparations of the Kingdom of Judah in the war against Sennacherib, king of Assyria.

Ganor also unearthed a large room housing a bench upon which offerings were placed.

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"An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies; to our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars," Ganor said.

Although it is not known which deities were venerated at the gate-shrine, it is clear that the cult was eradicated as the altar horns were intentionally smashed. To make the point clear, a stone toilet was installed.

Laboratory tests revealed the toilet was never used, prompting the archaeologists to conclude that its placement had been symbolic.

The gate was destroyed by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in 701 BC. The excavation revealed arrow heads and sling stones, suggesting that hand-to-hand combat occurred there.

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style="text-align: left;">Egypt will likely offer promising finds in 2016. King Tutankhamun's tomb will be under the spotlight as a recent investigation suggests the western and northern walls of the 3,300-year-old burial may hide two secret chambers. According to Egypt's Minister of Antiquity Mamdouh al-Damaty there is a 90 percent chance the tomb of King Tut contains such chambers.

Damaty made the announcement last November at the end of a radar-based investigation. The non-invasive search followed a claim by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist at the University of Arizona, who first speculated the existence of the chambers, arguing that one contains the remains, and possibly the intact grave goods, from queen Nefertiti.

She was the wife of the "heretic" monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamun's father. Will archaeologists try to access the hidden chambers? Their attempt may lead to what Damaty called "one of the most important finds of the century."

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style="text-align: left;">The noninvasive technologies applied to King Tut's tomb will be widely used this year in another ambitious project. Called Scan Pyramid, the investigation is carried out by a team from Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The project aims to scan the largest pyramids of Egypt in order to detect the presence of any unknown internal structures and cavities.

The technique could lead to a better understanding of the pyramids' structure and how they were built. The project uses a mix of technologies such as infrared thermography, muon radiography, and 3D reconstruction to look at the inside of four pyramids, which are more than 4,500 years old. They include Khufu, or Cheops, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid at Dahshur. One particularly remarkable anomaly has been already detected on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid, also known as Khufu or Cheops, at the ground level. Much more is to come -- the first results are expected in the first months of the year.

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style="text-align: left;">Last year a study made an extraordinary and controversial claim: Stonehenge was basically a second-hand monument from Wales. It would have stood there hundreds of years before it was dismantled and transported to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. The research indicates that two quarries in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, in southwest Wales, are the source of Stonehenge's bluestones.

style="text-align: left;">Carbon dating revealed such stones were dug out at least 500 years before Stonehenge was built -- suggesting they were first used in a local monument that was later dismantled and dragged off to England.

style="text-align: left;"> "Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery," Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project and professor of British later prehistory at University College London said. Researchers have been using geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis to identify the ruins of a lost, dismantled monument. The results of such research promise to make the headlines this year.

style="text-align: left;"> "We think we have the most likely spot. We may find something big in 2016," Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said.

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style="text-align: left;">In early December, the Colombian government announced they had found the holy grail of treasure shipwrecks -- an 18th-century Spanish galleon that went down off the country's coast with a treasure of gold, coins and precious stones now valued between $4 billion and $17 billion. The multibillion-dollar ship, called the San Jose, was found off the island of Baru, near Cartagena. The vessel was part of Spain's only royal convoy to bring colonial coins and bullion home to King Philip V during the War of Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714.

style="text-align: left;"> The San Jose was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off the island of Baru on June 8, 1708, when an explosion sent it to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. She was reportedly carrying 600 people, chests of emeralds and tons of silver, gold and platinum.

style="text-align: left;"> The shipwreck has been at a center of a decades-long search that also involved a legal battle with the Seattle-based Sea Search Armada, or SSA, a commercial salvage company that claims it first discovered the wreck's location in 1981. Moreover, Peru has argued that any treasure recovered from the San Jose should be considered a Peruvian national patrimony. As more legal fights will likely occur, new expeditions to the wreck in 2016 are expected to recover the much disputed treasure of gold and emeralds.

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style="text-align: left;">One of the most promising discoveries last year was an oval-shaped structure unearthed in the Tuscan town of Volterra. Archaeologists believe it represents the most important Roman amphitheater finding over the last century. The foundations of the colosseum, which is oval-shaped like the much larger arena in the heart of Rome, might date back to the 1st century A.D.

style="text-align: left;">Amphitheaters like these were used during Roman times to feature events including gladiator combats and wild animal fights. The archaeologists estimate the structure, which mostly lies at a depth of 20 to 32 feet, measured some 262 by 196 feet. Only a small part of it has been unearthed during a small dig survey. New finds are expected this year as a full-scale dig is launched.

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