Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Excavations near Jerusalem's Western Wall have uncovered stone pathways and the remains of a 200-seat Roman theater, scientists said Monday.
The historical findings were presented at the Western Wall Tunnels by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The walkway "courses," made of massive stones, and the theater were discovered after 26 feet of soil was removed.
Historical writings describe the theater, built during the Roman occupation of Jerusalem between 63 B.C. and 313 A.D., near Wilson's Arch, a massive stone archway leading to the Temple Mount, built in the Roman period. The arch itself was one of many that once supported a bridge leading to the Temple Mount. Although numerous theories were offered regarding the location, the discovery finally confirms the writings, which has been a goal of archaeological research in Israel. The stones in the construction were uncovered after 1,700 years.
"From a research perspective, this is a sensational find," said a statement by the lead excavators, Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman and Avi Solomon. "The discovery was a real surprise. When we started excavating, our goal was to date Wilson's Arch. We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem's lost theater.
"Like much of archaeological research, the expectation is that a certain thing will be found, but at the end of the process other findings, surprising and thought-provoking, are unearthed."
The archaeologists said the theater may have been built as a concert or lecture hall, or perhaps as a legislative meeting place. It may also have never been used, they said. A staircase found was not completely carved, possibly because a revolt or similar interruption caused construction to be abandoned. Unfinished nearby buildings from the era have been uncovered in the past.
"This is a relatively small structure compared to known Roman theaters," they added. "In most cases, such structures were used for acoustic performances. Alternatively, this may have been a structure known as a bouleuterion -- the building where the city council met, in this case the council of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina -- Roman Jerusalem."
The task of unearthing the dramatic archeological find was part on an ongoing project undertaken largely by teenage volunteers, said Israel Hasson, chief of the Israel Antiquities Authority.