One of the most imposing structures to have survived from ancient Israel, the Stepped-Stone Structure, on the eastern ridge of the City of David, originally stood nearly 90 feet tall and 130 feet wide at the top. It is preserved to a height of 50 feet, approximately as high as a five-story building. Scholars agree that the structure incorporates several centuries of building. But the dating of the various elements is hotly contested.

The earliest constructions are the terracing system (in green) and the stepped mantle (orange). The tiered terracing system originally consisted of a series of seven retaining walls (also called spine walls), which ran parallel to the face of the hill, and at least ten perpendicular rib walls. The compartments created by these walls were filled with boulders and soil to create sturdy, flat platforms that served as a substructure for some kind of fortification. Based on the pottery fragments found in the terrace fill, Margreet Steiner dates these terraces to the 12th century B.C.E. (early Iron Age I). She dates the pottery from the fill inside the stepped mantle to the late tenth century B.C.E., however, and thus dates the stepped mantle to this later period (Iron Age II) as well.

Later construction at the site includes Israelite houses (shown in blue), such as “Ahiel’s House,” named after an inscription found inside. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, a city wall (purple) was built on top of the Stepped-Stone Structure’s upper reaches.

(For an alternative dating of the Stepped-Stone Structure, see the drawing in Jane Cahill’s article in this issue.)

Various archaeologists have tried to identify the Stepped-Stone Structure with Biblical descriptions of ancient Jerusalem. Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister, who excavated in the City of David in the 1920s, identified the structure as part of the “Fortress of Zion” (2 Samuel 5:7), a Canaanite structure that defended Jerualem at the time of David’s attack.

Kathleen Kenyon, however, associated the Stepped-Stone Structure with the Biblical Millo. As soon as David captured the City of David, the Bible tells us, he “fortified the surrounding area, from the Millo inward” (2 Samuel 5:9; 1 Chronicles 11:8). Solomon later used forced labor to build around the Millo and repair it (1 Kings 9:15); and more than 200 years later, King Hezekiah, in anticipation of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, repaired or fortified the Millo (Judges 9).

Although some Bible scholars contend that Millo—an enigmatic term related to the Hebrew word for “fill”—should be translated as “tower” or “citadel,” Kenyon suggested the term might refer to the stone and soil fill of the Stepped-Stone Structure’s terraces.