Israeli archaeologists said on Wednesday they have unearthed a palace complex dating back to the first century AD in an Arab neighbourhood just outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.
Archaeologists discovered a structure that is "relatively big in size and subdivided into main halls," said Doron Ben-Ami, the project director, adding that coins on site dated the structure to the time of the Jews' Second Temple.
Ben-Ami said more work was necessary but that there was a "high probability" that the structure was a palace built by Queen Helena, a wealthy Iraqi aristocrat who converted to Judaism and moved to Jerusalem around 40 AD.
The structure was destroyed 30 years later, when Roman troops violently suppressing a Jewish revolt razed much of Jerusalem to the ground, including the Second Temple of which only the Western Wall remains, he said.
The excavation is being carried out in a car park just opposite the City of David, the site of Jerusalem in ancient times and now an outdoor archaeological museum in the densely-populated Palestinian suburb of Silwan.
The suburb is part of Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed soon thereafter, a move not recognised by the international community.
Palestinians, who see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, have long accused Israel of confiscating land in the Arab suburbs and of using archaeological projects to bolster Jewish claims to the area.
The site includes remains from the Islamic and Byzantine eras as well, including a large Byzantine structure built atop the ruins of the palace that incorporated some of the debris left behind from its destruction.
Ben-Ami said the latest excavation indicates that the City of David is much larger than previously thought, indicating that Israeli archaeologists may pursue further excavations.