Reconstructing the Context of Our Frequent Finds

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When we began transferring the mounds of Temple Mount material from the Kidron Valley dump to the Tzurim Valley National Park, we divided the dump into various areas.  We suspected that the order of the removal of the earth from the Temple Mount and the location of its dumping may correlate somehow to the way it was excavated.  We also separated the marginal areas of the material from the internal areas that had not been disturbed by the other illicit dumps in the Kidron Valley. The Temple Mount material was eventually divided to 11 areas that were removed separately.

Early in the Sifting Project, we already noticed that there were differences in the frequencies of certain types of finds from different areas. Moreover, similar finds, and sometimes fragments of the same object, were discovered within short periods of time. This suggested that these similar objects were originally next to each other. But the full significance and value of dividing the material at the dump into different areas was discovered only last summer, during the processing of quantitative data for the Third Preliminary Report which we recently published. We found that artifacts which we assume to be from the same context were also distributed in a similar manner. Another example is that we found that artifacts which can be identified with the Horses of the Crusader era Templar Knights were distributed in a similar way among the dump areas.

We concluded from this that we can define a statistical distribution “fingerprint” for each artifact type.  Artifacts that have a similar “fingerprint” may have originated from the same context. The statistical technique for finding such relationships and verifying their statistical significance is called Cluster Analysis.We will not go into a detailed explanation of this technique, but we can foresee that at the completion of the classification and sorting process of all the different types of finds that we have, we will be able to apply this technique on a unified data table of all the finds.  The results of this analysis will show clusters of finds having similar distributions. These clusters may also represent a similar context of the finds within them. Currently, we are still investigating the application and implication of this method.  Only after finishing the classification and sorting process, will we be able to create a full data table that will be adequate for such an analysis, and then we will be capable of fully estimating the value of this method. If we are able to achieve valuable information from this type of analysis, it will be a substantial innovation in archaeological method and theory research which could also be applied by other archaeologists who focus their research on excavations of fillings or site surveys.

We can illustrate this idea using the following example:
Suppose we prepare a salad using four vegetables and two cutting boards. On one board we cut cucumbers and tomatoes, and on the other carrots and onions. The vegetables on each cutting board are thoroughly mixed and placed in a large bowl. They are then lightly tossed in the bowl. Such a mixture will result in the vegetables being scattered unevenly throughout the salad. It can be assumed that the distribution of vegetables that we cut and mixed on each board will show a similar distribution within each of the various areas of the salad. Let’s further illustrate this with the following table:

Board 1: 21 cucumber pieces and 11 tomato pieces (32 total pieces)

Board 2: 6 onion pieces and 12 carrot pieces (18 total pieces)

Mix the cut vegetables well on each cutting board and then combine them together in a large bowl. The vegetables in the large bowl are lightly tossed and then its contents are divided equally into 4 smaller bowls. This procedure may yield the following data table:

Salad Uneven Distribution Table

It can be seen in the table that the distributions of the carrots and the onions within each bowl are similar, but differ from the distributions of the cucumber and the tomatoes in the corresponding bowl and vice versa.

This is the value of “cluster analysis.”  By observing the percentages of various types of finds within each area, we may be able to determine which types of finds originated from the same context.

An Extensive Article in the Jerusalem Post about the Debris Removal

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Following the tour we conducted yesterday for journalists, Melanie Lidman from the Jerusalem Post published an extensive article about the debris removal from last week. In this article, the police spokesmen is quoted saying:

“Antiquities from 3,000 years ago or 1,500 years ago aren’t going to be in the first 30 cm. [of dirt pulled up with the bushes].”

This quote just proves our point regarding the ignorance of the police about how to preserve the antiquities at the site. These debris heaps are not stratified as like in a regular archaeological site, in which the top 30 cm topsoil represents the recent periods. These heaps are dirt that has already been excavated from the depth of up to 12m near Solomon’s Stables during the 1999 creation of an entrance for the new Al-Marwani Mosque. In addition, the topsoil itself in every archeological site contains a mixture of archaeological artifacts from all periods there was activity at the site.

In the article the Adnan Huseini, former head of the Waqf, is also interviewed. This is the first comment we hear from a Waqf personnel about this issue. He admits that this was the first time in the last 8 years they got permission to remove debris from the site.

It Appears Our Outcry Succeeded in Stopping the Earth Removal

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The story of the debris heaps removal from the Temple Mount was widely covered by the Israeli media last week. As a result of following one of the trucks, we discovered the material was being deposited at an illegal dumping site (Fig 1). Evidently, the truck driver realized he was followed, and the earthworks stopped the next day. On Wednesday the work resumed, but following a demonstration by groups of Temple Mount activists at Lion’s Gate, the gate through which the trucks were attempting to enter the Temple Mount, the work ceased again and has not resumed. It seems that our protest succeeded in stopping the removal of the heaps from the Temple Mount for now.  We suspect it may be resumed after the elections on the end of January 2013.

Fig 1

Fig. 1: Following one of the trucks that removed debris from the Temple Mount

It should be emphasized that we do not object at all to this debris being removed from the Temple Mount, as long as it is done with awareness of its archaeological value.  We fully support its removal because the whole eastern area today resembles an illegal dumping site.  The question is how to remove this material from the Temple Mount while preserving the ancient artifacts buried within it. We believe this work should be done manually, separating the various debris heaps based on their location of origin, and then transferring the material off-site for wet sifting (Fig 2).  We would be happy to help sift this soil at the Sifting Project.

Fig 2: Wet Sifting at the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Fig 2: Wet Sifting at the Temple Mount Sifting Project

First Temple Dump from the Temple Mount Slopes To be Sifted at the Sifting Project

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 Last Wednesday we transferred two truckloads of dirt, possibly remains of First and Second Temple garbage dumps, to our sifting site in Emek Zurim Park. On the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, in the area beneath the Ophel Street, there is a closed garden owned by the Franciscan Church.  For a long time I have considered examining these slopes, since I believe they might contain debris from the Temple Mount that washed down after the collapse of the compound walls during the destruction of the First Temple.  In addition, I believe that some original Temple dumps might be located at that area.

During the last two weeks major renovations were begun in preparation for a Pontifical Mass that will take place in this area during Pope Benedict’s planned visit to Israel in May.  These renovations required some digs into the terraces at the site.  These digs are supervised by an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspector to ensure that no archaeological remains are damaged.  At the location where a restroom compound was planned, the contractor dug deep into the terrace, revealing a section of the slope in which various layers could be seen. Among them was a layer of a Second Temple Period dump similar to those on nearby ancient Jerusalem slopes.  At the same location, the remains of a human burial were also spotted.  For this reason Atra Kadisha, the organization that supervises the handling of ancient Jewish remains, directed the contractor to refill the terrace with the dirt taken out and build a retaining wall to enclose the area.

          I was anxious to sample some of soil in the layer beneath the Second Temple Period dump, but realized this might now be impossible since the remains of a human burial were found there.  Also, the procedures for obtaining an immediate IAA excavation permit are quite complex. When I revisited the compound on Wednesday, to my surprise I saw that the excavation I was intending to request had already been completed!  The contractor at the site had dug a deep foundation trench for the retaining wall required by Atra Kadisha.  Upon examining the material removed from this trench, I discovered that the debris from the northern part of the trench contains only First Temple Period pottery!  Together with IAA inspector Lara Shluf, we concluded that the trench had penetrated the ancient slope of the Temple Mount from the First Temple Period.  The slope included First Temple Period pits full of very large fragments of pottery vessels.  Another section of the trench included natural dark brown soil with First Temple Period pottery washed down from higher up the slope. The southern edge of this trench penetrated a Second Temple Period dump, and the northern edge revealed an ancient wall that abuts the bedrock.  This wall appears to lie under the First Temple Period layer, and will probably be excavated by the IAA in the near future.  

I realized that if the debris that was removed from this trench was not transferred immediately to the sifting site, we might lose this unique opportunity to discover what archaeological remains are hidden within the debris.  Unbelievably, but undoubtedly with miraculous Divine help, in less than an hour and a half we managed to get the authorization and help of all the necessary authorities required for such a task – the representative of the Vatican in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the National Parks Authority, the Atra Kadisha organization, and the Ir David foundation – and we found a contractor to do the job.  Obtaining these authorizations is usually a bureaucratic nightmare! 

We do not know yet if the material we have brought to the sifting site also contains artifacts that had washed down the slope during the destruction of the First Temple, as this material would have the most promising finds. We will know much more about these unique archaeological remains in the near future. As far as I know, no one has ever studied ancient Iron Age dumps in Jerusalem. The abundance of very high quality “stripe burnished” vessel fragments seen in this dump may indicate that these dumps may come from the Temple Mount itself!


Stay tuned….