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The History of the Temple Mount in 12 Objects: #1 The Late Bronze Age

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Hello everyone!

As those of you who follow our newsletter know, the blog is about to embark on an exciting new journey: Inspired by the British Museum’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, we will, over the course of the coming year, showcase objects of different periods in the Temple Mount’s history, telling you about them and about the periods they represents.

So without further ado – here’s the first post, of the Temple Mount back before there was a temple:

Back in 2011, a nice Israeli family joined us in the sifting facility for a rummage through the debris of the Temple Mount. They were expecting some of what we’ve come to think of as run-of-the-mill finds: some pottery sherds, a few mosaic tesserae, bits of glass and stone, and maybe a coin – if they got lucky. But they got more than they bargained for when they spotted a broken faience (a soft glass-like material) amulet which clearly showed some hieroglyphs. So we immediately knew it was ancient, and connected to Egypt, but the deciphering took a while longer, and it was only a few years later that news sites around the world carried the title Girl, 12, finds ancient Egyptian amulet at Jerusalem dig.

The Amulet was examined by our staff and by Baruch Brandl, leading Israeli expert in hieroglyphics, who noted the different elements visible in the amulet:

Amulet of Thutmose III found in the Temple Mount soil by the Sifting Project (click to enlarge)

Above: The eye within the sun.

Below, to the right: The broken top half of the looping tail of the Uraeus (Egyptian Cobra).

Below, to the left: An oval cartouche containing hieroglyphs – on the top is visible a circle representing the sun-disc; below it, looking like an upside-down comb – a board with game pieces on it – the famous Egyptian game of senet; below the senet board, just barely visible above the break – you can spot the forelegs of the scarab beetle.

Put together, the hieroglyphs in the cartouche spell the word “Men-kheper-Ra”. Literally – Lasting is the Manifestation of Ra (check out other variants in this nifty little site), the throne name of the pharaoh better known as Thutmose III, who ruled in the 15th Century BCE.

But what’s an Egyptian amulet doing way out here, 420km away from the Thebes?

To understand that, let’s take a quick dip into ancient Egyptian\Israeli history:

Pharaoh Thutmose III reigned in Egypt from 1479 – 1425 BCE. He was part of the 18th dynasty, which ruled in the begging of the Egyptian Era known as the New Kingdom, and he did a bunch of interesting things down there, which aren’t the topic of this post. 😉 Meanwhile, in the land the Egyptians knew as Retjenu, and which the bible calls “Canaan”  – the Late Bronze Age was in full swing, and the country was divided among local “kings” – rulers of city states.

Thutmose III helped turn Egypt into a superpower by stretching his empire from Southern Syria through to Canaan and Nubia. We know a lot about his military campaigns because records of his campaigns are inscribed on the wall of the temple of Amun in Karnak. The first, and probably largest of Thutmose III’s 17 military campaigns took place in Canaan. The Canaanite city-states revolted against Pharaonic attempts at hegemony but were soundly trounced by Thutmose’s superior forces and tactics at the and Battle of Megiddo in 1457 BCE.

And so, the Egyptians ruled the land until the mid-12th Century BCE, leaving their mark on archaeological sites throughout the country – Jaffa, Megiddo, Bet She’an, and Ashkelon, to name a few.

Within the Late Bronze Period, the part we know the most about in terms of Israel\Egypt relationship is the Late Bronze period II – corresponding in time to the Egyptian Amarna Period, so called because, luckily for us, in 1336 BCE Pharaoh Akhenaten moved the capital to the site of Amarna. Why lucky, you ask? Because this move, among with other reforms enacted by the Pharaoh were reviled by Egyptians of following generations, and after the death of his son (the famous Tutankhamun), his new capitol was abandoned – leaving behind its rich archives to be discovered some three millennia later.

These archives relate a rich correspondence between the Pharaoh and the rulers of the city-states of Canaan, including the King of Jerusalem, Abdi-Heba. In his 6 letters, Abdi‑Heba beseeches the Pharaoh for his help against the Habiru bandits, and the rulers of cities such as Shechem, Gezer, and Lachish who, unlike himself, show no loyalty to the Pharaoh.

Strangely enough, when reading each of the other rulers’ letters, it would seem that they are the only ones truly loyal to the Pharaoh. Go figure, huh?

The archive contains only letters sent to the Pharaoh, and we don’t know what answer Abdi-Heba received from the Pharaoh’s scribe. However, several years ago, while Dr. Eilat Mazar was excavating in the Ophel (south of the Temple Mount) and outsourced her sifting needs to us, we managed to find a tiny piece of a clay tablet of the same type as the Amarna archive. So even though the fragment was too small to decipher a meaningful message – at least we know that Abid-Hepa’s correspondence wasn’t one-sided.

But even though we learn from the archives that ancient Jerusalem, while not exactly a super-power, was definitely a city to be reckoned with, its remains remain a bit elusive.

A scant amount of pottery dated to this age was found in excavations in the City of David and the Ophel, including some imported material from Cypress and the Agean world, to which we can add our pottery, which we’ve already discussed in a previous blog post, and few other finds such as two scarabs, three fragments of stone vessels and a finger from a possible Egyptian Late Bronze statue.

These artifacts can be added to other finds dated to the Late Bronze Age discovered in past years in the City of David as well as artifacts hinting to the possible existence of an Egyptian temple in the premises of the Dominican monastery of St. Étienne north of the Damascus Gate.

Several tombs were discovered in the city’s environs – on the Mount of Olives, Armon Hanatziv, and as far away as the modern neighborhood of Nachla’ot – and yet, the buildings associated with such a bustling city have not been discovered – an occupational hazard inherent to excavating a city continually inhabited and rebuilt for over 3 millennia…

All in all, even though the archaeological remains from this era in Jerusalem as a whole are somewhat meager, in the Temple Mount their amount is even smaller. This fits well with the well-established notion that the Temple Mount was uninhabited and not included within the city proper, but was rather used for agricultural purposes, such as the biblical Araunah’s threshing floor.

Winnowing in a Threshing floor at the village of Majdal Shams (taken in 1967 by Sari Sapir ). Was this the main activity that took place at the Temple Mount during the Late Bronze and Iron Age I periods?

Join us in our next post, as we continue into the Iron Age I and beginning of the First Temple Period!

Our New Mobile Sifting Program

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Students Sifting in the Community

The Mount Comes to You

Hello everyone, we have some news to share with you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is renewing its activity outside the lab! For the first time in the history of archaeological research in Israel –the site will be coming to you. We will be bringing the antiquities-rich soil that was illegally removed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s to various communities and institutions throughout Israel. Students and volunteers will be able to sift through this material and take part in the important work of recovering the ancient artifacts within. A sifting activity was undertaken yesterday in the Yeshurun School in Petach Tikva – but this is just the beginning! We’ve already started taking requests from other communities throughout Israel.

This new archaeological program focuses on sifting the remaining earth from Solomon’s Stables that was illegally bulldozed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s. We’ve always encouraged our volunteers to take an active role in the salvage of artifacts buried in this soil, and over the years we’ve involved an unprecedented number of volunteers in our work. Because it is a sifting project, which can accommodate larger crowds than a traditional excavation, over 200,000 people have participated – a world record in archaeological research both in Israel and worldwide. Now, our project has been transformed into a mobile activity which can traverse the country and engage various schools, institutions, and communities.

As Zachi said, “we want to make Temple Mount heritage accessible to the entire Israeli public. In this new program, we now aim to reach the parts of the public who found it difficult to come to the sifting site in Jerusalem.”

The mobile sifting is accomplished by loading the soil onto a truck in large sacks which are then brought to the community’s site where sifting stations and a water system are set up. Each group or class participates in an activity that lasts for 2 hours (1.5 in the schools) and includes an educational presentation of the archaeology of the Temple Mount and the story of the Sifting Project. Then, the volunteers sift through the soil, collecting all the archaeological finds, which fascinates young and old alike.

Temple Mount soil being sifted in the city of Petach Tikva by Yeshurun High school students Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

Yeshurun High school principal, Rabbi Yaniv Cohen, expounded on the importance of the activity: “The sifting activity touches upon the past, and allows us to meet ourselves in the present, while showing a commitment towards the future. The act of sifting, while seemingly an act of separation, in fact enables us to come together and be a part of the unfolding story of Jewish history. This is doubly felt in Petach Tikva, with its strong commitment to Jerusalem.”

Students find ancient coin in community sifting. Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

“Seeing the students fascinated by the tangible interaction with the Temple Mount artifacts is exciting.” says archaeologist Haggai Cohen. “The students keep asking for a detailed explanation about each artifact they find, and with this hands-on experience, they are getting a deep education about the heritage of Jerusalem, its history, archaeology, and the cultures that formed it.”

As one student said, “We are having a lot of fun! We feel like we are taking part in a really important project finding old and important artifacts.”

We hope to reach every sector of society – Jews, Christians, and Muslims, religious and secular. The history of the Temple Mount shows that the Mount was an important center of activity for all the monotheistic religions for over three millennia.

We hope that we will receive the promised government funding soon. However, we will most likely need to set up some sort of matching program to continue with this mobile sifting program. If you would be interested in helping to sponsor a school or community, please be in contact with development@tmsifting.org.

BONUS: Finds in Honor of Jerusalem Day

Yehud coins from the Temple Mount. A barn own is depicted next to the lettersיהד (yhd) in ancient Hebrew script. These are both the first coins to be minted in Jerusalem and the first coins minted by Jews anywhere. Photo Credit: Zachi Dvira

In addition to resuming the sifting, in honor of Jerusalem Day, we’ve agreed to share with the public some of the special finds that they are currently researching. The sifting yielded a collection of over 6000 ancient coins, some of which were the first minted in Jerusalem, and by Jews. These rare coins were minted in Jerusalem in the end of the fourth century BCE, when Jerusalem served as capital of the semi-autonomous “Yehud” province of the Persian Empire. The coins were modeled after the most popular coin of the time – the Athenian Obol. The Jerusalemite coins copied the barn owl from the Greek coin, but changed the Greek letters ΑΘΕ, short for the name of the city of Athens, to the ancient Hebrew letters יהד – a short form of the name of the province Yehud Medinta. These coins mark the transition in trade from the use of gold, hacksilber (silver pieces), or other commodities to using a monetary system regulated by the authority which minted the coins.

Three of these Persian Period coins were found in the sifting of the Temple Mount soil, and another two tiny silver coins, too worn to read, are suspected to belong to this type as well. These coins are very rare. Not including those found by the Sifting Project, in the history of excavations of ancient Jerusalem, only five other such coins have been found. The relatively high number of such coins found by the Sifting Project is a result of the wet-sifting methodology perfected by the project, and the fact that the Temple Mount functioned as an administrative and commercial center during the early days of the Second Temple in addition to being the site of the Temple itself.

Send Us Your Pictures

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Hello everyone! Do you have pictures from your visit to the sifting site or the research lab? Cute pictures of your kids, awesome pictures of you holding what you found, great pictures of you smiling with Dr. Barkay? Well, we want them!

We want to put together a really cool piece of wall art for our research lab by using pictures of our special finds, and pictures of our volunteers and their special finds, and combining them into one mosaic picture like this one!

We have some pictures, but the more we have, the better and more accurate the final result will be. So pick your best (up to) 10 pictures of your sifting experience and send them to siftingpics@gmail.com by May 11th 2018.

Thank you all for spending time with us and making such great memories. We can’t wait to put them on display!

 

You’re welcome to post your favorites in the comments of this post in addition to sending them via email.

New Year for the Trees, New Life for Ancient Forgotten Beams

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Happy Tu B’Shevat! Today is the Jewish new year for the trees which is celebrated annually on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. Customs vary, but many Jews will eat a new fruit they haven’t tried before or eat one (or all!) of the seven species described as plentiful in the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8)). Growing up in America, my family often sent money to plant trees in Israel through our synagogue and I’m pretty sure we read, “The Lorax” every year as well.

To celebrate this fun holiday with all of you, we at the Sifting Project thought we would share with you some interesting research about wooden beams found on the Temple Mount.

The Ancient Beams of the Temple Mount

The restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the 1930s and 1940s included the removal of dozens of wooden beams that predate the mosque’s construction. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority Scientific Archives.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque has been renovated a number of times throughout its history. Notably, after a massive earthquake caused major structural damage to the mosque in 1937, a lot of work was done to strengthen the building, and a number of wooden beams were removed, many of which are now in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. In the 1970s, more wooden beams were removed from the Temple Mount and some were sold to a merchant in Ramallah. Some Israelis actually purchased these beams and sent them for Carbon 14 and dendrochronological (tree ring) dating at the Weizmann Institute. Most of the beams were found to be from cypress trees or cedar trees from Lebanon and some were oak from Turkey. While the vast majority of tested beams dated to the Byzantine period (6th century CE), some of the beams date much earlier. There are two beams in particular that date to the First Temple Period, one of cypress dating to around the 7th century BCE, and one of oak dating to around the 10th century BCE according to the C14 tests.

So how did these early beams end up in the Al-Aqsa Mosque? Wood was expensive in ancient times, so builders would use what was available to them. Many of the beams measured over 14 meters and were made well and of strong wood. Consequently, they were used over and over again. One of the beams from the Al Aqsa Mosque carbon dates to the early Hellenistic period but also has a Greek inscription from the Byzantine period. It seems this beam was in at least tertiary use in the mosque, and we are grateful that this reuse of material preserved it for us to study now.

The beams offer a fascinating historical record of Jerusalem, including Byzantine buildings, early Muslim houses of prayer and, not inconceivably, the ancient temple complex itself. Unfortunately, the several hundred existing beams have never been studied in depth, and many are in danger of decay and disintegration.

Destruction through Negligence?

Beams (left) near the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount. Photo: Matti Friedman/Times of Israel

We have witnessed first hand how beams remain open to the elements on the Temple Mount without any cover or protection. Though Jerusalem may have hot and dry summers, the climate is not conducive to the preservation of wooden artifacts. These beams are pretty unique because they were so well preserved due to the fact that they were sheltered within the Al-Aqsa Mosque for so much of their history. The fact that such negligence is being practiced and that these beams are not being preserved is truly unfortunate. Our researcher, Peretz Reuven, is doing his PhD on all of the known beams, and upon closer inspection of the uncovered beams on the Temple Mount, he saw carvings and markings on one of the beams that show correlation to Roman motifs and styles. You can see carved leaves, pomegranates, and even a rope pattern widely appearing in 2nd and 3rd century CE monuments. This beam is most likely a late Roman period relic from one of the monumental buildings of Roman Jerusalem.

Peretz’s article in the BAR. Photo: Peretz Reuven

Needless to say, much more research is needed on the beams from the Temple Mount. We at the Sifting Project can do our small part on the small wooden beam fragments covered with bits of gold-colored paint, but the more comprehensive research will have to include all of the full length beams that can be accessed by researchers. Our research will be presented in volume four of our planned publication, and we can’t wait to see what Peretz uncovers while completing his PhD.

For more information about these beams see:

The Times of Israel

Biblical Archaeology Review Here or Here

Video of Gaby explaining starting at 2:30

Pictures in Arutz Sheva

Israel HaYom

Mycenaean Imports Early in Jerusalem’s History

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Newsletter

Don’t get our newsletter? No problem! We send out a newsletter about our project every three or four months (no spamming I promise) with updates about our research, special artifacts, conferences, and other events. It is really interesting, and you can subscribe to be on our list HERE. Below is an extended version of our “Finds from the Lab” feature from the July issue of our newsletter.

Imports

It is amazing how sometimes it only takes three or four small pieces of broken pottery to alter our archaeological knowledge and previous assumptions. We have three pieces of imported pottery from the Late Bronze Age (LB) – the 14th century BCE. Two are Mycenaean, from Greece (see below) and one is Cypriot. This tells us that there was at least some trading activity during that time period in Jerusalem.

LBA Mycenean 32223

Late Bronze Age Imported Mycenaean (Greek) Pottery

The Late Bronze Age, associated with pre-Israelite Canaanite culture and settlement, is archaeologically elusive in Jerusalem, and demonstrates that archaeological finds do not always reflect the historical reality. In other words, since there are no destruction layers or dramatic changes from this time period in Jerusalem, the archaeological material from the Late Bronze Age is pretty sparse.

However, lack of evidence is not evidence in and of itself. Despite the lack of physical evidence from the Late Bronze Age, we know from historical documents like the Amarna letters and a cuneiform tablet found in the ‘Ophel Excavation that Jerusalem was indeed a city with a king, a palace, and an advanced society.

Imported pottery in general indicates advanced trade routes and an advanced economy, which was common in cities, among other things.

Very little imported Late Bronze Age pottery was found during previous excavations in ancient Jerusalem and most of what has been researched and published originates from mixed contexts. Significant quantities of such vessels were found only within a couple of tombs outside of the city. The first was on the Mount of Olives (Dominus Flevit), and the second in the Nachalat Aḥim neighborhood (about 4 km North-West of the City of David). The relation of these tombs to the city of Jerusalem remains unclear.

Because there is so little evidence of imported pottery or of a “city” in Jerusalem, every tiny pottery sherd that we find is important. Therefore, our three pieces contribute to the study of Bronze Age Jerusalem and further substantiate the written historical record.

Bronze Age 85091 (1)

Indicative Late Bronze Age Canaanite bowl

Other Finds

Our project has also discovered a small amount of local Canaanite pottery from the Late Bronze Age. It is often difficult to differentiate between Late Bronze and Early Iron Age (Israelite Settlement period) local ware because some of the Late Bronze traditions continued into the Iron I in style and morphology (especially among cooking pots). Our project has also recovered scarabs, a possible fragment of an Egyptian statue, and an amulet naming Thutmose III, which all constitute evidence for Egyptian influence in the Late Bronze Age.

The contrast between the lack of archaeological material from this period and the written account in the Amarna letters led Tel-Aviv University historian, Professor Nadav Na’aman, to claim that the archaeological evidence does not always aptly reflect the intensity or size of any given site, and that archaeology should be complemented by additional textual sources (Check out the article HERE). This helped refute the theory advocated by Professor Israel Finkelstein and others that the United Monarchy of Kings David and Solomon was insignificant.

As a result, Finkelstein and others promoted a new theory that was meant to respond to Na’aman’s claim, and suggested that Jerusalem’s Late Bronze Age remains have not been discovered because they lie under today’s Temple Mount, which cannot be excavated. They suggested that the Temple Mount is the location of Jerusalem’s ancient Tell, and was the center of the Bronze Age city. This would mean that, as Na’aman said, “the most important area for investigation…remains terra incognita“. Consequently, the Bronze Age artifacts from our sifting project take on even more significance and importance.

The Sifting Project has recovered a massive amount of pottery and other artifacts dating from the Iron age IIA until modern times, truly validating our historical knowledge about the main periods of occupation on the Temple Mount. Yet even with the large amounts of pottery recovered in our project, the Bronze Age artifacts (pre-Iron IIA) take up only 0.5% of the total amount of artifacts found by the project. The percentage is much greater in the City of David area.

Eastern Slope of the Temple Mount

This holds true also when studying pottery from the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount (the western bank of the Kidron valley), where very few pre-Iron IIA pottery sherds were found. This data, along with many other archaeological arguments, validates the historical sources that indicate that the pre-First Temple city was located to the south of the Temple Mount, while the main activity at the Temple Mount began only during the Iron Age IIA (the First Temple period). The pieces of imported pottery and other artifacts from the Late Bronze Age indeed imply that there was an important city in the area which tapped into international trade routes reaching as far as the Mycenaean centers, but the city’s main occupation area was not on the Temple Mount, but rather near it.

Confused? Is lack of, or little evidence, evidence? Or not evidence?

Well, this is an example of the complexity of archaeological interpretation. There is a big difference between evidence such as architectural remains and rich finds that originate from a clear context (and which can be assigned to the end of a period or a transition from one period to the next), and scarce pottery sherds, coins, and other finds originating from a site’s topsoil. Such finds are considered as reliable statistical indicators of the main activities and occupations that took place at the site. Bronze Age pottery sherds are abundant in the topsoil and fills in the vicinity of the City of David, and support the widely-held premise that the pre-First Temple period City of Jerusalem was in the City of David rather than on the Temple Mount.

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