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Staff Spotlight for February: Zachi Dvira

img_3307How does a computer programmer stumble into directing a hot-topic salvage archaeology project? This is the story of our Director, Zachi Dvira.

After a short hiatus during our crowdfunding campaign, our Staff Spotlight is back on and this month, it falls on Zachi. Many people have read interviews and articles about Dr. Gaby Barkay, but what do you know about the student turned director of our project?

Zachi grew up in Herzliya and only really got started in archaeology at age 25. From age 9, he was programming computers. After the army, he went into computer graphics and animation and even started his own business. One Sukkot, he left his office for eight days, and the heat from the sun coming through the windows destroyed all of his hard drives. All of his files and big projects were lost.

Zachi felt like he needed a change. He had just spent time traveling in the Caribbean and South America and became more interested in archaeology. He was intrigued by St. Augustine in Columbia and its unique culture. He was a city boy, but when he got back to Israel, he started traveling within Israel and visiting the archaeological and historical sites here. He was amazed at the number of things that he didn’t know and that he hadn’t done in Israel. Zachi’s late grandmother also fanned the spark of interest in archaeology and would talk to Zachi about excavations and discoveries.

Zachi had been interested in the Bible since he was a teenager and he had been researching the Torah text and its relation to modern Judaism. After the loss of his files, Zachi went back to programming, but he also wanted to learn archaeology on the side because of his sincere interest in the subject. He also wanted to gain the tools he needed to research more about the Bible and the source of Judaism. Zachi enrolled at Bar Ilan University, and as he learned more and more, he felt like he really began to better understand the text of the Bible and the context in which it was written.

So how did the Sifting Project start?

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Illicit bulldozing in 1999

Zachi was interested in the Temple Mount and he was doing a seminar with Dr. Gaby Barkay about Jerusalem. He had to write a paper about Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE. At that time, there was a claim that the Temple Mount was not a part of Jerusalem in the 10th century and that it was only added later on.

Even in 1998, there had been reports of trucks leaving the Temple Mount with earth, and when the large Awaqf excavation took place in 1999, someone who had followed the trucks told Zachi where to find the dirt that they had dumped. Zachi had the idea that he could maybe find something from the 10th century BCE and give evidence that the Temple Mount was a part of Jerusalem at that time. He had no idea that it would become a whole project.

With other friends and archaeology students, Zachi surveyed some of the earth removed from the Temple Mount, but it was professors like Dr. Barkay that were able to date and identified the artifacts and who realized that they were dealing with something immensely important.

Zachi and Gaby decided to establish an official project for sifting this debris and the Temple Mount Sifting Project was established in 2004. Zachi was in the middle of his MA studies. I asked him what his dreams are for the project, and he said that because this project has exceeded all hopes and expectations, it is difficult to talk about dreams. The dream of finding a few inscriptions or seals, well we found them. In any excavation you want to uncover more finds that shed a lot of light on history, and with our project, even just the statistics of the finds that we have can lead to new understandings.

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Data-mining TMSP data

Of all things, Zachi is very interested in the implementation of advanced quantitative analysis techniques in archaeology. This is what his MA thesis was about. He researched automatic typology methods and wrote about how to use data mining for analyzing archaeological databases to reveal patterns in the data, which consequently raise new research questions.

While Zachi has found a number of nice coins and some inscriptions for the project, the research and the library is more interesting for him. Like all of us, there are so many things that Zachi would like to research and to delve into, but unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day. This is the never-ending problem of an archaeologist. You learn one thing that leads you into a whole new category of topics you didn’t even know you were interested in, which leads you to something else, and the process of learning and striving to know more and better understand is a lifelong pursuit.

This is what led Zachi to the British Mandate archives where he discovered a whole list of remnants and features on the Temple Mount that he was surprised had not been published. They help fill in the picture of the history of the Temple Mount and how it has been used over time. He wrote a whole article about this and we are now waiting for it to be expanded upon and translated into English. This is also a part of his PhD thesis that he has just started.

Basically, we are very lucky to have Zachi, his experience, and his passion for learning and truth leading our TMSP team. This is just a small glimpse into the man, but hopefully it gives you a little bit of insight into the quiet powerhouse behind our project.

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Discussing stone weights in the lab

Islamic History Recorded

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Staff Spotlight: November

With the Nuba Inscription still fresh in our minds, this month’s Staff Spotlight lands on Peretz Reuven!

peretz_1Originally from Haifa, Peretz is our expert in the Islamic period pottery and artifacts. He originally got interested in the Islamic period while at Hebrew University. He began with Arabic and Islamic history, added in a bit of archaeology, and the rest is history. He has studied under some of the most widely published scholars, including Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, Rachel Milstein, and Hava Lazarus-Yafe. Now he works on many excavations and research projects across Jerusalem and Israel.

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Large Ophel Medallion

Peretz was working on a project with Dr. Eilat Mazar documenting all the walls of the Temple Mount, and researching and publishing the large ophel medallion when he met our director, Zachi Dvira. Zachi invited him to join our project, and now Peretz is researching all of the Early Islamic period pottery found by the Sifting Project. He is also planning to use his experience in researching architectural elements from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods to research the architectural elements found in our sifting.

The Early Islamic period assemblage from the Sifting Project is very rich in materials. We have a lot of ceramic vessels, many of which are glazed and elaborated. Though most of them are locally made, some were imported from Persia, Egypt, or parts of Europe. We can see that there was a lot of activity on the Temple Mount during that time period, but what is interesting is that many of the vessels are ordinary. For example, we have many cooking vessels and fragments of pipes. Peretz would not say that these vessels represent daily life, for example people coming and eating in an ordinary way, since the Temple Mount is a holy place. Rather, we are familiar with people coming to make celebrations on the Temple Mount as a part of Muslim fests and holidays. There were also people, such as guards, who stayed on the Temple Mount overnight, and our assemblage could represent their daily lives.

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Cut mother-of-pearl inlays which may be from the Dome of the Rock

Peretz does not have a favorite artifact among those that he is researching for the Sifting project because there are too many to choose from that are really interesting. Some artifacts are connected to the building of the Dome of the Rock or to the artists who made the mosaics adorning the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. For example, Peretz is excited by the large amount of mother of pearl inlay found by the project. Many of these inlays might come from the dismantling and discarding of the mosaics over the years.

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Gilded glass mosaic tesserae from the Early Islamic Period removed from the Dome of the Rock exterior walls during later renovations.

The buildings of the Temple Mount have mosaics inside and out. Some were dismantled during renovations while others were replaced because they were disintegrating or suffering from the elements. For example, all the outer surface of the Dome of the Rock was covered with delicate mosaics unlike the ceramic mosaics that we have today. In the 1500s, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, all the outer paneling of mosaics were taken off the Dome of the Rock and thrown away. Most likely, some of what we are finding today is from that period. Between dumping and the stories of people cutting off the mosaics and selling or collecting them, it is really nice that some of these artifacts have survived.

In addition to working with the Sifting Project, Peretz has just finished publishing his research on the Islamic period ceramics found in the Givati Parking Lot in Jerusalem and is now working on publishing his research on the Islamic material from the Western Wall tunnels and the Kotel. With Assaf Avraham, he just published his research on the Nuba Inscription. Peretz said that he has always been interested in the connection between Islam and Judaism. He and Assaf decided to do some research on the topic, and during that research Assaf found out about the interesting inscription in Nuba. They decided to do some additional research on the inscription and the results were definitely interesting. Check out the video they published on their finds.

The Israel Experience

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Staff Spotlight: October

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So our new news from the lab is that we have two interns! They will be with us for the next few months, so this month’s Staff Spotlight falls onto Hannah Ripps and Renata Roitman.

They are a part of the MASA program, Top Israel Interns. The five month program provides Hebrew classes for the first month, periodic trips to see the country, and connects the participants with internships in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This year’s group had 10 people in Jerusalem and 16 interning in Tel Aviv.

According to our interns, the best part of the program is the internship (obviously) as well as the ability to really get to be a part of Israel. They have an incredible amount of independence and are housed in the center of Jerusalem with easy access to everything the city has to offer. They can even wake up in the morning and grab breakfast at the shuk (market). It is a truly immersive experience and is an amazing way to get to know the culture and the people of Israel.

Renata

Renata is from San Paolo, Brazil. She came to Israel because she wanted to experience living here and to live in a country with good quality of life. She chose to intern for the Sifting Project because we do “interesting and important work.” She said that in Brazil, people are not aware that the Jewish people were here in Israel for a long time before the creation of the country Israel. She thinks that our project has the ability to make people see that Jews were here before.

In Brazil, Renata studied journalism in university. In our lab, Renata is helping us work on PR and social media, and is focusing her efforts on our Spanish and Portuguese speaking donors and volunteers. Right now, she is working on a Portuguese translation of the archaeological history of the Temple Mount and Spanish translation of the interview with Zachi from Channel 2. I will post links ASAP. Renata said that she is learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes work of an NGO; the difficult parts of what we are doing like our quest for funding and creating educational content. She also has really enjoyed sifting in the field and seeing where the initial work happens.

Hannah

Hannah is from Pensacola, Florida. She chose to come to Israel because she loves this country, and for academic and career related reasons. It was an opportunity to get experience and see the world. She is interested in archaeology, Jewish history, and Jewish art and wants to become fluent in Hebrew. Clearly, Israel is a great place for all of that.

Hannah graduated with a degree in archaeology from Barnard University and Jewish Art History from the Jewish Theological Seminary as a part of a dual degree program. She wanted to intern at the Sifting Project as a way of getting her foot in the door to the archaeological community in Jerusalem and in Israel.

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tiny flask with faces

In the lab, Hannah is cataloguing and recording information about objects found in the sifting that have not yet been identified. The lab cannot continue the research process and statistical analysis of the site without the completion of the cataloguing of finds, and we are extremely grateful to Hannah for helping us tackle this huge task. Specifically, she is researching a tiny flask in a neoclassical style. It might be from Germany based on the facial hair and helmet of the man, but we are not yet sure what it was used for.

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Example of gadi material

She is also studying what we are calling the “gadi” material (based on one find with an ancient inscription of a ג and ד). It is thought that these artifacts might be fossils, though there is an internal debate about whether they were used as amulets or writing implements. Further research will hopefully clear that up. If you have information on either object, please let us know on our unidentified finds website: http://www.echad.info/uifinds/ .

img-20161026-wa0000For Hannah, the best part of being involved with the Sifting Project has been finding a Hasmonean coin while sifting. Though it isn’t cleaned yet and we can’t see what is on it (we are waiting for funding to clean the thousands of coins found in the sifting that have yet to be cleaned), we think that it is from the Hasmonean period because it is cut on one side like many from that period. She has also been getting a better understanding of archaeology in general, how research is conducted, and especially how the archaeological system in Israel is organized. She said, “if this is where I want to be for my career, I’m getting a good introduction to that.”

Thanks!

The girls agree that this program has been an amazing opportunity and that everyone they are meeting is friendly and welcoming. (I promise I didn’t force them to say that. Our staff really is just that amazing.) They are both also considering the possibility of making Aliyah and would like everyone to know that they are looking if you are hiring  😉 .

We at the Sifting Project are really grateful to our wonderful interns for all of their help and we hope that you have a fantastic rest of your program. Once part of the TMSP family, always a part of the TMSP family, so know that you will always have a place in Israel.

Staff Spotlight: September

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It’s Awkward to Talk About Myself

It has been requested that I make the Staff Spotlight for September about myself so that you lovely people who follow our blog can learn more about the voice behind the most recent posts.

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Jenn 2010 at Khirbet Qeiyafa

So, hi everyone! My name is Jenn Greene. I am originally from Connecticut in the USA. I got my BA in Archaeology from Boston University and my MA from University College London in Managing Archaeological Sites. My dissertation was about the creation of heritage walking trails in historic cities.

I got interested in archaeology when I was in high school. I took a summer course at Cornell University and had a project translating ancient Mayan door lintels. My roommate came in at one point and asked me if I wanted to get some food. I responded, “Sure! I’m starving! Let’s get some lunch.” She said, “Jenn, it’s dinner time.” I had been working nonstop for 9 hours without even realizing it. That is when I decided that I should probably do this for a living.

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Poster from vocabulary wall made for the Billingsgate Bathhouse. There were tons of mosaics on the Temple Mount and we find tesserae daily.

I also love creating educational materials for archaeological sites. I think that too many sites rely too heavily on having a good tour guide. I think that it is imperative for sites to have information available to visitors that can explain what they are looking at and why it is important. I trained in the education department at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I have worked at Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel and the Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse in London. I made aliyah last September and was actually really nervous about finding a job here in Israel. Though there is a lot of archaeology here, the network of archaeologists is rather small. Yet the Sifting Project took a chance on me and I couldn’t be happier.

I spend my time here in the research lab writing to all of you people and working to secure grants and donations so that we can publish all of our research. If you’re interested in donating, you can click here or check out our crowdfunding page here. Follow us on Facebook! Twitter! (Seriously, I had to learn how twitter worked. Apparently I am bad at being a millennial). Sick of my desk chair, I am on site at Emek Tzurim sifting with our volunteers twice a week. I love hearing everyone’s stories and introducing them to the project.

I love writing the Staff Spotlight segments because I get to share with you the wonderful people I get to work with every day. The staff of the Sifting Project is what makes this job so wonderful. Welcoming, patient with my lack of Hebrew, friendly, knowledgeable, and genuinely interested in the welfare of our visitors, staff, and artifacts, the staff of the Sifting Project is a family and I am blessed to be one of them.

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Jenn with a friend who came with an NCSY group to sift

My favorite memories from the past few months of work are either those where I ran into people I knew randomly on site while I was working, or our special staff tiyul (trip) where I got to learn about the archaeology of Jerusalem from the experts (see some pictures below). It was incredible. We saw excavations in progress, had special access to areas not open to the public, and spoke with the site directors. Zachi and Gaby also taught us about different sites and it was really interesting to see some of the top archaeologists debating methodology and interpretation. I felt like I was right in the middle of these debates that are so hot in archaeology right now.

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Of course, there is also the archaeology. Daily on site I find bits of pottery, glass, and other special items. I still feel a thrill every time I find a mosaic tesserae (tile) even though there is at least one in most buckets. In the lab I get to handle our special finds, search our shelves of boxed artifacts and comb through our photo galleries of amazing pieces of our past.

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Die I found

My favorite thing I’ve found is a Roman die. It is TINY! About the size of my pinky nail and absolutely perfect, it is one of maybe 15 we’ve found in the past 12 years. Bone and ivory dice were very common in the Roman period. It is really interesting that Jewish law from that time actually disqualifies as a legal witness any person who plays with dice (Mishnah Sanhedrin 24b). The Sifting Project actually found a cheater’s die in 2010.

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Both Sides of the Cheater’s Die

It has 6 sides but only the numbers 2, 4, or 6. Any way you look at it, you see a 2, 4, or 6 so that it looks normal if you don’t inspect it carefully. It is perhaps because of things like this within the vice of gambling that the Mishnah makes such a strong statement about those who gamble.

My tip to sifters is this: when you pick a bucket, twist the handle back and forth so that the water and earth swirls along the bottom of the bucket. This loosens the earth and makes the material come out much more easily. It is then easier to clean the bucket and make sure that we’re not losing any artifacts stuck to the bottom. This took me 2 months to figure out. You’re welcome.

Have a great day, and make sure to subscribe to our blog so that you can get all the updates about what we’re doing and what we’re finding. It also makes me look good in front of my boss ;).

Just a Slice of Humble Pie

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Staff Spotlight: August

Hillel Richman has been with the Temple Mount Sifting Project for about 11 years, almost since the project’s beginning. He has raised himself from simple staffer to one of our pottery experts, and yet when you ask him about himself, his response is, “I’m just a simple dude.”

Hillel is a great example of a self-made man. Originally from Jerusalem, he started with the Sifting Project by looking for a part time job that he could stay with for a few weeks or a few months. Even he isn’t quite sure how that turned into 11 years, a career change, and the extensive reading of archaeological pottery typology tomes.

Hillel became more interested in archaeology through the Sifting Project because of his general fascination with the archaic, where we come from, and with what was. For him, it was about the excitement of unraveling the ancient way of life and our origins as people.

Hillel, Zachi, and Haggai discussing a First Temple period scale weight in the lab

 

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Imported Mycenaean Greek Pottery from the 14th century BCE

As would any true archaeologist at heart, Hillel considers his favorite finds from the Temple Mount to be rare ancient pottery. “If it’s imported, or not imported but rare,” he likes it. For him, the Late Bronze pottery is particularly fascinating because it is a

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Bronze Age Pottery

time period from which we have not found a lot of monumental structures or materials. Though there is a great deal of information about the Bronze Age at other sites in the region, it is a mysterious time period that is not well attested to in the central hill country of Israel, including Jerusalem.

Hillel is now one of the pottery researchers for the project. He can tell you the time period and type of vessel by looking at the smallest piece of rim sherd or base. He says that it is an intuition one gets after years of memorizing typologies and working with the materials. Now, he is researching Iron Age pottery (and the limited amount of earlier pottery that we find) for the Sifting Project. His goal is to put together the typologies and write the report for volume III of our upcoming publication in 2018. His research is uncovering what we have in terms of time and space on the Temple Mount. Who was there and when? How was the Temple Mount set up? Can we compare what we have to other sites? What understandings might we get from statistical analysis?

Hillel has discovered that we have a lot of Iron II (8th century) pottery and some 7th and 6th century pottery. Mostly, we have bowls, tableware and storage vessels. We have some cooking pots, which attest to the number of people coming to the Temple for ritual meals, but there are more from the Second Temple Period. We have not found a lot of imported ware from the Iron IIB period, but this is not unique to the Temple Mount. It seems as though this was a time period with little importation in general across Israel.

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Seal found by Hillel

One of Hillel’s favorite memories is having found a seal impression from the Second Temple Period with Hebrew characters. The Sifting Project staff (our volunteers always sift from the Temple Mount itself) are sometimes brought in to sift other excavations’ material. This particular seal was from the excavations at Robinson’s arch, run by Eli Shukron, by the corner of the Western and Southern walls right below the Temple Mount. The seal is one of the first and only indications of the administrative work carried out in the Second Temple, and for Hillel, this was really meaningful.

The seal seems to have been used by pilgrims as a kind of proof that they had undergone ritual purification before worship in the Temple.

Because he is so quiet, humble, unnecessarily self-conscious about his English, and refuses to really talk about himself, I asked one of his closest colleagues to share a memory of Hillel. Frankie Snyder has worked with Hillel throughout her time with the Sifting Project (9 years) and you can often find them discussing things and talking in the laboratory. She concurs that he likes to be in the background and hates the spotlight, but remembers when he was forced into the spotlight by his find of the seal mentioned above.

Each year, there is a Temple Awareness Day with several hours of live broadcasting online. Hillel was asked in 2012 to speak about this seal, but said he would only do it if Frankie would come with him. They were asked to explain several archaeological finds from the past year that all related to the Temple Mount. Frankie says that it was great to see Hillel speak in front of a live camera about the seal and how significant it was to him to be the person who found something that really tells us about the activities on the Temple Mount.

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