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Nuba Inscription Identifies Dome of the Rock with Jewish Temple

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Our researchers are privileged to work on many projects throughout the year in addition to their work with us at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven have been working on understanding the 9th/10th century Arabic inscription at Nuba and have finally shared their work with the public.

The inscription bears witness to the fact that the Dome of the Rock structure was originally named “Bayt al Maqdis” referring to “The Holy Temple.” Link is to video and press release. This is big news because it is proof from within the Islamic faith that early Muslims knew that the Temple Mount was the site of the Jewish Temple and that they perceived the Dome of the Rock as a reestablishment of the earlier Temple.

Here is the press release about the discovery.

Press Release: The Writing on the Wall

Ancient Arabic inscription bears witness to the fact that the Dome of the Rock structure was originally named ‘Bayt al Maqdis’ referring to “The Holy Temple.”

A team of archaeologists revealed the existence of a 1000-year-old text, dated to the beginning of the Islamic era, which indicates that the Muslims perceived the Dome of the Rock as a reestablishment of the earlier Jewish Temple. They referred to it as “Bayt al-maqdis” in the inscription, which derives from the biblical Hebrew terminology as ‘Beit Hamikdash’, known as the Hebrew reference to the Holy Temple.

This unique find is located in the central mosque at the village of Nuba, next to the city of Hebron. Its significance lies in the fact that it is dated to the early Islamic Period, and it sheds light on the sanctification process of Jerusalem and especially of the Temple Mount to the Muslims.

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The Nuba Inscription

The text on the rock quotes;

“In the name of Allah, the merciful God

This territory, Nuba, and all its boundaries

and its entire area, is an endowment to the Rock

of Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque,

as it was dedicated by the Commander of the Faithful, ̒Umar iben al-Khattab

for the sake of Allah the Almighty”

The village of Nuba is mentioned in the inscription text as an endowment to the Rock of Bayt al-Maqdis [The Holy Temple] and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The text also notes that the one who did the dedication was ̒Umar iben al-Khattab, the Arab ruler who conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines in 638 AD.

Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven, the archeologists who presented the existence of the inscription last week in the Conference on ‘New studies in the archaeology of Jerusalem and its region’ that was held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that this text is, in fact, testimony that at least one of the names of the Dome of the Rock in the first centuries of Islam was “Bayt al-Maqdis” which preserves the Hebrew name “Beyt ha-Miqdash” (literally the “House of Sanctuary”). “The choice to use the name ‘Bayt al-Maqdis’ was not original,” says Assaf Avraham. “Using this name derived from the deep influence of Jewish tradition on the development of Islam in its earliest days.” In an article that was published in the Conference pamphlet, early evidence was presented in the form of quotes by Moslem believers who, it appears, entered and prayed within a place of worship at the Temple Mount, which was named “Bayt al-Maqdis” For example:

“I would regularly pray with Ibn-Dahar in Bayt al-Maqdis, when he entered, he used to remove his shoes.”

“Anyone who comes to Bayt al-Maqdiss only for the sake of praying inside it – is cleansed of all his sins.”

“I entered Bayt al-Maqdis and saw a man taking longer than usual for his bows.”

“The rock that is in Bayt al-Maqdis is the center of the entire universe.”

“Early Islamic literature shows that religious rituals were conducted within the Dome of the Rock at the beginning of the Islamic era” says Assaf; “These rituals were inspired by ancient traditions which took place within The Biblical Temple as is documented in the bible and in ancient Jewish literature.” An ancient Muslim source describes and stresses this point:

“Every Monday and Thursday morning the attendants enter the bath house to wash and purify themselves. They take off their clothes and put on a garment made of silk brocade embroidered with figures, and fasten tightly the girdle embellished with gold around their waists. And they rub the Rock over with perfume. Then the incense is put in censers of gold and silver. The gate-keepers lower the curtains so that the incense encircles the Rock entirely and the scent clings to it.”

These well documented and detailed procedures bear similarities to rituals that were practiced in the Jewish Temple, and were probably derived from them.

dome_of_the_rock13235570190061The Nuba inscription implies that the building of the Dome of the Rock marks the re-construction of the biblical Holy Temple, in essence, one of the most significant acts in the early history of Islam, a new world view that asked to glorify Jerusalem’s position as the world’s religious center for Islam.

When cross-referenced with other Muslim traditional literature of the time, it becomes clear that the Dome of the Rock’s structure was named Bayt Al-Maqdis in which prayers were conducted traditionally. It was the holiest structure within the Temple Mount and it was perceived as a renewed temple.

This unique revelation bears importance and relevance today considering UNESCO’s latest resolution which ignores the Jewish affinity to the Temple Mount.

Here is a link to the official article about the Nuba Inscription in Hebrew. Assaf and Peretz are working to create an English translation that will be published in the near future.

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.

Violence on the Temple Mount

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Hello everyone.

This is going to be a very disturbing post about an incident that happened two days ago. A group of our researchers was attacked while on an archaeological learning tour of the Temple Mount.

We had doubts if we should publish these kind of things, which do not deal directly with our research and the goals of our project, but since it is already widely circulated in the media, and the details are not clear or accurate, we decided to post the facts about what exactly happened and that we are all safe and sound.

This week we conducted two tours for our staff of researchers. On Monday we toured archaeological excavation in Jerusalem to learn about new discoveries at current and ongoing excavations in Jerusalem. We were guided by the excavation directors at various sites and it was a very positive experience for the whole staff.

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We learned about new finds at Givati

On Wednesday, we went to the Temple Mount itself. This tour was designated for our new research staff and our directors Gaby and Zachi taught about the archaeology of the Temple Mount. At first, the tour went very well and was very interesting. We learned about the history of the current structures on the Temple Mount and were able to identify many building materials in secondary use on the site. We had the chance to go into in depth discussions at various spots on the Temple Mount and reconsider common assumptions. Below: Learning about archaeology on the Temple Mount.

Gabrial Barkay gudiing the group

Gabrial Barkay gudiing the group

We walked freely and independently with no policemen or Waqf guards following us. For those of you who are not aware, the tours for religious Jews at the site are limited. Because of the objection of the Muslim organizations to religious Jewish presence at the site, religious Jews are accompanied by policemen that guard them as well as Waqf guards that look carefully at their lips to ensure that they do not mumble any prayers. Non-Muslim prayer at the site is forbidden. Since our group didn’t include any member who outwardly looked religious, we were treated as regular tourists. At the entrance, we immediately encountered the Waqf’s guards who shouted at one of our members that she could not enter the site with only a short sleeved shirt. Luckily she had a scarf in her bag that she could cover herself with. Later on, when we had a long talk near the Al-Aqsa mosque about the different construction phases of the building. One Waqf guard, who was nearby, decided we had spent too much time standing in one place and that we should move on. We did so.

In spite of those two, rather common, incidents, the tour continued with no serious interruptions and we could freely move around as any other tourist can. After two hours, we reached the remaining debris heaps that are still lying on the Temple Mount in the eastern olive grove (the same material that we have been sifting for the last 11 years). We stopped under the shade of one of the olive trees, and one of our group members sat down while listening to our director speak about the dirt. She realized that she was sitting on a rusty, modern, bent nail and picked it up. One Waqf guard who was watching us from a distance began shouting at her. He came over and she handed the nail over to him. He said we should not pick up olive pits.

At no point, did any member of our group pick anything from any of the olive trees or pick up any olive pits from the ground.

The guard begun following us, and asked us to leave the area. Gaby and Zachi continued explaining things as we moved, and we also discussed a large heap of ancient marble architectural fragments that appeared near the path. Then for some reason, the Waqf guard, and another Waqf official who joined him, ordered us to leave the site immediately. We didn’t understand that they wanted us completely off of the Temple Mount. We wanted to go up to the raised platform and ask the police to interfere, but the guards told us that the police are not the ones in charge on the Temple Mount and that they are the ones in charge. They can ask us to leave before visiting hours are over without a reason. They pushed us and ordered us to leave the site immediately while yelling at us for not respecting the site because we were stealing their olive pits. Again, the guard knew that our staff member had picked up a modern nail because he had put it in his pocket.

The police are scattered in many spots on the Temple Mount, but there were no police in sight on the eastern side. We wanted to go up to the upper level so that we could get eye contact with a policeman, but the Waqf officials physically prevented us from doing so. Zachi tried to call the police, but there was no answer on the phone.

One of our staff members (who would like to be anonymous) decided to take photos of the Waqf yelling at Zachi and getting very close to him, but two more Waqf guards came over and they started yelling and pushing him while blocking his photos. The situation was clearly getting out of hand. At this point, the guards pushed him, he fell backward onto the ground and all four guards started beating him. Thank goodness he did not need medical treatment, but he did walk away with several bruises from being kicked in the stomach and back as well as a cut on his neck that was bleeding. Below: camera blocked by Waqf guards – pictures taken before being pushed to the ground.

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Zachi finally managed to reach the police by calling a policeman he knows on his cellphone. The officer immediately reported the incident on the radio. Zachi then began video filming the Waqf guards beating our staff member on the ground, and their focus then switched to him. One guard attacked him and grabbed his phone. He continuously pushed Zachi away and wouldn’t return the phone. He erased the video (we are in the process of restoring the deleted files).

The police still didn’t arrive.

Zachi told the Waqf guards that their actions were disrespectful to Islam and to this holy site, and that he would file a complaint about them in the Waqf administrative office. At this point, the guards decided to give him back his phone and speak differently, although there was still a lot of yelling on both sides. Only then did the police finally arrive. We managed to show some pictures of the altercation from another camera, and two Waqf guards were immediately arrested. We were safely escorted off the Temple Mount by police.

The police took this incident very seriously and urged us all to file complaints and give testimony. We spent the rest of the day at the police station. As far as we know, the court allowed the police to extend the arrest of three Waqf guards involved until 11:00am this morning. We very much hope that the police will finish the investigation quickly and press charges against them.

This incident was very disturbing and is deeply felt by all of our staff and not just the 7 of us that were on the tour. For some of us, it was our first experience with the Temple Mount. Ironically, before the tour, we took all precautions to ensure that the tour would go smoothly without interruption. Zachi Dvira and Gabriel Barkay are very experienced in guiding tours at this highly politically sensitive site, and know how to avoid negative encounters with the Muslim authorities. Yet this time, it seems that our professional interest in spots and issues that are uncommon among tourists aroused their suspicion. The Waqf’s demands were unsolicited and absurd, especially when they prevented us from seeking out the police. Officially, the Waqf guards have no authority upon tourists walking in the open courts of the Mount. Their only authority is inside the Mosques, in which tourists are not allowed. The only official authority are the police, and it is sad that these types of incidents are often overlooked due to political concerns and that the Waqf guards can harass innocent tourist. Since this event, we have received many other testimonies from tourists who were harassed by Waqf guards, and also about other cases where tourists were bullied and physically pushed out of the site.

The Sifting Project is an archaeological research project and does not deal with the political status of the Temple Mount. On the other hand, we are not deterred by conducting research in such a sensitive site with limited access to it. We see it as a challenge, and we will continue to pursue all possibilities in order to discover the archaeological evidence that exists in the site, preserve and study it, and publish our results to the public worldwide.

Thank you to all who support our cause. We are unhurt but shaken. This incident has only strengthened our resolve to study the Temple Mount – all periods of the Temple Mount – and share the archaeological truths about its history in an attempt to encourage educated discussion about this most holy and also contested site.

May we see peace in our time.

Archaeology – A Lifetime of Love

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Staff Spotlight: July

“This is a perfectly wonderful, normal, regular stone. Well done!”

Have you seen one of our green-shirted staff members patiently teaching one of our youngest volunteers? This was probably Beverly. As one of our older volunteers, Beverly shows us that a love of archaeology is a lifetime pursuit. Her excitement and energy are a huge asset to our staff and we are lucky to have her.

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The joy of every staff member comes when they receive their green shirt at the end of their training

Beverly came to Israel from England 48 years ago and is now living in the town of Tekoa outside of Jerusalem. She retired from work as a Public Health Nurse and is now serving her community by volunteering with the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Beverly first got involved with our project when she retired and took part in Megalim (Hebrew acronym for The City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies) – a course with Ir David about the First and Second Temple Periods in light of new archaeological discoveries. She found it to be riveting. Each class had a classroom component but went out into the field as well.

As a long time financial supporter of Ir David, she wanted to continue her association with the organization. She took steps to become a volunteer for one of their projects and ended up here with us at the Sifting Project. This was three years ago. Beverly has been volunteering with us once a week ever since and considers it one of the highlights of her week.

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Volunteers getting their hands dirty and engaging with materials taken from the Temple Mount

Working at the Sifting Project, Beverly has learned a lot about the Temple Mount. Listening to various introductions and wrap up sessions, one gets a feel for the history of the Temple Mount with all its layers and stories. Yet, the most exciting part of learning here is the hands on immersion into the history and the direct contact with the materials that make up the history of the Temple Mount.

Beverly advises sifters not to expect every piece of stone they are looking at to have significance, but to wait for those nuggets of important history that come along and to really learn from the experience. A couple of weeks ago Beverly had a really great day on site. She found two coins and a ring all in one day, but she still considers her most exciting finds to be ones from a couple months back.

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Two uncleaned coins found by volunteers at the Sifting Project. Notice the green tinge.

On a particularly gray and miserable afternoon, Beverly found a really tiny Byzantine coin. When looking for coins, you have to look out for the greenish tinge that comes from the bronze in the coin, so on a day with very little light this task becomes much more difficult. To find such a tiny and important piece of history under those circumstances was extremely exciting.

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Cleaned coins found by the Sifting Project

Beverly’s other favorite find is a stone tool. Made of pinkish stone, the tool has a small shaft and three tiny teeth. When washed it looked as though it could have been modern. Yet when she brought it to the archaeologist, she was surprised to learn that this tiny tool was probably 8 or 9 thousand years old. Not bad for a day’s work. (Sorry no pictures for this one!)

I asked Beverly what her favorite memory was from her time with the Sifting Project. She responded that she loves to work with people. She loves hearing their stories and learning about their backgrounds and enjoys going home and telling her family and friends about the things that we’ve found and the people she’s met. Yet it is when she began to talk about her grandchildren that her face really lit up.

Sharing a Passion with Family

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Special stones collected by the Sifting Project

Beverly’s grandchildren have been to the sifting site twice with their grandmother but numerous other times with their parents, and are really getting a feel for the materials in the buckets. Her 3-year-old granddaughter last year was totally uninterested, but this year was very much engaged in the sifting. She had to stand on two stools in order to see into the sifter and was very cocky about being up so high. Beverly relates that her granddaughter kept lifting up stones and saying, “what is this grandma?” and that she would look at it and respond, “this is a perfectly wonderful, normal, regular stone. Well done!” Her grandson (age 5) was very good at finding pottery and her older granddaughter (age 8) was the family’s flint-finding expert. At one point her grandson became a little bored and said very diplomatically, “grandma, don’t you think we should leave some of the stones for other people to have a look at?” Beverly laughs when she recalls that it was fortunately a very hot day when her family came because at the very end, her 3-year-old granddaughter said happily, “look at me! I’m soaking wet!”

It is with humility, patience, and a spark of excitement that Beverly volunteers with our project and we are very lucky to have her. She is living proof that archaeology is a passion that can be explored and engaged with throughout life.

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10 Books to Read if You’re Into Archaeology and Israel

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sifting-project-1Hello everyone! In case you missed it, our fantastic staff recommended various books in the categories of archaeology, Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for our Book Week Campaign. The list is a great start to a deep understanding of the archaeology of the Temple Mount and a fun way to learn more about our project.

Books range from archaeological texts to novels and 19th century travelogues. Check out the full list featured in this buzzfeed article! I promise you will find something that you just have to add to your amazon wishlist.

In the comments, let us know what books you would add to the list! Also, if you read any of these, please leave a review and let us know what you think of our recommendation.

The full list with descriptions can be found on this Buzzfeed List!

Book Week List

It Figures: TMSP Staff are Experts in their Field

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Staff Spotlight: June

Have you met Aaron?

head shot2Dr. Aaron Greener has been part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) staff since the project’s inception. He has held various positions over the years, but you may remember him as site archaeologist and guide, or fantastic lecturer. He has an extensive and impressive resume and long history of experience in archaeology. He spent a year at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He has excavated at many sites in Israel including Tell es-Safi, participates in various projects in Jerusalem, and is currently part of the team at Tel ‘Eton.

When not working in our research lab, Aaron serves as the Ernest S. Frerichs Fellow and Program Coordinator at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, and is currently conducting his post-doctoral research on the numerous groundstone tools which were used by the metal workers community at Timna. His study is offering – for the first time – a typology and quantitative analysis of the groundstones, and an interpretation of how the various types of tools were employed during the copper smelting process.

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Timna Park in located in the Negev Desert about 25 km north of Eilat. It is the site of the world’s first copper mine and thousands of ancient mining shafts are found throughout the park as well as the remains of smelting furnaces from the period of imperial Egypt.

Aaron also directs “Dig the Past – an Israeli Archaeological Adventure,” which recreates Israeli archaeological excavations at North American camps and communities. Definitely contact him if you are interested in this program. The program has received fantastic positive feedback and is a unique experience with huge educational potential. It’s also seriously fun. Check out the website here.

What is amazing is that this is all after recently completing his PHD at Bar-Ilan University. His thesis is entitled “Late Bronze Age Imported Pottery in the Land of Israel: Between Economy, Society and Symbolism” and he is always happy to discuss this subject, among many others.

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Unique among our finds is this Roman Goat Figurine

Now you see why Aaron is one of our expert staff here at the Sifting Project! He is considered our expert on Terra-cotta figurines and statue fragments and is currently conducting research on the numerous examples found by sifters at our site over the past eleven years.

Most (but not all as you can see by the image to the left) of these figurines can be dated to the Iron Age II period (8th-6th centuries BCE), and may be related to cultic activities. The figurines found by the TMSP complement and provide an important addition to thousands of similar figurines which are found in all Judahite sites.

These figurines, consisting mostly of anthropomorphic female pillar figurines and a variety of four legged animals (mostly horses, some with riders), have stirred the imagination of researchers since the dawn of archaeology. Since almost all are found in fragmented condition, some have related them to the Biblical account of Hezekiah’s or Josiah’s religious reforms, during which symbols of idol worship were systematically destroyed and abolished. Numerous books and articles have been written about their possible functions and symbolism.

Do they represent the goddess Asherah or rather mortal women? Were they used for ritual in the unofficial domestic realm or have more of an apotropaic function?

Aaron and the rest of the team are trying to answer these questions and understand what these figurines were used for on the Temple Mount, the political and religious center of Jerusalem and Judah.

We are currently trying to raise funds to be able to publish our findings in a series of volumes dedicated to our site. If you are interested in helping us reach that goal, check out our crowdfunding website which has details about the project, our finds, and the importance of our research and its publication. There are also great thank you gifts for our donors.

Also, if you are interested in figurines and what Aaron is up to in the lab, stay tuned for a video contest about one of our figurines. More details will be on our facebook page and twitter feed at the end of June.

 

 

National Service Doing the World a Service

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Staff Spotlight: May

NoaHave you met Noa?

Noa is our Bat Sherut this year at our sifting site in Emek Tzurim National Park, meaning that she is doing her National Service by working with our project. She is a very meticulous and focused sifter, and she is a champion at finding small bits of plaster and other small finds. One of her favorite artifacts that she has found is a very small fragment of a hair comb made of bone that dates to the Second Temple. She said, “it is a very small artifact, but a very valuable one.” Able to identify and teach about the different types of rocks and special stones, as well as other categories of finds, she is a fantastic help at the site and a great guide for all of our English and Hebrew speaking groups.

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A selection of bone hair combs found in the sifting at the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Noa is from Na’ale, which is a yishuv near modiin. She decided to do her Sherut Leumi, or National Service, with the Sifting Project because she has always been interested in the past and especially the history of Israel and Jewish culture. When she heard that there was an option to do her National Service at the Sifting Project, she decided to check it out and we are so glad that she did!

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A fragment of a stone vessel found in the sifting at the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Before working with the Sifting Project, Noa says that she knew the general history of the Temple Mount, but that now she has studied more intensively about the Temple. For example, she explains that she now knows much more about the different vessels of the Temple, such as those made of stone. Stone vessels were very popular during the Second Temple Period (1st century BCE – 1st century CE) because they don’t get defiled or absorb spiritual impurity.

Noa loves working with our volunteer groups. She specifically has good memories of working with a mechina of olim chadashim (high school age preparatory program for new Israeli citizens) that comes to sift every year. Next year, she plans to work in agriculture and then spend some time traveling. When she returns to Israel, she wants to study Toldot Israel, the history of the ancient Israeli nation, in university.

Stay tuned and get to know us! We will be putting a spotlight on different staff members each month. Leave a comment and share our posts if you had a good experience working with our staff!

Saying Farewell to Ohad and Rachel

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It is with sad hearts that we announce that we are losing two of our most valued staff members at the Sifting Project. As of November 1, our site manager Ohad Tal and our office manager Rachel Nachum will be leaving for other employment. Both of them have been with us for the past 2 years.
Ohad has been a true trailblazer in site development, working in cooperation with the National Parks Authority to beautify the site, giving it the feel of a “park” and not just an “archaeological dig”. Also, he created more usable offices and workspaces, which is difficult considering that our “buildings” are two converted shipping containers! And for the convenience of our visitors, he coordinated the installation of new restrooms (with flush toilets!) to replace our previous portable johns. All of these projects have given the site a more inviting atmosphere for the visitors and volunteers who come to help us achieve our goal of recovering all the archaeological artifacts from the material so carelessly discarded from the Temple Mount.
As a personnel manager, Ohad worked tirelessly to form a cohesive bond among everyone at the site by sponsoring social activities like field trips and festive meals for the staff and volunteers. We are not just employees; we are a family of close-knit friends who enjoy each others’ company both on the job and out in the community.
One of Ohad’s greatest accomplishments was the recent exhibit of Sifting Project finds at the City of David during their 13th Annual Studies of Ancient Jerusalem Conference. Our “mini-museum” gave over 1,000 visitors an up-close (and, in some cases, even hands-on) look at museum-quality artifacts recovered by the Sifting Project. This exhibit vastly increased the awareness of the accomplishments of this project among both the professional archaeologists and the general public who attended the conference.
Rachel, an amazingly business-minded individual, has worked ceaselessly to increase the number of visitors to the site and bring an air of professionalism to the operation of the office. She is highly motivated and has given her heart and soul to the Project. Ohad has called her “the mother of the staff” for her efforts to coordinate staff scheduling and bring awareness of each staff member’s individual responsibilities.
Both Ohad and Rachel will be sorely missed at the Sifting Project, but we wish them well as they begin their new jobs.

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