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The History of the Temple Mount in 12 Objects: #2 The Early First Temple Period

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Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and meet this month’s guest – the earliest piece of weaponry ever to be recovered from the Temple Mount:

The arrowhead is made of bronze, in a flat, lanceolate shape, while the tang (the bit that gets inserted into the shaft) is slightly thicker, with a rhomboid midsection. Tip-to-tang, the arrowhead just tops 6 ½ cm and weighs about 9 grams.

This type of arrowhead is well known throughout Israel and surrounding areas, with examples discovered in Megiddo, Kadesh Barnea, and more. This type of arrow remained popular for several centuries, but Late Bronze Age archers seemed to prefer longer arrowheads, while in the Iron Age IIB, bronze arrowheads become scarce, and their tang would have a circular midsection, leaving our arrowhead nestled comfortably in the middle in the 10th century BCE.

To this date, less than a dozen such arrowheads have been discovered within 10th century BCE contexts throughout the country, but this speaks less of the arrowheads and more about the period in general. The 10th-9th centuries BCE are notoriously hard to pin down in an excavation for one simple reason – peace. As opposed to periods that ended violently, leaving behind entire destroyed and abandoned cities, the transition from the Iron Age I (the 12th-11th centuries BCE) to the Iron Age IIa (10th – 9th centuries BCE) was nonviolent – arrows went unfired, pottery went unsmashed and anything broken through normal use wasn’t left lying around on the floor in order to make the archaeologist’s job easier, but found its way to the city dump, such as the one we have discovered on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, which indeed contained copious amounts of pottery dating mostly to the 9th Century BCE.

But let’s leave the arrowhead for a moment and focus on the Temple Mount – what did it look like during this period?

Not much is known about the Iron Age I (12th-11th centuries BCE). The city of Jerusalem was controlled at the time by the Jebusites, a group of possibly Hittite origin, who are only known to us from the Bible. The Temple Mount itself was outside of the city proper, and was utilized for agricultural purposes, such as Araunah’s threshing floor, which we’ve previously discussed.

The Iron Age I draws to a close around 1000 BCE with the founding of the Davidic dynasty and the conquest of Jerusalem.

As opposed to the city itself, the Bible tells us that the nearby hill, which will come to be known as the Temple Mount, wasn’t conquered by force, but was purchased from Araunah, King of the Jebusites.

According to the Biblical account, King David only built an altar on said hill. It was his son, Solomon, who expanded the city to include the Temple Mount, and built upon it  a royal compound, with numerous buildings listed by the Bible (1 Kings 9):  the Temple itself (The House of God), the House of the King, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the House of Pharaoh’s daughter, the Great Courtyard, and the Other Courtyard. The text also mentions several halls (Hall of the Throne, Hall of Pillars, etc.), but it is unclear whether these are separate buildings, or rooms within the buildings previously mentioned.

The entire complex stood atop the Temple Mount, renovated from time to time, until the destruction in 586 BCE.

The issue of the historical accuracy of the Bible has been the subject of much heated scholarly debate over the last few decades; some simply accept the Biblical description as historical fact, others dismiss out of hand the idea of gleaning any historical data from the Scriptures. The vast majority of academic scholars are situated somewhere between these extremes, and carefully try to tease out historical meaning from the text.

The description of the building of the Temple Mount complex given in 1 Kings includes many dry, technical details: building materials, measurements, adornments, etc. The buildings’ layout and techniques fit nicely with what we know of buildings of the period from the Ancient Near East, leading credence to the notion that the Biblical author based himself on authentic documents from the Temple archives.

Towards the end of the 10th century BCE the Temple Mount saw a decline in opulence. The Bible tells us that King Shishak of Egypt marched upon Jerusalem, and King Rehoboam placated him by delivering the treasures of the Temple and royal palace. Back in Egypt, Pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded a military campaign (ca. 920 BCE) on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt. There, the capitulating city of Jerusalem is not mentioned among the list of conquered towns, but despite the discrepancy, this is still considered the first Biblical event to be recorded by external contemporary sources.

Until recently, the only source of information regarding the Temple Mount in this period was the Biblical text itself. The lack of archaeological data allowed for the profusion of different theories, which remain untestable.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has uncovered several artifacts that help paint an archaeological picture of the Temple Mount in the early days of the Kingdom of Israel. We have discovered a fair amount of pottery datable to this period, mainly hand-burnished bowls and cooking pots. Comparison of the amount of pottery sherds leaves no room for doubt – this is indeed the period that saw the beginning of intense human activity atop the Temple Mount.

A few other artifacts provide us with glimpses into the types of activity that said inhabitants might have been engaged in. The arrowhead with which we opened might have belonged to one of the Temple or palace guards. Administrative activities carried out within the royal compound might be reflected by a rare cone-shaped stone seal depicting a pair of animals (read more here) and a bronze weight carrying an early Hebrew inscription, purportedly discovered on the Temple Mount a century ago, while various finds from the garbage pit on the Temple Mount’s eastern slope and from the Ophel excavations all add up to paint a colorful picture of the diverse human activity taking place atop the Mount at this time.

Until such a time that a proper archaeological excavation will take place at the Temple Mount, we won’t know if there are any structural remains from the Iron Age IIA. However, in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount complex, there are some parts that clearly predate Herod, and have been suggested to date to the First Temple Period by some scholars. Given that – they may very well date to the Early First Temple Period.

Apart from the Temple itself, this period saw the Temple Mount as home for the kingdom’s governmental center that, at least in term of acreage, dwarfed the Temple and is likely the source of most of our recovered artifacts. However, irrespective of its size, the Temple was a source of inspiration to all activity conducted in nearby public buildings and governmental institutions. The Bible ascribes to the Temple a central part in the people’s religious and national life. Tithes and offerings were brought to the Temple, and there the people gathered three times a year and directed their prayers towards from afar. Such a place would have cast a light on any cultural, economic, administrative and judicial act carried out nation-wide. Any conflict would have been resolved therein, and from hence the Torah would be dispersed among the Nation of Israel and the world.

Did this utopian vision actually take place at any point during the First Temple Period? Does archaeology have anything to add to this question? Stay tuned for the next blog post in the series, as we move on to the Late First Temple Period!

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 represent.

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 Egyptian glyptic items, 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 Egypt in the 15th Century BCE.

But what’s an Egyptian amulet doing way out here, 420km away from 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 beginning 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 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 people, 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 a 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!

Mourning and Gratitude

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The three weeks of mourning are in full swing and Tisha B’Av, the fast day dedicated to remembering the destruction of the Jewish Temples, is fast approaching. It is a time for reflection about what the Temples and the Temple Mount means to the Jewish people, but can also be a time to be grateful for what we do have today: the State of Israel, access to the Western Wall, and (limited) access to the Temple Mount. We have the freedom to be Jewish in our homeland, and we here at the Sifting Project have the blessing to every day work with artifacts from the Temple Mount. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have already given in this year’s Annual Appeal for helping us continue to do this important and meaningful work and share it with you. Click here to donate to this year’s appeal and quadruple your impact.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank a very special community. Last May, we had the pleasure of being invited to the Hampton Synagogue in West Hampton Beach, New York. This was at the height of our insecurity about the future of our project, and long-time supporter Mr. David Sterling, and Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hampton Synagogue, made an appeal on our behalf. The congregation treated us with warmth and were so welcoming and generous, and we left the community with enough pledges to help us secure the funding we needed to complete last year’s research and the ability to focus on our goals and continue our research. This year, Dr. Barkay returned to the Hamptons and again received a warm welcome and promises of help.

We have great respect and gratitude for all of our donors, and some of you have really become like members of our TMSP family. Some of you have been with us from the beginning in 2004 and some of you are newer to our project. We are moved that our message of archaeological conservation and cultural heritage preservation affected you enough to come on board and join us in our mission.

However, never before has an entire US community of people come together to make such an impact on our project, and we want to take this moment to say thank you.

The Temple and the Hamptons

Gratitude Plaque at the Hampton Synagogue with Soil and Ashes from the Temple Mount

If you find yourself in the New York area, you should take a look at the unique plaque that we created for the Hampton Synagogue. This plaque represents our gratitude and friendship, and also includes an ewer of Temple Mount soil from our sifting. We’ve written before about the unique earth that we have been sifting through and its high content of ash, originating from the destruction of the First and Second Temples

We learn from the tenth-century Rabbi Sherira Gaon that when Israel was exiled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, the smiths, craftsmen, and prophets among them, were brought to the city of Nehardea in Babylonia. Jehoiakhin the king of Judah, and his entourage built there a synagogue and used for its foundation earth and stones they had brought with them from the [ruined] Temple [in Jerusalem] to fulfill the intention of Psalms 102:14. They named the synagogue Shaf ve-Yativ, meaning the Temple journeyed and settled here.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Rabbi Marc Schneier with the Gratitude Plaque at the Hampton Synagogue

Well the Temple has now journeyed and settled in the Hampton Synagogue, the first modern synagogue in the world to hold the ashes of the Temple itself. The plaque we created to accompany the soil explains this and reads, “This olive wood plaque is dedicated to the congregants of the Hampton Synagogue in recognition of their support for the Temple Mount Sifting Project; as people who embody Psalms 102:14 For your servants have cherished her stones, and have redeemed her dust. May the congregation find great meaning in this soil from the Temple Mount, containing ash originating in the massive conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple… Like in Babylon, may this earth serve as a reminder of our connection to Jerusalem and the Temples. May it be a symbol of the bond of friendship with the Temple Mount Sifting Project in the pursuit of the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage and Jerusalem.”

* The Temple Mount ashy soil is the property of the nation of Israel and the world. We don’t see ourselves as the owners of this earth, with its rich meaning and history. We want to share it with you, our family of supporters. Congregations interested in a similar plaque and lecture series can contact development@tmsifting.org

 

Ashes for Joy and Sorrow

Bowl of ashes used at wedding.

The destruction of the Temples is remembered by Jews in so many different ways, and at so many different occasions. Jews remember the destruction in daily prayer, grace after meals, when building a new home, and at weddings in order that we commemorate the ongoing feeling of pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. We have had many people, grooms and the grieving, asking us for this ash so that they can use it at weddings and funerals.

Yemenite Jewish custom is to put ash on the groom’s forehead during the marriage ceremony when this destruction is recalled and Psalm 137:5-6 is said. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” In recent years this custom has been adopted also by non-Yemenite Jews.

Others, like secular Israeli Yishai Rosenbaum from Oranit, believe that the juxtaposition of remembering the destruction of the Temples at happy occasions highlights our ability to bring joy out of sadness. Rather than tempering our joy with a moment of sad remembrance, it uplifts our sadness with the present joy and hope for the future.

Our director, Zachi Dvira, also used Temple Mount ash at his mother’s funeral. There is a tradition that the children place a little ash on the closed eyes of the deceased, while reciting the verses “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” (Genesis 3:19) and “Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes,” (Genesis 46:4).

Most recently, we sent Temple Mount soil to be sprinkled in the burial of one of our biggest supporters, and we know that it brought comfort to the grieving family to have him resting in earth from Israel and the Temples.

It is amazing how something as simple as soil or ashes can fire our imaginations or make us connect with history, our heritage, or the divine. May these three weeks of mourning be also a time of reflection, gratitude, and giving. Despite recent actions, may we never again witness destruction on the Temple Mount.

Update: Waqf Uses Ramadan to Violate Antiquities Law

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As we explained in our last post, during the final week of Ramadan, the Muslim Waqf made use of the closure of the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims, and limited police presence, to move the remaining mounds of soil that were originally excavated, along with the material we have been sifting, in 1999 and the early 2000s. This material contains a huge amount of artifacts from all periods of the history of the Temple Mount, including the First and Second Temple periods. This material SHOULD be sifted by the Temple Mount Sifting Project, and legally, we are the ones with the rights to move, sift/excavate, study, and publish this material. Yet again, illegally, the Waqf, with dozens of volunteers and workers, carried out excavation work, earth and stone clearance on the Temple Mount.

Section of the dirt mound that was “bitten” by excavation

According to the video we received last week, there was illegal movement of soil, stones, and artifacts from the large dirt mounds on the Eastern side of the Temple Mount. Stones were collected and used to build terraces and little walls to outline new walkways. According to Arnon Segal of Makor Rishon, the Waqf also erected a monument in memory of the Gazan paramedic, Razan al Najar, who was killed two weeks ago in the clashes along the Gaza border.

As we mentioned in our previous post, there is a supreme court ruling that prevents these mounds from being removed without archaeological supervision. Muslim authorities object to any archaeological work on the Temple Mount, so since 2004 no debris has been removed from the Temple Mount, and all material from renovations and other work has been gathered in these mounds.

This morning, our director Zachi Dvira went up to the Temple Mount to assess the damage.

The good news, if there is any, is that for most of the mounds of soil, only the outer layers seem to be damaged. We have evidence that the workers scraped the sides of the mounds and sorted finds, including some larger architectural fragments and floor tiles.

The bad news is that there are four places where the Waqf not only “cleaned” the mounds on the surface, but yet again dug into the interior of them. This is clearly a show of who is in control, and a message from the Waqf to the world that they don’t need permission from Israel to do anything on the Temple Mount, and that no one can stop them. The video from last week also showed ancient slabs being sorted and removed from the mounds. Who knows what else was discovered, and what else we won’t be able to study from this unsupervised work.

Part of a large stack of architectural marble stones from the Byzantine and Early Moslem period. (taken in 2012: Zachi Dvira)

Since the early 2000’s, near the Golden Gate, there was also a large heap of architectural fragments (mainly made of marble) that came from the dismantling of all sorts of ancient structures on the Temple Mount during past renovations. Many of these architectural fragments were probably dismantled in renovations 100 years ago, kept in storage, and then discarded to the trash heap in the 1990s. While looking at this heap in 2013, we discovered Early Islamic period inscriptions, Second Temple floor tiles, Byzantine church chancel screens, and other important artifacts. We published it and no one did anything about it. Today’s visit, and another conducted several months ago, revealed that 3/4 of that material is missing. Where all of this archaeological material is now is a complete guess. We fear that these important artifacts have been lost due to looting. None have yet been turned over to archaeologists.

We condemn the use of Ramadan and the lack of Jews and Israelis on the Temple Mount to obfuscate the goings on of the Waqf. For years, the Israeli Police have had some success in preventing work in these piles of soil. In the past, when attempts were made to remove these mounds of soil, we were also alerted to the attempt in time to save the mounds so that they can be properly and legally excavated and studied.

The police released a statement saying that they will make sure that the earth that was removed is returned to its place. We are grateful to the police for making such a strong statement and upholding the law. However, while this is great in theory, the looted artifacts will never be returned, and it is impossible for the soil to be replaced perfectly. The changes in the earth mounds will disrupt our ability to separate the sources of the debris during their eventual excavation. We had hoped to conduct a controlled removal of the soil and study the separate sources of the debris from which these piles are composed. This could lead us to a more accurate understanding of the original provenance of all of our artifacts and help us reconstruct what the Temple Mount looked like, and how it was used, in different periods.

In 2018, this should not be a problem. Taking advantage of the limited police, and ban of all non-Muslims from the Temple Mount because of Ramadan, these archaeologically rich mounds of earth have been irreconcilably damaged. This is a clear violation of the law, a violation of basic morality and respect, and an absolute destruction of the heritage of Jews as well as Christians and Muslims.  This constitutes a decade’s worth of regression in the level of enforcement of the antiquities law on the Temple Mount and needs to go viral so that the world can see what the real status quo is on the Temple Mount.

Please share this information and communicate it to the media and government officials. Make this story go viral.

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More Archaeological Destruction on the Temple Mount

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More Archaeological Destruction on the Temple Mount and Damage to Dirt that should be Sifted in the Temple Mount Sifting Project was Disturbed

A very serious incident occurred in the last few days on the Temple Mount. In the eastern part of the Temple Mount, there are mounds of earth from various illegal excavations carried out by the Waqf on the Temple Mount in the early 2000s. This is the latest of many attempts to remove this earth. The Waqf attempted to remove the mounds from the Temple Mount in 2004, in coordination with the police and Israel Antiquities Authority, but without supervision. Fortunately this attempt was forestalled by a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. The court ruled that the earth can only be removed under archaeological supervision and with coordination with the Committee.

It should also be noted that according to an internal report written by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2016, the excavation permit, given to us allowing us to sift the earth that was removed from the Temple Mount at the end of 1999 and at the beginning of 2004, also applies to these mounds that were just disturbed.

A controlled removal of these mounds would enable extrapolation of the separate sources of the debris from which these mounds are composed. Such a dig could provide us with much more accurate information than we currently have in studying the findings from sifting the soil that was dumped into the Kidron Valley in 1999. The information that could emerge from sifting these mounds would complement the information we currently possess and would enable us to draw a clearer, larger picture.

For years, the Israeli Police have had some success in preventing work in these mounds of soil and debris. In 2013 there was an attempt to remove them by truck and tractor on the false grounds that only park waste was removed, but thanks to the media, we were able to stop the works.

Now, during the last days of the month of Ramadan, when the Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslim visitors and police presence is limited, over a thousand people carried out excavation work, stone clearance, and the creation of terraces in these piles of earth!

This is a clear violation of the High Court’s order. This constitutes a decade’s worth of regression in the level of enforcement of the antiquities law on the Temple Mount.

The changes in the earth mounds will disrupt the ability to separate the sources of the debris during their eventual removal and archaeological excavation. Furthermore, during the course of such a manual excavation as just occurred, many archeological artifacts are routinely discovered. It is highly doubtful that any such items will reach the hands of archaeologists.

* Please share this information and communicate it to the media and government officials. This is important and needs to go viral.

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