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Treasures in the British Mandate Archives

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Happy International Archives Day!

Archaeologists spend a lot of time working with the fresh material coming out of excavations, but equally important is an archaeologist’s understanding of what came before. We must know about previous excavations, historical records, and the history of work at the site we are researching. Archives are a hugely important and often underutilized tool to help us do our job.

As we’ve said on numerous occasions, the Temple Mount Sifting Project is studying the first archaeological evidence from a large scale excavation of the Temple Mount.

This means that we have very little to work with. Not only is the material we are researching out of context because it was improperly excavated by bulldozer and without archaeological supervision, but we also have very little information from previous archaeological work on the Temple Mount. This means that every tiny scrap of information that we can gather is very precious to us.

In 2008, Zachi published published a paper in the annual New Studies on Jerusalem conference of Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies in Bar-Ilan University about his research in the British Mandate Archives. 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.

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Byzantine mosaic floor beneath the Aksa Mosque. (photo credit:Courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.)

One of the most important archives was a series of photographs in a file from the 1930s by R.W. Hamilton, the director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department. Due to severe earthquakes, major construction work was done in the Al-Aqsa mosque during the years 1938-1942. The work included excavations of pits under the mosque piers, and Hamilton published reports about the mosque, but ignored the substantial finds found under the earliest phase of the mosque. Among other things, Zachi discovered photographic evidence of a Byzantine mosaic floor under the Umayyad level of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and a Second Temple period ritual bath (mikvah).

The Byzantine floor was huge news and was even written up in the Jerusalem Post asking the question “Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?” Most historic records from the Byzantine period, including letters by Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, make no mention of a building on the Temple Mount. This discovery of the Byzantine floors, as well as the numerous Byzantine period artifacts discovered by the Sifting Project, are evidence of a public building: possibly a church. Dr. Barkay has said, “It is hard to establish with certainty that this was indeed the site of a church, but without a doubt it served as a public building and was likely either a church or a monastery…This changes the whole history of the Temple Mount during the Byzantine period as we knew it.”

This is a fantastic example of the types of knowledge we can gain from research in archives and a reason that we are happy to share our research with you on International Archives Day. There are truly amazing things to be discovered in the dusty records forgotten by time.

HERE is a link to the full Hebrew article on academia.edu. Below is the abstract in English.

ABSTRACT

In the last century several digs were conducted on Temple Mount as part of renovations and new constructions at the site. These digs encountered ancient remains, and in some cases were documented by inspectors or random visitors. Most of these documentations were never published, although new archaeological information was revealed. Information and photos of the digs and the finds was gathered from the archives of Antiquities Debarment of the British Mandate, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and from private visitor’s documentation.

Due to severe earthquakes major construction work was done in the Al-Aqsa mosque during the years 1938-1942. The work included excavations of pits under the mosque piers, which in some cases reached the depths of about 7m. Substantial information regarding finds revealed in these digs was documented by R.W. Hamilton, director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department. Hamilton even conducted a small scale excavation consisted of seven trenches in order to study the structural history of the mosque. He published his results regarding the mosque, but ignored the substantial finds found under the earliest phase of the mosque. Information regarding these finds can be retrieved from photographs in the Department’s archive.

Among the finds retrieved from these photographs there are: A Byzantine mosaic floor under the Umayyad level of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, A Second Temple period ritual bath (Miqveh) at the eastern most entrance to the present mosque, two large cisterns under the Double Passage, a rock-cut passage with a descending staircase under the Double Passage, a lintel with a (Hebrew\Aramic?) inscription at the entrance of the rock-cut passage, and various architectural remains seen in the depth of the pits excavated under the mosque piers.

Under the Israeli control upon the Temple Mount a few large scale digs took place which revealed substantial finds. Among them are: A pre-Herodian massive wall near the northeastern corner of the raised platform (1970), ancient floor levels under the dome of the chain (1975), small walls located at the edge of the banks of the fosse north-west to the raised platform (1979), a huge substructure that connects the double passage with the passage of the triple gate (1977-2001), An Early Islamic – Medieval vaulted structure north of the eastern most vault of the Solomon’s Stables (1999), remnants of an ancient wall near the north edge of the raised platform (2007), ancient fills (probably from the Second Temple period) north and east to the raised platform (2007), remnants of a wall located east of the raised platform and south of the eastern staircase (2007), a cluster of First Temple period finds near the south eastern corner of the raised platform (2007), fragments of Umayyad pavement east to the Al-Aqsa mosque (2007), and many finds found out of context and could help to better understand the history of the Temple Mount.

 

 

Early Islamic Destruction Layer?

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Preserving the Heritage of Everyone

Amidst all the stress of trying to find the funding to keep our research lab open, we cannot forget our purpose: to share our research with you. We truly believe that our research is important to the heritage of the all who connect to the Temple Mount: billions of people across the world in all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions. We are finding artifacts that are part of the heritage of Jews, Pagans, Christians, Muslims, and all those in between. We’ve written recently about the Christian connection to the Temple and the Jewish connection to the Temple, so today we are going to share some Islamic history of the Temple Mount.

Lailat al Miraj

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Buraq as seen on a reproduction of a 17th century Indian Mughal miniature

Last night marked the beginning of the holiday of Lailat al Miraj, which falls on the 27th day of Rajab and like the Jewish calendar, begins at nightfall the day before. This is the Muslim holiday that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” where he then ascended to heaven, met G-d and earlier prophets, and was told of the duty of Muslims to recite Salat (ritual prayer) five times a day. Muslims believe that the “Farthest Mosque” refers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount here in Jerusalem. They believe that two angels provided the Prophet Muhammad with the mythical winged steed called Buraq, and they named the Buraq Wall (also known as the Western Wall or Kotel) as the place where Muhammad tied this winged steed. In some traditions, Buraq has the head of a women and the tail of a peacock. The full story of Lailat al Miraj are described in chapter 17 of the Quran and also in hadith, supplemental writings about the life of Muhammad.

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The Temple Mount’s history is not only rich during the First and Second periods, though those have been in the news a lot recently. We have recovered a huge amount of material from the Early Islamic period and the Ottoman empire including the golden glass mosaics from the original Dome of the Rock and many ottoman smoking pipes. In September we also recovered this beautiful mother of pearl decoration with the Dome of the Rock on it. You may also have heard about the many Ottoman seals that have been recovered by our project including one with the name of the Deputy Mufti of Jerusalem, a possible ancestor of the current leader of the Waqf.

Last summer, we recovered an intact oil lamp from the Early Islamic period. While that may seem like an obvious find in most excavations, because the material that we are sifting was excavated by bulldozer, everything we find is broken. To find something intact is quite special for our project. Even more interesting than that, the cluster of earth in which the oil lamp was found included many other artifacts (including many large pieces) from the earliest stages of Islamic occupation on the Temple Mount itself. The finds seem to come from a violent destruction of the site, possibly the earthquake of 658 CE. Usually, large or unbroken finds like this are only found in sealed layers of excavations. These finds from the Temple Mount indicate the possibility that at some time in the last millennium, someone dug a hole somewhere on the Temple Mount and hit an Early Islamic layer with lots of pottery. The debris from this dig was dumped in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount and was subsequently removed by the Waqf in 1999, reaching our hands.

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Early Islamic Period (Abbasid) oil lamp Credit: FARLI.org

Unfortunately I can’t show you ours until more research has been done. Here is a similar Early Islamic Period (Abbasid) oil lamp which will give you some idea of what we are talking about. Credit: FARLI.org.

Finding the remains of the destruction caused by the earthquake of 658 CE is one of the more interesting things we have discovered in our research, and is greatly dependent on the statistical analysis of our artifacts. Click here for more information about our methodology and our use of statistics to understand archaeological data.

Channukkah Miracles at the Sifting Project

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Hey everyone! I love the holiday of Channukkah. Maybe it’s because I grew up in secular America so it was always an important holiday in my house, but now living here in Jerusalem, I love the way the whole city lights up with candles in the windows and there are donuts literally everywhere. It is one of those things unique to Israel that makes this holiday even more special.

Channukkah is also a holiday of miracles. I know I already wrote one post about Channukkah, but I got Zachi to go on a rant about the miracle finds of the first year of our project and I can’t not share it with all of you.

There were a number of symbolic finds in the first year of the project. For example, the first coin to be found by the project was a coin from the Jewish revolt against the Romans that says, “For the Freedom of Zion.” Zion is the ancient name for the Temple Mount and this coin encouraged the Sifting Project founders to continue with their important work “freeing” the history of Zion from the dirt. On Channukkah, the project found their first Hashmonian oil lamp, dating to the same time period as the Channukkah story, and the project’s first arrowhead was found on the 10th of Tevet which is the day that commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzer.

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Speakers in Italy: Israel as the Front Line of Europe

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Gaby in Rome!

The Italian news agency Il Foglio is hosting some of the greatest minds of our time, including our own Dr. Gabriel Barkay, to speak about the different aspects of the current political situation in Israel and Europe. Gaby will be joined by writers Bat Ye’or, Bruce Bawer, and Boualem Sansal, the Archbishop of Ferrara Mons. Luigi Negri, Imam of Drancy mosque, Hassen Chalghoumi, anthropologist, Maryan Ismail, the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum, Palestinian blogger, Waleed Al-Husseini, Executive Director of Christians for Israel International, Andrew Tucker, historian Benny Morris, and former foreign minister to Israel, Tzipi Livni.

The program is robust and covers many different topics including ISIS and Iran, The BDS Movement, the Balfour Declaration, and Antisemitism, in addition to Gaby’s talk entitled: The roots of the religious-historic denial: the case of UNESCO’s resolution.

This important meeting of minds takes place tomorrow: Thursday November 17th from 5-8 in the Piazza di Pietra in Rome.

If you are in Rome, do not miss the opportunity to attend these speeches. There will be simultaneous translation into English, Italian, and French.

Here is the list of events and speakers:

Thoughts on the Jerusalem Conference

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The annual conference of New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region that was held yesterday at Hebrew University had many new significant publications, which makes it one of the most interesting conferences about the archaeology of Jerusalem to take place in the last decade.

We have many comments on the publications, many of which are related to the research we are conducting on the finds from the Temple Mount soil. There were some important things that some scholars either did not notice in our published research or were entirely unaware of because the information has yet to be published. Some scholars used Sifting Project finds as evidence for their thesis, but clearly did not understand our methodology or the archaeological importance of the soil we are sifting. This is one example of why it is so important that we move forward in our research and publish more preliminary articles about these issues in the near future.

Most significant to our research was Yuval Baruch’s publication on the IAA discoveries in supervising Awaqf construction works. He revealed significant new data that was not previously published before, as well as information that was published but not understood correctly. For example, he spoke about the Iron Age assemblage that was found in the 2007 electricity cable trench. He has described the assemblage as in situ finds on a floor. We know now that the small pot sherds, bones and figurine fragments is similar to some of the Iron Age finds we’ve been recovering in the sifting for the last 12 years and that it is a typical refuse assemblage and not one that is found on floor levels. We also suspect that some of the Iron Age finds from the Temple Mount which are of refuse contexts were imported with dirt from the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount. The refuse from these slopes originally came from the Temple Mount, so in any case we are dealing with finds that were in use in the Temple Mount during the First Temple Period.

It was probably imported during the Second Temple period from the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount.

A very important article was published by Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven (both also associated with the Sifting Project) about an early Islamic inscription that describes the Dome of the Rock as the Rock of the Temple (Sakhra Bayt al-Maqdis). More details about it will probably be published in the media next week.

The most important publication at the conference, which did not receive appropriate attention and publicity, was by Johanna Regev, Nahshon Szanton, Joseph Uziel and Elisabetta Boaretto. They conducted Carbon 14 tests on the foundation of the fortifications of the spring house in the City of David. The results indicate that these fortifications were probably built during the 9th century BCE. This contradicts the commonly accepted dating of the Middle Bronze age by Reich and Shukrun. These results are a revolution in the research of the City of David.

The Sifting Project and the Temple Denial at Megalim Conference

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It’s going to be an interesting week…
On Tuesday we will be holding a press conference about discoveries in our the research.
On Thursday, September 8th, our project is making a splash at this year’s Megalim Conference focusing on Temple Denial. This is followed by a sifting demonstration and the opportunity for conference participants to sift buckets of earth from the Temple Mount. Afterward, Zachi Dvira will lecture about the archaeological evidence from the Temple Mount from the First and Second Temples and Frankie will speak about her research about the Herodian Temple Mount floors.
Pages from a new booklet distributed these days by Muslim organizations denying the existence of the Jewish temple at the site.

Pages from a new booklet distributed these days by Muslim organizations denying the existence of the Jewish temple at the site.

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Find of the Month!

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View of Emek Tzurim

Life must go on, and what better way to move forward than to focus on the positive things that have been happening at the Sifting Project? We are continuing to do research in our lab, and the summer holidays have brought us a ton of volunteers from all over the world to help us sift.

As you all love to see what we’ve been finding, we have decided to show you a special “Find of the Month.” Some of our more special items we cannot publish because we don’t enough about them in such a short amount of time, but we find many things that are absolutely amazing that we can describe and show you right away.

This month, the special find we want to share with you is a bone spindle whorl.

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Bone Byzantine Spindle Whorl

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Liliana Grobman with the spindle whorl she found.

9 year-old Liliana Grobman from São Paulo, Brazil loves coming to sift at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. This time, while on vacation with her family, she found this fantastically well preserved bone spindle whorl dating to the Byzantine period. That’s about 1500 years old!

Spindle whorls are used in the process of spinning thread. They can be made of a variety of materials including metal, glass, wood, bone, or even antler. They are generally round or disc-shaped (like this one) and they are fitted onto the spindle of a spinning wheel to increase and maintain the speed of the spin.

 

Stay tuned for next month’s “Find of the Month!”

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!