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A Day in the Life: Passover

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Dear Diary,

After a long trek, we finally made it to Jerusalem in time for Passover. There were streams of people on the roads and there is a festive feeling in the air. It is always an exciting time to come into Jerusalem. I can see the Temple at the top of the hill, and I must say that I am so grateful that we come to Jerusalem three times a year, if only because I get to see this magnificent building dedicated to the Almighty.

At twilight time, we will begin the festival that we all came for. The city is now crowded almost to bursting with Jews who have come for the Passover festival. Tonight we will eat together the food of a nomad so that we can remember that we were once slaves in Egypt, that we left their elaborate lifestyle behind, and that we traveled the desert for forty years before finally crossing into Israel.

Prickly lettuce (milk thistle) still native to the land of Israel.

We will have matzah, the simple flat bread that is very thin and flexible. We will have the maror, the bitter herbs that remind us of the bitterness of slavery. We collected some of the wild greens that we passed on our way here. It is now spring and because there is less water, the herbs are very bitter. Many of us favor the prickly lettuce, but I prefer to avoid it. It is so bitter, and it puts me to sleep so I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay awake until the end of the story. We will also have the Passover offering and eat the roast lamb together with our neighbors. It is made in a simple nomad style; just roasted on the fire, but we are grateful that G-d spared us when he killed the first born of all the Egyptians. The meal can only be eaten from clean pots and the pots cannot be used again, so when we are done, we will break them. I wonder what people in the future will think about finding all of our broken cooking pots in Jerusalem.

We will spend the night hearing from my grandfather and father the story of how we were slaves in Egypt and were redeemed by the Almighty. I keep thinking that someone ought to write down the order of what we do and how we tell the story, but with everyone chiming in with details and helping tell the story, there is no chance of forgetting anything, so I suppose we don’t really need a written version.

Next year in Jerusalem.

 

Cooking pot rim from the Second Temple Period recovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Now, that is just a story that I made up, but we do have a lot of evidence of people coming to the Temple in Jerusalem on pilgrimage for the three major holidays of Judaism, the shalosh regalim: Chag HaMatzot (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles). In our own research here at the Temple Mount Sifting Project, we have discovered a huge number of cooking pots from the Second Temple period in particular, and our researchers think that these cooking pots may be from the pilgrims who came to the Temple for these three holidays. We also have a large number of cow, sheep, and goat bones. They haven’t been dated yet, but when we look at the percentage of bones that have been burnt, the cow, sheep and goat percentage are 90%! While we know that lamb was eaten on Passover, cows, goats, and sheep were often used in sacrificial meals. Our researchers are now tackling questions like: could these burnt bones have come from sacrificial meals on these three major holidays?

One of the oldest surviving haggadas. Click for more info.

So where did our modern format for Passover come from? One of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving Haggadah comes from the Cairo Geniza and is dated to about 1000 CE, over 900 years after the Second Temple. Another damaged Passover Haggadah from about the same time has actually just been digitally scanned and is being presented as part of the “Scribes of the Cairo Genizah” project. Where it had been passed down orally, as Jews spread throughout the diaspora, an effort was made to write down the customs and laws of Judaism, and this included the traditions of Passover. As more time passed, traditions meshed with local culture and we can see how different, for example, are Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs regarding legumes and things like rice and beans. Interestingly, Yemenite Jews retained the soft, flat, burrito-like matzah that was most likely used (or something similar was used) at the time of the Temple.

Though customs change and vary, whether you eat rice or you won’t eat gebrochts, the meaning behind the Passover seder and the story that we tell of the Exodus from Egypt remain the same. It is the story of freedom from bondage, redemption from slavery. It is a story that is relatable in every era and is something important to remember. Lift up the fallen and do your best to free the enslaved. Our director, Zachi Dvira, believes that Passover is also the freedom from the enslavement of cultural life by dedicating some time to go back to the most simple food, but not going back to raw food as in Eden. Whatever your tradition is this Passover, we wish you a meaningful and happy holiday spent with loved ones. As the last line of the Haggadah says, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” and know you are always welcome to visit us here at the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

International Women’s Day 2018

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Lab staff of the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Girl Power at the Sifting Project!

Today is International Women’s Day and I want to gloat about the amazing women working for the Temple Mount Sifting Project. We really have a special workplace because we have such a high percentage of women working here. With a lot of talk recently about women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), archaeology can sometimes be overlooked because many people associate it with the humanities. However, as someone who was required to take statistics for my archaeology major at Boston University, I can tell you that archaeologists regularly use the left side of the brain. What makes archaeologists so special is their ability to integrate the hard science and logic aspect of the field with the understanding of people, social structures, and the humanity side of the field.

Women working as archaeologists are power houses and I am honored to call some of them my colleagues. Though many doubt us, we women can handle the rough days of field work getting dirty and processing finds, and the long days of research and analysis, the complex statistics and categorization of finds. My coworkers are creative and precise and manage to be some of the most genuine and kind people I’ve met.

Frankie Snyder with an example of a floor pattern from the Second Temple

People who know our project know that our researcher Frankie Snyder is amazing. She is a mathematician and actually taught math in America. When she moved to Israel, she started volunteering at our project. Almost 10 years later, and she has come out with some groundbreaking research on our opus sectile tiles. Using geometry, material analysis, and comparisons with other Herodian sites, she was able to recreate the possible patterns of the floors of the Second Temple complex. She discovered what we call “Herod’s triangle” whose base is equal to its height, like a triangle constructed inside a square. This triangle with the unusual corner angles of 52°-64°-64° was very common in Herodian patterns but was rarely seen in floors elsewhere in the Roman world. When used in a pattern, the “Herod’s triangles” cause adjacent tiles to also have unusual, but mathematically recognizable corner angles. With math, ingenuity, and creativity, Frankie made one of the most amazing discoveries in Jerusalem archaeology in a decade.

Razia Richman making a scale drawing of an artifact

Dorit Gutreich sorting pottery

Frankie is just one of our many amazing women at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. We have had many female managers at the sifting site and we have a lot of female researchers and staff as well. Razia Richman does all of our detailed to-scale drawings of special finds. Nili Ahipaz is researching all of our coins dating from the Persian period (4th century BCE) to the time of the Arab Conquest in the 7th century CE. She is interested in how the symbols and inscriptions on coins can teach us about the beliefs and aspirations of the people who minted and used them. She is an inspiration to us, reminding us why we are studying these things, and not just identifying what they are.

Dorit Gutreich took over the study of Crusader and Medieval period pottery from another fantastic female: Giulia Roccabella. Dorit is also researching all of our ancient glass. I was talking to her about International Women’s Day, and she said that the best advice she could ever give is to, “believe in yourself and your abilities. Always follow your heart. I studied archaeology just because it interests me. I never thought I would be able to find work in it afterward, but you know what? I have been practicing archaeology for more than 12 years now.”

Me, Jenn Greene showing off some mosaic tesserae at the sifting site.

Working with all of these amazing people, I feel like you can’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something just because you are a woman. There are so many opportunities now for further education and experience and the biggest, hardest step is always the first step. I moved to London for my MA program at University College London and then moved to Israel and got my citizenship.  Even though it has been difficult and completely foreign to everything I’ve done before, I have not regretted that first step for an instant.

So women: Be brave. Be strong. Be yourself.

*Note: We are currently looking for researchers in a number of different categories. Both women and men are welcome to apply and join our amazing team. Contact me at development@tmsifting.org.

 

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

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

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

The Ancient Beams of the Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

Destruction through Negligence?

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

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

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

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

For more information about these beams see:

The Times of Israel

Biblical Archaeology Review Here or Here

Video of Gaby explaining starting at 2:30

Pictures in Arutz Sheva

Israel HaYom

Mycenaean Imports Early in Jerusalem’s History

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Newsletter

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

Imports

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

LBA Mycenean 32223

Late Bronze Age Imported Mycenaean (Greek) Pottery

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

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

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

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

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

Bronze Age 85091 (1)

Indicative Late Bronze Age Canaanite bowl

Other Finds

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

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

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

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

Eastern Slope of the Temple Mount

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

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

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

ISIS-Style Destruction of Antiquities, Right Here in Israel

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A week and a half ago, our staff had a fun day. As archaeologists, we obviously decided to go visit some archaeological sites, but we had no idea what we were about to see.

One of our stops on our trip was at the site of Archelais, which is north of Jericho. It is an ancient site that was built by King Herod’s son Archelaus (who then named the site after himself). Josephus mentions that Archelaus “magnificently rebuilt the royal palace that has been at Jericho, and he diverted half the water with which the village of Neara used to be watered, and drew off that water into the plain, to water those palm trees which he had there planted: he also built a village, and put his own name upon it, and called it Archelais.” (Antiquities 17.340)

In the Roman world, the dates from Archelais and the surrounding region were greatly admired. Pliny the Elder (NH 9.13) describes them as “highly esteemed – the more remarkable quality of these is a rich, unctuous juice; they are of a milky consistency, and have a sort of vinous flavour, with a remarkable sweetness, like that of honey” and they were bequeathed by Salome, King Herod’s sister to Livia, wife of Augustus Caesar (antiquities 18.31). Today, the area still boasts large tracts of date palms.  The site of Archelais proper is identified with the ancient ruin of Khirbet el-Beiyudat.

That is until recently.

Archelais was excavated from 1986 to 1999 by Hananya Hizmi who is now the Head Staff Officer of Archaeology for the Israeli Civil Administration in the District of Judea and Samaria. Since that excavation, the site has been left mostly untouched until recent construction by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to turn the surrounding area into a resort.

While this was unfortunate construction encroaching on the archaeological site, the construction stayed to the edges of the site. However, it seems that the men who were brought in to bulldoze the area for the construction realized that the land they were digging was rich with archaeological artifacts. It seems as though they decided to come back and see what they could find and in a short period of time, perhaps days, the almost the entire site was marred by bulldozers, and mass looting for the illicit antiquities market.

What we saw, and what you can see in these pictures is not Syria or Iraq. It’s right here in Israel.

 

This is quite possible the biggest archaeological destruction  in Israeli history. While the Temple Mount may be a more important site rich in antiquities from all different time periods, in size, the whole-sale destruction, covering about 100 dunams (about 25 acres of land) in Archelais is much larger than that of the south-eastern corner of the Temple Mount. We were shocked. We never saw such massive destruction, and we’ve been working with the Temple Mount material for 13 years. There were hundreds of pits, many trenches, and the entire site was turned over by bulldozers looking for archaeological “hot spots.” We could see many archaeological artifacts strewn across the site, including ashlar stones, pieces of architecture, column drums, and farming tools.

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So, let’s do a brief history. According to the Oslo Accords, Judea and Samaria is now separated into three areas: Areas A, B, and C. Area C is under the jurisdiction of Israel with full administrative and security control. Area A is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority with full administrative and security control. Area B is jointly administered with the Palestinian Authority in charge of administration and Israel in charge of security. The Oslo Accords also call to protect and safeguard archaeological sites, prevent damage, respect academic freedom, and grant excavation licenses to archaeologists on a non-discriminatory basis.

It seems that the main problem is that the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration has little manpower and it seems, little interest in this area of Israel. They have only one person in charge of antiquities robbery, construction supervision, and excavations for this district that encompasses over 3000 sites. This district covers the entire Jordan Valley and southern Samaria. In the Israel Antiquities Authority, on the other side on the “Green Line” there would be 60-70 people in charge of a district of comparable size.

It is a huge problem that Israel is not investing its resources to preserve archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria in areas C or B. The Palestinian Authority also has few staff and lacks resources in their archaeology department.

This type of destruction cannot be allowed to continue or to happen again elsewhere. We brought this destruction to the attention of Channel 2 News in Israel. They interviewed our staff members and an expose was aired last Friday night. The report also had a brief update about the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

We can do better in protecting our archaeological heritage in Israel. We need people who care to speak up and force the government to allocate the necessary funding and resources to the preservation and conservation of archaeological sites throughout Israel.

May 2018 bring us the protection we need for our archaeological sites and our heritage at risk in Israel.

Click here to See Video from Channel 2.

 

 

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