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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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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.

Find of the Month: September!

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img-20160914-wa0002_resizedSeptember’s “Find of the Month” is this gorgeous mother of pearl inlay with an image of the Dome of the Rock carved onto it. It was found by Hadassa Amiri, age (a lady never reveals her age!). For more information on Mother of Pearl and archaeology, see this post. Most likely, this inlay was attached to some small object, such as an inlaid box or prayer book. Generally speaking, walls and furniture with mother of pearl inlay do not use engraved inlay like this. Engraving is reserved for smaller objects where there is a larger focus on the particulars of a small piece of mother of pearl.

d792Interestingly, when I started searching for a parallel object that would help us date this artifact, the search “pearl Quran” immediately came up with this image. The Dome of the Rock is clearly a standard and traditional image to depict on religious artifacts. Islam frowns upon the use of human images and generally speaking, Islamic art and architecture use natural and geometric designs.

The Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra in arabic) is an iconic symbol of Jerusalem and has an important place in Arab and Muslim culture. Built between 685 and 691/2 by Abd al-Malik, probably the most important Umayyad caliph, the Dome of the Rock was one of the first Islamic buildings ever constructed and is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the entire Islamic world. Though it is commonly thought of as a mosque, the Dome of the Rock is actually a shrine built around a large rock believed to be the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, met other prophets such as Jesus and Moses, witnessed heaven and hell, and saw G-d. In Judeo/Christian tradition, this rock is the place where Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac.

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The Dome of the Rock sits on a platform known as the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif. This platform is holy for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It was the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, the headquarters of the Knights Templar during the Crusades, and today houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, madrasas, and several other religious buildings as well as the Dome of the Rock. Please read this essay detailing the history and iconography of the Dome of the Rock by Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis for more information.

The Dome of the Rock is an important part of the long history of the Temple Mount and pieces of gilded mosaics and glass window fragments discarded during numerous renovations consistently show up in our sifting. The Dome of the Rock is a testament to the Islamic Golden Age and the Muslim connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It is an indisputable part of Islamic heritage, and therefore comes through in the iconography on such things as a small engraving on mother of pearl.

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The Dome of the Rock is a building of extraordinary beauty, solidity, elegance, and singularity of shape… Both outside and inside, the decoration is so magnificent and the workmanship so surpassing as to defy description. The greater part is covered with gold so that the eyes of one who gazes on its beauties are dazzled by its brilliance, now glowing like a mass of light, now flashing like lightning.
—Ibn Battuta (14th century travel writer)

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 ;).

What a week!

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What a week! What a week! In case you missed it, or have only been seeing bits and pieces of what we have been doing lately, this blog post will give you a summary of our activities last week. Also check out the video and abstract on Frankie’s research here!

Press Conference

Tuesday we had a press conference to discuss the remarkable work of Frankie Snyder who has reconstructed possible floor tile patterns from Herod’s Temple Mount. The Press conference was about an hour and included speeches by Frankie, Dr. Gaby Barkay, Zachi Dvira and answers to many frequently asked questions on this subject. Check out one of the many articles written about it!

Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.740548

BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37288925

Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Archeologists-restore-tiles-from-Second-Temple-in-Jerusalem-467021

Forward: http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/349345/tiles-from-king-herods-second-temple-restored-by-archaeologists/

Ynet: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4851227,00.html

Times of Israel: http://www.timesofisrael.com/floor-tiles-found-in-holy-site-rubble-said-to-be-from-second-temple/

Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/archeologists-restore-flooring-that-adorned-the-second-temple-of-jerusalem/

And even Architectural Digest: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/temple-mount-jerusalem-floor-restoration

Conference

Thursday was even more fun for us. We took part in the annual Megalim Conference in the City of David. We had an exhibition showcasing the 7 different designs that Frankie has reconstructed from the Opus Sectile floor tiles found in the sifting that originated in Herod’s Temple Mount. She spoke personally to over 300 people and there was a lot of excitement over her discoveries. A lot of people have been mentioning how seeing these tiles help them visualize the Temple and make them feel closer to their past. It is amazing to me what a few pieces of stone can do.

We also had volunteers sift buckets of earth from the Temple Mount as a demonstration of our methodology. This was the first time we have sifted outside of our facility to Emek Tzurim. One of the more interesting things to come out of that sifting was a bone tool. More research is needed to be more precise about dating and use, but it shows how every bucket holds something special and unique that can give us details about what life was like on the Temple Mount in the past. We plan to set up a portable sifting facility like the one used at the conference so that we can bring it to different Israeli towns in order to provide more access to this project and help more people from all different parts of Israeli society connect to their history.

The conference itself was a complete success. It was overcrowded with over 1000 people attending. Frankie received many compliments on her clear, concise, and truly interesting lecture on her work. You can read the article (English) about it in the upcoming edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December volume). We have put a video of Frankie’s lecture (about 10 minutes) with the slides she used on our website as well as an abstract of her upcoming English article on the subject.

Please spread the word about our project. Like our facebook page, follow our blog and twitter feed. Share our posts. Reblog. We have so much information to share and we need your help to reach as many people as possible with the historical truth of the Temple Mount.

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