It Figures: TMSP Staff are Experts in their Field

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Staff Spotlight: June

Have you met Aaron?

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

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


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

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

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


Unique among our finds is this Roman Goat Figurine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Highlights from our Exhibition and Presentation at the 13th Annual Studies of Ancient Jerusalem Conference

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On the evening of Thursday, September 6, 2012, the City of David hosted the 13th Annual Studies of Ancient Jerusalem Conference presented by the Megalim Institute. The program began with an open house including free tours throughout the City of David, followed by presentations by noted archaeologists and tourism professionals.
During the open house, the Temple Mount Sifting Project hosted an exhibit of archaeological finds recovered during the project’s first seven years of work. Five exhibit display cases, each manned by one of the site’s tour guides, presented a fascinating array of artifacts covering the 3,000 years of the Temple Mount’s history. This is the first time these artifacts have been on public display, and more than 1,000 visitors took advantage of this rare opportunity to see – and in some cases, even touch – these amazing finds. The tour guides gave brief explanations of the objects before them and answered hundreds of questions posed by the inquisitive visitors.
The first display case featured clay figurines, idols worshiped during the First Temple Period, and clay pot handles, each with an incised mark designating the pot for a special purpose. Yuval Marcus explained the difference between the arrowheads from the Babylonian, Hasmonean and Crusader periods, and displayed a horseshoe surrounded by horseshoe nails recovered from Solomon’s Stables. The highlight of this showcase was a small stone incised with a tiny gazelle that was used to seal important documents.
The second table showcased opus sectile paving stones, intricately cut stones tiles that once created beautiful floors in Temple Mount buildings. Frankie Snyder displayed tiles from the Herod’s expansion and repaving of the Second Temple courtyards, and visitors marveled at these still-handsomely-polished tiles. Also displayed were reconstructed floor samples featuring beautifully cut and polished tiles, one floor from the Byzantine period and another from the time of the Crusaders.
Jewelry was focus of the third display case, hosted by Rachel Nachum. Colorful glass bracelets and matching rings, some almost 2,000 years old, quickly attracted the visitors’ attention. Silver and bronze rings, some with amber and onyx settings, were on display along with an array of pendants – carved mother-of pearl and Eilat stone to Christian crosses and Muslim amulets. The highlight here was a necklace, restrung with about 40 semi-precious carnelian beads from the Sifting Project’s collection, featuring 3 heart-shaped beads believed to be from the Late Bronze period.
The fourth exhibit focused on the First and Second Temple Periods. Moran Hagbi treated the crowds to a fascinating display of Second Temple Period coins, highlighted by a rare silver half-shekel coin used to pay the annual Temple tax. He also explained how the assortment of stone, glass and bronze weights were used in monetary transactions before coins were invented. A stone tile engraved with an ancient game board provided the background for a variety of carved bone and ivory dice and bone, stone, and glass game board pieces. More carved bone and ivory were on display in the form of ancient hair combs. Also on this table was an assortment of Herodian architectural elements, including pieces of intricately carved Corinthian column tops that probably graced the Royal Stoa and the porticoes that surrounded the Temple Mount courts.
The fifth showcase featured items recovered from a special comparative project, the sifting of material from First and Second Temple Period refuse dumps discovered in the Franciscan Garden in the Kidron Valley on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount. Shaked Alboher presented partially restored pottery along with more clay pot handles with special incised marks on them. Especially important were the broken terra-cotta figurines recovered and on display here, correlating to the biblical sources that tell that this area was used for refuse and that King Josiah commanded the priests to break down and burn all the idols, and cast them in the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 23:12). Also on display in this showcase was an assortment of about 20 “small finds”, various miscellaneous items found at the Sifting Project that show the variety of artifacts recovered – a tiny stone with an incised glyph, maybe even prehistoric – a carved bone animal head, possibly a dolphin – a lead caltrop used in Medieval warfare to injure a horse’s foot – a piece of flint, wrapped in an extraordinarily decorated lead covering, used for firing an 18th century flintlock musket – and a small bronze harp that looks so much like the City of David logo that they now use it in place of their “plain” logo in some of their publicity!
This exhibit truly demonstrated that the work being done at the Temple Mount Sifting Project to recover the “treasures” from the “trash” is vitally important for understanding the history of the Temple Mount.

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During the formal part of the conference, Dr. Gabriel Barkay spoke about recent finds at the Sifting Project. His presentation was a summary of our new article in the conference publication, City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem: 13th Annual Conference (see link on Project Updates list). Also, Dr. Barkay’s presentation will soon be uploaded onto the City of David YouTube channel. This article constitutes the project’s third preliminary report. Currently the article is only available in Hebrew, but an extensive article in English will hopefully be published in the near future. This report focuses on the prevalent finds and the different characteristics of each area from the Temple Mount where material was taken and dumped in the Kidron Valley, and later transferred to Emek Tzurim for sifting. Included are an extensive discussion of the analysis methodologies used by our research team and the scientific value of the archaeological information retrieved from these finds.