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Restarting the Sifting!!

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Students Sifting in the Community

The Mount Comes to You

Hello everyone, we have some HUGE news to share with you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is renewing its activity outside the lab! For the first time in the history of archaeological research in Israel –the site will be coming to you. We will be bringing the antiquities-rich soil that was illegally removed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s to various communities and institutions throughout Israel. Students and volunteers will be able to sift through this material and take part in the important work of recovering the ancient artifacts within. A sifting activity was undertaken yesterday in the Yeshurun School in Petach Tikva – but this is just the beginning! We’ve already started taking requests from other communities throughout Israel.

This new archaeological program focuses on sifting the remaining earth from Solomon’s Stables that was illegally bulldozed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s. We’ve always encouraged our volunteers to take an active role in the salvage of artifacts buried in this soil, and over the years we’ve involved an unprecedented number of volunteers in our work. Because it is a sifting project, which can accommodate larger crowds than a traditional excavation, over 200,000 people have participated – a world record in archaeological research both in Israel and worldwide. Now, our project has been transformed into a mobile activity which can traverse the country and engage various schools, institutions, and communities.

As Zachi said, “we want to make Temple Mount heritage accessible to the entire Israeli public. In this new program, we now aim to reach the parts of the public who found it difficult to come to the sifting site in Jerusalem.”

The mobile sifting is accomplished by loading the soil onto a truck in large sacks which are then brought to the community’s site where sifting stations and a water system are set up. Each group or class participates in an activity that lasts for 2 hours (1.5 in the schools) and includes an educational presentation of the archaeology of the Temple Mount and the story of the Sifting Project. Then, the volunteers sift through the soil, collecting all the archaeological finds, which fascinates young and old alike.

Temple Mount soil being sifted in the city of Petach Tikva by Yeshurun High school students Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

Yeshurun High school principal, Rabbi Yaniv Cohen, expounded on the importance of the activity: “The sifting activity touches upon the past, and allows us to meet ourselves in the present, while showing a commitment towards the future. The act of sifting, while seemingly an act of separation, in fact enables us to come together and be a part of the unfolding story of Jewish history. This is doubly felt in Petach Tikva, with its strong commitment to Jerusalem.”

Students find ancient coin in community sifting. Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

“Seeing the students fascinated by the tangible interaction with the Temple Mount artifacts is exciting.” says archaeologist Haggai Cohen. “The students keep asking for a detailed explanation about each artifact they find, and with this hands-on experience, they are getting a deep education about the heritage of Jerusalem, its history, archaeology, and the cultures that formed it.”

As one student said, “We are having a lot of fun! We feel like we are taking part in a really important project finding old and important artifacts.”

We hope to reach every sector of society – Jews, Christians, and Muslims, religious and secular. The history of the Temple Mount shows that the Mount was an important center of activity for all the monotheistic religions for over three millennia.

We hope that we will receive the promised government funding soon. However, we will most likely need to set up some sort of matching program to continue with this mobile sifting program. If you would be interested in helping to sponsor a school or community, please be in contact with development@tmsifting.org.

BONUS: Finds in Honor of Jerusalem Day

Yehud coins from the Temple Mount. A barn own is depicted next to the lettersיהד (yhd) in ancient Hebrew script. These are both the first coins to be minted in Jerusalem and the first coins minted by Jews anywhere. Photo Credit: Zachi Dvira

In addition to resuming the sifting, in honor of Jerusalem Day, we’ve agreed to share with the public some of the special finds that they are currently researching. The sifting yielded a collection of over 6000 ancient coins, some of which were the first minted in Jerusalem, and by Jews. These rare coins were minted in Jerusalem in the end of the fourth century BCE, when Jerusalem served as capital of the semi-autonomous “Yehud” province of the Persian Empire. The coins were modeled after the most popular coin of the time – the Athenian Obol. The Jerusalemite coins copied the barn owl from the Greek coin, but changed the Greek letters ΑΘΕ, short for the name of the city of Athens, to the ancient Hebrew letters יהד – a short form of the name of the province Yehud Medinta. These coins mark the transition in trade from the use of gold, hacksilber (silver pieces), or other commodities to using a monetary system regulated by the authority which minted the coins.

Three of these Persian Period coins were found in the sifting of the Temple Mount soil, and another two tiny silver coins, too worn to read, are suspected to belong to this type as well. These coins are very rare. Not including those found by the Sifting Project, in the history of excavations of ancient Jerusalem, only five other such coins have been found. The relatively high number of such coins found by the Sifting Project is a result of the wet-sifting methodology perfected by the project, and the fact that the Temple Mount functioned as an administrative and commercial center during the early days of the Second Temple in addition to being the site of the Temple itself.

Better Than A Museum

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Visit Us!

Child looking at ancient beads in the lab

Come visit us in our research lab! We miss you! For our supporters, we are offering tours of our research laboratory where you can see all of our special finds and learn about them from one of our expert archaeologists. It is one of the gifts on our crowdfunding page at  www.half-shekel.org .

These tours are our way of saying thank you to our supporters. For these gifts, the donation collected goes to support our project’s research and the process of resuming the sifting itself. Not only is it a great experience for you and your family, but it is an enormous help to our project. You help us to preserve the heritage of Jerusalem’s past. You help to ensure that facts, reality, and the heritage of all people who are connected to the Temple Mount is protected and published. You help us uncover facts that will hopefully lead to educated discussion about this most important heritage site: The Temple Mount

Also…we miss you!

Without the sifting of new material, we are focusing more than ever on our research in the research lab. While we have been getting a lot done, I must say that we do miss showing off our amazing material to visitors. There is something amazing about seeing a child’s face light up when he holds a piece of pottery from 3000 years ago. It is a reminder of how simple joy can be sometimes and how we should always look at the world with awe and wonder.

Recently, we’ve had a number of visitors come to our research lab and it has been an absolute pleasure to show these people the exciting things we have been doing and the amazing artifacts that we now know more about than ever before.

Artifacts you can touch at the lab

On site, it was special to do a summary at the end of the sifting to show everyone what they had found. Sometimes though, depending on what was found that day, it could be challenging. It’s great to say “look! You found a piece of pottery!” but it is equally if not more important to be able to show why we care about that piece of pottery. Here at the lab, we can really tell the whole story of the Temple Mount. We can show you what the Temple would have looked at from the floor tiles to the decorated column tops. We can show you the daily life of people from the weapons they fought with, to the cooking pots they cooked with, to the dice they played with and really paint a picture of what a person’s life was like, and how that changed from period to period. We can show you how materials changed over time and how we can really see the differences in style or material as one period moved into the next. We can show you the symbolism on coins that have been professionally cleaned so that you can actually read the words “For the Freedom of Zion” and not just wonder what is underneath that lump of green metal. Here at the lab, we have almost an interactive museum of amazing artifacts that we can show you, and many of which you can touch and feel for yourself.

Dr. Aaron Greener discusses the project with visitors in the lab

Not only that, but we have the experts here who are working on their research as we speak. I was here the other day as Frankie figured out how one of her triangles was made using only a compass and a string. It was a literal Eureka moment, and here at the lab she can tell our visitors her research up to the minute. We can share with you theories that aren’t quite ready for print, and we can show you the things we’ve only just discovered as meaningful in our storage boxes, such as two rare pieces of pottery that we discovered actually fit together and are from the same vessel. The lab is an exciting place to be, and we are so lucky to be able to share that with our visitors.

We actually have a renovated space now where we can comfortably fit groups, and we are having more and more groups come to us and learn first hand about the amazing history of the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, it is still a place of work, so groups have to be specially organized to ensure that a tour doesn’t disrupt an entire day’s work. This also means that these tours are a bit more exclusive than the sifting site was. Tours of our research lab are guided by one of our senior staff members to donors on our crowd-funding site at www.half-shekel.org. Tours are 1.5-2 hours and we can now accommodate up to fifteen adults. We would love to have You come and visit us. Be in touch and email development@tmsifting.org for more information or to schedule your visit.

 

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.

 

Jerusalem Day and the Six-Day War

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 “The Temple Mount is in our Hands!”

Machine gun magazines, bullets, Jordanian coins, and uniform badges were found in sifting the soil from the Temple Mount. The artifacts tell the story of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

Broadcasted on the army radio network, nothing is more symbolic of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War than the immortal words of Colonel Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, as they conquered the Old City, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

IMG_3560We at the Temple Mount Sifting Project have this revelation daily as we work with soil and artifacts from the Temple Mount found by our project. The Temple Mount is literally in our hands.

As you know, our project is special in part because of the wide range of history it can help explain. Just as we have tangible artifacts from the Temple Mount’s ancient history, from the time of the First Temple’s destruction by the Babylonians, the Hasmonean wars, the Great Jewish Revolt which led to the destruction of the Second Temple, and the Crusader-Muslim battles, we have direct evidence of the Jordanian presence on the Temple Mount, and for the Six-Day War battles 50 years ago.

Yesterday, on Jerusalem Day celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, we had a booth in the Old City and displayed some of our special artifacts including our Opus Sectile floors, arrowheads, and artifacts from the Six-Day War. We had hundreds of people stop and learn about these artifacts as well as donate to our campaign to raise the funding necessary to continue our research. If you would like to support our research, please visit www.half-shekel.org or contact development@tmsifting.org for more information.

Some major news media covered the following artifacts in articles published yesterday. Here is a great one from The Times of Israel. It was also covered by The Jewish Press and on many Hebrew news sites.

Six-Day War – an Incredible Story

Among the artifacts that we have recovered from the Temple Mount are tens of items which may be related to the IDF’s arrival at the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. Although these are not ancient archaeological artifacts, they have great historic significance and they can teach us about our recent history. It is usually thought that no battle occurred on the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. The ammunition that we have found caused us to raised doubts regarding this premise and “dig” deeper into the details of the battle of Jerusalem during that time.

The IDF forces entered the Old City and the Temple Mount through the Lion’s Gate on Wednesday, June 7th 1967. The Jordanian forces had fled the city early in the morning, but some resistance pockets and sniper positions remained on the Temple Mount and the Old City. The previous day, the Jordanian military was positioned on the Eastern city wall, of which the Temple Mount’s Eastern wall is a significant part. On the night of June 6th, a special commando unit and some tanks were ordered to capture the Mount of Olives. They mistakenly lost their way, and instead of reaching the road towards the Augusta Victoria building, they reached the Kidron Bridge to the Gethsemane Church. The bridge’s location left them completely open to massive fire from the Jordanian positions on the wall above, killing 5 soldiers. During the rescue attempts, the IDF soldiers on the bridge fired back at the Jordanian positions. The story of this engagement is described well by Moshe Natan in his book, “The War for Jerusalem.”

In order to better understand our artifacts, we spoke with Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun who was a part of the paratroopers force that entered the city through the Lion’s Gate. He said, “Following the Kidron Bridge battle, the commander of the Jordanian battalion in the Old City asked permission to evacuate the Old City since he realized that the IDF was encircling it. The Egyptian General of the Eastern front did not understand the symbolic significance of the Old City and the Holy Sites [for Jordan] and allowed the retreat. The Jordanians fled the city [on June 7th] early in the morning. The IDF did not know that, and at 7am bombarded the city walls with artillery fire in order to make the Jordanian soldiers withdraw from the walls. One artillery shell that missed the target killed three of our soldiers […] From the minaret near the Gate of the Tribes, a Jordanian soldier shot at us, but we managed to take him down before he could hit one of our men. As we entered the gate into the Temple Mount, paratroopers shot bursts of fire into the air to intimidate [the Jordanians], but Motta Gur (the commander of the brigade) immediately gave his famous order, “Cease Fire! All forces cease fire! A holy place, do not shoot. The Temple Mount is in our hands.””

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We also recovered a 25 round magazine of an Israeli made Uzi sub-machine gun, which served as the personal weapon of every IDF commander. There are also several 9 mm bullets – the Uzi’s ammunition. A number of 9 mm bullet casings were found as well. One casing, which was produced abroad, has a manufacture date of 1956. Another 9 mm casing was manufactured in 1952 and has the Hebrew letters “MIT,” which is an acronym for the State of Israel, Military Industry. These bullets and casings attest to the fact that during the Six-Day War antiquated ammunition was used. In addition, a 7.62 mm blank cartridge with a headstamp date of 1957 was found. This round was probably used for firing an anti-tank grenade from a Belgian made Fal or “FN” rifle which was commonly in service of the IDF during this period. Among the ammunition that was found were two 50-caliber projectiles probably fired from a Browning heavy machine gun. The bullet tips are warped indicating that they hit a hard surface. It is likely that these bullets originated in the return fire of the IDF soldiers pinned down on the Kidron Bridge shooting at the Jordanians positioned on the Eastern wall of the Temple Mount.

Yaakov Goldfine, a soldier who was a sniper in the Jerusalem Brigade and entered the city from the Dung Gate, gave us a further explanation about the weapons used during the war. “We were using an English Enfield rifle which we upgraded to be used as a sniper rifle. For backup, we had the Belgian FN which was used by the infantry soldiers. […] I entered the gate and ascended the Temple Mount. It was easy to see how the Jordanians used the Temple Mount as a military fortification. In spite of that, our orders were not to shoot at the Old City with heavy weaponry or bomb it from the air. The neutralization of the Jordanian positions was done by the infantry forces, and it cost us losses.”

Among the coins discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project are four corrugated aluminum Agora coins. These are Israeli coins minted in 1967 and 1968 and which must have fallen out of the pockets of IDF soldiers or the first Israeli visitors who arrived at the Temple Mount following the Six-Day War.

Pic06- jordanian coins

Furthermore, the sifting yielded nearly forty Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom coins. Almost all the coins were minted prior to the Six-Day War, when the area was under Jordanian control from 1948-1967.

Though Israel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, and Gur’s famous statement is being remembered and widely shared, the Temple Mount itself has a more complex reality. The first Jordanian coin from the sifting was discovered on June 6, 2005, the 38th anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification. This coin was minted in 1991, and probably arrived at the Temple Mount in the pocket of a Muslim worshipper or a Waqf employee who worked on the Temple Mount. The Jordanian Dinar (and its denomination –piasters) has remained a legal currency in the West Bank, continuing from 1967 until today.

Two small metal badges depicting a Jordanian flag were also discovered in the sifting and may have been pinned to Jordanian army uniforms. The post-war Jordanian artifacts reflect the complex political situation on the Temple Mount. Officially, the State of Israel holds sovereignty over the area, but the state has de facto given some authority to the Jordanian Kingdom via the Islamic Waqf.

It is amazing how our artifacts really express these complex situations and these moments in time. It is research like this that makes me truly love archaeology and the different ways that it can be used to understand our past. This research falls into a somewhat new category of archaeology known as “Modern Conflict Archaeology” which takes an interdisciplinary approach to try and understand the artifacts created during modern conflict. (Definitely check out the above website, because it is a truly fascinating new approach to archaeology.)

To support more research like this, go to www.half-shekel.org or contact development@tmsifting.org for more information.

How Much Does It Weigh?

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Find of the Month: February!

After a week away in the field, it is so nice to be back at the Sifting Project. It is my pleasure to present February’s “Find of the Month!” Now, this find requires a lot more research because it is pretty rare.

image-1Nicolle Perez from Ma’ale Adumin found this round stone that is likely to be a scale weight. It was her first time volunteering at the Sifting Project and she was really excited to have found something that could potentially be very important to our understanding of the history of the Temple Mount. It is amazing how something so small can provide so much information.

We have found a number of weights in the sifting. Our expert in weights is still looking for parallels that match this stone, because it is unlike most of the other weights we have found in the sifting. By parallels of shape and raw material, this stone is likely from the First Temple period, but more research is necessary to eliminate other possibilities.

In antiquity, before coins were used, weights were used to regulate and measure trade and barter. Most often, these weights would be used to weigh small pieces of silver which were traded as “currency,” although still very different from coinage.

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A 4 Gerah Judean scale weight found by the Sifting Project

Weights were used across the ancient world from India to the Aegean and beyond. In the land of Judah, including of course Jerusalem, the system of measurement for weights was based on the Shekel and is also mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament.

The shekel had many sub-units. This meant things could be weighed by half a shekel, or commonly in multiples of 2, 4, and 8 and deviations of Beqa, Pym, and Nesef. We know of Beqa and Pym from the Bible as well as smaller deviations known as Gerah.  The system was centered on a central unit of c. 11.33g.

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Judean scale weight

More than 500 inscribed Judean scale weights from the Iron Age have been found and published and they create a very homogenous weight-system. Most of these weights are made of local limestone and shaped as domes with flat bases. Many are inscribed with the names of the various units of measurement such as the Nesef and Pym, while smaller units (Gerah weights) and larger units (multiples of the Shekel) are often inscribed with hieratic numerals. Across Judah, these weights appeared in the 8th century BCE, but they mainly come from the stratigraphic layers dating to the 7th century BCE. Recent research done in Khirbet Qeiyafa by our own expert of scale weights show that the system of the Judean Shekel was used as early as the 10th century BCE.  It seems as though weights went out of use by 586 BCE and did not function by the time of the Persian period where we see the first coins.

The first dome shaped weights were found in Jerusalem in 1881 by the German excavator Hermann Guthe. Judean scale weights have been found in large numbers in almost every excavation of the Iron Age ever done in Jerusalem, supporting the fact that Jerusalem in the First Temple Period was a center of economic activity. This may possibly also support the idea that the Temple itself was a center of the economy.

Some scholars argue that the Temple might have used a slightly different system of weights from the daily shekel, and it is possible that they were marked in a different way. More research needs to be done on this “Shekel of the Sanctuary” mentioned in the Priestly Code of the Pentateuch (Torah) and in Ezekiel. It is possible that this weight system was a later creation in the history of weights, but still dating before the use of coins. It is also possible that the economic system of the Temple was connected with the royal house, as the Kings of Judah made decisions regarding the property of the Temple in times of emergency and supervised its maintenance (II Kings). Only a few weights have been found that might match the biblical accounts of this separate but connected system of weights and measurements. Perhaps more weights found from the Temple Mount itself would help archaeologists better understand this system of measurement and commerce.

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A selection of various weights (not all of the same system) found by the Sifting Project

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