International Women’s Day 2018


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.


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.


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.


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

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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The Israel Experience

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Staff Spotlight: October


So our new news from the lab is that we have two interns! They will be with us for the next few months, so this month’s Staff Spotlight falls onto Hannah Ripps and Renata Roitman.

They are a part of the MASA program, Top Israel Interns. The five month program provides Hebrew classes for the first month, periodic trips to see the country, and connects the participants with internships in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This year’s group had 10 people in Jerusalem and 16 interning in Tel Aviv.

According to our interns, the best part of the program is the internship (obviously) as well as the ability to really get to be a part of Israel. They have an incredible amount of independence and are housed in the center of Jerusalem with easy access to everything the city has to offer. They can even wake up in the morning and grab breakfast at the shuk (market). It is a truly immersive experience and is an amazing way to get to know the culture and the people of Israel.


Renata is from San Paolo, Brazil. She came to Israel because she wanted to experience living here and to live in a country with good quality of life. She chose to intern for the Sifting Project because we do “interesting and important work.” She said that in Brazil, people are not aware that the Jewish people were here in Israel for a long time before the creation of the country Israel. She thinks that our project has the ability to make people see that Jews were here before.

In Brazil, Renata studied journalism in university. In our lab, Renata is helping us work on PR and social media, and is focusing her efforts on our Spanish and Portuguese speaking donors and volunteers. Right now, she is working on a Portuguese translation of the archaeological history of the Temple Mount and Spanish translation of the interview with Zachi from Channel 2. I will post links ASAP. Renata said that she is learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes work of an NGO; the difficult parts of what we are doing like our quest for funding and creating educational content. She also has really enjoyed sifting in the field and seeing where the initial work happens.


Hannah is from Pensacola, Florida. She chose to come to Israel because she loves this country, and for academic and career related reasons. It was an opportunity to get experience and see the world. She is interested in archaeology, Jewish history, and Jewish art and wants to become fluent in Hebrew. Clearly, Israel is a great place for all of that.

Hannah graduated with a degree in archaeology from Barnard University and Jewish Art History from the Jewish Theological Seminary as a part of a dual degree program. She wanted to intern at the Sifting Project as a way of getting her foot in the door to the archaeological community in Jerusalem and in Israel.


tiny flask with faces

In the lab, Hannah is cataloguing and recording information about objects found in the sifting that have not yet been identified. The lab cannot continue the research process and statistical analysis of the site without the completion of the cataloguing of finds, and we are extremely grateful to Hannah for helping us tackle this huge task. Specifically, she is researching a tiny flask in a neoclassical style. It might be from Germany based on the facial hair and helmet of the man, but we are not yet sure what it was used for.


Example of gadi material

She is also studying what we are calling the “gadi” material (based on one find with an ancient inscription of a ג and ד). It is thought that these artifacts might be fossils, though there is an internal debate about whether they were used as amulets or writing implements. Further research will hopefully clear that up. If you have information on either object, please let us know on our unidentified finds website: http://www.echad.info/uifinds/ .

img-20161026-wa0000For Hannah, the best part of being involved with the Sifting Project has been finding a Hasmonean coin while sifting. Though it isn’t cleaned yet and we can’t see what is on it (we are waiting for funding to clean the thousands of coins found in the sifting that have yet to be cleaned), we think that it is from the Hasmonean period because it is cut on one side like many from that period. She has also been getting a better understanding of archaeology in general, how research is conducted, and especially how the archaeological system in Israel is organized. She said, “if this is where I want to be for my career, I’m getting a good introduction to that.”


The girls agree that this program has been an amazing opportunity and that everyone they are meeting is friendly and welcoming. (I promise I didn’t force them to say that. Our staff really is just that amazing.) They are both also considering the possibility of making Aliyah and would like everyone to know that they are looking if you are hiring  😉 .

We at the Sifting Project are really grateful to our wonderful interns for all of their help and we hope that you have a fantastic rest of your program. Once part of the TMSP family, always a part of the TMSP family, so know that you will always have a place in Israel.

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