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Mycenaean Imports Early in Jerusalem’s History

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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 Despite the lack of physical evidence from the Late Bronze Age, we know from historical documents like the Amarna letters and a cuneiform tablet found in the ‘Ophel Excavation that Jerusalem was indeed a city with a king, a palace, and an advanced society.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.

Is this Egyptian statue fragment the last artifact to be shared with you?

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Has part of an Egyptian Statue been discovered on the Temple Mount?

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Fragment of a finger of an Egyptian statue

A finger of a statue has been discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The finger is currently being examined by the leading experts in the field who have determined that the statue probably originated in Egypt, though there is a need for further in-depth research in order to accurately date it. The Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is struggling to remain open in the face of depleted funds, has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign calling on the public to support the research and publication of the many finds discovered over the years, and secure the project’s future.

The statue fragment was discovered within the soil dumped in the Kidron Valley by the Muslim Waqf in 1999; soil which originated from an illegal excavation which took place on the Temple Mount.

thutmose III

Statue of Egyptian Pharoah, Thutmose III from the British Museum (GoogleImages)

“This is a fragment of a life-size statue, which was made in Egypt and imported to Canaan,” reports Dr. Gabriel Barkay, co-director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. “We clearly notice that this is part of a pinky finger measuring 3.5 cm, from a man’s hand, which includes also a fingernail. The statue is made of a hard black stone originating in Egypt. The statue most likely represented a figure of a god or king. The black stone from which the statue is manufactured testifies to its Egyptian origin.”

The finger has been examined by archaeologists who specialize in early art from the Land of Israel. Though the identification and dating are not yet certain, according to Dr. Barkay the statue fragment was probably made in the Egyptian art style common during the Late Bronze Age (about 3500 years ago). We cannot exclude the possibility that the statue is from a later period.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has yielded additional artifacts which were imported from Egypt or manufactured under Egyptian influence. Among them is an additional statue fragment of a man’s shoulder, scarabs (amulets shaped like dung beetles), seal impressions, and Egyptian-style jewelry all dating to the Late Bronze Age.

These artifacts join others from this period which were discovered in recent years in the City of David, as well as artifacts which may testify to the existence of an Egyptian Temple in Jerusalem in the area of the St. Etienne Monastery near Damascus Gate, and dated to the 13th century BCE (prior to the date traditionally attributed to the Exodus of Israelites from Egypt).

Ancient Egypt ruled over the Land of Israel during the second half of the 2nd Millennium BCE, the days of the Egyptian New Kingdom and of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties. Jerusalem is known to have been a semi-autonomous city-state, located in the Egyptian province of Canaan.

The finger fragment found by the project will be handed over to additional experts who can clarify its date.

Check out our cool video where Dr. Aaron Greener speaks about this Egyptian Finger!

The accurate dating of this artifact is just one example of the many research questions which the Temple Mount Sifting Project is attempting to solve while researching the many finds accumulated during the past 12 years of sifting. Unfortunately, many archaeological excavations fail to publish scientific reports and many important finds are left in the oblivion of the warehouses of University, museum, or government archaeological institutes. Without publication, it is as if these artifacts had never been found. The directors of the Temple Mount Sifting Project are working tirelessly to prevent a similar fate for the hundreds of thousands of artifacts discovered by the project. Publication is crucial due to the archaeological importance and national significance of these artifacts. They are also the cultural heritage of billions of people around the world who have a right to know about them.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project launched a crowdfunding campaign a few days ago in order to recruit wide public support to help the project continue the important work of researching these artifacts. Zachi Dvira, founder and co-director of the project, said that the public has demonstrated how much the historical heritage is dear to them. Half of the full sum needed for funding the annual research was raised within the first three days of the campaign. “We hope that the public – recognizing the great significance of the project – will continue to support us in the future.”

Important note: Last week media reports about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intervention for resuming the sifting were not accurate. The sifting was not resumed, but a meeting will be scheduled for after the Passover holiday to resolve the crisis in order to resume the sifting. As we mentioned in our first announcement, the main problem we are facing is finding the funding for the research and publication of the many artifacts that we have recovered. The sifting cannot be resumed until this is solved.

Please consider giving to our crowdfunding campaign. We’ve already raised over 168,000 shekel of our goal, but we need your help to go all the way. In this campaign, we get all or nothing, so please help us make sure that this campaign succeeds and we can continue our important research, and share it with you, this year.

Don’t let this be the last bit of research we can complete

and share with you.

Click Here to Donate Now

Rare Egyptian Amulet Bearing Name of Ancient Pharaoh Found in Earth Discarded from Temple Mount

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As the Jewish holiday of Passover quickly approaches, we have has released new information about an amazing find: an amulet bearing the name of Egyptian King Thutmose III. Our story is being shared by news agencies across the world including the New York Times and the ABC News. Please continue reading our Blog to get more up to the minute and detailed information about our finds and continuing research.

Here is a more detailed version of our press release.

JERUSALEM, April 19, 2016 — A rare amulet, more than 3,200 years old, bearing the name of the Egyptian ruler Thutmose III, Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty who reigned from 1479 – 1425 BCE, was discovered at the Temple Mount Sifting Project located in Jerusalem’s Tzurim Valley National Park within earth discarded from the Temple Mount, and was only recently deciphered by archaeologists. The project is conducted under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University, with the support of the City of David Foundation, the Israel Archaeology Foundation, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

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Thutmose III was one of the most important pharaohs in Egypt’s New Kingdom and is credited with establishing the Egyptian imperial province in Canaan, conducting 17 military campaigns to Canaan and Syria and defeating a coalition of Canaanite kings at the city of Megiddo in 1457 BCE. He referred to himself as ‘the one who has subdued a thousand cities,’ and it is known that for more than 300 years, during the Late Bronze Age, Canaan and the city state of Jerusalem were under Egyptian dominion, likely explaining the presence of this amulet in Jerusalem.

4 - IMG_3320 - Adina GrahamThe amulet was discovered by Neshama Spielman, a twelve year-old girl from Jerusalem who came with her family to participate in the Temple Mount Sifting Project. “While I was sifting, I came across a piece of pottery that was different from others I had seen, and I immediately thought that maybe I had found something special,” said Spielman. “It’s amazing to find something thousands of years old from ancient Egypt all the way here in Jerusalem! Celebrating Passover this year is going to be extra meaningful to me.” The Passover festival, commemorating the Biblical account of the ancient Israelites Exodus from Egypt, will be celebrated later this week.

Since the project’s inception in 2004, more than 170,000 volunteers from Israel and around the world have taken part in the sifting, representing an unprecedented phenomenon in the realm of archaeological research.

The small amulet is in the shape of a pendant, missing its bottom part, measures 21mm wide, 4 mm thick and its preserved length is 16 mm. It is made of brown colored faience that lost its glazing. A loop on top allowed it to be strung and hung on the neck. The raised decoration displays a cartouche – an oval frame surrounding Egyptian hieroglyphics bearing the name of the Egyptian ruler. Above the oval framing is the symbol of an eye, and to its right are remnants of yet another hieroglyphic symbol depicting a cobra of which parts of the head and tail are preserved.

1 Egyptian Amulet - Zachi Dvira

While Egyptian scarabs bearing the name of Thutmose III have previously been discovered in Jerusalem, this represents the first time his name has been found in Jerusalem adorning an amulet. Objects bearing the name of Thutmose III continued to be produced in Egypt long after the time of his reign, reflecting the significance and lasting impression of this king.

The amulet can be reconstructed based upon the discovery of an identical pendant found in Nahal Iron in northern Israel, announced in 1978. Along with that pendant, which also bore the name of Thutmose III was another amulet bearing the name of King Seti I, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled Egypt during the late 14th – early 13th centuries BCE. This seems to indicate that both pendants date to the same time period, namely the late 14th – early 13th century BCE.

The amulet may have been buried in earth brought to the Temple Mount to be used as fill for the expansion of the Mount in Second Temple period. This earth probably originated in the slopes of the Kidron Valley near the Temple Mount, an area which contained tombs of the Late Bronze Age (1550-1150 B.C.E). Pottery sherds dated to this period were discovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, including some imported from Cyprus and Mycenaean Greece, as well as a couple of Egyptian style scarabs’.

These artifacts can be added to other finds dated to the Late Bronze Age (1550-1880 BCE) discovered in past years in the City of David as well as artifacts hinting to the possible existence of an Egyptian temple, in the Dominican monastery of St. Étienne north of the Damascus Gate. These Late Bronze Age finds date to the time period corresponding to the eve of the common dating of the Biblical Exodus.

The research of the amulet was conducted by archaeologist Baruch Brandl from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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The Temple Mount Sifting Project was initiated in response to the illegal removal of tons of earth from the Temple Mount by the Islamic Movement in 1999 without any archaeological supervision.

Since the Temple Mount has never been excavated, the ancient artifacts retrieved in the Sifting Project provide valuable and previously inaccessible information. The many categories of finds are among the largest and most varied ever found in Jerusalem. Even though they have been extracted from their archaeological context, most of these artifacts can be identified and dated by comparing them with those found at other sites.

In addition to the ongoing sifting of the earth illegally removed from the Temple Mount, The Temple Mount Sifting Project has focused its efforts on the enormous tasks of processing and studying the finds and preparing them for scientific publication. Presently, more than half a million finds are still waiting to be processed and analyzed in their laboratory. Click here for information about how to become more involved in our publication process.