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.

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Bar Ilan Conference

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Tomorrow is the 22nd Annual New Studies on Jerusalem Conference at Bar Ilan University. Dr. Aaron Greener will be presenting his research on the figurine assemblage found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Our research on figurines has been a hot topic recently. You may have seen our “Find of the Month” in October about the Korshaya sisters who found the leg of an Iron Age figurine, most likely of a horse. You may also have participated in our “Name That Find” competition that was the snout of an Iron Age horse figurine.

With all of the buzz about our figurines, and the upcoming conference, we wanted to share with you the excerpts from Aaron’s presentation. Our project’s wet sifting method enables us to find the small fragments usually missed at other sites. 15% of our ceramic finds date to the Iron Age II, First Temple Period and include almost 150 typical Judahite figurine fragments. Their dating is based on style, morphology, manufacturing method, plastic details, and decorations.


Some of the TMSP Figurine Assemblage

Aaron has discovered a unique distribution of figurines from our sifting. Our assemblage has an absence of foreign figurines and a high percentage of bird/pinched nose head fragments. The identity and function of Judahite figurines are complex issues surrounded by debate in Archaeology and Biblical Studies. Though “foreign” attributes are found in most Judahite sites, our assemblage has none. Though the statistics on this research has been completed, we have only theories about why this assemblage is distributed in this way. We suggest that the absence of foreign motifs in the Temple Mount figurine assemblage may be related to a Judahite rejection of outside influences during the Iron Age II, which found it greatest manifestation in the cultic and national center on the Temple Mount.

We hope that comments and other research from the conference will help to explain this anomaly further, and we will update you with any further research.

Excerpt: Iron Age II Figurine Fragments from the Temple Mount Soil
Aaron Greener, Gabiel Barkay and Zachi Dvira (Zweig)

The repertoire and ratios of the various TMSP figurine types are similar to the ones from most other excavations in Jerusalem and Judah. A closer examination and comparison, however, highlights several significant patterns. Firstly, all the Jerusalem excavations demonstrate low proportions of mold-made heads, and indeed, all three TMSP human heads were pinched. This would fit well with Erin Darby’s suggestion regarding the popularity of the pinched heads in Jerusalem, and its possible ideological significance. Secondly, the TMSP has a greater presence of animal heads that are not horses than any other site in or outside of Jerusalem. Thirdly, zoomorphic vessels are rare and miniature furniture models are totally absent.

The most significant characteristic of the TMSP figurine assemblage comes from a broader look at the Iron Age II figurines from neighboring regions (Northern Israel, Philistia, Phoenicia and Trans-Jordan). This examination highlights the basic similarities as well as the figurines’ differing regional characteristics and styles. Outside of Judah there are many plaque figurines, peg figurines, hollow and wheel-made anthropomorphic figurines, women playing drums, animal heads with unique characteristics and applied details, and almost all the human heads are mold-made. A small quantity of figurines with these “foreign” attributes are found in most Judahite sites. None, however, were found in the Temple Mount soil, the Temple Mount’s eastern slope or in the Ophel Excavations south of the Temple Mount. All the figurines from these sites are of the basic and simple Judahite types. It had already been suggested that sites situated close to the heart of the Judahite kingdom usually have less figurines with foreign influences than sites in the Kingdom’s periphery. A similar patterns has been recognized also in Philistia, where more foreign (Judahite) influences were recognized inland than along the coast. We suggest that the reason for the absence of foreign motives in the Temple Mount figurine assemblage may be related to a Judahite rejection of outside influences during the Iron Age II, which found it greatest manifestation in the cultic and national center on the Temple Mount. 

Find of the Month: October

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This October, sisters Or and Naya Korshaya found the leg of a figurine, most likely of a horse. Though they are from Jerusalem, it was their first time at the Sifting Project. Finding something so special was a great way to spend the day and it sparked an interest in archaeology!

Most of the figurines found by the Sifting Project are from the Iron II period (8th-6th centuries BCE) and may be related to cultic activities. Our expert, Aaron Greener, is researching these figurines, which provide an important addition to the thousands of similar figurines found in Judahite sites from that time period.

The Sifting Project does not have any completely intact figurines, but rather small broken pieces, most broken in antiquity. We have a number of female pillar figurines and a variety of four legged animals. Most of these are horses and some of them have riders. It would be interesting to know if the leg found by the Korshaya sisters was from a horse with a rider, but because we only have the bottom of the leg, we can’t see the leg of a rider if there were one.


Other fragments of figurines found by the Sifting Project

Because of their fragmented condition, some scholars have related the broken figurines of the Iron Age Judahite sites to the biblical account of Hezekiah’s or Josiah’s religious reforms. According to the Bible, symbols of idol worship were systematically destroyed and abolished.

Aaron will be presenting his research at the Annual Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies Conference in January and will be published in the first volume of our planned publication.

Thank you so much to the Korshaya family for volunteering with us and finding something so valuable to Israeli archaeology and our understanding of the Temple Mount.

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.