Home

Not as you thought: The most significant archaeological work is in the lab and not at the dig…

1 Comment

Many people ask us, what kind of processing do we do on our material before publishing – and why does it take so long? For a quick answer, take a look at the photo below – it tells us a little about the donkeywork behind the processing of artifacts. If you’d like to hear more about the behind-the-scenes work in our project, read on.

Table in the archaeology lab with thousands of pottery shards laid out on it in rows

Thousands of bowl rims from the Byzantine period, of the Fine Byzantine Ware type – Form 1, Variant B/D

As opposed to salvage excavations, in an academic excavation the main core of the archaeological work is carried out in the lab and not in the field. The average yearly excavation work consists of around a month of excavation on site; the remainder of the year is taken up with studying and processing the finds in the lab. In the case of the finds from the Temple Mount Sifting Project, the challenge of processing the material is more difficult since the artifacts were not uncovered in-situ, and hence we need to apply complex statistical calculations in our research with the aim of reconstructing the original context of the more frequent finds.

The collections of artifacts from the Temple Mount sifting process arrive at the lab as a kind of enormous jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of thousands of pieces. Initial sorting is carried out at the sifting site, where the finds are sorted by material (earthenware, metal, animal bones, etc.) and by major categories of find (pottery vessels’ rims, oil lamps, marble floor tiles, opus sectile floor tiles, sawn bones, burnt bones, etc). In the laboratory, the material undergoes further sorting, first by dating into time periods and then into classes of artifact (e.g. bowls, jars, cooking vessels, jugs, juglets etc.). In the next stage, the resolution of the sorting increases: each class is sorted into types (using criteria of shape, material, style, decoration etc.).  This stage constitutes the majority of the sorting work, and is termed “typology”. The next stage, as seen in the above photograph, entails sorting artifacts of each type by the area in which they were found in the soil dumps removed from the Temple Mount.

In a regular archaeological excavation that is carried out on site, archaeologists study and publish the finds in respect to the areas in which they were found, and the study of certain areas, and sometime even categories of artifacts, may be postponed to a later stage. In our case we cannot do this since the study of all the artifacts is inter-related – as in our analogy of the jigsaw puzzle. All the artifacts must be sorted first in order to understand the rest of the artifacts. This is because different types of artifact from the various time periods represented are scattered over the different parts of the dump. However, they are not scattered uniformly like a well-mixed salad, but are distributed over the different parts of the dump in varying patterns of concentration. What’s interesting here is that types of artifact that apparently came from the same original context are scattered in similar patterns – that is to say, they have similar statistical distributions over the areas of the dump. For this reason, where the dating or identity of some types of artifact is unknown, this information can be deduced from a different type of artifact displaying a sufficiently similar distribution in the dumps (whereas in a conventional excavation, this information may be deduced from other, identifiable, artifacts found in the immediate vicinity). The project has developed a novel statistical method which helps deduce the original context of artifacts extracted from dumps and earth fills.

For the statistical analysis of the pottery, we chose to sample only shards from rims of vessels. A vessel’s rim is its most indicative part in identifying the vessel type. In a regular dig, archaeologists generally discard most shards, retaining only those which were part of the vessel’s rim, although whole vessels may also be found, but usually they are significantly fewer than the pot shards. In our case, our pottery finds consist only of broken parts of vessels, shards. We have reached the stage where we have finally finished the typological sorting of the majority of the pottery shards, and have started to count and record them in a database as a precursor to the initial statistical analysis. To this end, we have enrolled volunteers (and here we acknowledge the great help given by Sari Sapir, Michael Swirsky and Dr. Ron Beals!). Since we’re talking here about a fantastic opportunity to learn about Jerusalem’s pottery history through the ages and get some great hands-on experience on the subject, we offered the task to archaeology students, at which point Keren Schwartzman, a 2nd year archaeology and chemistry student at the Hebrew University, jumped at the chance. This work includes sorting shards of each type by the dump section in which they were found, and then counting the groups and entering the data into the database. To this data are added measurements taken from samples of pot shards from each type, such as: maximum diameter, average circumference conservation percentage and more.

Exciting, no? Ok, so we got a little carried away… but ladies and gentlemen, this is archaeology! It’s fun to dig, but to reach significant conclusions we need to invest in exacting and thorough research. We’re dealing here with little kettle knobs, because each kettle has its own definitive kind of knob. When we start to understand the significance of each kind of knob, the slant of a rim, the thickness of a vessel wall, the hardness of the earthenware material, decorations and other properties, then business starts to get really interesting, and we can start to throw new light on the history of Jerusalem.

Researcher inspecting a pottery shard in front of a table containing heaps of pottery shards.

Haggai Cohen, Researchers Manager, in deep study of the shard he holds…

International Women’s Day 2018

6 Comments

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.

 

Mycenaean Imports Early in Jerusalem’s History

No Comments

Newsletter

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.

Evidence of Greeks on the Temple Mount

1 Comment

It’s all Greek to Me

There are donuts EVERYWHERE and we are getting in the holiday season! As Channukkah approaches, we wanted to share with you one of our important finds relating to the Greeks on the Temple Mount. At the beginning of the project, we found a handle from an amphora that was stamped by an official from the Greek Island of Rhodes. This unique find from our sifting dates to the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV and constitutes a direct link to the Greco-Seleucid regime.

29225

Coin bearing the image of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the villain of the Channukkah Story. Found by the Sifting Project

The Amphora handle is stamped with a round Rhodian stamp showing the Rhodian Rose and surrounded by the Greek legend  Ἐπὶ Θεαιδ̣[ήτου Ὑ]ακινθίου” – “during [the reign of the eponym] Theaidetos, [in the month of] Hyakinthios.” Theaidetos received one of the highest honors bestowed upon a government official, and the year was named after him. Because each official had the position of Eponym for only one year, dating artifacts marked with these symbols becomes very precise (though not perfect). Gerald Finkielsztejn dates Theaidetos to somewhere between 175-170 BCE which is  during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who looted the Temple treasury and introduced pagan worship to the Temple Mount.

14488-b-s

Rhodian Amphora Handle found by the Sifting Project

About 1200 stamped amphorae handles have been found in excavations in Jerusalem, but this is the only one found within soil from the Temple Mount. (We have found other non-stamped amphora handles.) Our research on this handle indicates that it may be related to the founding of the Akra fortress, the headquarters of the Seleucid garrison, which was constructed not far from the Temple Mount shortly after the date on the amphora handle. The amphora, which was used for the import of non-kosher wine from the Island of Rhodes, could have served the non-Jewish residents of the Akra. It is interesting that although many of these stamped Greek amphorae handles have been found in Jerusalem, most sites dating to that period having at least a few, we have only found 1 in the last 12 years of sifting. This shows a lesser Greek influence on the Temple Mount itself, despite Antiochus’ idolatry on the Temple Mount.

Akra

josephusbust

Bust of Flavius Josephus

There is much debate in archaeology about where exactly the Akra was located. Both Macabees and Josephus talk about the fortress, but neither details its exact location. What we do know is that Antiochus IV Epiphanes built the Akra in 168 B.C. as a fortress for his Macedonian garrison from which the Jewish population could be controlled. Josephus records that it “commanded or overlooked the Temple.” In Antiquities 12.252, he writes that Antiochus:

“… built the Akra in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the Temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein. Nonetheless there re­mained in the Akra those of the (Jewish) people who were impious and of bad character, and at their hands the citizens were destined to suffer many terrible things.”

It is important to remember that at that time, the Temple Mount was much smaller that that which we know today. The Second Temple, in its earliest form at the time of Nehemia through the Hellenistic period had a smaller, square shape. It wasn’t until Herod enlarged the platform and renovated the Temple around 20 BCE that the Temple Mount took the form that we know it in today.

Islamic History Recorded

No Comments

Staff Spotlight: November

With the Nuba Inscription still fresh in our minds, this month’s Staff Spotlight lands on Peretz Reuven!

peretz_1Originally from Haifa, Peretz is our expert in the Islamic period pottery and artifacts. He originally got interested in the Islamic period while at Hebrew University. He began with Arabic and Islamic history, added in a bit of archaeology, and the rest is history. He has studied under some of the most widely published scholars, including Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, Rachel Milstein, and Hava Lazarus-Yafe. Now he works on many excavations and research projects across Jerusalem and Israel.

largeophelmedallion

Large Ophel Medallion

Peretz was working on a project with Dr. Eilat Mazar documenting all the walls of the Temple Mount, and researching and publishing the large ophel medallion when he met our director, Zachi Dvira. Zachi invited him to join our project, and now Peretz is researching all of the Early Islamic period pottery found by the Sifting Project. He is also planning to use his experience in researching architectural elements from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods to research the architectural elements found in our sifting.

The Early Islamic period assemblage from the Sifting Project is very rich in materials. We have a lot of ceramic vessels, many of which are glazed and elaborated. Though most of them are locally made, some were imported from Persia, Egypt, or parts of Europe. We can see that there was a lot of activity on the Temple Mount during that time period, but what is interesting is that many of the vessels are ordinary. For example, we have many cooking vessels and fragments of pipes. Peretz would not say that these vessels represent daily life, for example people coming and eating in an ordinary way, since the Temple Mount is a holy place. Rather, we are familiar with people coming to make celebrations on the Temple Mount as a part of Muslim fests and holidays. There were also people, such as guards, who stayed on the Temple Mount overnight, and our assemblage could represent their daily lives.

c8

Cut mother-of-pearl inlays which may be from the Dome of the Rock

Peretz does not have a favorite artifact among those that he is researching for the Sifting project because there are too many to choose from that are really interesting. Some artifacts are connected to the building of the Dome of the Rock or to the artists who made the mosaics adorning the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. For example, Peretz is excited by the large amount of mother of pearl inlay found by the project. Many of these inlays might come from the dismantling and discarding of the mosaics over the years.

43

Gilded glass mosaic tesserae from the Early Islamic Period removed from the Dome of the Rock exterior walls during later renovations.

The buildings of the Temple Mount have mosaics inside and out. Some were dismantled during renovations while others were replaced because they were disintegrating or suffering from the elements. For example, all the outer surface of the Dome of the Rock was covered with delicate mosaics unlike the ceramic mosaics that we have today. In the 1500s, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, all the outer paneling of mosaics were taken off the Dome of the Rock and thrown away. Most likely, some of what we are finding today is from that period. Between dumping and the stories of people cutting off the mosaics and selling or collecting them, it is really nice that some of these artifacts have survived.

In addition to working with the Sifting Project, Peretz has just finished publishing his research on the Islamic period ceramics found in the Givati Parking Lot in Jerusalem and is now working on publishing his research on the Islamic material from the Western Wall tunnels and the Kotel. With Assaf Avraham, he just published his research on the Nuba Inscription. Peretz said that he has always been interested in the connection between Islam and Judaism. He and Assaf decided to do some research on the topic, and during that research Assaf found out about the interesting inscription in Nuba. They decided to do some additional research on the inscription and the results were definitely interesting. Check out the video they published on their finds.