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

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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 Swirski and Dr. Ron Bills!). 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…

Quadruple Your Impact

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Quadruple Your Impact

We are excited to launch this year’s Annual Appeal with the news that we have matching funds to QUADRUPLE this year’s donations!

As you know, we were promised government funding over a year ago, but we have yet to see any of those promises fulfilled.

In four months, we will run out of funding completely, so we are now relying on our supporters to raise $25,000 – matched to give us $100,000 to complete the year, start 2019, continue our research, and stay on track for publishing in 2021.

Donate Now

Without being able to publish our research, it will be as though the half a million significant artifacts that we’ve recovered didn’t exist.

This tragedy is avoidable with YOUR help.

Make sure to subscribe to our blog for updates on research discoveries and more.

2017/18 Accomplishments

With your help, this past year we put in 8700 research hours, advanced our research, finalized multiple chapters for our publication, and completed over 2000  technical drawings and photographs of our artifacts. We also submitted three chapters to a book about the Temple Mount, and presented at multiple conferences.

We also just submitted an extensive article for publication about the Immer Bulla. Through in depth research, we made remarkable discoveries and have many new insights about the Temple Treasury and the King’s Palace Treasury.

Support our research and we can answer unsolved questions like:

  • When exactly was the First Temple built?
  • Was there idol worship in the First Temple period as described in the Bible?
  • What did the courts of Herod’s temple look like?
  • What was the most popular sacrifice on the Temple Mount?
  • Did the Romans build a pagan temple on the Temple Mount?
  • Did the Byzantines (Christian Romans) have a church on the Temple Mount despite Jesus’s prophecy that not one stone would remain upon another?
  • Did the legendary Knights Templar really use Solomon’s Stables as stables for their horses?

Continued Support

We are asking for your continued support for this research. Although we hope government funding will be granted in the future, we need YOUR help now. The beauty of the Sifting Project is that it is based on communal support in sifting and in funding.

This project could not exist without our many supporters. Your generosity means that we can continue our research and ensure that the true history of the Temple Mount is shared with the world.

Watch this video appeal from Ed Baumstein, one of our donors who is now also on the board of our foundation.

 

Donate NOW and make a huge difference for the heritage of the world.

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.

 

Our (Virtual) Cabinet of Curiosities

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Hi everyone,

       We are hard at work in the lab continuing our research on the thousands of artifacts we’ve recovered from the Temple Mount. We’ve accomplished a lot in the last few months and we have catalogued most of our pottery and started working on drafts of the various chapters we hope to publish.

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Imported Mycenaean pottery

With so much going on and so many new discoveries every day, “Oh look! We have a gorgeous piece of imported Mycenaean pottery” and so forth, it’s always interesting when we find something in the storeroom that no one is able to identify. We have an amazing team of researchers who specialize in all different kinds of materials and all different time periods, so it takes a lot to stump us, but it does happen. To help us with our research on these “stumpers,” we created a website and a forum for people to see our unidentified finds and help us out.

Do you collect teacups? Are you an expert in Japanese imports from the last 200 years? Well this might be the day you can really help us out.

Do you hail from the great city of New Orleans or have a secret (or not so secret) collection of Fleur de Lis belt buckles? If you do, can you tell us when this style became popular, where these might have been sold, or have an idea about how this ended up on the Temple Mount? We think it might be Crusader.

gdi

Example of gadi material

It’s amazing, but you really can help. Our intern last year, Hannah, decided to tackle what we were calling “gadi material,” since one of the examples had two incised symbols that resembled the ancient Hebrew letters ג and ד. We’d found a number of small fragments and had no idea what to make of them. We had some great suggestions on our website: “The object is probably an internal skeleton of a cephalopod like a squid known as a belemnite. It received mystical powers and was used as amulets for luck and success. A specimen found in Tiberas (751 AD) with the inscription of an Arabic name was analyzed by me (in press) based on the origin of this belemnite species form northwestern Europe. The present object is corroded and needs to be observed from all sides for possible identification and additional inscriptions. -Z. Lewy.” Based on the picture, this was a really insightful comment, but in the end, after we tested the material, Hannah found that it was not organic, but slate. These were fragments of “pencils” used for writing on slate writing boards and can be dated to the last couple hundred years. More on this in future posts 😉 .

See? Students! If you need a project, let us know!

I just uploaded a few more unidentified finds to our growing database. Definitely take a minute to check it out HERE and see if you can help us identify those artifacts that have us scratching our heads. Or, see if there is a project you want to tackle using our material. Either way, it’s a cool website to learn about the strange things found on the Temple Mount.

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Like what you see? Support research like this at www.half-shekel.org!

 

Seeking Good in Temple Mount Terror Tragedy: Opportunity for Archaeological Discovery?

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