One of the most exciting things (some call them “finds”) in the sifting project are the people who come to sift, and the stories they bring with them.
Here, for example, is the story of Saul and Sabina Primer from Kfar Saba, who visited the sifting site this week, on a cold and wintry day (don’t worry, the sifting happens inside a closed greenhouse with warmed water, and the introductory lecture inside an air-conditioned auditorium). The Primer couple arrived…. with soil from their home that they asked to sift at our facility! Well, not exactly from their home…. the soil indeed sat in their house for 22 years, but it came originally from the soil dumps in the Kidron valley that originated on the Temple Mount.
And here is the story: Twenty-two years ago, when the enormous pit was excavated next to Solomon’s Stables on the Temple Mount, and its soil was unceremoniously dumped in the Kidron valley, a large demonstration took place on the site several days later. The demonstration organizers urged participants to take home bags of soil, since the future of the soil and the artifacts contained in it was so uncertain.
Some of the demonstration’s participants took up the call, collected some soil and sifted it at home (and indeed some of them passed on the artifacts they found to Zachi Dvira when they heard he was starting to research artifacts from the dump). The Primer couple too sifted part of the soil at home, but they left aside several large clumps, concerned that they might contain fragile and important artifacts. Over the years, they used the leftover, sifted soil, for bridegrooms (see an earlier post here).
Now, 22 years on, they decided at last that the time had come to take care of the earth clumps professionally, and arrived, together with the artifacts that they managed to sift previously, donating their efforts to research. The couple enjoyed a private and in-depth briefing, and of course recognition of the scientific responsibility they showed regarding the artifacts and soil they took care of. In the soil clumps were additional artifacts that joined the collection sent to the lab for research.
It’s important to note that excavating and sifting soil for antiquities in the absence of an excavation license form the Israel Antiquities Authority is illegal. Nevertheless, considering the situation in those days back in 1999, when the State of Israel abandoned any preservation of antiquities on the Temple Mount, the right thing to do at the time was to gather artifacts from the dump and to try to salvage whatever was possible, true to the saying “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” (Avoth 2:5). This was the response of Dr Gabriel Barkay when his two students (Zachi Dvira and Aran Yardeni) arrived at his house with artifacts they had collected from the Kidron valley dump. Perhaps that immediate action of collecting antiquities from the dump is what caused the State of Israel to take the matter seriously, to increase the supervision of the antiquities on the Temple Mount, and also enabled us, later on, to start systematic research of the dumps of soil from the Temple Mount.