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The Archaeology of Archaeology

The term ‘archaeology of archaeology’ may not be that common, but that’s what we did last week. Occasionally, archaeologists carry out excavations at sites that were created as the result of previous archaeological activity. Generally, this involves digging through the work of previous generations, such as the sifting of debris from the archaeological excavations that took place at Tel Megiddo about a century ago, or the re-excavation of soil dumps left by archaeological missions that worked in the City of David (in which even equipment left by previous archaeologist was uncovered).

We never expected that we ourselves would dig at a site that was created by our own previous work in the early years of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Our Project has existed for about 18 years, and last week we had to carry out excavations in landscaping terraces into which soil removed from the Temple Mount was placed for long-term storage about 15 years ago.

About once a year, the soil stored on-site at our Mitzpe HaMassuot sifting facility runs out, and we must bring more from the Temple Mount soil reserves which are still stored in the Emek Tzurim National Park. This time we chose a storage area which we had always preferred to postpone for the future. Namely, a large quantity of Temple Mount soil that had been placed in landscaping terraces within the National Park.

Digging a cross-section trench with a mini backhoe at the start of the work, in order to verify the boundaries of the Temple Mount soil.

In 2007, development work was carried out in the Kidron Valley, in the area in which the main soil dump of Temple Mount soil were located. Consequently, we were forced to transfer an enormous amount of soil (about 270 truckloads), to various locations in the Emek Tzurim National Park. About a year later, the Nature and Parks Authority requested to place some soil in landscaping terraces being created in two locations within the park, in order to improve the look of the park.

The works were conducted under our supervision, with everything being scrupulously recorded in a graphic log, including the marking of the area in which the soil was taken within the large soil heap in the Kidron Valley. We knew that the soil was likely to be placed in this area for many years. As standard practice, we always lay down plastic sheeting underneath the soil heaps in order to mark their lower boundary, and to prevent mixing with the local soil. We were concerned that the plastic would not last longer than ten years, and hoped that in the distant future, archaeologists researching this soil (we didn’t think it would be us) would be able to identify the differences between the Temple Mount soil and the underlying local soil. To our surprise, when we excavated a cross-section trench in one of the terraces, we discovered that the plastic sheeting at the base of the soil was still intact. In addition, the graphic documentation we had prepared was excellent, since it was predicated upon reference points in the area which did not change.

The meticulous description on the maps drafted by the archaeologists that worked with us 15 years ago, and the care taken then to separate the Temple Mount soil from the local earth, brought us now great satisfaction and showed us that our attention to detail had truly paid off.

The remnants of plastic sheeting marking the lower boundary of the Temple Mount soil.

Due to the complexity of the work, which was carried out with small earth-moving machinery (a mini-backhoe, a bobcat and a roll-off truck), the activity took much more time than expected, and this is reflected in the costs. Unfortunately, the present financial situation of the Project is not encouraging, and we haven’t the budget to finish the work. In the near future we will have to carry out another large operation to transfer about 30 truckloads from yet another storage of soil heaps. The crisis in the financial markets has also hit our main donors which significantly reduced their annual support. As a result, we find ourselves again having to reach out to the general public with a request for assistance. We would truly appreciate any and all support. We invite you to visit our crowd funding website, where also includes some gifts to donors (we have lately added a few very nice ones).

Thank you in advance for your help.

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