What can we learn from this destructive dig?


By Zachi Zweig


(Updated: 29/8/00)

Click here to read about the story behind the survey. 


The Pit

During the months October 1999 - January 2000 a huge hole, 50 meters long, 25 meters wide and 12 meters deep, was dug in the Temple Mount. The hole is located to the north of the underground substructure known as 'Solomon's Stables' (see Figure 1) This structure is a row of subterranean halls, which are located at the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount, and enclosed by the external wall of the Mount. Their length is about 80 meters, from east to west, and they measure some 60 meters from north to south. The crown of vaults reach the height of about 9 meters, and their floor is some 12.5 meters lower than the Temple Mount platform. The ceilings of the halls and their arches are in a north-south direction. Altogether, 13 rows of vaults supported by 88 piers are known.[1] (Figure 2)

 This structure was last used by the Crusaders during the Medieval Era. The system of halls was improved in the 12th century by the knightly Order of Solomon's Temple (the Templars), whose members, fighting monks, gave them the name of 'Solomon's Stables'. The Crusader King Baldwin handed the place over to the Knights Templars, and they turned it into stables for their horses. After the big earthquake in the year 1033 C.E, the top of the structure was rebuilt, but no one can confidently date its original construction.

The structure's lower level is 12 meters below the current Temple Mount platform level. At the southeastern corner the mount's bedrock level is at a depth of 30 meters. It is not clear what is under the 'Solomon's Stables'. We do know about an underground corridor lying below the level of the Single Gate (which once led to the 'Solomon Stables'). It is constructed of blocks of, the Herodian style. The corridor ends at its northern extremity before a doorway leading to a structure situated below the 'Solomon's Stables'. [2]

Most scholars suggest that it was founded in the Second Temple period. King Herod built this substructure when he leveled the platform of the Mount. The low level of the southeastern Temple Mount's bedrock would have required a large amount of earth filling that would have put enormous pressure on the Mount's southern wall. So instead of having an earth filling in that area, he built a hollow vaulted substructure. Very little is known regarding the area north of this structure. It is reasonable to assume that this area contains filling carried out by Herod, but we don't know to what level. Was it filled again in the medieval era, after the big earthquake? Or is it stratified earth that contains relics from different periods?

I believe that these questions can be solved by a serious examination of the earth taken out of this hole, even though it is mixed. Dating and measuring the average size of a large sample of the shards from this mix could give us essential data for research of this part of the Temple Mount. From our small sample we have found a relatively significant mount of pottery from each period since the First Temple (Iron II) till the Medieval period (13th Century CE). We collected many shards, but used only the rims for our statistics. This is because it is the easiest pottery part to date. We have managed to collect only 72 rims in the short time we had before we were interrupted.  The pottery was dated by 3 respected archaeologists, Dr. Gabriel Barkai, Dr. Aren Maeir and Dr. Dan Bahat. These are our results:



Number (Percentage)

First Temple (Iron II)

10 (14%)

Second Temple (Hell.+ER.)

14 (19%)

Late Roman

4   (6%)


11 (15%)

Early Muslim + Medieval

12 (17%)


21 (29%)




Because we found artifacts that are dated to the Ottoman period. We suspect that many of the unidentified rims are from the last 600 years, but we didn't have time to let a specialist examine it. The fact that we have some pottery and many artifacts from the late Muslim and Ottoman period can indicate that to some depth level the area is stratified, at least till the medieval stratum.

Because of the fact that the 'Solomon's Stables' structure has archways opening to its north we may presume that in the dug-up area there was another structure or a wide square. Because the pit's depth is not lower than the 'Solomons's Stables', especially if the pit ascents from it's maximum depth where its touching the Solomon's Stable floor, anything in this area should not be dated before the foundation date of the structure south to it. No scholar dates the 'Solomon's Stables' to a period before the Second Temple. The findings of Iron Age (First Temple period) pottery in this location can prove that it is from a later fill. According to this we might have suggested, as some others, that the digging was in a late fill, but other evidence makes the picture a bit more complicated.

Policemen on the Mount reported observing the dismantling of a water channel with arches. These arches were seen on the western side of the pit to a depth of 2-3 meters. Evidence for this is seen in the Kidron dumps. There are many masonry stones, some with a notch and some in the shape of arch stones (Figure 3). We are not sure what the relationship was between the water channel and the arch. We do know that it was a completely different arch than those of the 'Solomon's Stables'. Its location may indicate that it is a remnant of some kind of continuation of the underground corridor mentioned above. In addition to this, a month after the survey I got some pictures that were taken during the diggings, after the water channel and arch were dismantled. In these pictures we can see an ancient wall on the east side of the pit. It is located 5 meters from the Eastern wall of the Mount (see Figure 4)[1]. Later on, we figured out that this wall is part of a continuation of the eastern vault. This vault is full of debris and the Waqf has begun dismantling it. It is dated to the medieval period. We assume that another continuation of this kind was dismantled, because we saw a pile some medieval pillars in the debris piles on the Mount (See the MKs tour page for pictures of this finds). We also see many masonry stones in the dumps. Other stones with value such as ashlars stones, columns and other findings have been kept on the Mount, and IAA inspectors are forbidden from examining of documenting them. Some of these can be seen in Figure 5.


This evidence undoubtedly proves that the digging destroyed ancient structures. We still need to explain these structures in relation to the pottery that was taken out of the pit. The only explanation I can think of is that these structures were built some time between the Second Temple period and the Muslim period. Then, after the big earthquake in 1033 CE, some structures fell apart and the area was later filled by earth. It is most probable that the fill was taken from the north part of the Temple Mount, which was on a higher ground level, and is the easiest location to carry the earth from. This fill is covered with some thin stratified layers from the medieval period till the present.


Figure 1. Map of the Temple Mount and the digging area.


Figure 2.. 'Solomon's Stables' plan. [3]




Figure 3. A water channel stone can be seen in the center, and an arch stone can

be seen in the bottom.




Figure 4. South East view at the pit. An ancient wall is seen on the eastern side.


Figure 5. Piles of stones that were kept on the Mount.



The Debris and the Artifacts


Figure 6. The debris

The dumps in El-Azaria and in the Kidron both have the same texture, which is a dusty gray soil. The earth contains a mixture of many stones from different periods. Many stones look simply like small rocks, which may have been used for a fill. Also found were many ancient masonry stones, some carbonized, and many modern blocks and floor tiles, which are probably fragments of the current Temple Mount floor. At a first glance at the earth it seems that it contains no pottery shards, but after it is washed by a good rain it can easily be seen that the earth is full of shards. Because of the dusty texture of the earth is it difficult to examine it when it is dry. This gray soil texture doesn't match the same texture of the earth taken out during the construction of new pipelines that was done in 1971, in the area near the Dome of the Rock. That earth was in a light brown-yellow color with small stones, and not the dark gray that we would expect from the burnt temple if it was located in that area.                                             


Kidron valley dumps

El Azaria


Figure 7. This is a fragment of an architrave of some kind of monumental structure. We are still showing it to different experts. Till now, the opinions offered were that it might be Herodian or Muslim. It certainly has a difficult decoration to date.




Figure 8. A pillared figurine leg from the time of the first temple. Similar legs were found in various sites in Judah, including Jerusalem. On the top of this leg there are some remains of white dye, which is typical to Iron Age 2.[4] This leg can be dated between the 8TH and 6th Century BCE.



Figure 9. Marble stones, with a pattern like this one, were found in ornament stone tables from the Second Temple period. Such a table was found in Jerusalem by Avigad, and in Massada.[5]Error! Bookmark not defined.This stone is nicely cut from two sides, and roughly cut on one side. This may indicate it is an edge of a table plate.


Figure 10. We found many glass pieces from different periods. On the left: a fragment of a Muslim bracelet. On the top right: a Muslim glass candle stick that was part of a torus-shaped glass lamp.





Figure 11. A small fragment of a decorated stone or a rim of a stone vessel.

Stone vessels are usually dated to the Second Temple period.


Figure 12. This type of marble is very common in the dumps. We couldn't date





Figure 13. A part of a pipe. Maybe Byzantine.


Figure 14. Clay tiles used to cover the mosques in the time of Suliman the

Magnificent in the 16th century CE.  Mazar found very similar tiles in his

dig south of the Temple Mount.[6]


Figure 15. Pottery from the First Temple. The earliest identified shard we found is dated to the 8th Century BCE.


Figure 16.  A typical Iron Age II shard with wheel burnished stripes. Dated to

the 8Th Century BCE.


Figure 17. Pottery from the Second Temple. This pottery includes the Hellenistic

and Early Roman periods.


Figure 18. Pottery from the Late Roman period.


Figure 19. Pottery from the Byzantine period.


Figure 20. Pottery from the Early Muslim and Medieval period.


Figure 21. Unidentified pottery.


Figure 22. Bases of jugs from the time of Herod. (1ST Century BCE).


Figure 23. Pottery handles from different periods.


Figure 24. Medieval pottery spouts.


Figure 25. Many mosaic stones can be easily found in the dumps.


Figure 26. A large Muslim or Ottoman mosaic stone.


Figure 27. Pottery imported from China in the 14th Century CE.


Figure 28. A fragment of a Turkish pipe.

[1]  Gibson S., and Jacobson D.M., Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Oxford, 1996, pp. 268-279.

[2]  Mazar B., The Mountain of the Lord , New York 1975, p. 127.

[3] Schick C., 'Reports from Jerusalem. Letters from Schick,': 'Discoveries in "Solomon's Stables", PEFQSt (1891), p. 199.

[4]  Kletter R., The Judean pillar-figurines and the archaeology of Asherah, Oxford, 1996

[5]  Avigad N., The Upper City Of Jerusalem, (published in Hebrew). Jerusalem, 1980,  p. 107.

[6]  Ben Dov M., The Excavation Nearby the Temple Mount, (published in Hebrew) Jerusalem, 1982, pp. 368, 357.