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Update on Recent Developments at the Sifting Project

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The number of visitors/volunteers at the Sifting Project has been increasing year by year and also the volume of the material that has been sifted. To date we have sifted about half of the debris that is on hand. This means that we have at least ten more years of sifting. This is without taking into account the large amount of dirt that is lying in heaps in the eastern olive grove on the Temple Mount and has not yet been removed due to a Supreme Court ruling from 2004.

The sifting site continues to develop, and recently we have installed new permanent restrooms, another office for staff use, and a newly upgraded green house. Also we have expanded the seating in the introduction hall.

Gal Zagdon, the archaeologist who managed the daily work at the sifting site for the past six years, announced last week that he is retiring from archaeology and will be leaving us soon. Gal will leave a large vacant space that will be difficult to fill in, and we wish him good luck in his future occupation. We will give more details about his retirement in the future.

Currently, our research efforts are dedicated to sorting and analyzing the prevalent finds. We are about to complete the basic chronological and typological sorting of the one hundred thousand pottery rims we gathered so far! Soon, we will begin an in-depth high resolution typological sorting and statistical analysis of the pottery, which quite certainly will yield very interesting information and knowledge. Already now, we are gathering valuable information from the basic sorting of the pottery. It appears that we have evidence of the presence of activity on the Temple Mount during the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze ages. Although the number of pieces of pottery from these periods is small, they should not be neglected. There is also clear presence of activity during the Iron IIA period (the time of Kings Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat and Joash), during the time between the two Jewish Revolts against the Roman (70-132 CE). The Byzantine period pottery appears in abundance, and from the Early Moslem period we have evidence of pottery production.

The analysis of the coins is in its final phase, and it appears that we are have recovered some very rare coins, including a – Crusader gold coin, ours being only the second of its type found in the world. In addition, the study of the following subjects are close to being completed : opus sectile floor tiles, arrowheads, horseshoe nails, construction nails, roof tiles, bone objects, glass bracelets and rings, beads, stone vessels, and glazed wall tiles. We are beginning to see the light in the end of the tunnel.

Recently, several unique and interesting finds were discovered, but it is difficult to give more details about them at this stage, since they require further in-depth study. But among these are bullae with Greek inscriptions (one from the Hellenistic period and the second is probably Byzantine), Late Bronze scarabs and scarabs impressions, unique anepigraphic bullae, a rare bronze arrowhead that seems to date to the Iron Age I-IIA (the Jebusite period until the time of King Solomon), stone weights from the First Temple Period (which may give us new information regarding the standard weight of the “holy shekel” that was used in the Temple), fragments of architectural elements from the time of the Hasmonean and the Herodian dynasties, many Christian crosses and crucifixes made of iron, bronze and mother-of-pearl, evidence of a bone objects industry during the Late Roman period, a rare Ottoman seal of the grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the 18th century (‘Abd al-Fatah al Tamimi), and British military insignia.

The things mentioned above are just a small glimpse of the great abundance of finds we managed to gather during the sifting so far, and the research work is long and tedious. This is the reason we do not publish more frequently and with more details, so we apologize for that. As the research has advanced, the time necessary and the number of tasks to be completed have significantly increased, so we are now working on further fund raising for the research and publication tasks.

In addition, we continue to give sifting services to other excavations, and recently some very exciting finds were discovered during our sifting of the material from the IAA excavations in the City of David, which will be published by the IAA excavators in the future. Only last week we received a large amount of dirt from the renewed excavations in Lachish directed by Prof. Yossi Garfinkel. From the finds already recovered at the field itself, it seems that the sifting of this soil will be worthwhile and promising.

To date, the Sifting Project has proven to be very important for the elaboration of the history of the Temple Mount. Even now we have new information that may well change the written history of some of the periods of the Temple Mount.

Stone Weights from the First Temple Period

Stone Weights from the First Temple Period

Opus Sectile floor tiles from Temple Mount courts during the Herodian Period

Opus Sectile floor tiles from Temple Mount courts during the Herodian Period

Roman Arrowheads from the Late Second Temple Period

Roman Arrowheads from the Late Second Temple Period

An assortment of jewelry from various periods.

An assortment of jewelry from various periods.

The Communal Volunteering Aspect of the Sifting Project

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An article written by Zachi Dvira in memory of his Grandmother, Anita Berman.

See: Sifting by volunteers reveals hidden story

Response to Article in Times of Israel

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Last Friday, an article was published in the Times of Israel, a news site popular among American Jews. We were saddened to see that even though we spent a great deal of effort informing the reporter, Ilan Ben Zion, about the significance of finds and the new understandings we have following their discovery, he chose to focus on the issue of the project’s scientific value and even interviewed three individuals who claimed that our research has no archaeological value. In addition, the report contains many factual errors and misunderstandings.

An uninformed reader might come away with the impression that there is a wide ranging scholarly dispute over the archaeological validity of the project, despite the fact that since our first publication in 2006, not a single article has been published in any archaeological journal that called into question our methodology or questioned the scientific validity of the project.

Ben Zion interviewed Prof. Israel Finkelstein, who has a personal issue with Dr. Gabriel Barkay, and has never set foot in the Sifting Project site or bothered to investigate our research methods. In our third preliminary report,  we’ve addressed extensively the issue of the provenance of the finds, and explained in detail how we know the earth came from the Temple Mount, where on the Temple Mount it came from, and just what exactly can and can’t be learned from artifacts removed from their original context. It is quite clear that none of the responders interviewed in the article has bothered reading the report, much less visited the site or attempted a scholarly discussion over the project’s methodology.

The article contains many factual errors, so we might give Prof. Finkelstein the benefit of the doubt and assume he was misquoted. However, if the quotes are true, then the ridiculous notion that the finds might not originate in Jerusalem merits no response. As for the claims based on artifacts which supposedly weren’t discovered are quite premature, since only a small fraction of the finds have been published so far, and we are still hard at work preparing the discoveries for proper scientific publication.

It should be noted that Yonathan (Yoni) Mizrachi, another individual interviewed by Ben Zion,was an IAA archaeologist until he was fired nine years ago. Following that, he applied for a job with Eilat Mazar’s excavations in the City of David, and later he applied for a position in our project. Following the interview, we rejected him due to his inadequate knowledge of archaeological material from Jerusalem. About one year later, he responded to an initiative by the Norwegian-supported Ir-Amim foundation to establish the Emek Shaveh, a political organization aimed at attacking the any Israeli archaeological excavations conducted beyond the 1967 borderline. It is to be lamented that the article gives the impression that Mizrachi (who does not hold the title of Dr.) is an influential archaeologist, when, if fact, he is an individual that represents a political organization.

The only interviewee that spoke to-the-point and  is worthy of a response is Professor Marwan Abu-Khalaf, who claimed that the area from which the earth was removed was an Ottoman dump, and questioned our ability to glean information from soil without clear stratification. In our published articles we’ve already addressed these issues, including the well-known fact that the Ottoman finds come from a local dump – this being a good thing, since dumps provide the richest archaeological data from periods with no destruction phases.

Dr. Barkay, in the article, appears to respond to the claims made against the project by the three interviewees. In reality he was unaware that the reporter would contact these individuals. Dr. Barkay’s comments that seem to be answers to the interviewee’s claims, were, in fact, quotes from general information that were given to Ben Zion regarding different issues.

In addition, Ben Zion gives an account of the contents of the introductory presentation given to visitors at the Sifting Project, and reports that there was no mention of the “Islam or Arabs, and solely emphasized the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount”. This is completely false. The reporter listened only to the beginning of the presentation, and then left due to a phone call. The lecturer was not an archaeological student, but an archaeologist with a PhD, who always emphasizes equally all the historical periods of the Temple Mount. Incidentally, he holds a political view that is totally opposite from what the reporter tried to associate with him.

If the journalist had any qualms over the scientific or archaeological merit of the project, the correct course of action would have been to approach archaeologists that have neither a personal nor a political agenda, and ask for their thoughts.

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