Following is a report we published on Sunday this week. Since then new earthworks activity began in the Eastern debris heaps in the Temple Mount, which was covered by Israeli media news reports. We will publish a detailed report about these activities soon in this blog. Meanwhile reports in Hebrew can be read at our Hebrew weblog.

 

Antiquities Damage on the Temple Mount in the Years 2010-2012

23/12/12

by Zachi Dvira (Zweig)

From the summer of 2007 until 2009 the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) significantly improved its level of supervision and preservation of antiquities on the Temple Mount. In 2007 the state comptroller was asked to investigate the archaeological supervision and antiquities preservation on the Temple Mount. The report itself was kept confidential; however, the conclusions were published in 2011. In this summary the state was accused of allowing construction activities without proper permits. The summary also said that since 2007 all the other discrepancies noted by the authorities in the report had been remedied. But was this really the case?

In 2008 and 2009 the IAA succeeded in conducting two small scale salvage excavations on the Temple Mount following an Waqf request for further diggings, but it seems that since 2010 until today, the ability of the IAA to supervise the site has deteriorated. This report will survey the different activities that have occurred during the past three years in which antiquities were severely damaged.  Furthermore, the state, until today, still has not enforced its authority to stop continuing damage.

 

Dozens of Plastic Trash Bags Full of Glazed Tiles and Ancient Pottery

Along the northern wall of the Temple Mount there is a storage room that also serves as a garage for a tractor that occasionally works at the site. Evidence shows that since 2009 dozens of plastic trash bags full of Ottoman glazed tiles and some ancient pottery are stored behind the tractor. In Fig. 1, a remarkably preserved clay jar, probably from the Herodian Second Temple period, can be seen.

It is not clear at all where the contents of these bags originated. The Ottoman glazed tiles were probably previously stored in the Islamic Museum courtyard at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, but the existence of the ancient pottery is completely surprising and also very disturbing. This type of pottery is usually found in excavations with very specific rich contexts of whole pottery vessels.

This information was delivered to IAA officials in August 2012, who then informed the police. It appears that no active measures have yet been undertaken to remove and preserve these finds. The bags are still visible in this garage.

Recycling Ancient Wooden Beams

During renovations in the past century, many ancient wooden beams were removed from Al-Aqsa Mosque. Some were taken off the Temple Mount and were eventually examined by scientists at the Weitzman Institute about 30 years ago. Most of the beams were dated to the Byzantine period (6th century CE), but a few were dated to the First and Second Temple periods. These beams had been in reuse in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. These beams remained well preserved for so many centuries because they were inside a closed structure protected from the rain and adverse weather conditions.

Until about ten years ago, the beams that were not removed from the Temple Mount were stored in the Islamic Museum, but then they were taken outside and stockpiled in various locations, unprotected from the weather (Fig. 2).

Throughout the past seven years the IAA has been repeatedly alerted about this issue and reminded of the irreversible damage that is occurring each day that these beams are unprotected. In 2007 some of these beams that could be identified by their ancient Roman reliefs were visibly deteriorating. The Jordanian Minister of Endowments was also notified of this atrocity but did not succeed in resolving this issue.

Meanwhile, the quantity of beams in this stack was gradually dwindling, and those that remained were still exposed to rain and severe weather conditions. A month ago this stack was moved to the courtyard north of the Golden Gate and is now covered with rugs (Fig. 3). It is very puzzling why the simple issue of an adequate storage facility has remained unsolved for so many years.

Lately, many of the beams that were visible on the Temple Mount in the last decade seemed to have disappeared, but were actually recycled into “new” beams, and are stored on top of a container near the Golden Gate (Fig. 4). These “new” beams, about 40 in number, have the same old, dry, cracked texture and color of the Al-Aqsa ancient cedar beams. These ancient beams were simply re-cut and refurbished.

A Large Stack of Ancient Architectural Fragments and a Monumental Early Moslem Relief Inscription

Since the large scale digs at the end of 1999, many stacks of architectural fragments appeared in the olive grove in the eastern area of the Temple Mount. Among them is a large pile of marble architectural fragments, many of which may have originated in an Early Moslem structure that was dismantled in one of the renovations in the 19th or 20th centuries (Fig. 5).

In recent years the stack has steadily grown larger, indicating that additional fragments were removed from some storage place on the Temple Mount, possibly from Solomon Stables or the Double Gate hall. Among these are many fragments of Byzantine chancel screens and small pillars.  In addition, there are also black bituminous limestone floor tiles that had been in secondary use and probably originated from the courts that surrounded the Herodian Second Temple (Fig. 6).

A few months ago Arabic inscriptions were identified among these fragments, and one of them was from a monumental relief from the Fatimid Era (10th century CE) (Fig. 7). A few weeks later, a tractor pushed the whole stack to the side, and the inscriptions can no longer be viewed, and many of the stones showed signs of wear as a result of the rough way in which they were moved. This incident was reported to the IAA, and they responded that they were aware of this matter.

Earthworks in the Debris Heaps contrary to a Supreme Court Ruling

Following a Supreme Court ruling from 2004, the Israeli police are preventing any removal of dirt from the Temple Mount without it first examined by archaeologists. Since the Waqf has not yet given its approval for such an archaeological examination, large heaps of debris have been accumulating in the eastern area of the Temple Mount, causing the whole vicinity to resemble a garbage dump (Fig. 8).

The police have been strictly enforcing the removal restriction, but have not prevented heavy machinery from repositioning dirt, and occasionally a tractor can be seen maneuvering around the debris heaps and moving material from one place to another (Fig. 9). This activity fundamentally contradicts the goal of the petition that lead to the court ruling in 2004. The aim was to preserve the finds buried in this dirt from further damage by heavy machinery.

Modern Graffiti on Ancient Temple Mount Walls

Occasionally during the last year, modern graffiti, some in Arabic and some in English, has been spray-painted on various walls on the Temple Mount (Fig. 10). The graffiti was eventually removed by the Waqf authorities, but it is puzzling how such activity can occur in a place that is considered as one of the most secure sites in the world.

Summary

After reviewing this information, the question arises as to what the authorities are doing to prevent further damage to antiquities on the Temple Mount. It is evident from these photographs that the Waqf authorities do not seem to care about ancient artifacts, even those from their own Moslem heritage. The Israeli authorities are dealing with some of these issues and are discussing them with the Jordanian Royal House, but it is puzzling and very disturbing that some very simple issues, like placing the ancient wooden beams in an adequate storage facility, have gone unresolved for many years.