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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.

Some Nice Pictures from the Exhibition

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Highlights from our Exhibition and Presentation at the 13th Annual Studies of Ancient Jerusalem Conference

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On the evening of Thursday, September 6, 2012, the City of David hosted the 13th Annual Studies of Ancient Jerusalem Conference presented by the Megalim Institute. The program began with an open house including free tours throughout the City of David, followed by presentations by noted archaeologists and tourism professionals.
During the open house, the Temple Mount Sifting Project hosted an exhibit of archaeological finds recovered during the project’s first seven years of work. Five exhibit display cases, each manned by one of the site’s tour guides, presented a fascinating array of artifacts covering the 3,000 years of the Temple Mount’s history. This is the first time these artifacts have been on public display, and more than 1,000 visitors took advantage of this rare opportunity to see – and in some cases, even touch – these amazing finds. The tour guides gave brief explanations of the objects before them and answered hundreds of questions posed by the inquisitive visitors.
The first display case featured clay figurines, idols worshiped during the First Temple Period, and clay pot handles, each with an incised mark designating the pot for a special purpose. Yuval Marcus explained the difference between the arrowheads from the Babylonian, Hasmonean and Crusader periods, and displayed a horseshoe surrounded by horseshoe nails recovered from Solomon’s Stables. The highlight of this showcase was a small stone incised with a tiny gazelle that was used to seal important documents.
The second table showcased opus sectile paving stones, intricately cut stones tiles that once created beautiful floors in Temple Mount buildings. Frankie Snyder displayed tiles from the Herod’s expansion and repaving of the Second Temple courtyards, and visitors marveled at these still-handsomely-polished tiles. Also displayed were reconstructed floor samples featuring beautifully cut and polished tiles, one floor from the Byzantine period and another from the time of the Crusaders.
Jewelry was focus of the third display case, hosted by Rachel Nachum. Colorful glass bracelets and matching rings, some almost 2,000 years old, quickly attracted the visitors’ attention. Silver and bronze rings, some with amber and onyx settings, were on display along with an array of pendants – carved mother-of pearl and Eilat stone to Christian crosses and Muslim amulets. The highlight here was a necklace, restrung with about 40 semi-precious carnelian beads from the Sifting Project’s collection, featuring 3 heart-shaped beads believed to be from the Late Bronze period.
The fourth exhibit focused on the First and Second Temple Periods. Moran Hagbi treated the crowds to a fascinating display of Second Temple Period coins, highlighted by a rare silver half-shekel coin used to pay the annual Temple tax. He also explained how the assortment of stone, glass and bronze weights were used in monetary transactions before coins were invented. A stone tile engraved with an ancient game board provided the background for a variety of carved bone and ivory dice and bone, stone, and glass game board pieces. More carved bone and ivory were on display in the form of ancient hair combs. Also on this table was an assortment of Herodian architectural elements, including pieces of intricately carved Corinthian column tops that probably graced the Royal Stoa and the porticoes that surrounded the Temple Mount courts.
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The fifth showcase featured items recovered from a special comparative project, the sifting of material from First and Second Temple Period refuse dumps discovered in the Franciscan Garden in the Kidron Valley on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount. Shaked Alboher presented partially restored pottery along with more clay pot handles with special incised marks on them. Especially important were the broken terra-cotta figurines recovered and on display here, correlating to the biblical sources that tell that this area was used for refuse and that King Josiah commanded the priests to break down and burn all the idols, and cast them in the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 23:12). Also on display in this showcase was an assortment of about 20 “small finds”, various miscellaneous items found at the Sifting Project that show the variety of artifacts recovered – a tiny stone with an incised glyph, maybe even prehistoric – a carved bone animal head, possibly a dolphin – a lead caltrop used in Medieval warfare to injure a horse’s foot – a piece of flint, wrapped in an extraordinarily decorated lead covering, used for firing an 18th century flintlock musket – and a small bronze harp that looks so much like the City of David logo that they now use it in place of their “plain” logo in some of their publicity!
This exhibit truly demonstrated that the work being done at the Temple Mount Sifting Project to recover the “treasures” from the “trash” is vitally important for understanding the history of the Temple Mount.

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During the formal part of the conference, Dr. Gabriel Barkay spoke about recent finds at the Sifting Project. His presentation was a summary of our new article in the conference publication, City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem: 13th Annual Conference (see link on Project Updates list). Also, Dr. Barkay’s presentation will soon be uploaded onto the City of David YouTube channel. This article constitutes the project’s third preliminary report. Currently the article is only available in Hebrew, but an extensive article in English will hopefully be published in the near future. This report focuses on the prevalent finds and the different characteristics of each area from the Temple Mount where material was taken and dumped in the Kidron Valley, and later transferred to Emek Tzurim for sifting. Included are an extensive discussion of the analysis methodologies used by our research team and the scientific value of the archaeological information retrieved from these finds.

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