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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.

Reconstructing the Context of Our Frequent Finds

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When we began transferring the mounds of Temple Mount material from the Kidron Valley dump to the Tzurim Valley National Park, we divided the dump into various areas.  We suspected that the order of the removal of the earth from the Temple Mount and the location of its dumping may correlate somehow to the way it was excavated.  We also separated the marginal areas of the material from the internal areas that had not been disturbed by the other illicit dumps in the Kidron Valley. The Temple Mount material was eventually divided to 11 areas that were removed separately.

Early in the Sifting Project, we already noticed that there were differences in the frequencies of certain types of finds from different areas. Moreover, similar finds, and sometimes fragments of the same object, were discovered within short periods of time. This suggested that these similar objects were originally next to each other. But the full significance and value of dividing the material at the dump into different areas was discovered only last summer, during the processing of quantitative data for the Third Preliminary Report which we recently published. We found that artifacts which we assume to be from the same context were also distributed in a similar manner. Another example is that we found that artifacts which can be identified with the Horses of the Crusader era Templar Knights were distributed in a similar way among the dump areas.

We concluded from this that we can define a statistical distribution “fingerprint” for each artifact type.  Artifacts that have a similar “fingerprint” may have originated from the same context. The statistical technique for finding such relationships and verifying their statistical significance is called Cluster Analysis.We will not go into a detailed explanation of this technique, but we can foresee that at the completion of the classification and sorting process of all the different types of finds that we have, we will be able to apply this technique on a unified data table of all the finds.  The results of this analysis will show clusters of finds having similar distributions. These clusters may also represent a similar context of the finds within them. Currently, we are still investigating the application and implication of this method.  Only after finishing the classification and sorting process, will we be able to create a full data table that will be adequate for such an analysis, and then we will be capable of fully estimating the value of this method. If we are able to achieve valuable information from this type of analysis, it will be a substantial innovation in archaeological method and theory research which could also be applied by other archaeologists who focus their research on excavations of fillings or site surveys.

We can illustrate this idea using the following example:
Suppose we prepare a salad using four vegetables and two cutting boards. On one board we cut cucumbers and tomatoes, and on the other carrots and onions. The vegetables on each cutting board are thoroughly mixed and placed in a large bowl. They are then lightly tossed in the bowl. Such a mixture will result in the vegetables being scattered unevenly throughout the salad. It can be assumed that the distribution of vegetables that we cut and mixed on each board will show a similar distribution within each of the various areas of the salad. Let’s further illustrate this with the following table:

Board 1: 21 cucumber pieces and 11 tomato pieces (32 total pieces)

Board 2: 6 onion pieces and 12 carrot pieces (18 total pieces)

Mix the cut vegetables well on each cutting board and then combine them together in a large bowl. The vegetables in the large bowl are lightly tossed and then its contents are divided equally into 4 smaller bowls. This procedure may yield the following data table:

Salad Uneven Distribution Table

It can be seen in the table that the distributions of the carrots and the onions within each bowl are similar, but differ from the distributions of the cucumber and the tomatoes in the corresponding bowl and vice versa.

This is the value of “cluster analysis.”  By observing the percentages of various types of finds within each area, we may be able to determine which types of finds originated from the same context.

Article in Israel Hayom about the Sifting Project

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<font size=4)Israel Hayom published today an article about the TMSP new discoveries in the recent years. It is short but gives a good summary.

See link no. 14 in the Selected Media Reports panel on the left.

p.s. We are currently working on a new comprehensive article about the various finds that show up in the Temple Mount soil. It will be publish in the forthcoming Megalim conference on the 6th of September. In the recent days we had a major breakthrough with the methodology of quantifying and analyzing the prevalent finds. These new methodologies will significantly help us cluster various finds to their original context. We’ll give some more detailed information about this in the future (just wanted to share our excitement!)

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