Reconstructing the Context of Our Frequent Finds


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

Leave a comment

<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!)

Finds from the First and Second Temple Period city dumps at the Eastern slopes of the Temple Mount


Two years ago we reported here about our random discovery of the First and Second Temple period city dumps at the Eastern slopes of the Temple Mount. Tomorrow we are going to publish a preliminary report about our finds from these dumps at the annual conference of New Studies on Jerusalem at the  Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Here are the English briefs  for 2 of our articles.

Secondary Refuse Aggregates from the First and Second Temple Periods on the Eastern Slope of the Temple Mount

Zachi Dvira (Zweig), Gal Zigdon and Lara Shilov

The lowest area of the slope on the eastern side of the Temple Mount towards the Kidron Valley has never been systematically excavated since it is considered to be out of the boundaries of the ancient city of Jerusalem. In the months of March and April 2009, on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, in a compound owned by the Franciscan Fathers, rehabilitation work was carried out as part of preparations for a Pontifical Mass that took place in this area during Pope Benedict’s visit to Jerusalem in May 2009.  These works required some digging into the terraces at the site.  The work was supervised by an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspector in order to ensure that no archaeological remains would be damaged.  At several locations antiquities were encountered, and the digging was stopped. In one area at the bottom of the slope, the contractor dug deep into the terrace and revealed a large section of the slope in which various layers could be seen. Among the layers was a deposit of refuse aggregates dated to the late Second Temple Period, and were part of a large city dump of that period. A similar section of this dump was revealed about 420 m. south of this location by Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukrun and was identified by them as the Jerusalem City Dump during the late Second Temple Period.  At the same location, the remains of a human burial were also spotted penetrating the Second Temple Period aggregates. This burial site should be dated probably to the Byzantine Period.

            In order to return the debris from the burial to its original location and fix the terrace wall, the contractor dug a deep foundation trench for a retaining wall. Upon examining the section of the trench and the material removed from it, it appeared that the trench penetrated a refuse pit from the First Temple Period at its northern half, and a deposit of the refuse aggregates from the late Second Temple Period at its southern half.

The section of the trench and material that was excavated from it revealed a large quantity of pottery shards and bones that seemed to originate from a refuse pit from the First Temple Period. Near the pit remains of some large building stones upon bedrock were also revealed. It was not clear whether these stones were in situ or part of a collapsed wall.

The soil from this trench was transferred to the Temple Mount Sifting Project at the Tzurim Valley National Park for further examination. The sifting of the material from both the northern section of the trench (P56-N) and the southern section (P56-S) yielded remains of rich pottery assemblages, bones, fragments of ovens, fragments of glass, flint implements and flakes, etc. Quantitative analysis of the amount and density of these remains showed abnormal proportions relative to other archaeological contexts, which indicates that the sifted debris originates from refuse aggregates.

Quantitative analysis of the distribution and classification of the finds also yielded valuable information when compared to other sites in Jerusalem and outside it. The First Temple Period refuse pit had a very large amount of serving and drinking wares, while jugs and storage jars had a very low percentage. In addition, there were many sawn bones, relative to other sites.

The late Second Temple Period refuse aggregates displayed a very large quantity of cooking vessels, oven fragments and glass fragments while the lamps and jugs appeared to have a very low percentage. Imported ware was hardly represented and only a few shards were found relative to other sites in Jerusalem in which they appear at 1%-2%. This low quantity fits well with other refuse deposit studies which conclude that valuable items appear less frequently in secondary refuse aggregates than in primary deposits.

The Second Temple Period refuse aggregate was similar to the section studied by Reich and Shukrun on 2003 but also differed in a few details.  The Temple Mount dump had a high percentage of glass shards and juglets and a low percentage of oil lamps relative to the southern section of the dump.

The pottery from the First Temple Period  was dated to the Iron Age IIA (10th – 9th century BCE) – Iron Age IIB (8th century), while the Second Temple Period pottery was dated to the Second Century BCE – First Century CE. The appearance of pottery from the early phases of the Iron Age II was surprising due to the scarcity of such remains in Jerusalem, especially outside the City of David. The reason for such scarcity is that the vast majority of the archaeological finds usually come from destruction layers which mark the end of a period. For this reason finding pottery from all periods of the Iron Age II strengthens the assumption that we are dealing with a refuse aggregates and not regular occupation deposits that usually represent the termination of occupation, whereas refuse pits may show a continuity of occupation during a long period.

 In addition to the pottery there were many other special finds:

  • Six clay bullae/sealings and one bone seal. Some were in Egyptian style and seemed to date to the 9th-8th centuries BCE. One bulla included the inscription “[גֺ]בעןֺ/לֺמלך”  (“Gibeon for the king”) and could be dated to the 8th or early 7th century BCE. The bulla is from a unique group called “fiscal bullae” which sealed tax commodities sent to the King of Judah. The bulla is discussed in depth in Gabriel Barkay’s article in this volume.
  • Fragments of jar handles with potter’s marks
  • Dozens of clay figurine fragments
  • A bone figurine fragment which represent a very high level carving of a man’s face.
  • A terracotta figurine fragment of an arm and a palm with a club. We presume this was probably a figurine of Hercules holding a club.

 These finds raise a few questions: What were the unique patterns of refuse treatment during the First Temple Period and the Late Second Temple Period? Did the refuse aggregates originate from the Temple Mount? What can we deduce about the population who created this refuse?

These questions are emphasized especially when considering a few biblical references that imply the existence of a garbage dump at Kidron valley near the Temple Mount (see 1 Kings 15:11-14; 2 Kings 23:4-12; 2 Chronicles 29:15; 2 Chronicles 30:14;  Jeremiah 31:40). These accounts and the existence of such a refuse pit near the stream of the Kidron Valley at its western bank and its special finds may indicate that the refuse in the pit we have recovered originates from the Temple Mount.

We sincerely believe that further excavations at the site and its vicinity will shed much light on the activity that took place on the Temple Mount and about the refuse patterns of the First and Second Temple Periods.


A Fiscal Bulla from the Slopes of the Temple Mount – Evidence for the Taxation System of the Judean Kingdom

 Gabriel Barkay

A small fragment of a clay bulla was discovered in the wet sifting carried out at Tzurim Valley National Park, the site of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The bulla carries an Ancient Hebrew inscription: “[g]b’n/lmlk“, i.e. “Gibeon, for the King”. The bulla originates from the eastern slope of the Temple Mount, descending into the Kidron Valley. The bulla belongs to a group of bullae which were called by N. Avigad “Fiscal Bullae”. Presently we know more than 50 bullae of this type. They comprise two groups, one with names of cities in the kingdom of Judah, and the other with names of royal officials. All the fiscal bullae known until now come from the antiquities market, and our bulla is the first one to come from a controlled archaeological project. This bulla enables us to fully illuminate and discuss the entire phenomenon of the fiscal bullae. The article includes a full list of the previously published fiscal bullae, with a thorough discussion and correction of some of the initial readings. The bullae include names of 19 different cities of Judah, and dates of the reign of one of the Judean kings, usually in hieratic numerals, as well as the particle lmlk, “for the king”. The components of the inscriptions are discussed, as well as the geographical history of the bullae, and its comparison to the list of Judean cities in Joshua 15: 20-63. The fiscal bullae represent a taxation system from the different Judean cities, based on yearly taxes, which probably replaced the previous one, reflected in the royal Judean jars and their seal impressions, from the time of King Hezekiah. The discussion includes the characteristic details of the taxation systems of the Samaria Ostraca and the “lmlk” jars, in comparison to the fiscal bullae. A detailed discussion of 13 different arguments is brought to suggest the dating of the fiscal bullae to the time of King Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son (698-642 BCE). The mentioning of Lachish in some of the bullae is directly connected to the question of the date of the reconstruction of that city’s level II. The city is mentioned to pay its taxes in the 19th and 21st regnal years, which could not be in the reign of Hezekiah as the city was destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 BCE, which was Hezekiah’s 14th regnal year. According to our suggestion, Lachish was restored after being in ruins for about 16 years, by King Manasseh, rather than Josiah, as previously suggested.

The discovery of the fiscal bulla with the name of Gibeon from the slope of the Temple Mount, authenticates all the other fiscal bullae, and enables us to study a variety of subjects connected to the history of Judah in the 7th century BCE.

Older Entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers