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Staff Spotlight for February: Zachi Dvira

img_3307How does a computer programmer stumble into directing a hot-topic salvage archaeology project? This is the story of our Director, Zachi Dvira.

After a short hiatus during our crowdfunding campaign, our Staff Spotlight is back on and this month, it falls on Zachi. Many people have read interviews and articles about Dr. Gaby Barkay, but what do you know about the student turned director of our project?

Zachi grew up in Herzliya and only really got started in archaeology at age 25. From age 9, he was programming computers. After the army, he went into computer graphics and animation and even started his own business. One Sukkot, he left his office for eight days, and the heat from the sun coming through the windows destroyed all of his hard drives. All of his files and big projects were lost.

Zachi felt like he needed a change. He had just spent time traveling in the Caribbean and South America and became more interested in archaeology. He was intrigued by St. Augustine in Columbia and its unique culture. He was a city boy, but when he got back to Israel, he started traveling within Israel and visiting the archaeological and historical sites here. He was amazed at the number of things that he didn’t know and that he hadn’t done in Israel. Zachi’s late grandmother also fanned the spark of interest in archaeology and would talk to Zachi about excavations and discoveries.

Zachi had been interested in the Bible since he was a teenager and he had been researching the Torah text and its relation to modern Judaism. After the loss of his files, Zachi went back to programming, but he also wanted to learn archaeology on the side because of his sincere interest in the subject. He also wanted to gain the tools he needed to research more about the Bible and the source of Judaism. Zachi enrolled at Bar Ilan University, and as he learned more and more, he felt like he really began to better understand the text of the Bible and the context in which it was written.

So how did the Sifting Project start?

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Illicit bulldozing in 1999

Zachi was interested in the Temple Mount and he was doing a seminar with Dr. Gaby Barkay about Jerusalem. He had to write a paper about Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE. At that time, there was a claim that the Temple Mount was not a part of Jerusalem in the 10th century and that it was only added later on.

Even in 1998, there had been reports of trucks leaving the Temple Mount with earth, and when the large Awaqf excavation took place in 1999, someone who had followed the trucks told Zachi where to find the dirt that they had dumped. Zachi had the idea that he could maybe find something from the 10th century BCE and give evidence that the Temple Mount was a part of Jerusalem at that time. He had no idea that it would become a whole project.

With other friends and archaeology students, Zachi surveyed some of the earth removed from the Temple Mount, but it was professors like Dr. Barkay that were able to date and identified the artifacts and who realized that they were dealing with something immensely important.

Zachi and Gaby decided to establish an official project for sifting this debris and the Temple Mount Sifting Project was established in 2004. Zachi was in the middle of his MA studies. I asked him what his dreams are for the project, and he said that because this project has exceeded all hopes and expectations, it is difficult to talk about dreams. The dream of finding a few inscriptions or seals, well we found them. In any excavation you want to uncover more finds that shed a lot of light on history, and with our project, even just the statistics of the finds that we have can lead to new understandings.

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Data-mining TMSP data

Of all things, Zachi is very interested in the implementation of advanced quantitative analysis techniques in archaeology. This is what his MA thesis was about. He researched automatic typology methods and wrote about how to use data mining for analyzing archaeological databases to reveal patterns in the data, which consequently raise new research questions.

While Zachi has found a number of nice coins and some inscriptions for the project, the research and the library is more interesting for him. Like all of us, there are so many things that Zachi would like to research and to delve into, but unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day. This is the never-ending problem of an archaeologist. You learn one thing that leads you into a whole new category of topics you didn’t even know you were interested in, which leads you to something else, and the process of learning and striving to know more and better understand is a lifelong pursuit.

This is what led Zachi to the British Mandate archives where he discovered a whole list of remnants and features on the Temple Mount that he was surprised had not been published. They help fill in the picture of the history of the Temple Mount and how it has been used over time. He wrote a whole article about this and we are now waiting for it to be expanded upon and translated into English. This is also a part of his PhD thesis that he has just started.

Basically, we are very lucky to have Zachi, his experience, and his passion for learning and truth leading our TMSP team. This is just a small glimpse into the man, but hopefully it gives you a little bit of insight into the quiet powerhouse behind our project.

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Discussing stone weights in the lab

Coming to New York!

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Start spreading the news. We’re coming! We want to be a part of it, New York, New York!

Zachi Dvira will be going to New York on a speaking tour from April 20th through April 30th. He will be visiting various Jewish organizations in and around Manhattan, and may even be making his way to New Jersey for a day. He will be speaking about the counter evidence to the Temple Denial Movement, the archaeological evidence from the Sifting Project, and other research and artifacts from other excavations in Jerusalem that provide evidence of the First and Second Temple.

These lectures are a fun way to help you learn the facts so that you can counter the Temple Denial Movement. Zachi has been studying the history of the Temple Mount for over 18 years. As well as being one of the founders of the Sifting Project, he has also had access to some unpublished research in archives from the British Mandate Period that shed a lot of light on the history of the Temple Mount.

If you are interested in attending one of these lectures, let us know! Email development@tmsifting.org and we will send you the specific times and places so that you can choose the one that works best with your schedule.

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We are also interested in perhaps doing a gala event; if not this trip, then perhaps the next. If you or your organization would like to host such an event, let us know so that we can start planning! It would be a great way to raise awareness about the project and the history of the Temple Mount as well as help us raise funds to publish our research.

Aren’t You Dying To Know?

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Find of the Month: January

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Singer Family and the Murex Shell

Aren’t you dying to know what this month’s “Find of the Month” is? Well, if you can’t tell from my bad pun, this month’s find of the month is a murex trunculus: a rock snail shell. It was found by the Singer family from Jerusalem, who were really excited to have found something so special. This shell is another piece to a puzzle we have been trying to put together here for years.

The murex family of snails are medium to large predatory, tropical, sea snails, also known as murexes or rock snails. They have elongated shells with spines of fronds and brightly colored inner surfaces. Aristotle used the word murex, and Vitruvius described the dye made from these shells, making this one of the oldest shell families still known today.

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Modern tzit tzit with blue strings mimicking tehelet

What makes the murex trunculus so special is that they are connected with the ancient process of making tehelet, the blue dye we know from the Bible that was used in priestly garments and the Israelites’ tzit tzit (fringes). This snail family was also used to make the purple dye known in the Bible as argaman.

Making tehelet or argaman requires special skills as well as a lot of snails. Dye can be collected by crushing the snails, or by laboriousy poking (milking) the snails and collecting the excretion. 12,000 snails might yield 1.4 g of dye, which is only enough to color the trim of a single garment.[1] Because of this, this Royal Blue or Royal Purple dye was very expensive, making it an almost exclusive sign of kingship and royalty. Interestingly, the color of this dye becomes more vibrant when left in the sun, and it is possible that different versions of the color can be made by making the dye in the sun or in the shade.

slide1Much of the production of this type of dye we attribute to the Phoenicians. The purple is also known as Tyrian purple (from the Phoenician city of Tyre). Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of dye production at Phoenician sites in Morocco and all across the Mediterranean, including Israel. There is a lot of evidence at Tel Dor for Phoenician dye production in the Iron Age as well as the merchandizing and trading of goods like colored fabrics and wool.

So what was this murex shell doing on the Temple Mount? Any time we find a shell, we know that it was used by humans because Jerusalem is too far from the sea for sea creatures (and their shells) to dwell there. This means that shells were brought to Jerusalem for a purpose. We have discovered over 20 of these murex trunculus shells in the sifting, and it leads us to wonder why. Is it possible that there was a workshop for dye production on the Temple Mount? Perhaps these shells were used to create the dye for fabrics used in the Temple. Maybe it was produced on site for purity reasons.

Unfortunately, we can’t date these shells until we have evidence that would link them to another, datable, artifact such as something else used in cloth or dye production. With more funding, we might be able to carbon date them, but each test costs about $400 and in order to reach statistical significance, we would need to test samples from 20 shells. Regardless, there is a lot of research yet to be completed on this, but these shells certainly raise a lot of really interesting questions.

Just because, check out this video see archaeologists extracting dye from one of these shells.

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[1] Jacoby, “Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004:197–240) p. 210.

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