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Find of the Month!

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No grit no pearl

This month’s find of the month is actually two finds! With a bit of hard work, determination, and a little luck, two brothers found pearl artifacts on the same day while sifting with us at Emek Tzurim. What a lucky family.

IMG-20160811-WA0010Eitan and Amichai Strik from Israel came to the sifting project with their family over the school summer holiday and really enjoyed their time with us. People often ask us how to pick a “good” bucket. I personally don’t have an answer to this question, but clearly we should all be asking the Strick family for bucket picking tips.

Amichai found a mother of pearl bead while his younger brother Eitan found a beautiful mother of pearl inlay. We have not yet dated either item as dating pearl is very hard to do when the item is out of context. Jewelry trends cycle, so trying to date these items by comparing them to similar items found in other excavations is also complicated.

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Mother of pearl inlay and bead found by the Strick brothers.

Mother of pearl is the common name for iridescent nacre, which is a combination of minerals that is secreted by oysters and other mollusks and deposited inside their shells, coating and protecting them. Nacre is the same material that is deposited around a tiny particle lodged in a mollusk that builds and eventually becomes a pearl.

Most of the mother of pearl found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project was imported from the Nile River. We have a lot of pieces that are considered industrial waste from inlay projects, but also a lot of natural pieces left over from the food consumption of Byzantine monks who had a love of clams. Finding mother of pearl beads or actual pearl inlay is rare in our sifting. We have some inlay that are from the Dome of the Rock and were removed with the gilded glass mosaic tesserae that were installed there during the shrine’s construction in the late 7th century CE. Here are some of the other pieces we have found.

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Pearl inlay artifacts found by the Sifting Project

Picturesque Palestine pg. 133  m-o-p beads 1Mother of pearl has been used for centuries. In Israel, mother of pearl inlays became common after the Late Second Temple period. The Book of Esther (1:6) describes the floors of Achashverosh as made of precious stones, marble, and mother of pearl. The book, Picturesque Palestine (1881), in describing and illustrating the tours of Harry Fenn and J.D. Woodward, show the mother of pearl workers of Bethlehem (right). This was part of the bustling trade with pilgrims in Bethlehem, especially around the holidays of Christmas and Easter. The most popular items for sale were rosaries, some of which included mother of pearl beads, as well as pearly scoops made from the shells of the giant oysters of the Red Sea and brought to Bethlehem from Suez, which were loved by English visitors. Other items for sale to pilgrims in Bethlehem included relics, palm-boughs, scallop shells, crosses, and little images.

Today, wood inlay with mother of pearl is popular on guitars and other stringed instruments. In jewelry, pearls and mother of pearl are in two different categories. Pearls are more rare, and are rounded gems that can only grow to a certain size. Alternatively, mother of pearl is much more common (though not found coating all mollusks). Because the nacre coats the entire inside of a shell, it also provides much more material to work with.

Today, due to awareness of unsustainable pearl-farming techniques, pearls and mother of pearl are not as widely used and much of the jewelry and inlay on the market is antique or vintage. Some companies are working on initiating more ecologically sustainable ways of collecting their material, so perhaps this beautiful substance will gain again in popularity in the near future.

For more information on pearls today, click here.

Finally, a little pearl wisdom:

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Just a Slice of Humble Pie

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Staff Spotlight: August

__IGP0927Hillel Richman has been with the Temple Mount Sifting Project for about 11 years, almost since the project’s beginning. He has raised himself from simple staffer to one of our pottery experts, and yet when you ask him about himself, his response is, “I’m just a simple dude.”

Hillel is a great example of a self-made man. Originally from Jerusalem, he started with the Sifting Project by looking for a part time job that he could stay with for a few weeks or a few months. Even he isn’t quite sure how that turned into 11 years, a career change, and the extensive reading of archaeological pottery typology tomes.

Hillel became more interested in archaeology through the Sifting Project because of his general fascination with the archaic, where we come from, and with what was. For him, it was about the excitement of unraveling the ancient way of life and our origins as people.

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Hillel, Zachi, and Haggai discussing a First Temple period scale weight in the lab

 

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Imported Mycenaean Greek Pottery from the 14th century BCE

As would any true archaeologist at heart, Hillel considers his favorite finds from the Temple Mount to be rare ancient pottery. “If it’s imported, or not imported but rare,” he likes it. For him, the Late Bronze pottery is particularly fascinating because it is a

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Bronze Age Pottery

time period from which we have not found a lot of monumental structures or materials. Though there is a great deal of information about the Bronze Age at other sites in the region, it is a mysterious time period that is not well attested to in the central hill country of Israel, including Jerusalem.

Hillel is now one of the pottery researchers for the project. He can tell you the time period and type of vessel by looking at the smallest piece of rim sherd or base. He says that it is an intuition one gets after years of memorizing typologies and working with the materials. Now, he is researching Iron Age pottery (and the limited amount of earlier pottery that we find) for the Sifting Project. His goal is to put together the typologies and write the report for volume III of our upcoming publication in 2018. His research is uncovering what we have in terms of time and space on the Temple Mount. Who was there and when? How was the Temple Mount set up? Can we compare what we have to other sites? What understandings might we get from statistical analysis?

Hillel has discovered that we have a lot of Iron II (8th century) pottery and some 7th and 6th century pottery. Mostly, we have bowls, tableware and storage vessels. We have some cooking pots, which attest to the number of people coming to the Temple for ritual meals, but there are more from the Second Temple Period. We have not found a lot of imported ware from the Iron IIB period, but this is not unique to the Temple Mount. It seems as though this was a time period with little importation in general across Israel.

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Seal found by Hillel

One of Hillel’s favorite memories is having found a seal impression from the Second Temple Period with Hebrew characters. The Sifting Project staff (our volunteers always sift from the Temple Mount itself) are sometimes brought in to sift other excavations’ material. This particular seal was from the excavations at Robinson’s arch, run by Eli Shukron, by the corner of the Western and Southern walls right below the Temple Mount. The seal is one of the first and only indications of the administrative work carried out in the Second Temple, and for Hillel, this was really meaningful.

The seal seems to have been used by pilgrims as a kind of proof that they had undergone ritual purification before worship in the Temple.

Because he is so quiet, humble, unnecessarily self-conscious about his English, and refuses to really talk about himself, I asked one of his closest colleagues to share a memory of Hillel. Frankie Snyder has worked with Hillel throughout her time with the Sifting Project (9 years) and you can often find them discussing things and talking in the laboratory. She concurs that he likes to be in the background and hates the spotlight, but remembers when he was forced into the spotlight by his find of the seal mentioned above.

Each year, there is a Temple Awareness Day with several hours of live broadcasting online. Hillel was asked in 2012 to speak about this seal, but said he would only do it if Frankie would come with him. They were asked to explain several archaeological finds from the past year that all related to the Temple Mount. Frankie says that it was great to see Hillel speak in front of a live camera about the seal and how significant it was to him to be the person who found something that really tells us about the activities on the Temple Mount.

News from the Sifting Site

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20160703_110459What a beautiful summer!

We have been having a great summer at our sifting site in Emek Tzurim. We have been updating the sifting facility, and every day it seems like we are making the site more fun and beautiful.

This week we got a new curtain for our lecture area. It describes the 6 categories of finds that we collect on site: Glass, Mosaics, Pottery, Bones, Special Stones, and Metal. Fun and useful, this is a great addition to our site.

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20160628_091512We have also been updating our supplies. We have new wheelbarrows (such a fun color!) and we have new sifters on their way.

Right now, we are conducting a special summer campaign on site. We have special hours that people can come without an appointment and help us sift. Come at 10am, 1pm, or 4pm for an awesome sifting experience (Hebrew lecture only). Families are encourages to bring their children and we have been having a great time meeting all of the locals and Israelis that have been coming as a part of this campaign.

As a part of the campaign (and we hope we get to keep it) we also have a fantastic coin minter. For 5 shekel, you can take home a Sifting Project coin with the seal of the City of David on one side and a replica of the half-shekel found on our site on the reverse (see below). The pomegranates with the words “Jerusalem the Holy” is my favorite side of the coin, so I am glad that they chose to duplicate that side.

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Found at the Sifting Project: a silver half-shekel coin. Obverse: A chalice from the Temple topped by the letter aleph, which means “First year.” Around it is inscribed “Half a Shekel.” Reverse: A stem with three pomegranates surrounded by the words “Jerusalem the Holy.”

Watch Hillel make these Sifting Project coins here. You can subscribe to our youtube channel and get notified when we start uploading our new video-blog series on Temple Mount history and finds.

Really, I think we have too much fun at the sifting project. Should someone really enjoy their job this much?

For more information about how to participate, click here!

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