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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.

Making Seal Impressions

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As you know, the first 25 donors from our Annual Appeal are going to receive a clay seal impression (Bulla in Hebrew) that we made from one of our 10th century BCE stamps found in the sifting. Those lucky few will get a bulla and a whole explanation, but we thought we would share the process with all of you as well!

The 10th century BCE falls within the Iron Age and is the time period of the Jebusites, from whom David conquered Jerusalem—as well as the construction of the Temple by his son, King Solomon. Other similar seals found in Israel dating from the late 11th to the beginning of 9th centuries BCE allow us to date our seal to this time period as well. The stamp seal that we used is conical in shape and made of brown limestone. Two animals, one above the other, are carved on its circular base, maybe representing predator and prey. The seal is perforated which enables it to be hung on a string and worn.

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Imer Bulla. Notice it is broken and there is an impression of the sack on the back

In antiquity, legal or administrative documents, or other objects or goods that needed to be authenticated and approved were “signed” using a stamp seal. (Personal items could also be stamped. We have a number of stamped handles from clay vessels that have been found in the sifting.) But how do we get bullae? A document was rolled and tied, or a package of goods was tied with a string. On the knot of the string was a piece of clay that was then stamped with a seal. These seals could either be worn on a string, like the one that we used, or set into a piece of jewelry such as a ring. The bulla is the clay seal impression left behind. In order to open the document or package, the bulla would be broken. This was a great form of protection, but could also be the reason than all of the bullae we have found are broken.

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Bulla made in our lab

How We Made the Bullae

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First, we mixed regular store bought clay with some of the ashy Temple Mount soil left over from the sifting. This is called tempering the clay. Untempered clay will shrink and crack during drying or firing. In ancient times, as today, different forms of temper are added to wet clay in order to provide greater strength. Sand, crushed rock, or even crushed broken pottery can be used as temper, and each material, and the percentage of temper used, affects the finished product. Haggai added about 5% Temple Mount soil to the clay. (Right)

Next, a marble sized piece of clay was then folded around a string. We then used the stamp seal to impress the clay onto a sack. (The seal is stone, and was therefore unaffected by the clay. Don’t worry! We take care of our artifacts!) The impressions are real, but they are modern and not an antiquity. We therefore wrote “copy” on the back so that none of these bullae will be mistaken for antiquities or sold on the black market.

Finally, the impressions were burned in a fire. Because fires, unlike ovens, do not have a consistent temperature, some of the bullae blackened while others maintained their brownish color. Some also fell into the ashes. All of this actually made these bullae look much like the seal impressions that we have found at the Sifting Project.

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20170105_135709We then boxed them up in the cardboard finds boxes that archaeologists know so well and gave them their own artifact tag. Archaeologists need to label where their important finds were found, so tags always include the site, the area, the locus, and the basket number designating the place that the artifact was found. They also include the date and a short description. Our seal impressions don’t have a real provenance, so the numbers on our tags are the actual numbers from the seal itself!

Watch the whole process!!

I don’t know about you, but this whole process has made me want my own stamp seal. I could send letters sealed in wax! I wonder what the post office would think… I have vivid memories of doing that with my dad and sealing letters with old coins and green wax.

Temple Denial: The Reality

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Getting serious for a minute. The following has many links to more information. Please read and share these sources so that this whole Temple Denial thing can become less of a fuzzy/taboo topic that goes unmentioned but is important.

All of the media that has been coming out about Israel and the Temple Mount that supports the Temple Denial movement just hurts my heart. As a researcher and an archaeologist, I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that this “debate” is real and that the Temple Mount’s relationship to the people of the world is up for discussion.

coexist_by_piotr_mlodozeniecThe Temple Mount is a holy place to over half of the world’s population. It is a holy place to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and any attempt to deny the right of any one religion to feel a connection to a place as central to religious belief as the Temple Mount is wrong. Do Muslims have a right to pray on the Temple Mount? Yes. Do Jews and Christians have the right to have the Temples and the Temple Mount as a central piece of their religious beliefs? Yes.

Temple Denial takes away that right. Temple Denial says that those beliefs are worthless. There was never anything on the Temple Mount that relates to you. Even without any evidence from the past, this is a statement that is antithetical to the intellectuals crying out against propaganda and “fake news.” It is antithetical to those world leaders and UNESCO itself that signed the charter on Intangible Heritage, stating that those things we cannot prove or see are worth protecting. The rights of people to believe in a historical aspect of their religion is worth protecting.

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Artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods

That being said, there IS evidence of the long history of the Temple Mount. After the UNESCO resolution that named holy places like the Temple Mount as wholly Muslim, and disregarded non-arabic names for those places, we posted an article about the archaeological evidence of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount. That resolution not only denied the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, but the Christian one as well.

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A booklet published in 2014 and handed out to tourists on the Temple Mount

The Temple Denial Movement was begun in recent decades as Palestinian political and religious leaders began claiming that no Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. This claim, despite being counter to Islamic tradition, became canonized within Palestinian religious and political circles. Since the 2000 Camp David Summit, during which Yasir Arafat asserted that the Jewish Temple never existed in Jerusalem, “Temple Denial” has spread with increased virulence within the Middle East and the West, now also seemingly supported by the UN and UNESCO.

Arutz 2 interviewed our director, Zachi Dvira, to discuss this, and then followed up that interview with an amazing and viral segment (below) about the Temple Denial Movement and the Muslim claim to the site. As they said, “a narrative is a good thing, and it is possible to respect the values of each side. But there is also that small matter that is named: history, truth, and facts.”

It is unsettling, but many people are using the Palestinian narrative and that of the Temple Mount to promote anti-semitism and lies. As we saw in the Arutz 2 video (2:55) and the extended version in our video about the project (0:59), the regular person on the street in the Arab Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem wholeheartedly believes that there was nothing on the Temple Mount before the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

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Gaby teaches UCLA students on the Temple Mount on Jan 1, 2017 (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel)

This is due to the systematic spread of false information. Dr. Barkay just this past week was brought before the Israeli police on the Temple Mount in an attempt to evict him from the place for simply using the term “Temple Mount” while teaching the history of the Mount to a student tour-group. This followed the physical abuse of our laboratory staff on the Temple Mount by Waqf guards just a few months earlier for discussing the archaeological history of the site. Our own Frankie Snyder has also had issues guiding groups on the Temple Mount for showing images of reconstructions of the First or Second Temple.

This isn’t funny and this isn’t going to go away. The only possible recourse we have is to energetically share the truth about the Temple Mount. We commit to doing so. In light of all the recent media attempts to discredit the real history of the Temple Mount, we are more dedicated than ever to publishing our research on the archaeological history of the Temple Mount and sharing those truths with the scientific community and the public. It pains me that this is necessary, but we will strive to do our part in discrediting the Temple Denial Movement.

Thank you to all of you who have supported us over the years and who have given to support our research in our crowdfunding campaign. The messages and emails that we get from you, like this one, help strengthen our resolve and let us know that we are doing the right thing:

“Your work becomes more important everyday! With the UN decision and the US abstaining, and Kerry’s speech, your work is vital to bringing the truth to light!!!! Please know that the government’s attitude and treatment of Israel does not represent all Americans!!! I love Israel! I volunteered at TMSP 6 years ago on tour with Gordon Franz. It is a life changing experience! Keep up the amazing work bringing the truth to light!!!” –Lindsay from the US

May 2017 bring the true history of the Temple Mount to light.

 

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