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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.

Violence on the Temple Mount

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Hello everyone.

This is going to be a very disturbing post about an incident that happened two days ago. A group of our researchers was attacked while on an archaeological learning tour of the Temple Mount.

We had doubts if we should publish these kind of things, which do not deal directly with our research and the goals of our project, but since it is already widely circulated in the media, and the details are not clear or accurate, we decided to post the facts about what exactly happened and that we are all safe and sound.

This week we conducted two tours for our staff of researchers. On Monday we toured archaeological excavation in Jerusalem to learn about new discoveries at current and ongoing excavations in Jerusalem. We were guided by the excavation directors at various sites and it was a very positive experience for the whole staff.

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We learned about new finds at Givati

On Wednesday, we went to the Temple Mount itself. This tour was designated for our new research staff and our directors Gaby and Zachi taught about the archaeology of the Temple Mount. At first, the tour went very well and was very interesting. We learned about the history of the current structures on the Temple Mount and were able to identify many building materials in secondary use on the site. We had the chance to go into in depth discussions at various spots on the Temple Mount and reconsider common assumptions. Below: Learning about archaeology on the Temple Mount.

Gabrial Barkay gudiing the group

Gabrial Barkay gudiing the group

We walked freely and independently with no policemen or Waqf guards following us. For those of you who are not aware, the tours for religious Jews at the site are limited. Because of the objection of the Muslim organizations to religious Jewish presence at the site, religious Jews are accompanied by policemen that guard them as well as Waqf guards that look carefully at their lips to ensure that they do not mumble any prayers. Non-Muslim prayer at the site is forbidden. Since our group didn’t include any member who outwardly looked religious, we were treated as regular tourists. At the entrance, we immediately encountered the Waqf’s guards who shouted at one of our members that she could not enter the site with only a short sleeved shirt. Luckily she had a scarf in her bag that she could cover herself with. Later on, when we had a long talk near the Al-Aqsa mosque about the different construction phases of the building. One Waqf guard, who was nearby, decided we had spent too much time standing in one place and that we should move on. We did so.

In spite of those two, rather common, incidents, the tour continued with no serious interruptions and we could freely move around as any other tourist can. After two hours, we reached the remaining debris heaps that are still lying on the Temple Mount in the eastern olive grove (the same material that we have been sifting for the last 11 years). We stopped under the shade of one of the olive trees, and one of our group members sat down while listening to our director speak about the dirt. She realized that she was sitting on a rusty, modern, bent nail and picked it up. One Waqf guard who was watching us from a distance began shouting at her. He came over and she handed the nail over to him. He said we should not pick up olive pits.

At no point, did any member of our group pick anything from any of the olive trees or pick up any olive pits from the ground.

The guard begun following us, and asked us to leave the area. Gaby and Zachi continued explaining things as we moved, and we also discussed a large heap of ancient marble architectural fragments that appeared near the path. Then for some reason, the Waqf guard, and another Waqf official who joined him, ordered us to leave the site immediately. We didn’t understand that they wanted us completely off of the Temple Mount. We wanted to go up to the raised platform and ask the police to interfere, but the guards told us that the police are not the ones in charge on the Temple Mount and that they are the ones in charge. They can ask us to leave before visiting hours are over without a reason. They pushed us and ordered us to leave the site immediately while yelling at us for not respecting the site because we were stealing their olive pits. Again, the guard knew that our staff member had picked up a modern nail because he had put it in his pocket.

The police are scattered in many spots on the Temple Mount, but there were no police in sight on the eastern side. We wanted to go up to the upper level so that we could get eye contact with a policeman, but the Waqf officials physically prevented us from doing so. Zachi tried to call the police, but there was no answer on the phone.

One of our staff members (who would like to be anonymous) decided to take photos of the Waqf yelling at Zachi and getting very close to him, but two more Waqf guards came over and they started yelling and pushing him while blocking his photos. The situation was clearly getting out of hand. At this point, the guards pushed him, he fell backward onto the ground and all four guards started beating him. Thank goodness he did not need medical treatment, but he did walk away with several bruises from being kicked in the stomach and back as well as a cut on his neck that was bleeding. Below: camera blocked by Waqf guards – pictures taken before being pushed to the ground.

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Zachi finally managed to reach the police by calling a policeman he knows on his cellphone. The officer immediately reported the incident on the radio. Zachi then began video filming the Waqf guards beating our staff member on the ground, and their focus then switched to him. One guard attacked him and grabbed his phone. He continuously pushed Zachi away and wouldn’t return the phone. He erased the video (we are in the process of restoring the deleted files).

The police still didn’t arrive.

Zachi told the Waqf guards that their actions were disrespectful to Islam and to this holy site, and that he would file a complaint about them in the Waqf administrative office. At this point, the guards decided to give him back his phone and speak differently, although there was still a lot of yelling on both sides. Only then did the police finally arrive. We managed to show some pictures of the altercation from another camera, and two Waqf guards were immediately arrested. We were safely escorted off the Temple Mount by police.

The police took this incident very seriously and urged us all to file complaints and give testimony. We spent the rest of the day at the police station. As far as we know, the court allowed the police to extend the arrest of three Waqf guards involved until 11:00am this morning. We very much hope that the police will finish the investigation quickly and press charges against them.

This incident was very disturbing and is deeply felt by all of our staff and not just the 7 of us that were on the tour. For some of us, it was our first experience with the Temple Mount. Ironically, before the tour, we took all precautions to ensure that the tour would go smoothly without interruption. Zachi Dvira and Gabriel Barkay are very experienced in guiding tours at this highly politically sensitive site, and know how to avoid negative encounters with the Muslim authorities. Yet this time, it seems that our professional interest in spots and issues that are uncommon among tourists aroused their suspicion. The Waqf’s demands were unsolicited and absurd, especially when they prevented us from seeking out the police. Officially, the Waqf guards have no authority upon tourists walking in the open courts of the Mount. Their only authority is inside the Mosques, in which tourists are not allowed. The only official authority are the police, and it is sad that these types of incidents are often overlooked due to political concerns and that the Waqf guards can harass innocent tourist. Since this event, we have received many other testimonies from tourists who were harassed by Waqf guards, and also about other cases where tourists were bullied and physically pushed out of the site.

The Sifting Project is an archaeological research project and does not deal with the political status of the Temple Mount. On the other hand, we are not deterred by conducting research in such a sensitive site with limited access to it. We see it as a challenge, and we will continue to pursue all possibilities in order to discover the archaeological evidence that exists in the site, preserve and study it, and publish our results to the public worldwide.

Thank you to all who support our cause. We are unhurt but shaken. This incident has only strengthened our resolve to study the Temple Mount – all periods of the Temple Mount – and share the archaeological truths about its history in an attempt to encourage educated discussion about this most holy and also contested site.

May we see peace in our time.

Archaeology – A Lifetime of Love

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Staff Spotlight: July

“This is a perfectly wonderful, normal, regular stone. Well done!”

Have you seen one of our green-shirted staff members patiently teaching one of our youngest volunteers? This was probably Beverly. As one of our older volunteers, Beverly shows us that a love of archaeology is a lifetime pursuit. Her excitement and energy are a huge asset to our staff and we are lucky to have her.

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The joy of every staff member comes when they receive their green shirt at the end of their training

Beverly came to Israel from England 48 years ago and is now living in the town of Tekoa outside of Jerusalem. She retired from work as a Public Health Nurse and is now serving her community by volunteering with the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Beverly first got involved with our project when she retired and took part in Megalim (Hebrew acronym for The City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies) – a course with Ir David about the First and Second Temple Periods in light of new archaeological discoveries. She found it to be riveting. Each class had a classroom component but went out into the field as well.

As a long time financial supporter of Ir David, she wanted to continue her association with the organization. She took steps to become a volunteer for one of their projects and ended up here with us at the Sifting Project. This was three years ago. Beverly has been volunteering with us once a week ever since and considers it one of the highlights of her week.

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Volunteers getting their hands dirty and engaging with materials taken from the Temple Mount

Working at the Sifting Project, Beverly has learned a lot about the Temple Mount. Listening to various introductions and wrap up sessions, one gets a feel for the history of the Temple Mount with all its layers and stories. Yet, the most exciting part of learning here is the hands on immersion into the history and the direct contact with the materials that make up the history of the Temple Mount.

Beverly advises sifters not to expect every piece of stone they are looking at to have significance, but to wait for those nuggets of important history that come along and to really learn from the experience. A couple of weeks ago Beverly had a really great day on site. She found two coins and a ring all in one day, but she still considers her most exciting finds to be ones from a couple months back.

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Two uncleaned coins found by volunteers at the Sifting Project. Notice the green tinge.

On a particularly gray and miserable afternoon, Beverly found a really tiny Byzantine coin. When looking for coins, you have to look out for the greenish tinge that comes from the bronze in the coin, so on a day with very little light this task becomes much more difficult. To find such a tiny and important piece of history under those circumstances was extremely exciting.

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Cleaned coins found by the Sifting Project

Beverly’s other favorite find is a stone tool. Made of pinkish stone, the tool has a small shaft and three tiny teeth. When washed it looked as though it could have been modern. Yet when she brought it to the archaeologist, she was surprised to learn that this tiny tool was probably 8 or 9 thousand years old. Not bad for a day’s work. (Sorry no pictures for this one!)

I asked Beverly what her favorite memory was from her time with the Sifting Project. She responded that she loves to work with people. She loves hearing their stories and learning about their backgrounds and enjoys going home and telling her family and friends about the things that we’ve found and the people she’s met. Yet it is when she began to talk about her grandchildren that her face really lit up.

Sharing a Passion with Family

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Special stones collected by the Sifting Project

Beverly’s grandchildren have been to the sifting site twice with their grandmother but numerous other times with their parents, and are really getting a feel for the materials in the buckets. Her 3-year-old granddaughter last year was totally uninterested, but this year was very much engaged in the sifting. She had to stand on two stools in order to see into the sifter and was very cocky about being up so high. Beverly relates that her granddaughter kept lifting up stones and saying, “what is this grandma?” and that she would look at it and respond, “this is a perfectly wonderful, normal, regular stone. Well done!” Her grandson (age 5) was very good at finding pottery and her older granddaughter (age 8) was the family’s flint-finding expert. At one point her grandson became a little bored and said very diplomatically, “grandma, don’t you think we should leave some of the stones for other people to have a look at?” Beverly laughs when she recalls that it was fortunately a very hot day when her family came because at the very end, her 3-year-old granddaughter said happily, “look at me! I’m soaking wet!”

It is with humility, patience, and a spark of excitement that Beverly volunteers with our project and we are very lucky to have her. She is living proof that archaeology is a passion that can be explored and engaged with throughout life.

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