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Staff Spotlight: September

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It’s Awkward to Talk About Myself

It has been requested that I make the Staff Spotlight for September about myself so that you lovely people who follow our blog can learn more about the voice behind the most recent posts.

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Jenn 2010 at Khirbet Qeiyafa

So, hi everyone! My name is Jenn Greene. I am originally from Connecticut in the USA. I got my BA in Archaeology from Boston University and my MA from University College London in Managing Archaeological Sites. My dissertation was about the creation of heritage walking trails in historic cities.

I got interested in archaeology when I was in high school. I took a summer course at Cornell University and had a project translating ancient Mayan door lintels. My roommate came in at one point and asked me if I wanted to get some food. I responded, “Sure! I’m starving! Let’s get some lunch.” She said, “Jenn, it’s dinner time.” I had been working nonstop for 9 hours without even realizing it. That is when I decided that I should probably do this for a living.

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Poster from vocabulary wall made for the Billingsgate Bathhouse. There were tons of mosaics on the Temple Mount and we find tesserae daily.

I also love creating educational materials for archaeological sites. I think that too many sites rely too heavily on having a good tour guide. I think that it is imperative for sites to have information available to visitors that can explain what they are looking at and why it is important. I trained in the education department at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I have worked at Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel and the Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse in London. I made aliyah last September and was actually really nervous about finding a job here in Israel. Though there is a lot of archaeology here, the network of archaeologists is rather small. Yet the Sifting Project took a chance on me and I couldn’t be happier.

I spend my time here in the research lab writing to all of you people and working to secure grants and donations so that we can publish all of our research. If you’re interested in donating, you can click here or check out our crowdfunding page here. Follow us on Facebook! Twitter! (Seriously, I had to learn how twitter worked. Apparently I am bad at being a millennial). Sick of my desk chair, I am on site at Emek Tzurim sifting with our volunteers twice a week. I love hearing everyone’s stories and introducing them to the project.

I love writing the Staff Spotlight segments because I get to share with you the wonderful people I get to work with every day. The staff of the Sifting Project is what makes this job so wonderful. Welcoming, patient with my lack of Hebrew, friendly, knowledgeable, and genuinely interested in the welfare of our visitors, staff, and artifacts, the staff of the Sifting Project is a family and I am blessed to be one of them.

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Jenn with a friend who came with an NCSY group to sift

My favorite memories from the past few months of work are either those where I ran into people I knew randomly on site while I was working, or our special staff tiyul (trip) where I got to learn about the archaeology of Jerusalem from the experts (see some pictures below). It was incredible. We saw excavations in progress, had special access to areas not open to the public, and spoke with the site directors. Zachi and Gaby also taught us about different sites and it was really interesting to see some of the top archaeologists debating methodology and interpretation. I felt like I was right in the middle of these debates that are so hot in archaeology right now.

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Of course, there is also the archaeology. Daily on site I find bits of pottery, glass, and other special items. I still feel a thrill every time I find a mosaic tesserae (tile) even though there is at least one in most buckets. In the lab I get to handle our special finds, search our shelves of boxed artifacts and comb through our photo galleries of amazing pieces of our past.

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Die I found

My favorite thing I’ve found is a Roman die. It is TINY! About the size of my pinky nail and absolutely perfect, it is one of maybe 15 we’ve found in the past 12 years. Bone and ivory dice were very common in the Roman period. It is really interesting that Jewish law from that time actually disqualifies as a legal witness any person who plays with dice (Mishnah Sanhedrin 24b). The Sifting Project actually found a cheater’s die in 2010.

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Both Sides of the Cheater’s Die

It has 6 sides but only the numbers 2, 4, or 6. Any way you look at it, you see a 2, 4, or 6 so that it looks normal if you don’t inspect it carefully. It is perhaps because of things like this within the vice of gambling that the Mishnah makes such a strong statement about those who gamble.

My tip to sifters is this: when you pick a bucket, twist the handle back and forth so that the water and earth swirls along the bottom of the bucket. This loosens the earth and makes the material come out much more easily. It is then easier to clean the bucket and make sure that we’re not losing any artifacts stuck to the bottom. This took me 2 months to figure out. You’re welcome.

Have a great day, and make sure to subscribe to our blog so that you can get all the updates about what we’re doing and what we’re finding. It also makes me look good in front of my boss😉.

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.

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