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Seeking Good in Temple Mount Terror Tragedy: Opportunity for Archaeological Discovery?

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Treasures in the British Mandate Archives

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Happy International Archives Day!

Archaeologists spend a lot of time working with the fresh material coming out of excavations, but equally important is an archaeologist’s understanding of what came before. We must know about previous excavations, historical records, and the history of work at the site we are researching. Archives are a hugely important and often underutilized tool to help us do our job.

As we’ve said on numerous occasions, the Temple Mount Sifting Project is studying the first archaeological evidence from a large scale excavation of the Temple Mount.

This means that we have very little to work with. Not only is the material we are researching out of context because it was improperly excavated by bulldozer and without archaeological supervision, but we also have very little information from previous archaeological work on the Temple Mount. This means that every tiny scrap of information that we can gather is very precious to us.

In 2008, Zachi published published a paper in the annual New Studies on Jerusalem conference of Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies in Bar-Ilan University about his research in the British Mandate Archives. 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.

byzantine church mosaics

Byzantine mosaic floor beneath the Aksa Mosque. (photo credit:Courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.)

One of the most important archives was a series of photographs in a file from the 1930s by R.W. Hamilton, the director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department. Due to severe earthquakes, major construction work was done in the Al-Aqsa mosque during the years 1938-1942. The work included excavations of pits under the mosque piers, and Hamilton published reports about the mosque, but ignored the substantial finds found under the earliest phase of the mosque. Among other things, Zachi discovered photographic evidence of a Byzantine mosaic floor under the Umayyad level of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and a Second Temple period ritual bath (mikvah).

The Byzantine floor was huge news and was even written up in the Jerusalem Post asking the question “Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?” Most historic records from the Byzantine period, including letters by Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, make no mention of a building on the Temple Mount. This discovery of the Byzantine floors, as well as the numerous Byzantine period artifacts discovered by the Sifting Project, are evidence of a public building: possibly a church. Dr. Barkay has said, “It is hard to establish with certainty that this was indeed the site of a church, but without a doubt it served as a public building and was likely either a church or a monastery…This changes the whole history of the Temple Mount during the Byzantine period as we knew it.”

This is a fantastic example of the types of knowledge we can gain from research in archives and a reason that we are happy to share our research with you on International Archives Day. There are truly amazing things to be discovered in the dusty records forgotten by time.

HERE is a link to the full Hebrew article on academia.edu. Below is the abstract in English.

ABSTRACT

In the last century several digs were conducted on Temple Mount as part of renovations and new constructions at the site. These digs encountered ancient remains, and in some cases were documented by inspectors or random visitors. Most of these documentations were never published, although new archaeological information was revealed. Information and photos of the digs and the finds was gathered from the archives of Antiquities Debarment of the British Mandate, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and from private visitor’s documentation.

Due to severe earthquakes major construction work was done in the Al-Aqsa mosque during the years 1938-1942. The work included excavations of pits under the mosque piers, which in some cases reached the depths of about 7m. Substantial information regarding finds revealed in these digs was documented by R.W. Hamilton, director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department. Hamilton even conducted a small scale excavation consisted of seven trenches in order to study the structural history of the mosque. He published his results regarding the mosque, but ignored the substantial finds found under the earliest phase of the mosque. Information regarding these finds can be retrieved from photographs in the Department’s archive.

Among the finds retrieved from these photographs there are: A Byzantine mosaic floor under the Umayyad level of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, A Second Temple period ritual bath (Miqveh) at the eastern most entrance to the present mosque, two large cisterns under the Double Passage, a rock-cut passage with a descending staircase under the Double Passage, a lintel with a (Hebrew\Aramic?) inscription at the entrance of the rock-cut passage, and various architectural remains seen in the depth of the pits excavated under the mosque piers.

Under the Israeli control upon the Temple Mount a few large scale digs took place which revealed substantial finds. Among them are: A pre-Herodian massive wall near the northeastern corner of the raised platform (1970), ancient floor levels under the dome of the chain (1975), small walls located at the edge of the banks of the fosse north-west to the raised platform (1979), a huge substructure that connects the double passage with the passage of the triple gate (1977-2001), An Early Islamic – Medieval vaulted structure north of the eastern most vault of the Solomon’s Stables (1999), remnants of an ancient wall near the north edge of the raised platform (2007), ancient fills (probably from the Second Temple period) north and east to the raised platform (2007), remnants of a wall located east of the raised platform and south of the eastern staircase (2007), a cluster of First Temple period finds near the south eastern corner of the raised platform (2007), fragments of Umayyad pavement east to the Al-Aqsa mosque (2007), and many finds found out of context and could help to better understand the history of the Temple Mount.

 

 

Is this Egyptian statue fragment the last artifact to be shared with you?

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Has part of an Egyptian Statue been discovered on the Temple Mount?

finger 1

Fragment of a finger of an Egyptian statue

A finger of a statue has been discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The finger is currently being examined by the leading experts in the field who have determined that the statue probably originated in Egypt, though there is a need for further in-depth research in order to accurately date it. The Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is struggling to remain open in the face of depleted funds, has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign calling on the public to support the research and publication of the many finds discovered over the years, and secure the project’s future.

The statue fragment was discovered within the soil dumped in the Kidron Valley by the Muslim Waqf in 1999; soil which originated from an illegal excavation which took place on the Temple Mount.

thutmose III

Statue of Egyptian Pharoah, Thutmose III from the British Museum (GoogleImages)

“This is a fragment of a life-size statue, which was made in Egypt and imported to Canaan,” reports Dr. Gabriel Barkay, co-director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. “We clearly notice that this is part of a pinky finger measuring 3.5 cm, from a man’s hand, which includes also a fingernail. The statue is made of a hard black stone originating in Egypt. The statue most likely represented a figure of a god or king. The black stone from which the statue is manufactured testifies to its Egyptian origin.”

The finger has been examined by archaeologists who specialize in early art from the Land of Israel. Though the identification and dating are not yet certain, according to Dr. Barkay the statue fragment was probably made in the Egyptian art style common during the Late Bronze Age (about 3500 years ago). We cannot exclude the possibility that the statue is from a later period.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has yielded additional artifacts which were imported from Egypt or manufactured under Egyptian influence. Among them is an additional statue fragment of a man’s shoulder, scarabs (amulets shaped like dung beetles), seal impressions, and Egyptian-style jewelry all dating to the Late Bronze Age.

These artifacts join others from this period which were discovered in recent years in the City of David, as well as artifacts which may testify to the existence of an Egyptian Temple in Jerusalem in the area of the St. Etienne Monastery near Damascus Gate, and dated to the 13th century BCE (prior to the date traditionally attributed to the Exodus of Israelites from Egypt).

Ancient Egypt ruled over the Land of Israel during the second half of the 2nd Millennium BCE, the days of the Egyptian New Kingdom and of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties. Jerusalem is known to have been a semi-autonomous city-state, located in the Egyptian province of Canaan.

The finger fragment found by the project will be handed over to additional experts who can clarify its date.

Check out our cool video where Dr. Aaron Greener speaks about this Egyptian Finger!

The accurate dating of this artifact is just one example of the many research questions which the Temple Mount Sifting Project is attempting to solve while researching the many finds accumulated during the past 12 years of sifting. Unfortunately, many archaeological excavations fail to publish scientific reports and many important finds are left in the oblivion of the warehouses of University, museum, or government archaeological institutes. Without publication, it is as if these artifacts had never been found. The directors of the Temple Mount Sifting Project are working tirelessly to prevent a similar fate for the hundreds of thousands of artifacts discovered by the project. Publication is crucial due to the archaeological importance and national significance of these artifacts. They are also the cultural heritage of billions of people around the world who have a right to know about them.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project launched a crowdfunding campaign a few days ago in order to recruit wide public support to help the project continue the important work of researching these artifacts. Zachi Dvira, founder and co-director of the project, said that the public has demonstrated how much the historical heritage is dear to them. Half of the full sum needed for funding the annual research was raised within the first three days of the campaign. “We hope that the public – recognizing the great significance of the project – will continue to support us in the future.”

Important note: Last week media reports about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intervention for resuming the sifting were not accurate. The sifting was not resumed, but a meeting will be scheduled for after the Passover holiday to resolve the crisis in order to resume the sifting. As we mentioned in our first announcement, the main problem we are facing is finding the funding for the research and publication of the many artifacts that we have recovered. The sifting cannot be resumed until this is solved.

Please consider giving to our crowdfunding campaign. We’ve already raised over 168,000 shekel of our goal, but we need your help to go all the way. In this campaign, we get all or nothing, so please help us make sure that this campaign succeeds and we can continue our important research, and share it with you, this year.

Don’t let this be the last bit of research we can complete

and share with you.

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