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Inspiring Supporters

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We love it when we inspire our supporters. We just got an email from Nancy in Washington who is a subscriber to the Biblical Archaeology Review. She said, “We have subscribed to BAR for many years! Imagine my surprise when my husband handed me the latest issue turned to page 58 and said “I have an idea for a quilt for you.” He was reading the article about the Temple Mount Floor tiles. There were three patterns used over and over again. I incorporated the 3 squares plus Herod’s Triangles around the edge. I made it to scale and used the colors found in the floor rubble from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

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Nancy and her beautiful quilt

We are amazed at the detail and beautiful work that went into this quilt. As Frankie put it, Nancy “did an an amazing job of capturing the essence of Herod’s beautiful opus sectile floors.”

What is really interesting is how similar the quilt is to the floor created for the Israel Museum’s exhibit, “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey” that was on display in 2013.  The museum display was created from tiles that were found at Herodium, where Herod was buried, and from Cypros, a small Herodian palace on the ridge-line above Jericho.  Plaster replica tiles were then used to fill in the blank spaces.

Though the museum floor was not created from Temple Mount patterns or pieces, Nancy’s quilt is amazingly similar to the museum display! This shows how Herod used similar patterns and materials at these locations. This is how Frankie was able to use what she learned from Herodian, Banias, Cypros, Jericho, Masada and other patterns from the Roman world to reconstruct the patterns of the Temple Mount based on the pieces that were found in the sifting.

We are truly touched when we inspire our supporters. Please let us know if we’ve inspired you! Send us pictures and stories! Also, a special thanks goes out to Nancy for sharing her quilt with us. It is truly a work of art.

Find of the Month: October

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This October, sisters Or and Naya Korshaya found the leg of a figurine, most likely of a horse. Though they are from Jerusalem, it was their first time at the Sifting Project. Finding something so special was a great way to spend the day and it sparked an interest in archaeology!

Most of the figurines found by the Sifting Project are from the Iron II period (8th-6th centuries BCE) and may be related to cultic activities. Our expert, Aaron Greener, is researching these figurines, which provide an important addition to the thousands of similar figurines found in Judahite sites from that time period.

The Sifting Project does not have any completely intact figurines, but rather small broken pieces, most broken in antiquity. We have a number of female pillar figurines and a variety of four legged animals. Most of these are horses and some of them have riders. It would be interesting to know if the leg found by the Korshaya sisters was from a horse with a rider, but because we only have the bottom of the leg, we can’t see the leg of a rider if there were one.

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Other fragments of figurines found by the Sifting Project

Because of their fragmented condition, some scholars have related the broken figurines of the Iron Age Judahite sites to the biblical account of Hezekiah’s or Josiah’s religious reforms. According to the Bible, symbols of idol worship were systematically destroyed and abolished.

Aaron will be presenting his research at the Annual Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies Conference in January and will be published in the first volume of our planned publication.

Thank you so much to the Korshaya family for volunteering with us and finding something so valuable to Israeli archaeology and our understanding of the Temple Mount.

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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