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News from the Sifting Site

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20160703_110459What a beautiful summer!

We have been having a great summer at our sifting site in Emek Tzurim. We have been updating the sifting facility, and every day it seems like we are making the site more fun and beautiful.

This week we got a new curtain for our lecture area. It describes the 6 categories of finds that we collect on site: Glass, Mosaics, Pottery, Bones, Special Stones, and Metal. Fun and useful, this is a great addition to our site.

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20160628_091512We have also been updating our supplies. We have new wheelbarrows (such a fun color!) and we have new sifters on their way.

Right now, we are conducting a special summer campaign on site. We have special hours that people can come without an appointment and help us sift. Come at 10am, 1pm, or 4pm for an awesome sifting experience (Hebrew lecture only). Families are encourages to bring their children and we have been having a great time meeting all of the locals and Israelis that have been coming as a part of this campaign.

As a part of the campaign (and we hope we get to keep it) we also have a fantastic coin minter. For 5 shekel, you can take home a Sifting Project coin with the seal of the City of David on one side and a replica of the half-shekel found on our site on the reverse (see below). The pomegranates with the words “Jerusalem the Holy” is my favorite side of the coin, so I am glad that they chose to duplicate that side.

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Found at the Sifting Project: a silver half-shekel coin. Obverse: A chalice from the Temple topped by the letter aleph, which means “First year.” Around it is inscribed “Half a Shekel.” Reverse: A stem with three pomegranates surrounded by the words “Jerusalem the Holy.”

Watch Hillel make these Sifting Project coins here. You can subscribe to our youtube channel and get notified when we start uploading our new video-blog series on Temple Mount history and finds.

Really, I think we have too much fun at the sifting project. Should someone really enjoy their job this much?

For more information about how to participate, click here!

Find of the Month!

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View of Emek Tzurim

Life must go on, and what better way to move forward than to focus on the positive things that have been happening at the Sifting Project? We are continuing to do research in our lab, and the summer holidays have brought us a ton of volunteers from all over the world to help us sift.

As you all love to see what we’ve been finding, we have decided to show you a special “Find of the Month.” Some of our more special items we cannot publish because we don’t enough about them in such a short amount of time, but we find many things that are absolutely amazing that we can describe and show you right away.

This month, the special find we want to share with you is a bone spindle whorl.

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Bone Byzantine Spindle Whorl

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Liliana Grobman with the spindle whorl she found.

9 year-old Liliana Grobman from São Paulo, Brazil loves coming to sift at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. This time, while on vacation with her family, she found this fantastically well preserved bone spindle whorl dating to the Byzantine period. That’s about 1500 years old!

Spindle whorls are used in the process of spinning thread. They can be made of a variety of materials including metal, glass, wood, bone, or even antler. They are generally round or disc-shaped (like this one) and they are fitted onto the spindle of a spinning wheel to increase and maintain the speed of the spin.

 

Stay tuned for next month’s “Find of the Month!”

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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