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For the First Time, Archeologists Restore Flooring from Second Temple Courtyard in Jerusalem

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PRESS RELEASE

For the First Time, Archeologists Restore Flooring from Second Temple Courtyard in Jerusalem

Tiles uncovered during sifting of earth originating on Temple Mount

 

JERUSALEM, September 6th, 2016 — Archeologists from the Jerusalem-based Temple Mount Sifting Project are confident that they have successfully restored a unique architectural element of the Second Temple. Namely, a series of regally decorated floor tiles that adorned the porticos atop the Temple Mount, and which likely featured prominently in the courtyards of the Second Temple during the period that King Herod ruled (37 to 4 BCE) in Jerusalem.

“It enables us to get an idea of the Temple’s incredible splendor,” stated Dr. Gabriel Barkay, co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The restored tiles will be presented to the general public on September 8th, at the 17th Annual City of David Archaeological Conference. “This represents the first time that archeologists have been able to successfully restore an element from the Herodian Second Temple complex,” stated Zachi Dvira, co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project was established in response to the illegal removal of tons of antiquities-rich earth from the Temple Mount by the Islamic Waqf in 1999. It is located in the Tzurim Valley National Park, and is supported by the City of David Foundation and the Israel Archaeology Foundation. The initiative is run under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Parks & Nature Authority.

Frankie Snyder, a member of the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s team of researchers and an expert in the study of ancient Herodian style flooring, succeeded in restoring the ornate tile patterns “using geometric principles, and through similarities found in tile design used by Herod at other sites,” said Snyder, who has an academic background in mathematics and Judaic Studies. “This type of flooring, called ‘opus sectile,’ Latin for ‘cut work,’ is very expensive and was considered to be far more prestigious than mosaic tiled floors.”

“So far, we have succeeded in restoring seven potential designs of the majestic flooring that decorated the buildings of the Temple Mount,” said Snyder, explaining that there were no opus sectile floors in Israel prior to the time of King Herod. “The tile segments were perfectly inlaid such that one could not even insert a sharp blade between them.”

To date, approximately 600 colored stone floor tile segments have been uncovered, with more than 100 of them definitively dated to the Herodian Second Temple period. This style of flooring is consistent with those found in Herod’s palaces at Masada, Herodian, and Jericho among others, as well as in majestic palaces and villas in Italy, also attributed to the time of Herod. The tile segments, mostly imported from  Asia Minor, Greece, Tunisia and Egypt, were created from polished multicolored stones cut in a variety of geometric shapes. A key characteristic of the Herodian tiles is their size, which corresponds to the Roman foot, approximately 29.6 cm.

The possibility that large expanses of the Temple Mount during the Second Temple were covered with opus sectile flooring was first raised by archaeologist Assaf Avraham in 2007, director of the Jerusalem Walls National Park with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Avraham’s theory was based on a description given by the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus (1st Century CE) who wrote, “… the uncovered [Temple Mount courtyard] was completely paved with stones of various types and colors…” (The Jewish War 5:2) Additionally, Talmudic literature records the magnificent construction of the Temple Mount, describing rows of marble in different colors – green, blue and white.

“Now, as a result of Frankie Snyder’s mathematical skills, we have succeeded in recreating the actual tile patterns. This represents the first time that we can see with our own eyes the splendor of the flooring that decorated the Second Temple and its annexes 2,000 years ago,” stated Dr. Gabriel Barkay, co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.  “Referring to the Temple that Herod built, the Talmud says that ‘Whoever has not seen Herod’s building has not seen a beautiful building in his life’. Though we have not merited seeing the Temple in its glory, with the discovery and restoration of these unique floor tiles, we are now able to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Second Temple, even through this one distinctive characteristic.”

Since the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s inception in 2004, more than 200,000 volunteers from around the world have taken part in the sifting, representing an unprecedented phenomenon in the realm of archaeological research.

For more information:

Ze’ev Orenstein – Director of International Affairs, City of David Foundation

zeev@cod.org.il

Photo Credit: Temple Mount Sifting Project

The Sifting Project and the Temple Denial at Megalim Conference

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It’s going to be an interesting week…
On Tuesday we will be holding a press conference about discoveries in our the research.
On Thursday, September 8th, our project is making a splash at this year’s Megalim Conference focusing on Temple Denial. This is followed by a sifting demonstration and the opportunity for conference participants to sift buckets of earth from the Temple Mount. Afterward, Zachi Dvira will lecture about the archaeological evidence from the Temple Mount from the First and Second Temples and Frankie will speak about her research about the Herodian Temple Mount floors.
Can’t join us at the conference in Jerusalem – The conference will be live streamed (with simultaneous English translation) on the City of David Website.
Pages from a new booklet distributed these days by Muslim organizations denying the existence of the Jewish temple at the site.

Pages from a new booklet distributed these days by Muslim organizations denying the existence of the Jewish temple at the site.

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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.

IMG-20160810-WA0001

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.

MoP Inlays2

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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