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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.

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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.

 

 

Bejeweled

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Warning: This is a post about jewelry. Be wary when sharing it on social media before the holidays.

On This Day

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Hilda and Flinders Petrie 1903

Did you know that on this day (November 26th) in 1896 Sir Flinders Petrie married his wife Hilda, who excavated with him throughout their marriage? Perhaps best known for his excavations in Egypt, Sir Flinders Petrie also spent time excavating and doing research here in Israel. We would like to wish the Petries a happy 120th anniversary.

Research

Well, this is a great excuse to talk about some of our research here at the Sifting Project, and weddings always make me think of rings. Though we have many rings of different styles and types, today we are going to focus on glass rings and bracelets.

During the first nine years of the Sifting Project approximately 1800 glass bracelet fragments and about 150 glass finger ring fragments were recovered and catalogued (we have since found many more but they are waiting to be officially counted and added to the database.) Circular glass “bangle” bracelets were common in Israel from late Roman times to the present, and these inexpensive bracelets were the most prevalent type of glass jewelry in the Levant and the Near East. Although the majority of these bracelet fragments are the brightly colored ones popular during the Islamic periods, especially Mamluk and Ottoman, the collection includes some that are consistent with the dark monochrome bracelets dated to the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods. The range of bracelet diameters indicates that these inexpensive ornaments were popular among children as well as adults. Glass finger rings, some matching the glass bracelet styles (such as the bracelet third from the right), were not as varied or as popular as the bracelets.

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Assorted Glass Bracelet Fragments Found by the Sifting Project

Glass Bracelets

Glass bracelets first appeared in Egypt in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. They became more popular in Europe during the last centuries of the first millennium BCE, but did not become common in the Levant until the 3rd century C.E. They were very popular during the Islamic periods when brightly colored bracelets replaced the earlier mostly dark-colored ones. During the later Islamic periods Tyrus, Hebron, Aleppo, Acre, Sidon, Raqqa, Cairo, Alexandria and Damascus were famous glass production centers, and Hebron was especially famous for its glass bracelets from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Bracelets from Hebron were still made there and sold in Jerusalem into the 20th century.

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Assorted Glass Ring Fragments Found by the Sifting Project

Glass Finger Rings

Glass rings began to appear in Israel in the late Roman period, about the same time as glass bracelets. Their types were not as varied as the bracelets, nor were they as popular, but the sizes indicate that many were worn by children. The rings are often monochrome, but the rings of the Islamic era are multicolored, with added colored patches and trails creating rings that matched bracelet types. One popular type found on the Temple Mount was a simple monochrome band decorated with an added contrasting glass “gem” at the seam. Another was monochrome with a flattened rhomboidal or oval bezel. Glass rings were produced in Hebron during most periods and continuing into the 19th century.

Very few glass rings have been published from sites in Israel, and Maud Spaer (see below) only wrote a typology for glass bracelets, not glass rings.  Consequently, the dating of many of our rings is based on finding matching types of bracelets, and giving the rings the same date as the bracelets.  For example, the ring on the far right matches the bracelet 3rd from the right — turquoise base with white-yellow-orange-black-striped patches.

Further Reading
Maud Spaer, “The Pre-Islamic Glass Bracelets of Palestine,” Journal of Glass Studies, Vol. 30 (1988), pp. 51‒61; “The Islamic Glass Bracelets of Palestine: Preliminary Findings,” JGS, Vol. 34 (1992), pp. 44‒62.
Margreet L. Steiner, “An Analysis of the Islamic Glass Bracelets Found at Tell Abu Sarbut,” in M. Steiner and E. van der Steen, Sacred and Sweet: Studies in the Material Culture of Tell Deir ’Alla and Tell Abu Sarbut (Leuven: Peeters, 2008), pp. 231-239.
Maud Spaer, “Bracelets and Other Jewelry,” Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum: Beads and Other Small Objects (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2001), pp. 193‒210, Pls. 33‒37.

 

lady-layard-necklaceCan I write a post script on a blog? Now I know that this has nothing to do with our project or the Petries, but speaking about archaeology and weddings, how amazing is this jewelry made out of cylinder seals? It was given by Archaeologist Henry Layard as a wedding gift to his wife Enid in 1869. It is currently in the British Museum. Now you all know what to get me for the holidays.

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!”