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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.

 

 

Sneak Peak: Christianity on the Temple Mount

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ch Hey Everyone,

We here at the Sifting Project find artifacts from across the rich history of the Temple Mount. We truly are doing our best to research and preserve the history and heritage of everyone associated with the Temple Mount, from Jews to Pagans to Christians and Muslims and all those in between. I know we have recently written a lot about the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, so today, we are going to focus on another important group with a major connection to the Temple Mount: Christians.

St. Joseph’s Day

You may not know this, but March 19th (yesterday) is commonly recognized as St. Joseph’s Day! It is widely celebrated by many sects of Christianity across the world and has particular importance in parts of Italy, Malta, Spain, The Philippines, and in New Orleans. In Christianity, St. Joseph was the husband to Mary and the foster-father to Jesus. He is the patron saint of all manner of working people, and he himself was known as a carpenter. He is also the patron saint of pregnant women and unborn children, fathers, travelers, immigrants, and of the dying.

From the Temple Mount

One of the special finds we have uncovered from the Temple Mount is a bronze Catholic medal in Spanish from the 1800’s depicting St. Joseph. On one side, it depicts St. Joseph holding an infant Jesus in his right hand and a lily in his left. In Spanish it reads,  “S. Jose R.P.N.” (Rogad Por Nosotros) meaning St. Joseph pray for us. On the other side, it shows the Holy Spirit as a dove with rays descending to two hearts. In Spanish it reads, “Corazones de Jesu y Maria” meaning Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It also says “Roma” or Rome along the bottom edge. The suspension loop on ours is broken, and unfortunately I cannot show pictures to you all today because it has not been officially published. However, it is almost identical to this one (below) that our researcher discovered on eBay.

St. Joseph holds a special place in Christianity and many places and churches all over the world are named after St. Joseph, including the Spanish form, San Jose, which is the most commonly named place in the world. In popular religious iconography he is associated with lilies (as in our medal) or a spikenard (muskroot). He is typically portrayed as an older man, usually as a marginal figure next to Mary and Jesus. Some statues of Joseph show his staff topped with lily blossoms, and he is often accompanied by carpentry tools.

So from our office to yours, and all the workers out there, have a wonderful day!

Holy Cross Day

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One of the amazing things about the Temple Mount is the depth of history that can be found on one site in such a small amount of space. Daily, we uncover artifacts from every time period that the site was in use: from Late Bronze Age (ok that might be weekly) through the First and Second Temple Periods, the Crusades, and the Islamic Periods through to today. The Temple Mount is a holy place for over half the world’s population and we consistently find things that connect to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Today is Holy Cross Day/Feast of the Holy Cross/Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and so we thought we would share some of the crosses found by the Sifting Project that originated from the Temple Mount. I will let our guest blogger, Frankie Snyder, take over from here.

Feast of the Holy Cross/Exaltation of the Holy Cross/Holy Cross Day. September 14th. According to legends, the cross on which Jesus died was discovered in 326 CE by Queen Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. By the order of Helena and Constantine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the site of her discovery. Nine years later the church was dedicated on September 14, 335 CE, so September 14 has been chosen by many Christian denominations as the Feast of the Holy Cross. The cross as a symbol of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world came into use only after the time of Constantine.

find-cross-1-cropped

This small Crusader-era floor panel in the Holy Sepulchre marks the place where legends say Queen Helena found Jesus’ cross.

Like Queen Helena, Christians throughout the ages have made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Before the era of “blogs” and “tweets,” these pilgrims recorded the events of their sacred travels in journals. For Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, these journals give us insights into geographical and topographical information, as well as the manners and customs of the Holy Land, especially from the “Christian periods”, i.e., Byzantine period (324-638) and the Crusader period (1099-1187). We learn where churches were located, how the Crusaders decorated buildings on the Temple Mount for Christian use, how church festivals were celebrated, and local sites pilgrims visited.

Local Christians and pilgrims alike have come to the Temple Mount and have left behind a few things – “artifacts”, to archaeologists. At the Temple Mount Sifting Project, we have a whole collection of crosses and cross-stamped artifacts – religious articles, jewelry, oil lamp shards, coins, etc. – that tell us about the Christians who lived on, and visited, the Temple Mount.

We have found crosses and crucifixes that were worn as jewelry or used on rosaries (Catholic prayer beads). Some are made of bronze (Figs. 1-2)

while others were carved from bone (Fig. 3) or soapstone (Fig. 4). One was even molded from lead (Fig. 5). The ones carved from mother-of-pearl include simple crosses (Fig. 6), but one was carved as a crucifix (Fig. 7).

Byzantine oil lamps had crosses molded into the clay (Figs. 8-9).

Each Crusader coin had a cross minted onto one of its sides (Figs. 10-13).

Happy Holy Cross Day to those who celebrate!