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The Doric Survivor

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Doric Capital

An intriguing category of finds from our project is building fragments and special stones. For example, our “Find of the Month” for November 2016 was a small piece of a Crusader period column. We have found many small fragments of stone that originated in elaborate buildings and columns. We can identify architraves, bases, capitals and column drums. Some of these may even have originated from the Temple structure itself.

From the Hellenistic period, corresponding to the early Second Temple period, we have recovered a limestone column capital of the Doric order. The capital was fully preserved, and based on its diameter, we assume that it stood upon a column more than 18 feet high. We plan to put this capital on top of a restored pillar and present it grandly at our sifting site when we eventually resume the sifting.

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Doric capital found by the Sifting Project

The Doric capital has concave bands. Among other attributes, this dates it to the second century BCE. It is one of many such capitals that adorned the eastern, earliest portico of the Temple Mount. This makes it pre-Herodian.

image004This rare relic enables us to begin to reconstruct this eastern portico, on the outside of which is a vertical seam separating two different types of masonry. To the south of the seam is Herodian masonry, and to the north is earlier masonry perhaps from the days of the Hasmonian dynasty and the early Second Temple later expanded by Herod.

This capital is unique. It is one of only a few pieces we have of a complete architectural member – and not just a small find. Because of the bulldozing and the way that the earth was removed from the Temple Mount, most of the artifacts recovered by the Sifting Project are small and broken.

image003Our Doric capital was most likely overlooked and forgotten by the Awaqf who kept the large, nicely cut pieces of architecture from the debris removed from the Temple Mount. There is photographic evidence from the illicit bulldozing of another Doric capital that has since been lost. We looked in the “garden of columns” on the Temple Mount but did not see it there. We may never learn where this and the other large pieces are kept, or where they were discarded, making this find even more important as it is the only one to which we have access.

We hope that you have learned something about the construction of the Second Temple. We are now in the three weeks of Jewish mourning that culminates in the fast day on the 9th of Av to commemorate the destruction of the Temple and many other terrible events in Jewish history. It is a common practice to learn about the Temple construction and laws during this time. We will continue to do our part by providing videos and information from our research about these topics.

Do your part by helping us complete our research on First and Second Temple Period architectural fragments and other artifacts.

Give now at www.half-shekel.org and your donation will be DOUBLED in our current matching campaign.

Aren’t You Dying To Know?

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Find of the Month: January

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Singer Family and the Murex Shell

Aren’t you dying to know what this month’s “Find of the Month” is? Well, if you can’t tell from my bad pun, this month’s find of the month is a murex trunculus: a rock snail shell. It was found by the Singer family from Jerusalem, who were really excited to have found something so special. This shell is another piece to a puzzle we have been trying to put together here for years.

The murex family of snails are medium to large predatory, tropical, sea snails, also known as murexes or rock snails. They have elongated shells with spines of fronds and brightly colored inner surfaces. Aristotle used the word murex, and Vitruvius described the dye made from these shells, making this one of the oldest shell families still known today.

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Modern tzit tzit with blue strings mimicking tehelet

What makes the murex trunculus so special is that they are connected with the ancient process of making tehelet, the blue dye we know from the Bible that was used in priestly garments and the Israelites’ tzit tzit (fringes). This snail family was also used to make the purple dye known in the Bible as argaman.

Making tehelet or argaman requires special skills as well as a lot of snails. Dye can be collected by crushing the snails, or by laboriousy poking (milking) the snails and collecting the excretion. 12,000 snails might yield 1.4 g of dye, which is only enough to color the trim of a single garment.[1] Because of this, this Royal Blue or Royal Purple dye was very expensive, making it an almost exclusive sign of kingship and royalty. Interestingly, the color of this dye becomes more vibrant when left in the sun, and it is possible that different versions of the color can be made by making the dye in the sun or in the shade.

slide1Much of the production of this type of dye we attribute to the Phoenicians. The purple is also known as Tyrian purple (from the Phoenician city of Tyre). Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of dye production at Phoenician sites in Morocco and all across the Mediterranean, including Israel. There is a lot of evidence at Tel Dor for Phoenician dye production in the Iron Age as well as the merchandizing and trading of goods like colored fabrics and wool.

So what was this murex shell doing on the Temple Mount? Any time we find a shell, we know that it was used by humans because Jerusalem is too far from the sea for sea creatures (and their shells) to dwell there. This means that shells were brought to Jerusalem for a purpose. We have discovered over 20 of these murex trunculus shells in the sifting, and it leads us to wonder why. Is it possible that there was a workshop for dye production on the Temple Mount? Perhaps these shells were used to create the dye for fabrics used in the Temple. Maybe it was produced on site for purity reasons.

Unfortunately, we can’t date these shells until we have evidence that would link them to another, datable, artifact such as something else used in cloth or dye production. With more funding, we might be able to carbon date them, but each test costs about $400 and in order to reach statistical significance, we would need to test samples from 20 shells. Regardless, there is a lot of research yet to be completed on this, but these shells certainly raise a lot of really interesting questions.

Just because, check out this video see archaeologists extracting dye from one of these shells.

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[1] Jacoby, “Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004:197–240) p. 210.

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.

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