Saturday, December 19, 2009

Archaeological sifting project . . . Temple Mount in Jerusalem

"You will arise and have mercy on Zion;
for the time to favor her, yes, the set time, has come.
For Your servants take pleasure in her stones and show favor to her dust."
On December 8, 2009, I volunteered for the unique and historically significant Temple Mount Sifting Project (or Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation).

Located in Tzurim Valley National Park near the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, the project consisted of sifting through part of the 300 truckloads (600 tons) of topsoil that was illegally removed (1996-99) from the southeast corner ("Solomon's Stables") of the Muslim-occupied Temple Mount in Jerusalem's historic Old City.

Bones, glass shards, metals, mosaic stones, pottery and worked stones were the six main items that project participants were looking for. (See the picture above for some of my and my German friend's discoveries.) Unfortunately but understandably, rarer fines such as coins, seals and jewelry were not found by us.

The discoveries found that day "are unique because they are part of the first archaeological project that has ever examined artifacts from the Temple Mount. Therefore, every find is very important and exceptional. Even the smallest piece of pottery that [is found] can be dated to a certain period of history which, when processed statistically, will help [the expert archaeologists and historians] understand the amount and types of activities that took place on the Temple Mount throughout history."

According to the project organizers, and thanks to past volunteers numbering over 40,000, "Among the clods of earth some very exciting findings have been discovered, including a bulla on which there is the impression of the seal of a kohen (priest) from First Temple times (Solomon's Temple) [960 - 586 B.C.], fragments of stones decorated with magnificent frames from the Second Temple (Herod's Temple) Period [516 B.C. - 70 A.D.], arrowheads from various periods, hundreds of coins including 'Herut Tzion' (Free Zion) coins from the days of the Great Revolt against the Romans and much more."

Biblical archaeologists Drs. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig, Ir David (City of David) Foundation, Israel Nature and National Parks Authority and private donors note that the "project is not a task for a small clique of archaeologists, but rather a responsibility, duty and privilege of the entire Jewish people and those who support them [including many Christian archaeological students and tourists]. Therefore, this undertaking cannot be a brief operation over within a few months, but a meaningful and sustained project lasting many years." Since the major project began in 2004, only 1/3 of the illegally removed Temple Mount topsoil has been sifted.

For more information and/or to volunteer for the Temple Mount Sifting Project (or Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation) while visiting or living in Jerusalem, click here (Wikipedia) and here (blog) and here and here (City of David National Park web site). Included on the TMSP's blog is the history of the project, recent updates, related articles and selected media reports.

NOTE: The Winter 2009 issue (Vol. 22, No. 1) of Bible and Spade is devoted to the TMSP. Click here or here for the PDF version of the issue. Bible and Spade is a non-technical quarterly publication of the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR).

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