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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Temple Mount Sifting Project

Temple-Mount-aerial-from-se,-tb010703230-bibleplacesIn Jerusalem, there’s a place called the Temple Mount.  On this site, Solomon’s Temple, and later, Herod’s Temple, were built as a location to worship God.  During the 1967 Six-Day War, the small, nascent State of Israel was attacked by three Arab armies, yet still won East Jerusalem, reuniting the Temple Mount with the rest of the city.  However, Israel gave de facto control of the Temple Mount, now site to the El Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Memorial, to the Waqf or Muslim authorities.

To this day, it is a delicate balance whereby no Jew nor Christian may pray any closer than the Western Wall, an ancient retaining wall used to hold in the dirt platform supporting what was once the Temple.  The Muslims continue to build, shift, and rearrange structures on top of the templeMountThirdMount, while Israeli archaeologists are refused any access to see that antiquities are not being destroyed.

In this manner, a new mosque was built in 1996 to accommodate tens of thousands of worshipers.  It is underground in an area known as Solomon’s Stables, and which has nothing to do with King Solomon, but most likely was a stable for horses during the Crusader period.  By 1999, Muslims built new entrances, removing massive amounts of 6a0120a610bec4970c013488bfb5e5970c-320wiearth with bulldozers in an archaeologically-sensitive area, where probably small pickaxes needed to be used with care.  Approximately 400 truckloads of dirt were unceremoniously whisked away to a nearby valley, where they were dumped with disdain.

Long story short, it involves an archaeological student accused of antiquities theft when he started picking through the rubble and finding dumped columns, coins, and other ancient remains, and petitioning Israel’s Supreme Court to allow the rubble to be collected and examined archaeologically.  Once IMG_1835again, 400 truckloads made their way to the nearby Mount of Olives and a national park, Emek Tsurim, where sifting of the remains goes on six days a week.

I was privileged to be part of this project which has welcomed 150,000 volunteers over the last eight years, sifting through 170 of the 400 truckloads of rubble.  Workers come to spend anywhere from two hours, to a day, or a week at the wet sifting stations.  A bucket of rubble covered with water is given to each person, who then dumps the bucket on a mesh screen, IMG_1826rinsing out the mud to ensure that no artifact is inadvertently left behind in the container.  Then the rubble is spread out on the screen, and picked through, bit by bit, hosing off the mud whenever necessary.

Next to me an older couple from Arizona worked.

“Today’s your day!” I tell them.

They had never done archaeological sifting before and recognizing whether the tiny pieces were important was not that easy.  An archaeologist worked alongside them.  Within IMG_1833two seconds, he found two mosaic pieces.  Within two minutes, he identified an ancient coin, Ottoman pottery pieces, and a tooth.

A tooth?  Don’t forget that there were many animal sacrifices at the Temple every day.

IMG_1844My own discoveries included a piece of green-glazed Crusader pottery, and several Roman mosaic pieces, chiseled into neat squares, and lots of everyday, plain old rocks.

Before we could dump our screens, a professional archaeologist came to clear the rubble, ensuring that nothing significant was being overlooked.  Then we headed to discuss IMG_1850our finds.

This was an activity that would be good for the entire family.  Generally, the sifting stations are packed with volunteers.  On my day, I headed there late on a warm Jerusalem afternoon, hiking in through an olive grove, being dropped by a taxi driver nervous about driving on the gravel road.

A pickup truck roared up the hill with two archaeologist-types, dusty, and hauling equipment.

IMG_1854“Is this the place?” I ask in Hebrew.

“Can’t you smell it, the fragrance of archaeology in the air?” one called back.

I noticed no fragrance other than the quiet of a hillside when time stands still and one enters the hallowed halls of history.  The birds sang, the wind rustled leaves, and we collected artifact after artifact pointing to earlier civilizations residing just a stone’s throw away.


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4 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Nancy says:

    Wow – I didn’t know that about the Temple Mount and what the Muslims have done. I knew that praying at the Western Wall is significant, but didn’t know why. How amazing you were able to take part in this archeological dig! I look forward to reading more about it – thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

    • avatar admin says:

      You’re welcome, Nancy. It was really amazing.

      My husband was reading to me some excerpts from a recent lecture by a “Muslim scholar” who said that there was no historical evidence of any Jewish presence ever on the Temple Mount. That’s their revisionist history, while claiming that Jerusalem is a holy site to Islam– when it’s never even mentioned once in the Koran! Their goal is to blot out any Jewish presence, and now archaeological evidence will soon be published that there was a Byzantine church on the Temple Mount long ago, too. Archaeologists know that churches were generally put in the same area as where Biblical accounts happened, such as the Temple. As recently as a couple of months ago, the Eastern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem (built in the 1500s above more ancient walls) started to buckle and fall due to Muslim building in the area, so engineers had to be called in from Jordan to stabilize and replace some parts, they were so insistent that Israeli officials not come near it. Historic preservation of antiquities is not high up on the list…

      I’ll have to write about another fascinating “new” old site in Jeruasalem, that has just been opened in recent years. The artifacts were there all the time, but they’re just coming to light. Stay tuned….

  2. avatar Sybil says:

    What an amazing time for you. I would have loved to be there doing it with you!

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