Ahead of Jerusalem Day, members of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Lobby spent Tuesday sifting through more than 2,000 years of history inside a large tent at the Temple MountAntiquities Salvage Operation.
The ongoing archeological project is located in the capital’s Tzurim Valley National Park, where workers have spent the last five years carefully combing through thousands of tons of debris removed from the Temple Mount nearly 10 years ago.
In 1999, the Wakf Islamic trust, which is in charge of the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount, requested permission from the government to construct emergency exits for a series of underground mosques that had been opened inside the compound during the late 1990s. Upon receiving permission, Wakf officials constructed an entrance to the underground el-Marwani mosque in the area known as Solomon’s Stables. During the exits’ construction, the Wakf removed some 10,000 tons, or 400 truckloads, of ancient debris, which was then dumped in the nearby Kidron Valley and the Jerusalem municipal dump – some of it lost forever among the trash and other rubble.
Enter Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University, who applied for and eventually received a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority to sort through the discarded piles in search of antiquities.
Joined by his former student Zachi Zweig, Barkay now oversees the sorting. Using a process known as “wet sifting,” which is similar to panning for gold, the efforts have turned up a rich bounty of First and Second Temple-era artifacts.
On Tuesday afternoon, Knesset members got a firsthand look at the site’s operations and were even given a chance to do some sifting of their own, as they paid a visit to the tent where Barkay, Zweig and a slew of volunteers were conducting their work.
“This could have part of a vessel one of my ancestors carried olive oil in to make sacrifices in the Beit Hamikdash [the Temple],” said MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), as he held up a shard of pottery he discovered in a pile of the discarded debris.
Dr. Gabi Barkai, senior lecturer at Bar Ilan University and recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for Archaeology, says Israelis must demand that Israeli antiquities law be enforced at Israel’s most important archaeological site– the Temple Mount.
“It is the most important site in the world for the Jewish people,” Barkai told Benny Tucker of Arutz Sheva‘s Hebrew newsmagazine in a Jerusalem Day interview, “as well as the most important archaeological site in Israel, and despite all this, Israel has abandoned it. Over the past ten years, the Waqf has taken control, making major changes in the status quo: It has conducted illegal digs, built mosques and the like, and the situation has changed from one extreme to the other.”
“Some years ago,” he said, “they took 400 truckloads of dirt from the Temple Mount and dumped it into the Kidron Valley – totally illegally. This is dirt that is filled with Jewish history from many periods: the Canaanites, the First Temple, the period of the return to Zion [from Babylonia], the Second Temple, including the Hashmonaim period and King Herod, and up to now. Over the past several years, we have been sifting through the dirt. This is of course not the optimum way to perform archaeology, because you need context, layers and the like, but this is the best we can do in light of these barbaric digs, and we are trying to get the most out of it. Jerusalem is filled with archaeological digs, but the most important site has never been done; this dirt is the only source we have.”
Barkai explained that despite the conditions, “We have made thousands of amazing finds that have changed the way we understand that period.”
Updates to the Temple Mount Sifting Project can be seen in there blog [here]
THANKS TO J. LAUER!