Archaeologists spotlight first Solomon’s Temple-era artifacts ever found on Temple Mount

Source: The Times of Israel

October 28, 2016

Aerial view of the Temple Mount (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Aerial view of the Temple Mount (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israeli archaeologists on Thursday presented new details
of what they said were the first tiny artifacts, unearthed
in situ on the Temple Mount, ever conclusively dated to
the time of the First Temple over 2,600 years ago. The
discoveries were made during limited scientific
excavations carried out atop the flashpoint Temple Mount
in the past decade, the first of their kind since the
British Mandate.

The highly sensitive Israeli excavations were conducted
with minimum publicity in cooperation with the Islamic
Waqf which manages the incendiary holy site. The artifacts
excavated from the mount, detailed in a paper and
presentations at a conference at Hebrew University, are
said to include olive pits, animal bones and pottery
fragments dating to the time of the First Temple, between
the 8th and 6th Centuries BCE.

Archaeologists have previously found a limited number of
artifacts from First-Temple-period Jerusalem, but none of
those finds were uncovered atop the mount itself. Rather,
they were recovered from the Ophel excavations to the
south of the Mount, and from the Temple Mount Sifting
Project, which examines rubble credibly believed to have
been removed from the holy site and dumped in the nearby
Kidron Valley.

 

Conical clay object from Temple Mount dating from the First Temple period (Courtesy: IAA)Conical clay object from Temple Mount dating from the First Temple period (Courtesy: IAA)

“It’s the first time that we’ve found
artifacts from this period in situ on the Temple
Mount,” Yuval Baruch, the head of the Israel
Antiquities Authority Jerusalem region, said Thursday of
the discoveries. “As far as the biblical period is
concerned, the Temple Mount is a tabula rasa,
nobody knows anything,” said Baruch, who headed the
archaeological work. It’s still “very
limited,” but the tiny fragments of clay and bone
are at least something: “It exists.”

Old City Jerusalem, Temple Mount from Franciscan Monastery (undated) (photo credit: © DEIAHL, Jerusalem)
Old City Jerusalem, Temple Mount from Franciscan Monastery (undated) (photo credit: © DEIAHL, Jerusalem)

The digs at the Mount were carried out between 2007 and
the past year after the Waqf requested authorization from
Israel to perform maintenance work on infrastructure
servicing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, the
main structures situated atop the Temple Mount. Previous
Waqf projects carried out on the Temple Mount, such as
construction of the Marwani Mosque in the late 1990s, did
not involve cooperation with archaeologists and resulted
in the destruction of antiquities and severe tensions
between Israel and the Islamic authorities.

 

Finds including pottery fragments from the Temple Mount, dated to the First Temple period (Courtesy: IAA)Finds including pottery fragments from the Temple Mount, dated to the First Temple period (Courtesy: IAA)

The IAA had made limited announcements in the past about
its activity on the Mount, releasing brief details of
First Temple finds, but Thursday’s conference marked
the most detailed presentation of the near-decade of work,
the finds, and their significance.

Excavation of a trench for electric cables in 2007 allowed
archaeologists the first opportunity to delve below the
surface of the contested holy site since Israel captured
it in the 1967 Six Day War. All work was conducted with
police escort due to the sensitivity of the site.

Although the Waqf received permission from the Israel
Police and Electric Corporation to lay the power cable,
some archaeologists at the time criticized the operation,
saying it wasn’t conducted with “professional
and careful archaeological supervision involving
meticulous documentation.”

Presenting the finds on Thursday after their examination
also marked an opportunity for the IAA to rebuff critics
who claim the Temple Mount is a scene of archaeological
bedlam.

Workers at the Temple Mount Sifting Project, located on the Mt of Olives, October 6, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Workers at the Temple Mount Sifting Project, located on the Mt of Olives, October 6, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

While the Temple Mount Sifting Project has rummaged
through fill from the holy site excavated during the
construction of the Marwani Mosque in the 1990s, these
newly described digs were the first archaeological study
atop the Temple Mount since the 1930s.

The finds on the Temple Mount itself range from a
previously undocumented monumental structure believed to
be from the 11th and 12th centuries — the period
preceding and including the Crusades — to artifacts
from Roman times and, unprecedentedly in situ, finds from
as far back as the First Temple period.

“It’s not an excavation that you go to a place
and dig,” Baruch said of the work on the Mount.
“It’s more inspection, and in that framework
finds are discovered.”

Among the most significant of those finds, dug up during
the laying of the power cable approximately 400 feet
southeast of the Dome of the Rock, was a jumble of remains
dating to the First Temple period.

“This layer included pottery fragments characterized
in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, as well as animal bones
and charred olive pits,” Baruch, Ronny Reich and
Deborah Sandhaus, authors of the accompanying paper on the
discoveries, wrote. “Carbon 14 dating of the olives
yielded dates from the 6th to 8th centuries BCE. This date
is confirmed by the dates of the pottery.”

Another segment of the same trench turned up a Roman coin
dating to 383 CE, and iron arrowheads, which the authors
said could be “rare evidence of activity in the
Roman period in the courtyard between the raised part of
the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Additional findings from the work carried out on the
Temple Mount by the IAA have yet to be published, Baruch
said, including conservation work conducted in
Solomon’s Stables, a subterranean vault beneath the
Temple Mount’s platform, in the past year.

The publication “points to the fact that, despite
all the statements and such, we’re on the Temple
Mount and working, overseeing, and business is done under
the authority of the IAA,” Baruch told The Times of
Israel on the sidelines of the conference.

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