Report from Jerusalem, #15, August 2009

Another stone quarry used for the Temple Mount works by Herod the Great has been uncovered in an inner suburb of Jerusalem recently. This is the third quarry of that period uncovered in recent months. It is situated in Shmuel Hanavi Street and was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in a rescue dig directed by Dr Ofer Sion, before the building of residential flats on the quarter-acre site. The size and colour of the remaining white limestone blocks indicate that they were being prepared for the massive retaining walls built by Herod’s engineers to support the Temple platform. The excavation revealed datable coins and shaped metal plates that were used to wrench the blocks from their base. The site lies approx 2 km from the Temple Mount, which is quite close, but the multi-tonne blocks still had to be transported over hill and dale; exactly how they managed this has not yet been completely understood by the experts but, whatever the explanation, it is clear that Herod worked his men hard. However, they were happy to be involved in the rebuilding of the Temple at a time of high unemployment in Jerusalem.

As you can imagine, the Israel Defence Forces often run across and over ancient remains during their exercises in remote desert, and deserted, areas. At a recent joint conference held with the IAA, the army has now agreed to co-operate with the IAA, who prepare site maps of the areas the army are going to train over and make them aware of any possible antiquities they may encounter. The army on their part have agreed to notify the IAA immediately they come across remains that may be of archaeological interest. The IAA has started to initiate training courses to make the soldiers aware of possible antiquities and is training them to be on the lookout for sites of possible interest to the archaeologists. These joint efforts are particularly important in the Negev, where the majority of archaeological sites remain uncovered, and where the army have their primary training grounds.

Ashdod has started to expand its Corinne Maman Archaeological Museum to be perhaps the foremost museum of the Philistines in the world, with an associated research centre, interactive display of statues and burial remains, and an ‘Ashdod Album’ of the city’s history.

Our own Prof. Shimon Gibson is joint director at the Mount Zion Gate excavations which have been running for several weeks this month and have turned up remains from the First Temple period to the Islamic era. They have recently uncovered a rare ten-line inscription, probably in Aramaic, on a stone cup of the type used by priests and others in the first century CE to avoid ritual impurity contamination. The discovery was only announced in the last few days. The script is clear but cryptic and will take specialists some weeks to decipher, says Shimon. We await the results with interest.

Stephen Rosenberg,
W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem