For thousands of years the Temple Mount has been a sacred site for three of the world’s monotheistic faiths. For the last 828 years, the site has been under Muslim control; and due to political sensibilities, no systematic archaeological excavation has ever been allowed at the site. In 1967, after the Six-Day war, Israel permitted the Awaqf (the Muslim trust that manages the site) to retain its control over the mount.
Israeli antiquities law requires a salvage excavation before construction at archaeological sites. The Awaqf chose to ignore this law when, in 1999, they illicitly bulldozed a huge pit on the Temple Mount for the construction of an entrance to a mosque, and dumped approximately 400 truckloads – 9,000 tons – of soil saturated with archaeological artifacts from all of Temple Mount’s historical periods into the nearby Kidron Valley.
Archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira understood that this discarded earth represented a treasure trove of information, despite the fact that it had been so brutally wrenched from its archaeological context.
In 2004 they seized this unique opportunity and established the Temple Mount Sifting Project, with the goal of rescuing the ancient artifacts and conducting research that would enhance our understanding of the archeology and history of the Temple Mount.
Over the years the project has become a global educational endeavor. Attracting over 150,000 volunteers that have participated in the Sifting. An unprecedented number exceeding any archaeological project anywhere in the world. Such enthusiastic interest attests to the significance of the Temple Mount and the antiquities being uncovered. In addition, the public has assisted us in our efforts to understand some of the finds which were difficult to identify, via a unique website where images of these finds are displayed, and the public is invited to help identify and determine the nature and date of these unique items. This involvement of a global public of interested participants, is unique in the history of archeological research, and has proven critical for the operation and advancement of the project.
This idea is vividly expressed in the Book of Psalms:
“For your servants have cherished her stones, and have redeemed her dust” (Psalms 102:14-15)
Since the Temple Mount has never been excavated, the ancient artifacts retrieved in the Sifting Project provide valuable and previously inaccessible information. Even though they have been extracted from their archaeological context, most of these artifacts can be identified and dated by comparing them with those found in other sites. We have developed new methodologies and technologies for studying the finds from the Temple Mount, and have implemented advanced quantitative and analytical methods for understanding the significance of the distribution of the finds throughout the debris.
“Every bucket of earth we sift contains ancient artifacts representing 3000 years of the Temple Mount’s history,” the project’s web site explains. “The most common categories are pottery fragments, glass vessel pieces, metal objects, animal bones, worked stones and mosaic tesserae.”
In addition to these general categories, there are many fascinating finds, such as fragments of stone vessels, jewelry, beads, terracotta figurines, arrowheads and other weaponry, weights, clothing accessories, gaming pieces and dice, bone and shell inlays, furniture decorations, ornaments, bone and ivory objects, and fragments of inscriptions on stone and pottery.
For more information and to help support the project: http://half-shekel.org/