Temple Mount Destruction
An Eyewitness Report from the Temple Mount
Digging Up the Temple Mount—A Report from the Fourth Day
This morning, three archeologists (Asaf Avraham, Tikva Levine and I), went to the Temple Mount to carefully examine, to the extent possible, what may be learned from the trench that is being dug before it is filled in. Our main purpose was to examine the characteristics of the earth in the various areas along the length of the trench and compare it to the earth that we have been sifting for the past three years; that earth had been excavated by Muslim authorities in the course of digging a huge pit as an entrance to the a underground substructure, which was turned into a mosque on the Temple Mount (without proper archaeological supervision) and then dumped in the Kidron Valley.
We started from a point north of the raised platform on which the Dome of the Rock sits, where the new digging was begun. We observed much material from the Byzantine period, including mosaic stones and broken vessels (some of them freshly broken by the work of the tractor). Beginning at the point where the trench turns east we could distinguish noticeable layering in the cross-section of the trench. In the western section one could see, beneath the foundations of the modern paving, a layer of gray dust and beneath it another layer of yellowish-brown color (figure 1). The yellow sand that can be seen on the floor of the trench is unrelated to the layer in the cross-section of the trench. In the eastern part of the trench we saw a light gray layer that is sloping down toward the east and beneath it a layer of terra-rosa soil (figure 2). In this area we also saw two building stones, chiseled in a comb-style, characteristic of the Second Temple period, Byzantine mosaic stones and additional shards from various periods. Between them we observed an area where there was a large collection of pottery.
Near the north-east corner of the trench, at the point where it turns south, there was a collection of architectural items, among them a fragment of a border and a lattice from the Byzantine period. These had been removed from the trench and gathered here.
The eastern trench has already reached the amazing length of more than 200 m./640 ft. (Fig 4). Combined with the northern segment, the trench is currently 1.5 m./5 ft. deep and about 350 m./1120 ft. long! About 80 m./250 ft. distant from the northern corner of the eastern trench and about 20 m./65 ft. north of the eastern stairs of the raised platform of the Dome of the Rock we could see the exposed bedrock of the Temple Mount at a depth of less than one half meter (1.6 ft.) for a length of about 10 m./ 32 ft. It appears that the tractor had difficulty digging in this area and only scraped the upper surface of the rock. It also seems that the rock had been carved into at various points because in different places it noticeably protruded above its nearby environs.
This provides us with new information regarding the topography of the Temple Mount, since previously it was not known that the bedrock at this point was so shallow. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that, according to the generally accepted views of researchers dealing with the location of the Temple, it was in this area that the northern wall of the Temple Court of the Women and the Chamber of the Lepers of the Second Temple stood.1 To our great misfortune, the work of the tractor on this spot made it impossible to carefully examine any earth layers that could help us date the earliest period when the rock was first covered.
Along the continuation of the trench there were areas where building stones could be seen, among them building stones with comb-like chiseling from the Second Temple period (Fig 8).
As the trench extends along the area opposite the Dome of the Rock, one can observe layering in the cross-section of the trench. In certain areas beneath the foundation of the modern flooring a layer of yellowish or gray texture could be seen above a layer of terra-rosa soil (Figs 9-11). It must be pointed out that according to the archeology of Jerusalem, layers with reddish soil hint at a date earlier than the period of the Second Temple.
At the same area we found a few building stones; one of them was finely engraved and seems to be part of a gate jamb (figure 12).
Along the trench, about 20 m./65 ft. south of the eastern stairway of the Dome of the Rock, we identified in the cross-section a collection of ashlar and hewn stones laid out against each other in one row (fig 13 a, b. c.). The average diameter of the stones was about 35-45 cm./14-18 in. It was not clear whether these had been cut during the digging of the trench or whether they were there by coincidence, since in the cross-sections of archeological digs, wall-foundations are seen more clearly with the stones nicely positioned one against the other. When we considered that this cut had not been done carefully by archeologists working by hand but rather crudely by tractor, we could understand the disorganization of the stones. It appears that this is a foundation for an ancient wall that passed here, which is 7 m./22 ft. wide. It was approximately in this area that the southern Court of the Women yard wall and the Chamber of the House of Oil of Second Temple stood!.2
It should be mentioned that, from testimony we heard yesterday, at this point one of the policemen tried to stop the tractors work. It is not certain if he did this on his own initiative or on the initiative of the archeological supervisor. However, he had to fight for this. According to the testimony of the architect Gidon Charlap, when he refused to stop, the policeman climbed up into the tractor but was forcibly pushed out by one of the workers who sat next to the operator. Following that, the policeman jumped into the trench to stop the tractor bodily (fig 14). According to the police, the policeman did not try to stop the work because there were antiquities about to be destroyed but because the tractor was not allowing adequate archeological supervision there. It is not clear what the position of the Israel Antiquities Authority was in this conflict or how the issue was resolved; however, it is clear that, if the face-off took place at the spot where we identified the remnants of a wall, it seems that those who make the decisions decided to allow the tractor to continue destroying the wall.
Along the trench, the more we proceeded to the south, we were able to see more and more items that were familiar to us from the sifting of the earth dumped in the Kidron Valley. We saw broken glass vessels, many mosaic tiles, glazed wall-tiles from the Ottoman period and marble slabs. It seems that the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount served as a dumping area for repair works that were carried out there in modern times. In addition, we came across the handle of a vessel with two imprints of slanted cross-lines. This seems to have been from the Mamluke or Othman periods. (fig. 16)
In the southernmost area of the trench, south of the southern face of the Dome of the Rock’s raised platform, a layer of terra-rosa soil beneath a stratum of gray soil could be clearly seen (fig 17).
At this point, the trench began a turn toward the west in the direction of the Al Aqsa mosque. The turn was near the wall of the modern southern terrace, at the base of which can be seen the well-known remnant of the stairway carved there into the bedrock (fig 18). When we visited the site, the tractor was only a few meters away from that step and its progress was directed so as to pass right alongside that step. (See video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hyVDrzcp4w and fig 19).
1. Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest—Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), pp. 345, 355.
2. Ritmeyer, pp. 345, 355.
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