Update Jan. 30: Our Annual Appeal is at an end. Thank you so much to everyone who donated. We raised 36% of our goal: over $18,000! We can now cover the costs of 52 weeks of pottery analysis, the analysis of 100 coins, and 30 weeks each of drawing special finds and analyzing stone vessels and tools! This is a great way to start 2017 and we could not have done it without you. Thank you.
The story of the Temple Mount is the story of Jerusalem itself. A holy site to the three largest monotheistic religions, it is one of the most concentrated archaeological sites in the world, yet due to religious and political concerns, it has never been properly excavated.
In 1999, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement conducted illegal renovations on the Temple Mount and disposed over 9,000 tons of dirt mixed with invaluable archaeological artifacts into a makeshift garbage dump in the Kidron Valley. Innumerable artifacts were destroyed or lost, veritable treasures that would have provided a rare glimpse of the region’s rich history. In 2004, The Temple Mount Sifting Project was born under the direction of archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barakay and Zachi Dvira in order to sift through this neglected earth and to find, preserve, and research the artifacts dating to every time period of the Temple Mount’s rich history. These artifacts represent the first-ever archaeological data originating from below the Temple Mount’s surface.
Over the past 12 years, we at the Sifting Project have worked intensively to give unprecedented access to the archaeology of the Temple Mount. With the help of over 200,000 volunteers from all over the world, we have grown into a project of international significance and discovered over 500,000 important finds originating from the Temple Mount. These artifacts enrich the discussion on Jerusalem’s past. Yet, there is much work left to be done if we want to unearth the site’s full story and share it with the world.
Our mission is to publish at least 3 volumes of our research on the Temple Mount’s history, special finds, coins, and pottery in 2018. Without being able to publish, it will be as if our 500,000 artifacts had never been found.
Lack of access to the Temple Mount breeds ignorance and misinformation about its history and compounds the controversies surrounding it. Our research has the ability to challenge theories, clarify understandings, and present the factual data about the Temple Mount. Our scientific research can undermine the Temple Denial Movement; but only if it is shared with the scientific community and the public and we encourage educated discussion on the history of the Temple Mount.
We have launched this Annual Appeal to ensure that we have the capability of continuing our important research. We need to cover costs like cataloguing finds, completing the core research for our planned publication, and doing advanced statistical analysis to better understand the context of our artifacts. Our current goal is to fully fund our current research on special finds, coins, and pottery so that we can stay on track for our publication deadline in 2018. With your help, we can enter 2017 knowing that our focus can remain on our research and not on ways to raise money or cut the budget to keep the lights on.
Here is your chance to take part in revealing Jerusalem’s ancient past.
Join Us and Donate Now!
Help Preserve the History of the Temple Mount.
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For thousands of years, the Temple Mount has been an important and sacred site for three of the world’s monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is the “place where heaven and earth meet, an epicenter of religious and national life” (Isaiah 2: 2-4).
However, despite its prevalence in religious life, much of its past remains a mystery. This is because no archaeological excavation has ever taken place on the site due to political concerns. The absence of archaeological data has resulted in many unresolved and hotly debated historical questions. Although most scholars (including Muslim scholars) assert that the Jewish Temples were located on this site, Palestinian and Muslim leaders have begun denying their existence here. This claim was then supported in the recent UNESCO resolution in October 2016. See our response to this resolution here.
How we came into the picture:
In 1999, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement bulldozed a large pit on the Temple Mount for the construction of an entrance to an ancient underground structure which was converted into a mosque. Israeli antiquities law requires a salvage excavation before construction at archaeological sites, thus these actions were illegal. Making matters worse, approximately 400 truckloads – 9,000 tons – of soil saturated with priceless archaeological artifacts were dumped as garbage in the nearby Kidron Valley.
Archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira understood that this discarded earth represented a rare glimpse at the past, despite the fact that it had been wrenched from its archaeological context. (Context like location, layer, and relation to other artifacts make up the basic parameters for evaluating archaeological significance.)
In 2004, Barkay and Dvira removed truckloads of dirt from the debris dumped in the Kidron Valley and began a large-scale sifting project to recover treasures that were slated for the garbage. In doing so, they established the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP), with the goal of rescuing ancient artifacts and conducting research to enhance our understanding of the archeology and history of the Temple Mount.
The ancient artifacts retrieved by the Sifting Project provide valuable and previously inaccessible information about this important and contested site. In response to the archaeological challenges posed by the endeavor, our team of experts has implemented innovative methodologies and technologies for studying the finds. For example, we employ advance quantitative and statistical methods that reestablish the archaeological context of the finds.
In 12 years, and with over 200,000 volunteers from around the world, the project has become a major global educational and historical endeavor. The public’s help has proven critical for the operation and advancement of the project and attests to the importance of what is being revealed.
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)
Ultimately, the Temple Mount Sifting Project is the closest anyone has come to excavating the Temple Mount itself.
Now we are inviting you to join us and be a part of the next phase of the project. Please help us fund the research required for a full scientific publication. Publishing the results of our work will shed more light on the long history of this sacred site and will contribute to the resolution of debates related to this site.
We plan on having at least 3 volumes of research published in 2018. This will include the history of the Temple Mount, Coins, Pottery, and Special Finds.
Every bucket of earth we sift contains ancient artifacts representing the Temple Mount’s rich and diverse 3000 year history. The most common finds 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.
We have also recovered elaborate architectural remains, including fragments of columns and their capitals, fragments of mosaic floors, Opus Sectile floor tiles, frescoes (colored wall plaster pieces) and glazed wall tiles.
To date, the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) has uncovered more than 7,000 coins, ranging from tiny silver coins from the 4th century BCE to coins minted in modern times. Among them are very rare and exciting coins such as the silver half-shekel discussed in greater detail below.
Although the earth excavated from the Temple Mount was moved from one place to another several times, it was not completely mixed. Consequently, many of the finds remain in context-associated clusters. This will allow us to learn more about the context of the finds through the appropriate application of quantitative analysis.
Once the sorting and analysis process is completed, the data will help provide fresh insights into the archaeology and history of the Temple Mount.
From the First Temple period (1000 to 586 BCE, from King David to the destruction of the First Temple) we have recovered an abundance of pottery fragments originating from bowls, pots, jars, and jugs, as well as chalices, stands, rattles and other unique objects.
Some of the finds date to the 10th-9th centuries BCE, the time of King Solomon, builder of the First Temple, and his successors. These finds are rare in Jerusalem, and they have brought forth critical evidence in the heated debate about the size of Jerusalem in this period. Some scholars doubt that the Temple Mount was annexed to Jerusalem during the 10th century BCE. They suggest that Jerusalem was not a capital city but rather a small village. Our finds contradict this minimalist assertion and confirm the Biblical account regarding Jerusalem during this period.
The TMSP found a large number of terracotta figurine fragments. Most are zoomorphic quadruped legs (probably horses) and torso parts. Others are pillared female figurine fragments. Scholars have widely debated the figurines’ symbolism and function. Some see them as means to evoke a goddess during prayers for fertility, while others have associated them with healing and protection. We found them all fragmented and they appear to have been intentionally broken in antiquity. Some scholars have associated this phenomenon with the reforms of King Josiah at the end of the 7th century BCE, which included the smashing of idols (2 Kings 23: 4-13; 2 Chron. 34: 3-5).
The sifting also yielded a group of stone weights of the shekel series. No coinage system existed at this time, so trade was done using these weights for weighing precious metals. Some of the weights found are less than a shekel unit and represent weight units of gera (20 or 24 gera to a shekel).
Other finds from this period include weaponry items such as sling stones and arrowheads. Among them are several arrowheads commonly found in Judah which date to the mid-late First Temple period. One very rare bronze arrowhead is dated to the 10th century BCE, the time of King Solomon. Arrowheads from this period are rarely found. This one, the first of its type found in Jerusalem, may attest to the existence of an armed force on the Temple Mount. Another distinctive arrowhead found by the project was a bronze Irano-Schythic triple-bladed type used by the Babylonian army that conquered Judah and destroyed the First Temple.
Inscribed artifacts include dozens of ostraca (inscribed pottery) fragments and 25 clay seal impressions (bullae). One seal impression bears the Hebrew names ליהו… and אִמֶר, meaning “(Belonging to) […]lyahu (son of) Immer”. Immer was the name of a priestly family mentioned in the books of Jeremiah and Chronicles.
This seal impression is the first ancient Hebrew inscription ever found from the Temple Mount and is the first piece of evidence attesting to priests’ administrative functions in the First Temple. Other finds include a rare cone-shaped seal from the time of King Solomon depicting two animals, a black stone seal depicting a gazelle, and a seal made of lapis lazuli, a semi-precious gem stone.
During the Second Temple period (515 BCE to 70 CE) the Temple and its esplanade underwent several construction projects, primarily during the reign of King Herod and his descendants. The finds from this period include numerous pottery shards, especially from cooking pots, and many burnt livestock bones. These finds may be linked to the massive pilgrimages to the Temple described in written sources. The sifting also yielded fragments of architectural members that may be the remains of magnificent porticos that encircled the Temple Mount, or perhaps even remains of the Temple itself!
A very illuminating find is the collection of more than one thousand fragments of floor tiles in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
These are identified as floor tiles used in a paving technique known in the Roman world as opus sectile, in which the tiles were assembled in various ways to form rich geometric patterns. The writings of Flavius Josephus testify that this technique was used as ornamentation for the open courts that surrounded the Temple:
Those entire courts that were exposed to the sky were laid with stones of all sorts (War. 5 5:2)
Josephus’ description is completely consistent with our finds and allows us to suggest a comprehensive reconstruction of the patterns of the Temple Mount floors.
We also recovered Roman period arrowheads that may originate from the Roman siege before the destruction of the Temple. The sifted earth contains large amounts of ash from repeated conflagrations. This, too, may attest to the Roman destruction of the Temple.
The finds from the Late Roman period (70 to 324 CE) reflect the pagan nature of the site under Roman control. These finds include coins, pottery, gaming pieces, and evidence for a bone tools workshop at the site.
The TMSP has uncovered rich archaeological remains from the Byzantine period (324 to 638 CE). These include mosaic tesserae, roof tiles, fragments of Corinthian pillar capitals, church chancel screens and numerous coins. The pottery includes many oil lamps, some bearing misspelled Greek inscriptions, and others emblazoned with a cross or stylized cruciform lamp handles. An important group of crucifixes and cross-shaped pendants of various styles and materials was also found. On some of them the image of Jesus appears in relief or incised.
The abundance of finds from this period challenges the standard assumption that the Temple Mount was deserted and devoid of structures during this period.
A very large percentage of the finds come from the Early Islamic period (638 to 1099 CE). In this period the name of the site was changed to Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). The Dome of the Rock was built by the Umayyad Khalif Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in 691 CE as a shrine to commemorate the spot where Solomon’s Temple once stood. Later on, in 705-714 CE, his son al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik built the Al-Aqsa mosque at the southern edge of the Haram al-Sharif above the ruins of a Byzantine structure.
These edifices were renovated in later periods. During the 16th century CE, the magnificent exterior gilded mosaics of the Dome of the Rock were replaced with decorated glazed wall tiles. The floor tiles of the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain were replaced in modern times. These renovations included the removal of earlier architectural elements and the construction debris was dumped on the eastern side of the Temple Mount. Accordingly, the TMSP has recovered tens of thousands of gilded glass tesserae cubes originating from the mosaics on the exterior walls of the Dome of the Rock, as well as many engraved marble architectural elements from other structures. Some of these architectural fragments were used within Umayyad structures, though they originated from the Byzantine or even Second Temple periods.
In addition, we recovered inscribed pottery, mother-of-pearl inlays, jewelry, gaming pieces, glass and metal weights with inscriptions, and many coins (including gold ones) and inscribed stones from this period.
The finds from the TMSP greatly contribute to the archaeological and historical research of the Temple Mount during the Crusader period (1099 to 1187 CE). We discovered the biggest and most varied collection of silver coins ever found in Jerusalem from this period; among them are extremely rare coins and a one-of-a-kind Knights Templar medallion. The Crusader finds include many cruciform pendants, pottery and architectural remains. Many opus sectile floor tiles -that were installed in the Dome of the Rock and dismantled in later periods – were recovered in the sifting, enabling us to replicate the elaborate floor of the Dome of the Rock during the Crusaders’ times.
In scholarly texts, the Temple Mount has been commonly associated with the Knights Templar in this period. The Knights used the Al-Aqsa Mosque as their headquarters and turned the large southeastern substructure into stables for their horses, calling it “Solomon’s Stables.” The earth we are sifting originated in the area of Solomon’s Stables and has yielded many remnants of Crusader activity, including arrowheads, horseshoe nails of typical European medieval cavalry and armor scales. These finds constitute the first archaeological evidence for the Knights Templar’s utilization of Solomon’s Stables.
We have recovered numerous architectural elements from the Later Islamic periods (1187 to 1917 CE). Among the most notable finds are the glazed tiles used by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to replace the original glass mosaics which ornamented the exterior walls of the Dome of the Rock. Moreover, we have found thousands of coins from the Mameluke and Ottoman periods, which contribute significantly to the study of coins from this period. This is also true regarding the abundant pottery from this period. We plan to publish these finds specifically in great detail. This is significant because most excavations tend to neglect later periods or publish the finds hastily. Our report aims to be the most extensive typology study published on pottery from the late antiquity (Medieval – Ottoman) periods.
Other finds from these periods include many jewelry pieces, clothing articles, military badges and insignia, old musket rounds and flint lock stones, an enormous number of Ottoman tobacco pipes, and much more.
The TMSP has proven to be an unprecedented and inexhaustible source of knowledge on the Temple Mount. Archaeological finds that lay hidden within its soil for thousands of years can now be scientifically analyzed and published for the first time. The results of this endeavor will shed much light on the Temple Mount’s past, its builders and rebuilders, its religious and social significance, its defenders and its conquerors. Today, 11 years into this project, about 70% of the debris removed from the Temple Mount has been sifted. The project requires more funds to continue sifting many more tons of removed earth and to find many more unique and important artifacts.
You should support our project because through us, you can ensure that facts, reality, and the heritage of all people who connect with the Temple Mount are protected and shared. Ignorance feeds conflict and dispute, while knowledge helps us better understand our common past.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project’s finds represent the first-ever archaeological data originating from within the Temple Mount because no proper excavation has ever been done there due to political concerns.
Our research has the ability to challenge theories, clarify understandings, and present the factual data about the history of the Temple Mount. We can undermine the Temple Denial movement; but only if our facts and research are shared with the scientific community and the public.
Our mission is to publish at least 3 volumes of our research on the Temple Mount’s history, special finds, coins, and pottery in 2018. We want our scientific research to encourage educated discussion on the history of the Temple Mount.
As a member of the global community, it is your responsibility to preserve this heritage. This is your chance to take part in revealing Jerusalem’s ancient past. You can ensure that facts, reality, and the heritage of all people who feel connected to the Temple Mount are protected and shared.
Why the Temple Mount?
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56: 7)
The Temple Mount is sacred to more than half of the world’s population and three major religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. According to the Bible, it is a place where heaven and earth meet, which was designated to be an epicenter for all facets the religious and national life, and an anchor point from which the word of God is spread out to the world. Today it is Judaism’s holiest site, where the First and Second Temples once stood, and remains the focal point of Jewish prayers. For Christians, it is home to the Temple that Jesus knew. It is the third holiest site in Islam, the location of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Anything that happens on the Temple Mount resonates throughout the entire world, and yet no proper excavation has ever been conducted here.
From the outset, the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) was a risky endeavor. We didn’t know what would emerge from the truckloads of dirt or how to undertake this unique research. Despite the initial concerns, our efforts – and those of our dedicated volunteers – have proven to be amazingly worthwhile.
The discovery of seals and seal impressions has shed new light on the administrative activities that took place in the First Temple, contradicting minimalist claims that the site was a mere village in the 10th century BCE, and confirming the biblical account that the Temple Mount was part of the city during that time. Opus sectile paving stones match Josephus’ descriptions of the elegant architectural style of the Herodian renovations to the Second Temple. Hundreds of thousands of mosaic tesserae and other architectural elements prove that the Temple Mount was occupied – not deserted as was previously believed – during the Byzantine period. In recent years, Palestinian political leaders have invented new claims completely denying the existence of the First and Second Temples at the site, and these claims have now been supported by UNESCO. Our finds, and most scholars, prove otherwise.
The TMSP is focusing its efforts on the enormous tasks of processing and studying the finds and preparing them for scientific publication. Unpublished finds have little value for archaeological research. It is as though they had never been found. Presently, more than half a million finds are still waiting to be processed and analyzed in our laboratory. We cannot allow this to be the fate of the finds from such an important site as the Temple Mount.
You have the responsibility to support our efforts and bring to light the history of the Temple Mount. Help us prevent these antiquities and their history from being lost to illegal construction. Help us resolve scholarly and political debates about the long history of this important site by publishing the truth found in the archaeological record.
The publication of TMSP’s finds represent an opportunity for meaningful and educated dialogue that has the potential to reduce political conflicts. Ignorance feeds conflict and dispute, while knowledge helps us better understand our common past.
We have launched this Annual Appeal to ensure that we have the capability of continuing our important research. We need to cover costs like cataloguing finds, completing the core research for our planned publication, and doing advanced statistical analysis to better understand the context of our artifacts.
Our current goal is to fully fund current research on special finds, coins, and pottery so that we can stay on track for our publication deadline in 2018. With your help, we can enter 2017 knowing that our focus can remain on our research and not on ways to raise money or cut the budget to keep the lights on.
Once we have completed this first goal, our next goal will be unlocked! We will then secure the minimum budget needed to keep the lab in operation. After that, we will expand the budget to include more processing of finds, drawings and photography, and editing and graphic design for the planned publication.
More than half a million finds await processing and analysis in our laboratory. The study and publication of these finds are enormous tasks that require diligence and the expertise of many scholars.
Your contribution will fund the completion of our core research. This includes:
Support us by sharing this website and video via social media – on Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. Raising awareness about the Temple Mount Sifting Project in your community, and even around your own dinner table, will help us give voice to the muted history of one of the world’s most sacred sites.
We encourage you to visit our sifting site at Emek Zurim National Park in Jerusalem. Join us in experiencing the excitement of recovering ancient remains of the Temple Mount. Click here to arrange a visit.
The absence of archaeological data has resulted in many unresolved and hotly debated historical questions. Although most scholars (including Muslim scholars) assert that the Jewish Temples were located on the Temple Mount, For the past few decades, Palestinian and Muslim leaders have begun denying their existence here. This claim was then supported in the recent UNESCO resolution in October 2016. See our response to this resolution here. We outline the archaeological evidence, from our sifting and other excavations in Jerusalem, supporting the existence of the First and Second Temple on the Temple Mount.
YOUR contribution will help reveal the story of the Temple Mount. Your assistance is of vital importance.