Within Israels’ Emek Tzurim National Park, on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, untold treasures are being unearthed. But it’s not only archaeologists who are digging up relics here. It’s a small army of volunteers and travelers eager for an unforgettable educational opportunity.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project was created in 2004. Its founders might tell you that it was borne from an urgent historical necessity. Just a few years earlier, construction crews had dug an entrance to Solomon’s Stables, an ancient subterranean structure that was being converted into a mosque. The site of the stables, however, was adjacent to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—sacred to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—and the digging proceeded without regard for laws that protect Jerusalem’s archaeological sites. Large chunks of earth were recklessly trucked out, by some counts more than 400 loads.
Dr. Gabriel Barkey and Zachi Dvira, archaeologists working under the banner of Bar-Ilan University, were certain that priceless relics were moved with all that earth. And so, with the cooperation of the Israel National Parks Authority, they founded the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
What’s unique about the project is the reason for its founding. It’s not often that excavation projects are undertaken out of anger over the treatment of historic sites. Indeed, you don’t need a history degree to realize that construction zones in such a historic place must employ onsite experts so that uncovered relics can be labeled by location and context, documented, then removed with great care. Such was not the case here.
Still, optimism surrounds the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Even though valuable knowledge about the historical location and context of centuries-old items has been lost, scholars can still learn information from the artifacts themselves by, for instance, making assumptions about the era from which they came by matching them to similarly styled pieces that were uncovered in “known” spots.
Gabriel and Zachi knew it would be no small task to sift through 400 truckloads of earth. They would need help, and lots of it, to embark on an operation that would take many years. So they created a volunteer organization that embraces the efforts of all—from students to travelers. To that end, a simple makeshift sifting camp has been erected outside Jerusalem’s old city walls.
Since the project’s founding, tens of thousands of people have participated, sifting through buckets of earth to discover pottery, glass vessels, bones, mosaic stones, jewelry, and coins—many from the First Temple Period of the 10th century. Even fragments of mosaic floors, frescoes, and glazed wall tiles have been found.
Discovery Tours travelers have the unique opportunity to help uncover history here. During our Israel, Ancient & Modern Culture trip, we sift through the rubble using a wet-sifting technique. Who knows? You just might come across a priceless artifact.