Unearthing Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

Sabina Lohr is back from Israel, where she volunteered on an archaeological dig. Read about her adventures in Oman here.

I once commented to an Israeli friend about the impossibility of seeing everything that his country holds.  “In Israel every rock is thousands of years old.  And every rock has a story behind it. So relax. You’re not going to see everything,” he confirmed.

On my most recent trip to Israel I wanted to try to find the stories hidden in at least some of these ancient rocks. Volunteering for one of the country’s many archaeological digs seemed the ideal place to start.
 
I chose the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation in Jerusalem. Here, staff and volunteers sift through dirt and rocks, routinely unearthing coins, jewelry, pottery shards and more. The project began after the Muslim religious trust, or the Waqf, bulldozed ten thousand tons of rubble off the Temple Mount in 1999 and dumped it in the nearby Kidron Valley. This interested as well as alarmed archaeologists, who understood that the dirt was filled with objects dating back as far as 1,000 B.C.

In 2004, with funding finally in place and a permit secured, the artifact-laden debris was driven to the Emek Tzurim Valley National Park on the Mount of Olives, which is where I was headed. But I showed up a little late — that is to say, three hours late — due to ignoring advice to take a taxi to the site and insisting instead on walking. Stubbornness sometimes has its rewards. At the check-in building they told me the group sift has ended and agreed to let me engage in a private sift.

I dumped buckets of dirt, water and hidden antiquities onto a mesh, sprayed the mud away with a hose and began searching, with a man named Hillel standing at my elbow to watch my every motion and ensure that I miss nothing. Every day, Hillel said, someone finds a gold coin. “But I know you won’t,” he teased, “because today we’ve already found one.” Treasures do pop up almost every second – mosaic pieces, bits of colored glass, broken pottery and bones. I sorted them into categories. Later, an archaeologist would determine to which era each piece belongs, from the Jewish First Temple Period to modern times.  

Hillel’s prediction was correct. I did not find a gold coin. But I did help uncover a small bit of the story behind the rocks in Israel.

Photos: Sabina Lohr

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