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Jerusalem as Textbook, Gideon Avni, BAR 22:03, May-Jun 1996.

Jerusalem ExcavationsLarge excavations give way to smaller, more focused digs as archaeological parks and displays sprout up all over the city.

The magnitude and extent of archaeological activity in Jerusalem since the city was reunited in 1967 are unparalleled in the city’s long history of research. Since then, we have seen two major waves of excavations. The first, during the late 1960s and 1970s, involved three large-scale excavations—at the southern wall of the Temple Mount, directed by Benjamin Mazar;(1) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, directed by Nahman Avigad;(2) and in the oldest inhabited part of the city, on a ridge south of the Temple Mount known as the City of David, directed by Yigal Shiloh.(3)

The second wave, smaller in scale, began in the late 1980s and still continues, focusing on the Old City’s narrow streets and alleys, open areas around the Old City and the new neighborhoods on the outskirts of modern Jerusalem. In just the last six years, more than 120 excavations have been conducted within Jerusalem’s municipal limits, ranging from probes lasting several days to excavations that continue without pause the whole year around.

The excavations in this second wave give archaeologists an opportunity to study subjects hitherto neglected in the archaeological research of ancient Jerusalem, such as the extramural remains and the agricultural hinterland of the ancient city. They were occasioned not simply by academic interest; they are the byproduct of massive development in the city during the last decade or so. New neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, improvements to and expansion of the road system leading to the city center, large construction projects outside the walls of the Old City and massive maintenance work within the walls have all resulted in archaeological excavations.

Although there has been a lot of excavation in Jerusalem, the preservation and presentation of the sites have, unfortunately, not kept pace with their discovery. With few exceptions, sites suffer from neglect and are not widely known and visited, even by local inhabitants.

To improve matters, the Israel Antiquities Authority has drafted a list of about 60 archaeological sites for preservation; the Antiquities Authority has already initiated the administrative and legal procedures needed to maintain these sites.

Under Israeli law, the Antiquities Authority exercises close archaeological supervision and control of the city’s tremendously accelerated development process. Whenever archaeological remains are encountered during development work, archaeologists must be given the opportunity to undertake rescue excavations to document, and in many cases preserve, sites that would otherwise be doomed to destruction.

In addition, sites slated for future development that enclose known or suspected archaeological remains are first subject to systematic excavations at the expense of the developer, who must also finance post-excavation research and publication of the final excavation report. Only on completion of the fieldwork is the fate of the site determined- whether to “sacrifice” the site for the developmental needs of a modern city or to require partial or even complete preservation of the site because of its archaeological importance to the history of the city. If the latter considerations prevail, then the development and construction plans must be changed to accommodate preservation of the archaeological site.

For example, when a new sewage system was being installed in the Old City, near the eastern end of the Street of the Chain (the main but narrow connection between Jaffa Gate and the Temple Mount), a large section of an ancient pavement was discovered. Constructed of large paving stones similar to those found in the Roman streets of Jerusalem, the pavement proved to be part of a wide east-west street, dated by pottery and coins to the first and second centuries C.E., that led onto the Temple Mount.(4)

The excavation was then extended, revealing a small square or plaza in front of the Gate of the Chain. An additional section of the same pavement was dated to the first century C.E.—before the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Beneath the pavement of the modern open area in front of the Gate of the Chain, our archaeological team, led by Elena Kogan-Zehavi, Lilly Gershuni and Rafa‘ Abu Raya, discovered some steps built in the same style and with the same large ashlars as the monumental Herodian staircase uncovered at the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The probable date of the construction of the steps in front of the Gate of the Chain could be determined by a coin of Pontius Pilate (16–29 C.E.) found underneath the steps.

When the plan of the Temple Mount area during the Second Temple period was reconstructed based on this new evidence, our archaeologists concluded that this small patch of pavement and steps might be part of a major street connecting the Temple Mount with the Western Hill or Upper City. The ancient street was supported over the intervening valley by a huge bridge built on arches, including the well-known monumental arch adjacent to the Temple Mount called Wilson’s Arch, after the 19th-century British explorer Charles Wilson.

This paved street and the stairs were also built directly on top of an extensive network of subterranean vaults extending north of the Western Wall prayer area, where modern tourists come to place notes—messages to God—in the crevices between the ashlars. These vaults, which can be approached through the Western Wall tunnel,(a) have until now been considered medieval. Based on the recent excavations just described, however, we can most likely conclude that at least part of this vault system dates as early as the Roman period.

Following the excavations, part of the ancient pavement in front of the Gate of the Chain was preserved. Today, the public can view the Roman period pavement beneath the modern street level. Thus did a small-scale excavation shed light on the layout of the Temple Mount entrances and surroundings in the late Second Temple period, when Jesus of Nazareth walked these streets.
Several years ago, when the municipality decided to build a major road connecting the northern and southern sections of the city (Municipal Highway No. 1), archaeologists suddenly were given the opportunity to conduct intensive archaeological excavations over a relatively large area of about four acres north of Damascus Gate, along the ancient road leading from Jerusalem to the north.

Previous finds in this area include the foundations of the controversial “Third Wall” built by Agrippa I in the mid-first century (41–44 C.E.).(b) Was this the additional wall that defended Jerusalem from the Roman siege almost 30 years later, as described by the first-century historian Josephus? In the same general area, Dominican fathers in the 19th century uncovered the remains of a Byzantine monastic complex that included the basilica of St. Stephen and an adjacent monastery and pilgrims’ hostel built by the empress Eudoxia in the mid-fifth century C.E. (Part of this complex, including a piece of mosaic from the basilica floor, can still be seen in St. Stephen’s basilica, on the grounds of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française.)

In light of these past discoveries, there was a very real possibility of uncovering an uninterrupted archaeological sequence in this part of modern Jerusalem, especially tempting because large sections of the area had been a no-man’s-land between Israeli and Jordanian lines from 1948 to 1967. As a result, it had remained open fields cut only by shallow army trenches, free of modern construction.

It didn’t take long for our expectations to be met. Less than 3 feet below the surface, cut sporadically by the modern army trenches, lay the impressive remains of several monastic complexes. Evidence of intensive settlement of this area from the mid-fifth century C.E. and continuing without interruption until the ninth century C.E. soon emerged.(5)

Four monasteries, two hostelries and a large cemetery were discovered here. These served not only the Christian religious circle of Jerusalem, but also the other inhabitants of the city over a long period. The finds from the excavations proved that this area was used extensively between the fifth and the late eighth centuries C.E.

The large monastery and hostelry complex contained a network of buildings, over 375 feet long, with a large central courtyard encompassed by rooms. The accommodations and various service rooms for pilgrims included a kitchen, a bakery and a scriptorium. At the center of the complex, the excavators unearthed a small chapel decorated with mosaic floors.

More discoveries awaited still further underground. Beneath the buildings, a variety of burial caves from the Byzantine period were hewn in the rock. Three burial crypts, identical in plan, lay beneath the chapel. Each crypt could be entered from the chapel through a separate entrance and had two burial troughs within a vaulted chamber.(c) A small bowl for sanctified oil, given to pilgrims as the blessing of a saint, was found in one of the crypts, suggesting that local saints were buried there.

One of the monastic compounds proved to have a very clear national affiliation, containing a number of inscriptions in ancient Armenian script (some on a mosaic floor, others on stones). This was probably the location of one of the ancient Armenian residential quarters in Jerusalem.

This Armenian monastic complex, dated by coins and inscriptions to the sixth to eighth centuries C.E., consisted of a church in the center surrounded by aresidence for monks and pilgrims and a water-collecting system that included a huge reservoir.

Several underground rock-hewn crypts and individual graves were found under the church, some of them predating the construction of the church. One of the tombs yielded an intact tombstone reading “Of Petros of Sodk’” (Sodk’ is a town near Lake Sevan in Armenia).

The focal point of the monastery’s main residential unit was a reception hall paved with a mosaic floor. A seven-line Armenian inscription on the floor reads- “I Ewstat’ the priest laid this mosaic. (You) who enter this house, remember me and my brother Luke to Christ.” A coin of the Byzantine-Arab type found in the foundation of the mosaic floor confirms that it was laid soon after the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 638 C.E.

The Armenian monastery adds a previously unknown dimension to our knowledge of Jerusalem in the seventh century C.E. Although Armenian remains were found in this area in the past (the most famous of them being the beautiful Bird Mosaic found nearby at the end of the 19th century), we can now speak more confidently of an Armenian neighborhood north of Jerusalem’s city walls in the seventh century C.E.

Naturally, apart from the inherent historical and archaeological value of this excavation, the discoveries caused a great deal of excitement within the Armenian community in Jerusalem. The Armenian Patriarch made several visits to the site and the excavators saw a continual flow of Armenian visitors and pilgrims.

This interest was expressed not only on the emotional level, but also through the practical involvement of Armenian community representatives in the decision-making process regarding the site’s eventual fate. There were two conflicting demands- to cover the site and build a highway, on the one hand, and to preserve the remains in situ due to their archaeological, historical and religious importance, on the other. A compromise was reached in which the road was built partially over a bridge, thus preserving the Armenian monastery remains underneath. The restoration and development of this section should be completed by 1997.

Surprisingly, the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem in 638 C.E. is not reflected in the archaeological record north of the Damascus Gate. The Christian presence in Jerusalem continued here without interruption or significant change well into the early Islamic period.

Farms encircled Jerusalem in the Middle Bronze Age (2200–1550 B.C.E.) and in the First Temple period (1000–586 B.C.E.), and they became especially widespread during the Roman and Byzantine periods (first-seventh centuries C.E.).(6) Much of this we are learning from recent excavations. This is consistent with archaeology’s new emphasis not on kings and politics, but on how people lived and how society was structured.

More than 25 large archaeological excavations have been conducted in the outskirts of modern Jerusalem in the past six years, providing new data on small villages, farms and agricultural installations that provided grain, oil and wine to urban Jerusalem. This agricultural network, which was an essential part of the city economy, extended from the outer limits of the urban area of Jerusalem far to the north, west and south, exploiting every piece of arable land and creating new fields by extensive terracing of the mountain slopes.

One of the best examples of this agricultural network was discovered through a combination of intensive archaeological field survey and a rescue excavation in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, where, in north Jerusalem, a new 8,000-unit apartment complex was being built. Excavations here revealed remains of farms and small villages from the Middle Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Roman period, the Byzantine through Early Islamic periods and the Medieval period.(7) The remains from the Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age consist mainly of single dwellings, sometimes organized in clusters, with private agricultural installations in their vicinity. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, large farms with industrial installations predominated. Three of these ancient farms have been preserved as archaeological parks within the neighborhood, thus changing original development plans.

Like other ancient cities, Jerusalem was encircled by a vast necropolis, containing hundreds of family burial caves quarried into the soft limestone. Starting with Felicien de Saulcy’s excavations at the Tombs of the Kings (north of Jerusalem’s Old City) about 130 years ago, exploring Jerusalem’s ancient sepulchers has been one of the most successful of all archaeological endeavors.

Accidental discovery of ancient burial caves is common during development projects in modern Jerusalem. The tomb of Caiaphas and the mass grave in the Mamilla neighborhood demonstrate that even after more than a century of intensive research, with thousands of burial caves explored, there are still fascinating discoveries to be made.(d)

The most extensively explored zone of ancient Jerusalem is the area stretching south of the Temple Mount, including the spur known as the City of David. Since the second half of the 19th century, archaeologists have been working almost constantly in various sections of this area. The most thorough work was conducted in the last 30 years by expeditions headed by Kathleen Kenyon, Benjamin Mazar and Yigal Shiloh. However, after the archaeological work was completed, most of the sites were not developed properly for presentation to the public. In the past decade the whole area lay neglected and the archaeological remains began to deteriorate.

This sad state of affairs is changing thanks to a preservation project begun in 1994 and expected to continue for several years. The Israel Antiquities Authority has just begun to excavate, enlarge and preserve the major sites in the large area extending from the Temple Mount in the north to the Siloam Spring in the south; from the Kidron Valley in the east to the Cheesemakers (Tyropoeon) Valley and the Hinnom Valley in the west. The archaeological park will include the slopes of Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives. It will become the major archaeological park of Jerusalem. Here, the rich archaeological heritage of Jerusalem, from the Early Bronze Age to the Ottoman period, will be presented to the public in a comprehensive way.

The centerpiece of the planned archaeological park will be the city walls from the Middle Bronze Age (constructed c. 1800 B.C.E.) through the Second Temple period. These excavations, in the City of David, have now been completed, and the walls and other structures in the vicinity are being preserved and restored. Other plans call for preserving Jerusalem’s ancient water-supply system, including the Gihon Spring, Warren’s Shaft and Hezekiah’s Tunnel.(e) The 1,748-foot-long hewn tunnel, built by King Hezekiah in the eighth century B.C.E. to bring water from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool, inside the city walls, has been cleaned and reopened to the public.

The most monumental construction Jerusalem has ever known occurred during the reign of Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.E.) and is now being uncovered, in all its splendor, at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. A long section of street, paved with giant stones, adjoins the western wall of the Temple Mount. Hundreds of fallen building stones were found on this street, all part of the Temple Mount walls destroyed by the Romans after capturing the Temple on the ninth day of Av, in the year 70 C.E. These fallen stones are tangible evidence of centuries-old destruction. After the excavations and the preservation work are complete, visitors will be able to walk along a 300-foot section of this street.

South of the Temple Mount, the impressive remains of a square-shaped Umayyad (seventh-eighth century C.E.) palace were discovered in the 1970s. This was one of four large palaces built here by the city’s Moslem rulers. The palace’s halls, courtyard and installations are being restored and preserved.

Outside the Ottoman walls of the Old City, the monumental Herodian staircase leading to the Hulda Gates, and the First Temple period Ophel Gate, which led from the City of David and the Kidron Valley to the Ophel and the Temple Mount, will be preserved and incorporated within the park.

A new lookout point is under construction alongside the road near the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, giving a view of Jerusalem’s eastern border along the Kidron Valley and of the Mount of Olives, with its old Jewish cemetery and Christian churches in the Gethsemane area. In the valley, the monumental tombs of the late Second Temple period—Absalom’s Tomb, the Bene Hezir family tomb and Zechariah’s tomb—built for Jerusalem’s richest, most influential families, will be cleaned, and a network of pedestrian routes connecting the Kidron and Hinnom valleys is being planned.

In a multicultural city like Jerusalem, where every community has a share in its cultural heritage, developing archaeological sites for presentation to the public is not just a professional matter, but involves deep emotions- Every community wishes to highlight its own heritage by means of archaeological and architectural remains. The preservation of Jerusalem’s heritage requires the involvement of the city’s different ethnic communities in the design plans so that the preserved archaeological sites will reflect the city’s varied heritage and not just one community’s interests.

The ancient mystique of Jerusalem often conflicts with the needs of a modern, constantly expanding city. This friction adds a special facet to working as an archaeologist in Jerusalem, as we both preserve the city’s history and make it an integral part of the city’s future.

a. See Dan Bahat, “Jerusalem Down Under- Tunneling Along Herod’s Temple Mount Wall,” BAR 21-06.

b. See Hershel Shanks, “The Jerusalem Wall That Shouldn’t Be There,” BAR 13-03.

c. A burial trough is a rectangular, coffin-shaped burial place hewn in the rock inside a burial chamber.

d. See Zvi Greenhut, “Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family,” BAR 18-05; and Ronny Reich, “God Knows Their Names,” BAR 22-02. For a discussion of Jerusalem’s Second Temple period tombs, see Gideon Avni and Zvi Greenhut, “Akeldama—Resting Place of the Rich and Famous,” BAR 20-06 and Kathleen and Leen Ritmeyer, “Akeldama—Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” BAR 20-06.

e. See Dan Gill, “How They Met—Geology Solves Longstanding Mystery of Hezekiah’s Tunnelers,” BAR 20-04.

1. See Benjamin Mazar, “Excavations Near Temple Mount Reveal Splendors of Herodian Jerusalem,” BAR 06-04; Hershel Shanks, “Excavating in the Shadow of the Temple Mount,” BAR 12-06; and Meir Ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple- The Discovery of Ancient Jerusalem, trans. Ina Friedman (New York- Harper & Row, 1982).

2. See the following BAR articles- Nahman Avigad, “How the Wealthy Lived in Herodian Jerusalem,” BAR 02-04; Avigad, “Jerusalem Flourishing—A Craft Center for Stone, Pottery and Glass,” BAR 09-06; Avigad, “Jerusalem in Flames—The Burnt House Captures a Moment in Time,” BAR 09-06; and Nitza Rosovsky, “A Thousand Years of History in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter,” BAR 18-03. See also Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem (Nashville- Thomas Nelson, 1983).

3. See Yigal Shiloh and Mendel Kaplan, “Digging in the City of David,” BAR 05-04; Shiloh, “Jerusalem’s Water Supply During Siege—The Rediscovery of Warren’s Shaft,” BAR 07-04; and Shanks, “The City of David After Five Years of Digging,” BAR 11-06. See also Shiloh, Excavations at the City of David I, 1978–1982, Qedem 19 (Jerusalem- Hebrew Univ., 1984).

4. See Rafa‘ Abu Raya and Lilly Gershoni, “Jerusalem, Street of the Chain,” Excavations and Surveys in Israel (ESI) 10 (1992), and Elena Kogan-Zehavi, “Jerusalem—The Gate of the Chain,” Hadashot Arkheologiot 104 (1995) (in Hebrew).

5. Vassilios Tzaferis et al., “Excavations at the Third Wall, North of Jerusalem Old City,” in Hillel Geva, ed., Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society, 1994), pp. 287–292; David Amit and Samuel Wolff, “An Armenian Monastery in the Morasha Neighborhood, Jerusalem,” Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, pp. 293–298.

6. Shimon Gibson and Gershon Edelstein, “Investigating Jerusalem’s Rural Landscape,” Levant 17 (1985).

7. See Yitzhak Meitlis, “Jerusalem, Wadi Zimra,” ESI 10 (1992); Rina Avner et al., “Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev (Deir Ghazala)” ESI 10 (1992); Jon Seligman, “Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev (East A),” ESI 12 (1994); Yonatan Nadelman, “Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev—H. Zimri,” ESI 12 (1994); Eli Shukrun and Alegre Savariego, “Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev—Villa Quarter,” ESI 12 (1994); Seligman, “Jerusalem, Kh. Ka’kul,” ESI 13 (1995).

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