Overlooking Jerusalem at Tzurim Valley National Park, archaeologists and volunteers work on one of Jerusalem's most unusual excavations. They are sifting tons of dirt removed in 1999 by Islamic work crews who were remodeling an underground area of the Temple Mountknown as Solomon's Stablesto create the Marwani Mosque (CT, March 6, 2000, p. 27).
Some of the dirt went to Jerusalem's municipal dump, where it was mixed with the city's garbage. Some of it was discarded in the Kidron Valley. The remodeling was done without archaeological supervision. Bar Ilan University archaeology professor Gabriel Barkay called these events "an archaeological tragedy." The Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam and is known as Al Haram al Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. It is also the holiest site in Judaism.
Last November, Barkay trucked 70 loads of dirt up to the park on the slopes of Mount Scopus, where volunteers began sifting the rubble.
Bar Ilan is sponsoring the project, but funding has come from private donations, which have been barely enough to keep it going.
The sifting is done in the shadow of the Hebrew University. But aside from a few archaeology students employed as supervisors, the university is not involved. And aside from the provision of land by the National Parks Authority, the Israeli government has ignored the project.
"The [Israeli] Antiquities Authority would prefer the Temple Mount [to] evaporate entirely," Barkay told ct, "because they cannot fulfill their legal obligations to safeguard the archaeological remains there."
Excavating dirt totally removed from its context is anathema to archaeologists. Barkay compares it to an autopsy.
"Although we cannot resuscitate this material to tell us more about the Temple ...