Temple Mount destruction stirred archaeologist to action (Baptist Press News)
Feb 8, 2005
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Gabriel Barkay's excitement over new discoveries at the Temple Mount -- the Jerusalem site that carries great significance to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths -- is tempered by the destructive events that led to them.
Barkay, professor of archaeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, visited to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for a Jan. 27 lecture sponsored by the seminary's Center for Archaeological Research.
"In November 1999, the Islamic authorities carried out a huge excavation of [the part of the Temple Mount known as Solomon's Stable]," Barkay said. "They built a modern entrance to the building instead of the existing entrance, and they dug a huge pit with the help of bulldozers and 300 [dump trucks] that removed the dirt from the earthen fills of this spot."
"Who knows how many inscriptions we lost in this way?" Barkay said. "Who knows how many decorated stones were defaced in this manner? The earth was saturated with ancient materials, and it was dumped in the Kidron Valley to the east of the Temple Mount."
Just two months ago, Barkay put his archaeological know-how into action; he got a license to excavate the dumping grounds in the Kidron Valley.
"We began a project of collecting the dirt from the dumping areas. We moved the piles of dirt to a well-protected area," he recounted. "We covered them with plastic sheets. Each pile was marked with the exact place of origin and exact depth we could estimate from which it came."
His team used sifting machines to separate stones from more delicate items. Then they began searching through the material by hand.
"This effort already yielded some scores of coins," he said. "We have coins from the 12th century, the 19th century, up to the first century B.C. We have some second-century B.C. Antonian coins. We have some Herodian coins."
Among the other things, the team found a Christian charm bearing the image of John the Baptist with an infant Jesus and the Jordan River in the background. They found an alabaster dish from the Persian Period and an ivory comb from the Second Temple period. Though much had already been lost, the substance of what they are finding is encouraging amid the delicate and unfortunate situation.
This destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount is a major archaeological scandal that should be getting more attention. The site is an important part of humanity's cultural heritage and the damage done to it is an affront to all archaeologists and historians.
UPDATE (11 February): David Nishimura at Cronaca comments: "I'm not happy about the damage done by the military occupation of Babylon, but the attention it has received is wholly disproportionate to what has been happening for far longer in Jerusalem."