Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Floor tiles from the courtyard of Herod's Temple?

TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT BLOG PRESS RELEASE: For the First Time, Archeologists Restore Flooring from Second Temple Courtyard in Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM, September 6th, 2016 — Archeologists from the Jerusalem-based Temple Mount Sifting Project are confident that they have successfully restored a unique architectural element of the Second Temple. Namely, a series of regally decorated floor tiles that adorned the porticos atop the Temple Mount, and which likely featured prominently in the courtyards of the Second Temple during the period that King Herod ruled (37 to 4 BCE) in Jerusalem.

“It enables us to get an idea of the Temple’s incredible splendor,” stated Dr. Gabriel Barkay, co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The restored tiles will be presented to the general public on September 8th, at the 17th Annual City of David Archaeological Conference. “This represents the first time that archeologists have been able to successfully restore an element from the Herodian Second Temple complex,” stated Zachi Dvira, co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.


Frankie Snyder, a member of the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s team of researchers and an expert in the study of ancient Herodian style flooring, succeeded in restoring the ornate tile patterns “using geometric principles, and through similarities found in tile design used by Herod at other sites,” said Snyder, who has an academic background in mathematics and Judaic Studies. “This type of flooring, called ‘opus sectile,’ Latin for ‘cut work,’ is very expensive and was considered to be far more prestigious than mosaic tiled floors.”

“So far, we have succeeded in restoring seven potential designs of the majestic flooring that decorated the buildings of the Temple Mount,” said Snyder, explaining that there were no opus sectile floors in Israel prior to the time of King Herod. “The tile segments were perfectly inlaid such that one could not even insert a sharp blade between them.”

To date, approximately 600 colored stone floor tile segments have been uncovered, with more than 100 of them definitively dated to the Herodian Second Temple period. This style of flooring is consistent with those found in Herod’s palaces at Masada, Herodian, and Jericho among others, as well as in majestic palaces and villas in Italy, also attributed to the time of Herod. The tile segments, mostly imported from Rome, Asia Minor, Tunisia and Egypt, were created from polished multicolored stones cut in a variety of geometric shapes. A key characteristic of the Herodian tiles is their size, which corresponds to the Roman foot, approximately 29.6 cm.


“Now, as a result of Frankie Snyder’s mathematical skills, we have succeeded in recreating the actual tile patterns. This represents the first time that we can see with our own eyes the splendor of the flooring that decorated the Second Temple and its annexes 2,000 years ago,” stated Dr. Gabriel Barkay, co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. “Referring to the Temple that Herod built, the Talmud says that ‘Whoever has not seen Herod’s building has not seen a beautiful building in his life’. Though we have not merited seeing the Temple in its glory, with the discovery and restoration of these unique floor tiles, we are now able to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Second Temple, even through this one distinctive characteristic.”

These tiles have come up before from time to time and I discussed them a bit in 2010 in the post Temple Mount denial and Terrible Ice. But the work on them now seems to be more advanced and potentially very important. As always with such things, the results still need to be fully published in a peer-review venue with a clear account of how the fragments were recovered and of the methodology used to reconstruct them. It's a truism that the architecture of the Jewish temples on the Temple Mount has virtually entirely been destroyed (although the Temple Platform does survive). Although reconstructing the tiles that decorated the Temple courtyard is not reconstructing the architecture, it would be at least moving in that direction. Exciting times.

Cross-file under Temple Mount Watch. And watch this space.

The press release includes the following photographs, with the indicated captions. Click on any image for a larger version.

Herodian Opus Collection

איור [UPDATE [7 September]: The woman in the photo is Frankie Snyder.)

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HT to Joseph Lauer for alerting me to the story when it was upcoming.

UPDATE (7 September): More here.