Thursday, June 04, 2020

The date of Wilson's Arch

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Pinpointing the origins of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The headline of this press release is over-ambitious. The research was about pinpointing the date of architecture associated with Wilson's Arch. The Temple Mount itself had architecture on it long before this.
Integrating radiocarbon dating and microarchaeology techniques has enabled more precise dating of the ancient Wilson's Arch monument at Jerusalem's Temple Mount, according to a study published June 3, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Johanna Regev from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, and colleagues.


In this study, Regev and colleagues focused on pinpointing the specific construction dates for Wilson's Arch, an arch of "The Great Causeway", an ancient bridge linking Jerusalem's Temple Mount to the houses of Jerusalem's upper city, and which was excavated in 2015-2019 as part of a tourist development project. Wilson's Arch has been the subject of much scholarly debate, with construction dates suggested from the time of Herod the Great, Roman colonization, or even the early Islamic period in Jerusalem (a span of about 700 years).

To better understand the specific timing of Wilson's Arch (and the historical context in which it was constructed), Regev and colleagues used an integrative approach in the field during its excavation, conducting radiocarbon dating of 33 construction material samples directly at the site (generally charred organic matter, like seeds or sticks, present in mortar), as well as stratigraphic and microarchaeological analyses.

The authors were able to narrow the dates of construction for the initial Great Causeway bridge structure as having occurred between 20 BC and 20 AD, during the reign of Herod the Great or directly after his death. They also discovered a second stage of construction: between 30 AD and 60 AD, the bridge doubled in size as Wilson's Arch in its current form was finalized (during this period of direct Roman rule, there's evidence the Romans began or expanded on many building projects around Jerusalem, including an aqueduct supplying the Temple Mount with water).

You can read the full, open access, Plos One article at : Radiocarbon dating and microarchaeology untangle the history of Jerusalem's Temple Mount: A view from Wilson's Arch (Regev J, Uziel J, Lieberman T, Solomon A, Gadot Y, Ben-Ami D, et al.).

Radiocarbon dating is rarely applied in Classical and Post-Classical periods in the Eastern Mediterranean, as it is not considered precise enough to solve specific chronological questions, often causing the attribution of historic monuments to be based on circumstantial evidence. This research, applied in Jerusalem, presents a novel approach to solve this problem. Integrating fieldwork, stratigraphy, and microarchaeology analyses with intense radiocarbon dating of charred remains in building materials beneath Wilson's Arch, we absolutely dated monumental structures to very narrow windows of time–even to specific rulers. Wilson’s Arch was initiated by Herod the Great and enlarged during the Roman Procurators, such as Pontius Pilatus, in a range of 70 years, rather than 700 years, as previously discussed by scholars. The theater-like structure is dated to the days of Emperor Hadrian and left unfinished before 132–136 AD. Through this approach, it is possible to solve archaeological riddles in intensely urban environments in the historical periods.
For the discovery of the "theatre-like structure" in 2017, see here and here.

The Daily Mail has coverage of the story with some good photos: Ancient stone arch forming part of Jerusalem's 'great causeway bridge' to bring worshippers onto Temple Mount was built between 20 BC and 20 AD during the reign of King Herod, radiocarbon dating reveals (Luke Andrews).

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