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Excavations at the Temple Mount

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Archeological park 5

Excavations adjacent to Robinson's Arch


Robinson's Arch

Several excavations at the Temple Mount have taken place. The British Royal Engineers began excavation in the 1870s.[1] Since 1967, Israeli digs and maintenance work in the vicinity of the Mount have sparked demonstrations and criticism in the Muslim world,[2][3][4] while Israel and Jewish groups have highlighted the deliberate and unsupervised removal of significant amounts of earth containing archaeological artifacts from the site.


Due to the extreme political sensitivity of the site, few archaeological excavations have been conducted on the Temple Mount itself. Protests commonly occur whenever archaeologists conduct projects on or near the Mount. This sensitivity has not prevented the Muslim Waqf from destroying archeological evidence on a number of occasions.[5][6][7][8]

Aside from visual observation of surface features, most other archaeological knowledge of the site comes from the 19th century survey carried out by Charles Wilson and Charles Warren. Warren was one of the first to excavate this area, exemplifying a new era of Biblical archaeology in the 1870s.[1] In 1930, R.W. Hamilton, director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department, carried out the only archeological excavation ever undertaken at the Temple Mount's Aqsa Mosque by the British Mandate, the excavations show a Byzantine mosaic floor underneath the mosque that was likely the remains of a church or a monastery.[9]

Post 1967

In 1967 the Religious Affairs Ministry began an unlicensed excavation. Starting at the western wall plaza, workers dug northward, under the Old City's Muslim Quarter.[10]

In 1968–69, Israeli archeologists carried out excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, immediately south of the al-Aqsa Mosque and opened two ancient Second Temple period tunnels there that penetrate beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque in the area of the Hulda and Single gates, penetrating five meters into one and 30 meters into another. "At the Temple Mount's south wall digging took place to uncover the Arabic Umayyad palaces and Crusader remains."[11]

In 1970, Israeli authorities commenced intensive excavations directly beneath the mosque on the southern and western sides. Over the period 1970–1988, the Israeli authorities excavated a tunnel passing immediately to the west of the Temple Mount, northwards from the Western Wall, that became known as the Western Wall Tunnel. They sometimes used mechanical excavators under the supervision of archeologists. Palestinians claim that both of these have caused cracks and structural weakening of the buildings in the Muslim Quarter of the city above. Israelis confirmed this danger:

"The Moslem authorities were concerned about the ministry tunnel along the Temple Mount wall, and not without cause. Two incidents during the Mazar dig along the southern wall had sounded alarm bells. Technion engineers had already measured a slight movement in part of the southern wall during the excavations...There was no penetration of the Mount itself or danger to holy places, but midway in the tunnel's progress large cracks appeared in one of the residential buildings in the Moslem Quarter, 12 meters above the excavation. The dig was halted until steel buttresses secured the building."[12]

In 1977, digging continued and a large ancient tunnel was opened below the women's prayer area. A further tunnel was unearthed under the mosque, going from east to west, in 1979. In addition, in March 1984 the Archaeological Department of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs dug a tunnel near the western portion of the mosque, endangering the Islamic "Majlis" or council building.[2][13] In 1981, Yehuda Meir Getz, rabbi of the Western Wall, had workmen open the ancient Warren's Gate, accessing the innards of the Temple Mount itself from the Western Wall Tunnel. Arabs on the Mount heard excavation noises from one of the more than two dozen cisterns on the Mount. Israeli Government officials, upon being notified of the unauthorized tunneling, immediately ordered the Warren's Gate resealed. The 2000-year-old stone gate was filled with cement, and remains cement-shut today.[12] In 1996, Israel opened up an exit to the tunnel, which led to riots.

Archeologist Leon Pressouyre, a UNESCO envoy who visited the site in 1998 and claims to have been prevented from meeting Israeli officials (in his own words, "Mr Avi Shoket, Israel's permanent delegate to UNESCO, had repeatedly opposed my mission and, when I expressed the wish to meet with his successor, Uri Gabay, I was denied an appointment",[14] accuses the Israeli government of culpably neglecting to protect the Islamic period buildings uncovered in Israeli excavations. More recently, Prof. Oleg Grabar of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton has replaced Leon Pressouyre as the UNESCO envoy to investigate the Israeli allegations that antiquities are being destroyed by the Waqf on the Temple Mount.[15] Initially, Grabar was denied access to the buildings by Israel for over a year, allegedly due to the threat of violence resulting from the al-Aqsa Intifada. His eventual conclusion was that the monuments are deteriorating largely because of conflicts over who is responsible for them, the Jordanian government, the local Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government.


Western Wall Tunnel (1996)

Western Wall Tunnel by David Shankbone

Concrete supports in the tunnel.

After the Six Day War, the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Israel began the excavations aimed at exposing the continuation of the Western Wall. The excavations lasted almost twenty years and revealed many previously unknown facts about the history and geography of the Temple Mount.

The tunnel exposes a total length of 500m of the wall, revealing the methods of construction and the various activities in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. The excavations included many archaeological finds along the way, including discoveries from the Herodian period (streets, monumental masonry), sections of a reconstruction of the Western Wall dating to the Umayyad period, and various structures dating to the Ayyubid, Mamluke and Hasmonean periods constructed to support buildings in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Warren's Gate lies about 150 feet into the tunnel.

At the northern portion of the Western Wall, remains of a water channel, which originally supplied water to the Temple Mount, were found. The exact source of the channel is unknown, though it passes through an underground pool known as the Strouthion Pool. The water channel was dated to the Hasmonean period and was accordingly dubbed the Hasmonean Channel.

The biggest stone in the Western Wall often called the Western Stone is also revealed within the tunnel and ranks as one of the heaviest objects ever lifted by human beings without powered machinery. The stone has a length of 13.6 meters and an estimated width of between 3.5 and 4.5 meters; estimates place its weight at 570 tons.

In 1996, former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opened the Western Wall Tunnel near the site, it sparked riots in which around 80 people were killed.[16][17]

Construction of el-Marwani Mosque (1996-1999)

File:Temple mount works.jpg

In 1996 the Waqf began construction in the structures known since Crusader times as Solomon's Stables, and in the Eastern Hulda Gate passageway, allowed the area to be (re)opened as a mosque called the Marwani Musalla capable of accommodating 7,000 individuals. Many Israelis regard this as a radical change of the status quo under which the site had been administered since the Six-Day War which should not have been undertaken without consulting the Israeli government. Palestinians regard these objections as irrelevant. In 1997, the Western Hulda Gate passageway was converted into another mosque. In November 1999, a buried Crusader-era door was reopened as an emergency exit for the Mosque located within the Solomon's Stables area, opening an excavation claimed by Israel to be 18,000 square feet (1,700 m2) in size and up to 36 feet (11 m) deep. The project, which was done without attention to the possibility of disturbing historically significant archaeological material, entailed the use of heavy earthmoving equipment to fill 300 dump trucks with topsoil, stone and ancient artifacts jumbled without regard to their preservation.[18]

According to The New York Times, an emergency exit had been urged upon the Waqf by the Israeli police, and its necessity was acknowledged by the Israel Antiquities Authority.[19]

Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation

The Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation is an archaeological project established in 2005 and dedicated to recovering archaeological artifacts from the 300 truckloads of topsoil removed from the Temple Mount by the Waqf during the construction of the underground el-Marwani Mosque from 1996-1999.[20]


In autumn 2002, a bulge of about 700 mm was reported in the southern retaining wall part of the Temple Mount. It was feared that part of the wall might seriously deteriorate or even collapse. The Waqf would not permit detailed Israeli inspection but came to an agreement with Israel that led to a team of Jordanian engineers inspecting the wall in October. They recommended repair work that involved replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area which covers 2,000 square feet (200 m2) and is located 25 feet (8 m) from the top of the wall.[21] Repairs were completed before January 2004. The restoration of 250 square meters of wall cost 100,000 Jordanian dinars ($140,000).[22]

On February 11, 2004, the eastern wall of the Temple Mount was damaged by an earthquake. The damage threatens to topple sections of the wall into the area known as Solomon's Stables.[23]

On February 16, 2004, a few days after the earthquake, a portion of a stone retaining wall, supporting the ramp that leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Gate of the Moors on the Temple Mount, collapsed.[24]

Mughrabi Gate ramp reconstruction (February 2007)

In February 2007, Israel began digging outside the Mughrabi Gate (the Moroccan Gate) claiming that it was repairing an old ramp – which had collapsed in 2005[25] – leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque.[26] Muslim officials contended that the digging was part of Israeli designs against the mosque.[2] The excavations provoked anger throughout the Islamic world, and Israel was accused of trying to destroy the foundation of the mosque. Ismail Haniya — then Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas leader—[27] called on Palestinians to unite to protest the excavations, while Fatah said they would end their ceasefire with Israel.[28] Malaysia condemned Israel for the excavation works around and beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque and for willfully destroying religious, cultural and heritage sites in Al-Quds. Malaysia has condemned this as an act of destruction and aggression.[29] King Abdullah condemned the Israeli actions against worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. He stressed that Jordan will save no efforts to encourage Arab, Islamic World, and international leaders to halt Israel's excvation work in the area.[30] The secretary-general of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, expressed his anguish and dismay at the world’s silence on Israel’s "blatant moves to Judaize Jerusalem and change the holy city’s historic character." He stated: "the excavation work being carried out by Israel constituted the gravest threat ever to one of Islam’s three holiest mosques"[31]

Israel denied all charges against them, calling them "ludicrous".[32] As a result of the furore, Israeli authorities have installed cameras to film excavation work being carried out near the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The footage will be broadcast live on the internet, in an attempt to ease widespread anger in the Muslim world. Israel says the work is needed to repair a walkway up to the compound.[33] On March 20, 2007 the Turkish Government sent a technical team to inspect and report on the excavations to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.[34][35]

Electricity cable replacement (July 2007)

In July 2007 the Muslim religious trust which administers the Mount began digging a 400-metre-long, 1.5-metre-deep trench[36] from the northern side of the Temple Mount compound to the Dome of the Rock[37] in order to replace 40-year-old[38] electric cables in the area. The dig, carried out by the Jerusalem Electricity Company, was approved by the Israeli police, but the Israel Antiquities Authority declined to comment whether it had approved the excavations. Israeli archaeologists accused the wakf of a deliberate act of cultural vandalism. The Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount criticized the use of a tractor for excavation at the Temple Mount "without real, professional and careful archaeological supervision involving meticulous documentation". Archaeologist Eilat Mazar said: “There is disappointment at the turning of a blind eye and the ongoing contempt for the tremendous archaeological importance of the Temple Mount...”[37] “...Using heavy machinery and with little documentation, can damage ancient relics and erase evidence of the presence of the biblical structures. Any excavation, even if for technical reasons, must be documented, photographed and the dirt sifted for any remains of relics.”[39] Dr Gavriel Barkai slammed the way the excavations were being carried out stating that “They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer”.[40] He maintains that “some man-worked stones have been found in the well as remnants of a wall that, according to all our estimations, are from a structure in one of the outer courtyards in the Holy Temple.”[36] Archaeologist Zachi Zweig said a tractor used to dig the trench damaged the foundation of a 7-yard-wide wall "that might have been a remnant of the Second Temple."[38]

Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein rejected the Israeli charges. "We don't harm the antiquities, we are the ones who are taking care of the antiquities, unlike others who destroy them.”[38] Yusuf Natsheh of the Islamic Waqf dismissed the claims, saying “the area has been dug many times” and argued that “remains unearthed would be from the 16th or 17th century Ottoman period”. He said that the work was urgently needed to maintain the al-Aqsa compound as an important religious institution. “We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends, but their rules of archaeology do not apply to the Haram; it is a living religious site in an occupied land.”[40]

In September 2007, the Orthodox Union condemned Waqf Excavations on the Temple Mount.[41] The Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman said work on the Temple Mount must stop immediately. "We are especially concerned because there is a history of Muslim religious leaders treating Israeli religious and cultural artifacts on the Temple Mount, not to mention the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, with contempt”.[42]


  • In 2007, artifacts dating to the eighth to sixth centuries BCE were described as being possibly the first physical evidence of human activity at the Temple Mount during the First Temple period. The findings included animal bones; ceramic bowl rims, bases, and body sherds; the base of a juglet used to pour oil; the handle of a small juglet; and the rim of a storage jar.[43][44]
  • By 2006, the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation had recovered numerous artifacts dating from the 8th to 7th centuries BCE from dirt removed in 1999 by the Islamic Religious Trust (Waqf) from the Solomon's Stables area of the Temple Mount. These include stone weights for weighing silver and a First Temple period bulla, or seal impression, containing ancient Hebrew writing, which may have belonged to a well-known family of priests mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.[45]


  • ISESCO: In February 2004, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization condemned the excavations carried out by the Israeli occupying authorities under the Aqsa Mosque and which caused the collapse of the path leading to one of the main gates of this Mosque.[46]
  • Saudi Arabia: In August 2007, the Kingdom of the Saudi Arabia issued a statement condemning Israeli excavations around Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque which is considered to be the third holies place in Islam. Moreover, the kingdom called the international community to stop the dig. "Israel’s actions violate the mosque’s sacred nature and risk destroying its religious and Islamic features" the statement said.[47]
  • Syria: Syria, in November 2008 condemned Israel's excavations in east Jerusalem as a blatant violation of the international law and UN resolutions to change the city's nature and its demographic status.[48]
  • Iran: On February 14, 2008, an Iranian official in the UN strongly condemned "Zionist atrocities in occupied Palestinian lands, particularly the recent acts of profanity on the al-Aqsa Mosque in Al-Qods' old city".[49]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 The History of Excavations in the Ophel and in the Areas South and Southwest of the Temple Mount
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Amayreh, Khaled. Catalogue of provocations: Israel's encroachments upon the Al-Aqsa Mosque have not been sporadic, but, rather, a systematic endeavor Al-Ahram Weekly. February 2007.
  3. The end of days, Gershom Gorenberg Page 125
  4. Majadele: Jerusalem mayor knew Mugrabi dig was illegal, Haaretz, 2007
  5. See "The Washington Post, Opinion Columns, July 17, 2000 Protect the Temple Mount by Hershel Shanks
  6. Policeman Assaulted Trying to Stop Illegal Temple Mount Dig - Jewish World - Israel News - Arutz Sheva
  7. Jerusalem's Temple Mount Flap
  8. Waqf Temple Mount excavation raises archaeologists' protests - Haaretz - Israel News
  9. LEFKOVITS,ETGAR. Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church? The Jerusalem Post. November 2008.
  10. The end of days, Gershom Gorenberg
  11. Jacqueline Schaalje, Special: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Abraham Rabinovich, Tunnel vision.
  13. Dan Izenberg, Jerusalem Post, July 19, 1991
  14. Omayma Abdel-Latif, Revoking the death warrant
  15. The UNESCO fiasco
  16. Violent clashes at key Jerusalem mosque on 'day of anger', timesonline, accessdate=5 May 2009
  17. Mayor halts Temple Mount dig, BBC, accessdate = 5 May 2009
  18. Temple Mount destruction stirred archaeologist to action, February 8, 2005 | by Michael McCormack, Baptist Press [1]
  19. Romey, Kristin M. Jerusalem's Temple Mount Flap, Archaeology, Volume 53 Number 2, March/April 2000
  20. Temple Mount relics saved from garbage, Etgar Lefkovits, THE JERUSALEM POST, April 14, 2005 [2]
  21. Esther Hecht, Battle of the Bulge
  22. Jeruslam Post
  23. Jerusalem Post
  24. On-the-Spot Report from the Kotel Women´s Section Construction
  25. The Mughrabi Gate Crisis - Background and Analysis
  26. Lis, Jonathan (2007-12-02). "Majadele: Jerusalem mayor knew Mugrabi dig was illegal". Haaretz (Haaretz). Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  27. "Profile: Hamas PM Ismail Haniya". BBC News (BBC MMVIII). 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  28. Rabinovich, Abraham (2007-02-08). "Palestinians unite to fight Temple Mount dig". The Australian.,20867,21189993-2703,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  29. Press Statement by the Honourable Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia, 9 February 2007
  32. Friedman, Matti (2007-10-14). "Israel to resume dig near Temple Mount". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 Fendel, Hillel (September 9, 2007). "Silence in the Face of Continued Temple Mount Destruction". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 Rapoport, Meron (July 7, 2007). "Waqf Temple Mount excavation raises archaeologists' protests". Haaretz. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Teible, Amy (August 31, 2007). "Jerusalem Holy Site Dig Questioned". The Guardian.,,-6887208,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  39. El Deeb, Sarah (August 29, 2007). "Dig at Jerusalem Site Brings Ire". The Guardian.,,-6884099,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 Asser, Martin (August 28, 2007). "Israeli anger over holy site work". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  41. [3]
  42. [4]
  43. "Temple Mount First Temple Period Discoveries". Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Retrieved 2009-10-05. 
  44. Milstein, Mati. Solomon's Temple Artifacts Found by Muslim Workers, National Geographic, October 23, 2007
  45. Shragai, Nadav. Temple Mount dirt uncovers First Temple artifacts, Haaretz, October 19, 2006

External links

Electricity cable replacement (July 2007)

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