December 10th 2014
If you want to connect to ancient Jerusalem in a tangible manner while you’re visiting Israel, consider the Archaeological Experience in Emek Tzurim, also known as the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Located at the bottom of the Kidron Valley on the slopes of Mount Scopus near Hebrew University, this initiative allows visitors from around the world to dig through debris that contains ancient artifacts dating back to the First and Second Temple Periods.
In 1999, the Islamic Waqf, who retains authority over the Temple Mount as part of a special arrangement with the Israeli government, undertook renovations in Solomon’s Stables, a complex located under the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. A huge amount of debris created by the renovations was unceremoniously tossed into the Kidron Valley below, and the piles of debris are known to be rich with historical artifacts. To date, hundreds of thousands of significant items have been extracted from the debris.
Sifting Project participants receive a fascinating introduction to the history of the Temple Mount and to the project and then generally spend around two hours hand-sifting debris, looking for artifacts of historical significance. On average, 15 coins are found each day, and participants report that the thrill of holding a remnant that is thousands of years old can’t be beat. The chances of finding coins, pieces of mosaic, remnants of broken clay vessels, bones, glass, metal and more are quite high, and the work is real – not merely a tourist attraction. It’s an exciting activity for anyone who enjoys history, archeology, and getting down and dirty in rich, archeological debris.
A dozen or so work stations are set up under a tent and visitors can work in teams of two or more. The work is not terribly intense, but it does require being on your feet, bent over a screen searching for small items. If you’re into the antiquity discovery theme and are looking for something a little more intensive, consider the Dig for a Day program at Tel Maresha in the Beit Guvrin National Park. Dig for a Day includes tours of the caves where visitors can actually dig with shovels and pick axes.
The Archeological Experience in Emek Tzurim is co-managed by the City of David and the Hebrew University.