uncovering ancient Jerusalem
13.6 Reese goes down a shaft
13.6 Bucket line
13.6 Diggers smile
13.6 Brent and Omrit
13.6 Amir and Kyle
13.6 Dry sifting
13.6 Dig workers
13.5 Inside a cave
13.5 Morning on the dig site
13.5 Dig Site View North
13.5 Dig Site View Northeast
Dec Slide 12
Dec Slide 11
Dec Slide 9
Dec Slide 5
Dec Slide 4
Nov Slide 9
Slide 10.10
Slide 10.9
Slide 10.3
Slide 19
Slide 20

Sights & Sounds from the Site

Walk with my friends and me… Boots clap on the pavement as nearly 20 of us begin earnestly walking our daily, morning route here in Jerusalem. There’s a clamor of excited voices. Fresh sights, fresh sounds. The dark of the night is quickly being overtaken by the morning.

AC students and alumni in Jerusalem headed to the Ophel excavation.

The great moments of this walk come near the end – as we ascend to the Temple Mount area. On a clear day (which is rare) you can see the country of Jordan from the peak of the hill above me.

Over the months, I have become keenly aware that three religions are playing King of the Hill on these ancient mounts. Various Christian cemeteries dot the hill around me. Many Jewish edifices and synagogues stand in the Old City just ahead. A minaret rises from the Kidron Valley to my east, glowing with seemingly-out-of-place neon green bulbs. Ah, Jordan is not visible today – too much dust.

As I trek up one more slight hill and then begin descending on the other side, Al-Aqsa Mosque towers above the landscape – and then the Mount of Olives in the distance, seemingly over its shoulder. The sun is spreading a pale orange blanket on the sky, on a sheet of pink. There is the occasional honk of a car horn somewhere beyond the bend.

When I arrive at the site, I hear the drone of a mechanical arm rising over the excavation site. It’s lifting a couple giant bags of soil and rocks, liberating them from the burden weighing on them for thousands of years. I watch for a moment and absorb the scenery all around, breathe deeply. Enough. Set your bag down and let’s go. Shoes thump on the wooden walkways as we descend to our cubicles of stone and dirt.

From above, the site reminds me of a fair, with temporary tents set up all around. These elevated, netted shades provide us a haven from the sun. The minutes pass as I remove the gray dirt – more like dust in this spot – from a pit.

AC student Chris Eames reveals the past with his pick.

A little later, a convoy of tourists pass the stretch of fence besides our area. Hats, cameras, sunglasses – and most dressed in white, it seems. I continue digging, but overhear the din of sounds as they point and comment. On a few faces, glasses lower as they gaze through the fence. The line is soon gone. Then, the area supervisor walks beside our square, which is steadily lowering. His assistant is with him. They converse in Hebrew about the area beside me. I continue working, dumb to the insights, until he begins speaking to me in English.

Several meters away, a stone reverberates with a low hum as a dust-covered worker pounds a breach in a stone wall. Before long, a bell rings from above, as if children were being set loose for recess from the classroom. My area supervisor overlooks the dig site from a preserved tower, like a watchman. He calls “Hahf-seh-kah!” It’s break time. Workers from various heights and platforms scamper up, up.

We share conversation over some tea during the break inside a few ancient, open-air rooms of a Byzantine structure – almonds and cookies too.

Then it’s back to the dirt and rubble. We set out to remove the very Earth from beneath our feet. It’s a huge undertaking and it takes every back, every hand, the effort of all. From the echoing hollow of a room out of sight, I soon hear – in a New York accent – “Sha-shehr-eht!” Chain. It’s time for the bucket line.

The bell again. The second time bell means lunch. The gathering to the break area develops even quicker this time.

Another hour or two of getting closer to history… Before closing the “office,” we hear the  Muslim prayers and calls to prayer resound through the valley of Kidron to our east.  The sound booms as it’s voiced from the speakers at the crown of a minaret.

We’re eager for what will develop. I expect a lot more hopeful sights and sounds yet to come.

The Ophel Road is the southernmost boundary of our dig site. We exit along this road every day. It’s common to witness a clogging of the traffic – and when that happens you can expect the horns to sound in a major way.  For a few of the students, when they’re out of the gate, they’re off to the races. It’s a 25 minute walk, but only a 15 minute run – so why not?! “See ya!” It’s over, but we’ll be right back at it tomorrow.

Take a look before you go. One of us shot this video with our phone as we passed near the Dung Gate – a gate just a little farther to the west, leading directly north to the Western Wall. It’s a bar mitzvah!
 

 

Online Periodical Links to KDC

News of the Ophel excavation is beginning to spread! Over the weekend, we had a surge in traffic here at “The Key to David’s City,” thanks to a nice feature published in Popular Archaeology on Friday. The article summarizes Dr. Mazar’s findings from the first phase—most notably the 70-meter-long and 6-meter-high wall that was constructed during the reign of King Solomon—and quotes one statement Dr. Mazar made to KDC about the potential for discovering more royal structures during this phase.

Despite the controversial nature of digging near the Temple Mount, the periodical says, this excavation is “expected to reveal finds that will further illuminate the historicity of an ancient monumental city that continues to lie at the center of the world’s three largest religions.”

The article concludes by highlighting the contribution Herbert W. Armstrong College has made in support of Dr. Mazar’s excavations—here in Jerusalem and in Edmond, Oklahoma:

…Armstrong College will be publishing updates of dig activities and events at an online site, “The Key to David’s City,” soon after they occur, for public consumption. Over 20 representatives from the college are volunteering at the excavation site.

Some of the artifacts from previous excavations are now exhibited at the Armstrong College campus, including First Temple period artifacts such as the two Hebrew bullae of Gedaliah and Jehucal, individuals noted in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, and discovered during excavations at the site that has been suggested by Mazar to be the remains of the palace of King David.

First Three Days of “Digging”

First Three Days of “Digging”

When I and 15 other students from Herbert W. Armstrong College arrived at the dig site on August 22 for our first day, we didn’t traverse through a jungle dodging poison darts and sand pits, we weren’t handed whips or tan fedoras and we didn’t find any hidden treasure. Instead, we were handed hoes, brushes, gloves, buckets and bags, and we trekked down dusty steps to a barren layout of stone walls that protruded from the dirt beneath. Perhaps our experience doesn’t sound exciting like an Indiana Jones movie, but it was in fact more exciting!

We learned quickly that the first couple days of “digging” are comprised of prep work and clean up—no digging at all. The first day, many of the men constructed stairs and bridges to enable navigating through the site more efficiently. The girls used tourya (hoes) to scrape off the top surface of soil that was filled with dead grass, trash and loose rocks. It felt a lot like doing yard work—almost like raking.

It was ironic being told to clean an area when the whole section was just a bunch of dirt and rocks. Nevertheless, we cleaned! The “dirty” dirt (the top part we scraped off) was loaded into bags that were 1 square meter in size. We could literally taste what it was like to be an archaeologist as clouds of dust surrounded us as we filled the ba’alot (bags).

After lunch, a shipment of supplies including wood, buckets, gloves, etc. were delivered to the site. All the students helped carry the supplies from the road side to the site, and then continued to clean up the areas in which we would soon be digging. After day one, we were dusty, sweaty and eager to start unearthing history.

HWAC junior Chris Eames helps clean up by hauling a ba’alot out of the dig site.

The second day was filled with many of the same tasks as the first. We carried heavy objects such as tree branches and the ba’alot that were stuffed full of grass and other dead vegetation up staircases and walls about 100 meters until we reached an area away from the dig site, near the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Several of the men worked to erect a shade tarp over the area to block the sun. This not only provides extra shade for the workers, it also enables better lighting for the pictures that will be taken throughout the excavation. It was definitely hard work, but every time we’d look up to wipe our brows, we’d glimpse the Mount of Olives or some other distinctive Jerusalem landmark. That’s right, we’re digging in Jerusalem! we would remember.

Day three came on a Sunday—the first day of the work week in Jerusalem. We were pumped and ready to dig, but the prep work was not yet finished.  There was more cleaning to be done, but this time instead of using tourya we used broom brushes to make the different areas look level. It was finally starting to look like an actual excavation site instead of just a bunch of ancient ruins.

Alumna Sarah Patten cuts away unwanted grass and rocks.

As each area of the site was prepped and ready for digging, excavation photographer Ryan Friesen took pictures to record what the site looked like before the excavation started. By the afternoon, one area was finally ready for excavation, and alumnae Rachel Dattolo and Sarah Patten put on their gloves and began to dig.

It might just sound like a bunch of work, which it is—but it’s work with purpose. What makes it exciting is not only the location that is full of rich history, but simply the fact that it’s real! We are actually digging up tangible facts that verify biblical history. As we prepped the site, we were walking on and touching walls that were built nearly 2,500 years ago.

Learning the humble beginnings that every excavation site starts with only increased our anticipation for the results that would come from our hard work–and to see what lies just beneath the surface in the Holy City.

Where Is the Dig?

Where Is the Dig?

In this view of Jerusalem (looking west), we’ve pointed out the two excavation sites (King David’s Palace and the Ophel Excavation) and their geographical relation to the Temple Mount, for your convenience.

Expect Royal Structures to Surface

Expect Royal Structures to Surface

If Dr. Eilat Mazar’s record continues unchanged, the finds from the dig she’s currently starting will be famous one day. August 22, the Ophel Excavation began under her direction, just south of perhaps the most hotly contested area in the world—Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The Ophel dig is situated on a slope of ruins, just north of the Ophel Road and just south of the Temple Mount toward its far east corner.

This dig will cause some sparks of excitement and controversy. It will leave monuments of the ancient world, now under the burden of earth above, exposed to the eyes of passers-by for generations to come. Results like these don’t come about by accident. They take planning, early mornings, late nights.

Roughly two weeks ago, at a large table among a maze of offices in the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar conferenced with her staff in preparation for this dig. She expressed a good measure of sureness regarding the importance of this area.

Dr. Mazar is convinced that as the dirt and debris is removed, what’s left standing may be a surprise. About seven short years ago, Dr. Mazar’s crew was gifted an unusually early find—and a large one at that—when her team began digging and found not far below the surface, in the City of David, the “Large Stone Structure.” It was a royal construction with certain majesty that spoke for itself: this was a big deal. One can only wonder if the wind of advantage will blow her way again on this dig.

“[W]e can be surprised by the facts”, Mazar said.  “[W]e are in the very heart of the Ophel—very heart of the acropolis, and what we should expect is royal construction ….” That would not be anything new for Mazar. Her spade seems to be a magnet for royal constructions.

With an eager smile, she highlighted a few goals for the dig this phase. She has practical plans to dramatically improve the turn-around time for publishing finds from the Ophel and wants to be “as ready as possible for publication.”

The Ophel Excavation 2012 is going to be a direct continuation of what her team did in her first Ophel phase—near the water gate complex. “[W]e are in the very core of the Ophel—the most important part,” said Dr. Mazar. “The potential is fantastic.”

The Ophel has not been bursting with this much activity for some time.

As the sun crested over the Mount of Olives August 22, 16 students and alumni of Herbert W. Armstrong College ascended the Ophel, donning hats, work gloves and grins. If you should ask any one of their expectations, you would hear the same thing—they share the same excitement Dr. Mazar has for what lies underneath.

Workers scaled ancient Byzantine walls and rooms to raise huge, black shade covers to provide some relief from the burning sun. Others removed trees, weeds and other debris from the site. Thursday morning, once again, the Ophel was a hive of activity, as workers scurried about to create “base camp” for the Ophel Excavation–to begin in earnest Sunday.

This dig will likely keep about 50 workers busy throughout the Jerusalem summer and into the winter. It’s almost like the late 60s and 70s all over again, just south of the Temple Mount. For an entire decade in the late 60s and 70s, no less than 70 students from Ambassador College assisted Eilat Mazar’s grandfather, Benjamin Mazar, in the Temple Mount Excavations. They stand to this day the most extensive excavations in the history of Israel. As Ambassador College once operated as a workforce for Benjamin Mazar, Armstrong College now does the same for Eilat.