uncovering ancient Jerusalem

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!



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  5. T Johnson says:

    Harley, thank you for sharing this wonderful opportunity at the dig and sending us pictures and video. It is so exciting to be able to “be there with all of you”. I am looking forward to seeing more as time goes on. History in the making.

  6. MEP says:

    Speaking of appetite, craving for more on this dig, that’s exactly the impact of your daily updates on us. This website is like a LIVE COOKING SHOW, the guests enjoy the rhythm of every action, its sounds, and the aroma. We’ll keep watching and will patiently wait for the final dish! Thanks

  7. Georgina says:

    Thanks for such a great insight into this amazing project you are involved in Harley. I almost felt I was there!! I look forward to seeing you all very soon for the Feast. Keep up the good work, what an experience!!!

  8. Amedar says:

    Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this information. Today bloggers publish just about gossips and internet and this is actually annoying. A good blog with interesting content, that is what I need. Thanks for keeping this web-site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

    • Rachel Dattolo says:

      No newsletter at this moment, but you may subscribe to our RSS feed by clicking “Entries RSS” under the Admin subhead at the bottom of the site.

  9. SStewart says:

    Thanks Harley for the beautifully detailed article of a day at the dig. I’m so very excited to see the dig site and all of you very soon!

  10. Richard Moore says:

    Amazing stuff. Walking in the streets of the holy land, touching the block of rocks built by King Solomon, unearthing thousands of years of history…This is where Abraham, David and Jesus lived! We are really enjoying this website. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.


  11. Mary V says:

    This is like watching Armstrong Auditorium as it was being built. Just a little at a time, but so exciting. Thank you for a picture of a day in the life of the students on this amazing venture. The video gave us the “flavor” of what it is like to be in Jerusalem. Keep up the great work.

  12. mtntahr says:

    Nice colourful description Harley! It’s great to be able to share in the experiences with you and we don’t even have to deal with the heat 🙂

  13. Calvin Atkinson says:

    Thanks for your colorful perspective on part of the daily routine of a digger Mr. Breth! Nothing could be more interesting! Wow…shofar slung drummers…cooool..take care crew! We love ya!

  14. Kurt Simmons says:

    I enjoyed your narrative of the sights and sounds from the site. It’s almost like I was there, minus the dust of course!

  15. Elizabeth Walker says:

    Once again the updates are whetting our appetite for more on the dig site!! Seeing the footage of people singing and playing music on the streets really gives a glimpse of the atmosphere there. The footage reminded me so much of what my husband and I saw at the feast in South America and Mexico. Its amazing how much our five senses are awakened when traveling aboard. The fact that you are recording each experience will not only inspire people about the dig but allow everyone to take a journey with all of you. Please pass along a warm hello to everyone.

  16. Joy Toro says:

    Hi Everyone, great to hear that your all working hard and fast, keep up the good work, as we all go forward on our knees.
    Thank you Harley for this article and the pictures. Looking forward to seeing you all soon.

  17. Michael says:

    Very nice recant of a typical day’s activities. Looks like a very demanding work. No better place on earth to do it though than the future capital of all the nations.

  18. JDattolo says:

    Thanks for this article, Harley. It’s almost like being there. We are all excited to see what you uncover during the dig. Keep up the good work & special hi to RD & SP.

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