Dig Mount Zion: Summer 2013 and How You Can Participate

I could not count the number of people over the years who have told me that they have always dreamed of taking part in an archaeological dig, particularly one that would relate to the history of ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Well Jerusalem is that place and Summer of 2013 is the time.

We are most pleased to announce that we are resuming excavations at our Mt Zion site just outside Zion Gate and running east along the southern Old City wall. Dr. Shimon Gibson and I are co-directors of a three-year project to complete this excavation and UNC Charlotte is the sponsoring academic institution.  So far as I know we are the only American university digging in Jerusalem this summer and we invite you to join us, either as a participant or a supporter, or we hope both.1

Carefully clearing soil from a newly discovered mosaic floor

Since we have significant remains from Herodian, Byzantine, Crusader, and Islamic periods the site is a prime location to represent a kind of “journey through time” in terms of the history of the ancient city of Jerusalem. In the time Jesus our site was a wealthy priestly residential area precisely in the center of Herodian Jerusalem even though today it is just outside the 16th century wall built during the time of Suleiman the Great.

In late Roman times the city walls extended far south so that our dig site was pretty much “city center,” with a view of the Temple Mount from Mt Zion. The Cardo ran south right through our site and Herod’s theater was just to the east, bordering our site, yet to be uncovered.

The site is rich in material remains and situated close to a number of important places in the history of the city, namely the Praetorium where Jesus was tried before Pontius Pilate, and the House of Caiaphas and the other priestly families in the Upper  City of Jerusalem in the first century CE. In the Byzantine period, the area was situated at the southern end of the Cardo Maximus, which was a grand columned street and in its vicinity Justinian (mid 6th century) built the magnificant Nea Church. The Crusaders and the Ayyubids built their fortifications across the crest of the hill, and in the early 13th century, the local Sultan destroyed the gate-tower, which was located in the area of the excavation.

Dean Nancy Gutierrez looks over some of our finds from past Mt Zion excavations

In our previous seasons we have found ceramics, coins, and artifacts from all periods. Significant discoveries in past seasons include a unique priestly stone cup inscribed with ten lines of cryptic Hebrew text, a portion of the threshold the ancient gate leading into the city from early Islamic times, mosaic floors from various periods, a water system, dozens of the special murex shells used to make the priestly purple dye, a perfectly preserved mikveh or ritual pool from the 2nd Temple period as well as a “double oven” in the lower level of one of the priestly houses.

Close-up of the mysterious cryptic Hebrew script on the stone cup


Our 2013 season dates are June 16 through July 11th. We accept adult participants of all ages and one does not have to be a college student to become part of our team. We would prefer that our applicants agree to stay at least two weeks as we run the dig as a “field school,” providing training to those with little or no archaeological experience. Those interested should contact Mareike Grosser, Shimon’s Gibson’s assistant in Jerusalem at digmountzion@gmail.com. She can provide all the details and you can read more here.  Most participants are staying at the Ritz Hotel near the Albright and Mareike has information on our arranged rates. Dig costs are reasonable, and participants are responsible for their your own room and board and must have personal insurance.

Coming down into an arched room with a mosaic floor, the walls still intact

We have a Facebook group that anyone is welcome to join whether you are a participant this year or not. There you will find photos and updates on the excavation. We also have an informative Youtube video which you can watch here and our main web site that is rich with information and history of the dig is simply: digmountzion.com.

We are in the process of raising $350,000 to fund our operations over the next three years. You can read more about the dig and our funding campaign here and I invite your financial support at any level. Please direct any more general questions to me at jdtabor@uncc.edu.

I hope to see some of you join us this summer in Jerusalem. I know many who have asked me about this opportunity and when we would be digging again at Mount Zion.

  1. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson is a Fellow at the Albright Institute of Archaeology, director of archaeology at the University of the Holy Land, and an adjunct Professor at UNC Charlotte. Dr. Gibson has excavated dozens of sites in Israel and Palestine including the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, Tell el-Ful as well as Mt Zion. His latest book is The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence (HarperOne, 2009).

    James D. Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he has taught since 1989. He is a historian of ancient Judaism and earliest Christianity. He has excavated at Sepphoris, Suba, the Talpiot tombs, and Mt Zion. His most recent books are The Jesus Discovery, with co-author Simcha Jacobovici (Simon & Schuster 2012) on the Talpiot “Jesus” tombs, and Paul and Jesus: How the Apostles Transformed Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2012).