Two Weeks Digging at Mt Zion

Last Thursday we finished our 2nd week of the Mt Zion excavation. It has been an amazing time. It is remarkable what one can accomplish with the proper organization and over 40 dedicated participants throwing heart and soul into a project. The site itself is surely one of the most significant in Jerusalem, both in terms of its central location and its well preserved material remains, as I explained in my post two weeks ago which you can read here. We have a chance to get down to the early Roman/2nd Temple period of Herodian Jerusalem–Jerusalem in the time of Jesus–with substantial remains of a residential area that will capture of snapshot of the last days of the city before the Roman destruction in 70 CE.

We were delighted to have a stream of distinguished visitors to our site from the archaeological community the past two weeks, among them Shalom Paul, Biblical Scholar from Hebrew University, Gerald Finkelstein of the Israel Antiquities Authority who excavated the New Gate in Jerusalem, Dan Bahat, who knows the site well from the 1970s and Hillel Geva who is publishing the results of the excavations in the nearby Jewish Quarter that has many parallels to our site–plus quite a few more. All seemed impressed with both our methods and our site. We are the only university that is running an archaeological field school at an excavation in Jerusalem.

We have been working in three main areas this season, each with its own objectives: Area 1) Extension of the eastern edge by the entrance gate where we found a mosaic floor with an archway that dates to the Byzantine period. Area 2) Removal of the ancient fill where we found our stone inscribed cup in 2009. This is just above the mikveh, cistern, and bread ovens that are part of the basement area of a substantial residence dating to the late 2nd Temple period–or the time of Jesus. Area 3) Removal of the modern fill in the deep pit area dug in the 1970s on the northwest of the site to allow us to excavate through the Ayyubid (12-13th century) and Byzantine layers down to the 2nd Temple period. Here is the top plan of the excavation with the three areas shaded in and labeled:


Overview of the site at the beginning of the dig

Here are some “before and after” shots of the progress we have made in each area the past two weeks with a few comments:

Area 1 with new area to be taken down marked by sandbags


Area 1: West side at end of week two


Area 1: East side at end of week two

Here our intention is to take this whole area down to the Byzantine level where we know there was a significant building with a mosaic floor and archway that we found in the center probe area in 2009. We were surprised to find this early Roman corner of a wall with a tabun or “oven” in the corner in the east end of the area and are still sorting out how it might fit into the main structure we are in the process of uncovering.

Area 2 at the beginning of the dig with walls and significant Byzantine period fill rich with early Roman remains. This is the area where the inscribed stone cup was found in 2009


Area 2 at the end of second week

This complex of Byzantine and Islamic walls is poised directed over the remains of 2nd Temple rooms including the mikveh, cistern, and ovens which we have now exposed. The cistern, about which I will write separately, is most exciting as it contains remains dating to the early Roman/Herodian period when the defenders of Jerusalem were surrounded by the Romans prior to the city’s destruction in 70 CE. It could very well be that we have our very own “Priestly Mansion” right on the slopes of Mt Zion, near the traditional house of Caiaphas.

Area 3 at beginning of excavation


Area 3: End of the second week with all modern layers removed

When this area was begun two weeks ago it was little more than a rough “hole” left from the 1970s. In plastic identity card dated to 1978 came out of the modern fill. After two weeks of hard work the archaeological areas have been exposed and the balk squared off. ┬áSeveral walls just above the 2nd Temple rooms with the ovens have now been exposed and can be excavated.

We have numerous important finds that have surfaced in all three areas and I will write more about them in a subsequent post as well as a full report on the contents of the cistern which we are still in the process of clearing out. An assortment of photos of our various activities and participants from the second week of the dig are posted on my Facebook page here.