Our 2017 Mt Zion Excavation in Jerusalem: Let the Digging Begin!

The Knight’s Palace in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was abuzz with activity this past weekend as 64 of our participants flew in from all over the world–filling the hotel to near capacity. The 2017 Mt Zion archaeological excavation season is officially underway! We are digging in two-week sessions, separated by an interim week of touring and lectures–five weeks total. All of our diggers stay at least two weeks, most take in the interim weeks, and some stay for the entire five week season. All together we are welcoming 119 participants from the USA and a dozen other countries, as far away as New Zealand and the Philippines. Included in this group are 18 UNC Charlotte undergraduate students, enrolled in our Study Abroad program, who get academic credit for their work. I direct that program, joined this year by Prof. Robert McEachnie, professor of the ancient world in our History department at UNC Charlotte. We also have 16 staff, including our Director Dr. Shimon Gibson, professor of Archaeology in the History Department at UNC Charlotte and Dr. Rafi Lewis, of Haifa University, who serves as Field Director.

Opening site orientation by Dr. Gibson on the first day of the Dig

The Mount Zion dig is very much the talk of the town. We are the largest and most visible excavation in Jerusalem this summer and UNC Charlotte is the only non-Israeli university conducting excavations here. Our site is located in a precious strip of “no-man’s land,” just outside Zion Gate, on the south side of the city, occupied by neither Jordan nor Israel in 1948, with the so-called “Green Line” running on either side of our area. Two thousand years ago, in Jerusalem in Herodian Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, we were well inside the center of the city.

From what we can tell it was a wealthy residential area, most likely occupied by the priestly families of pre-Roman destruction Jerusalem. However, the site slopes down from west to east, preserving all levels of habitation in ancient Jerusalem, including Ottoman, Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, Early and Late Roman, and Iron Age. There is simply no site like this one in all of Jerusalem. What further distinguishes our site are the well-preserved 1st century ruins of the Herodian Period, including rooms with ceilings and even a second floor. In the Jewish Quarter excavations the only levels preserved were basements and first floors, but no ceilings. This season we plan to significantly advance things as we investigate several untouched rooms and chambers of that period. Each level and area has its own fascination.

Over the past ten years we have had some truly spectacular finds, including a uniquely inscribed 1st century stone cup, a luxurious bathtub, and a rare gold coin of Nero. You can read more at these links: