In June 2014, a salvage excavation was conducted in the Archaeological Park Museum beneath the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem (Permit No. B-418/2014; map ref. 22191–3/63167–8; Figs. 1, 2), prior to renovations. The excavation, on behalf of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology (GPIA) and financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Support Association of the GPIA, was directed by Dieter Vieweger, the GPIA Director, with the assistance of K. Soennecken and M. Serr. Additional assistance was provided by J. Stracke, B. Kribus (ceramics), D. Schwengler (structural engineer) and T. Mushasha, G. Bongartz and A. Weichbrodt (mosaic conservation).
The excavation was conducted within the southern room of the museum, near the southeastern corner of the church (Fig. 3), in order to lower the room’s floor, so as to comply with safety requirements of the Jerusalem Municipality. No changes were made to the structure’s plan. The excavation yielded soil fills with mixed finds and identified scant building remains.
The Archaeological Park Museum beneath the Church of the Redeemer is located in a medieval cloister in the Muristan. The area of the Muristan flourished in medieval times, especially under Crusader rule (1099–1187), when an impressive quarter for Christian pilgrims was erected comprising several churches, monasteries and hospices. Today’s Redeemer Church was built exactly where the St. Maria Latina Church was erected in 1149 CE. Adjacent to the church was a Benedictine monastery and a hospice for men. The cloister in which the museum is located was connected to the medieval St. Maria Latina Church. The rooms of the museum used to be cells where the monks of the Benedictine monastery lived. Prior to erecting the Church of the Redeemer in the nineteenth century (1893–1898), the area was “excavated”, these rooms were unearthed and used as storerooms.
Hardly any archaeological research has been conducted on the Muristan in the Crusader period; it is thus impossible to evaluate medieval written sources concerning this area. Due to the densely built-up area in the Old City, it is difficult to find space for excavations. Therefore, the church’s Archaeological Park Museum presents a unique opportunity to excavate in an undisturbed environment.
The excavation continues the GPIA’s previous excavation under the Church of the Redeemer. Between 1970 and 1974, U. Wagner-Lux exposed several strata that illustrate the history of the city dating back to the first century BCE. In 2009–2012, the excavation site and the remains were developed into an underground archaeological park (“Through the Ages”).
The excavated area (2.0 × 2.3 m) in the southern room of the museum was set at a distance of 0.5 m from the eastern and western wall, 1.2 m from the southern wall and 1.3 m from the northern wall, where the entrance is located. The excavation area was divided into two squares: northern and southern (Fig. 4). Several layers of soil fill (each 0.1 m thick; Fig. 5) were removed down to a depth of 1.1 m below the room’s floor; all the soil was sieved. Remains of stone structures were discovered in the northwestern part of the northern square at a depth of 0.64 m and in the southeastern part of the southern square at a depth of 0.74 m.
A probe (0.65 × 2.80 m, depth 1.6 m) dug in the northern part of the northern square exposed natural, virgin soil at a depth of c. 1.4 m. An engineering analysis indicated that it was safe to excavate the area further, except for two strips, along the western and southern walls (width 0.5 and 0.75 m, respectively). Nevertheless, the probe was refilled until it was only 1.1 m deep, and the site was prepared for visitors as part of the museum.
The soil fills were all of a similar texture: brown and gray in color, soft, sandy and full of stones (diam. 6–20 cm). Nearly all fills were contaminated with modern material (e.g. rubber, leather, and modern glass). The sieving yielded numerous small animal bones, along with a mixed assemblage of pottery sherds and tesserae dating from the Iron Age IIC, the Herodian period (first century BCE; Fig. 6)—comprising the balk of finds—the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, the Middle/Late Islamic period (Fig. 7) and up to modern times (Kribus 2014
). Fragments of limestone vessels typical of the late first century BCE – first century CE were also found (Fig. 8). Metal finds were rare and mostly modern; they included a bronze buckle (Fig. 9) and three bronze coins. A section of medieval opus scutulatum
with engraved marble that was unearthed in the 1970s was cleaned and conserved (Fig. 10).
Despite the constant use of the site in the late antiquity and the medieval times, most finds date to earlier periods. This fact along with the mixed small finds, the nearly homogeneous texture of the soil and the contamination with modern material throughout the layers, all lead to the conclusion that all the strata are modern fill. This is indicative of the constant use and construction work that occurred in this area over the centuries. It was also verified through the profile of the deep cut.