In July–August 2019, an excavation was undertaken near the Schneller Compound in Meqor Barukh neighborhood in Jerusalem, on the grounds of the building that previously accommodated the Geological Survey of Israel (Permit No. A-8579; map ref. 220443/633061; Fig. 1), following the discovery of rock-cut installations at the site. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the D. Daniel Construction Company, was directed by S. Mizrahi, with the assistance of N. Nehama (administration), O. Rose (photogrammetry), S. Halevi (photogrammetric documentation and photography), A. Peretz (World War I artifacts) and C. Amit (studio photography).
The excavation area was stripped to bedrock, revealing rock-hewn installations (Fig. 2). In the northern part of the excavation grounds (Area A) was a rock-cut ovoid installation (L104), and north of it was a rock surface with hewn pits, probably used as a winepress; these were damaged in modern times. In the southern part the excavation grounds (Area B) was a rock-cut and plastered water cistern (L102). A nearby channel (L105) led to a natural depression (L103).
Tombs dating from the Roman period were documented in the compound during the Survey of Jerusalem (Kloner 2001:80*). Historical documents state that the Protestant orphanage that was built on the site in the nineteenth century was constructed in an area with rock-cut installations and water cisterns (Gordon 2008). In 2012, a salvage excavation was carried out at the site, revealing miqva’ot (ritual baths) and burial caves from the Second Temple period, pit graves from the Roman period and tombs from the Late Roman–Byzantine periods (Reem, Wiegmann and Arviv 2015). Another salvage excavation, carried out in 2013, unearthed a rock-cut cistern that resembles the one uncovered in the current excavation and with pottery from the Mamluk and Ayyubid periods (Tanami 2014).
Area A. A rectangular surface cut into bedrock was exposed (L100; 1.37 × 2.97 m; Fig. 3), apparently a treading floor of a winepress that had been disturbed in modern times, and above it an accumulation of brown soil. An ovoid depression (L104; 1.10 × 1.67 m, depth 0.67 m) cut into the rock south of Surface 100 may have been the winepress’s collecting vat. Most of the sediment in the installation was removed when the bedrock was initially exposed, leaving very little brown colluvial soil, which contained only one potsherd. A rounded niche north of Surface 100 (L106; diam. 0.32 m), possibly part of the winepress, contained brown sediment, and a smoothed limestone surface was found at its bottom. It is possible that below the niche was a space or another vat of the winepress. West of Surface 100 was a square pit (L108; 0.2 × 0.2 m; Fig. 4) that widened toward the top—perhaps another installation belonging to the winepress. Adjacent to Pit 108 on the west was a natural, irregularly shaped depression (L107) containing brown sediment with stones and three ancient potsherds (Fig. 4). Its excavation was halted when it became clear that it was indeed natural.
Two modern walls (W109—0.32 × 0.33 × 0.67 m; W110—0.32 × 0.38 × 0.89 m; Fig. 2: Section 1–1) above Niche 106 created a corner. They were built on bedrock of medium-sized fieldstones and faced with concrete (Fig. 5). These walls obviated the niche.
Area B. A bell-shaped cistern (L102; diam. 2.01–2.10 m, max. depth 1.95 m) in the center of a bedrock surface (L101; 5 × 6 m; Fig. 2: Section 2–2; Fig. 6) had a round opening (diam. 1.10 m, depth of opening 0.67 m). The water cistern was coated with two layers of plaster: the bottom layer consisted of a number of coatings of pinkish plaster with potsherds, while only a single thin coating consisting of white plaster without inclusions was preserved of the upper layer (Fig. 7). It is unclear whether the two layers of plaster represent repairs undertaken in a single period of the cistern’s use or belonged to two different periods of use. Having gone out of use, the cistern filled up with layers of colluvial soil and fieldstones of various sizes. No sherds or artifacts were recovered in the lower layers of soil in the cistern, but the upper layers revealed bayonets (Figs. 8; 9:1), a horseshoe (Fig. 9:2), a bullet casing (Figs. 9:3; 10), a hook (harpoon? Fig. 9:4) and a metal vessel, as well as fragments of glass vessels; these finds were likely discarded in the cistern at the end of World War I (Peretz, below). In addition, a piece of iron railroad track (Fig. 11; Peretz, below) had been discarded in the cistern.
A rock-cut channel (L105; length 1.39 m, width 0.1 m, depth 3 cm) east of the cistern directed overflow from it eastward, to a natural, irregularly shaped depression (L103; 0.91 × 1.24 m, depth 0.67 m).
Military Artifacts from World War I
Three military artifacts found in the excavation—two bayonets and a rifle bullet casing—may be attributed to the days of World War I. A strip of iron railroad track was also found, apparently also associated with World War I.
One of the bayonets (L102, B1111; length of blade 36 cm; Fig. 8) is a 98/05 German bayonet, one of the most common types used by the German army during World War I (Williamson 2003:220). The other bayonet (L102, B112; length of blade 29.5 cm; Fig. 9:1) is a German ersatz bayonet—a metal bayonet hastily manufactured during the war (Williamson 2003:225). The rifle bullet casing (L102, B1114; diam. 7.92 mm; Figs. 9:3; 10) was manufactured by Königliches Munitionsfabrik in Spandau, Germany, in July 1917 (White and Munhall 1963: Pl. 179, Item 1616). The rim of the cartridge case is warped, a sign that the bullet had been removed, possibly to use the gunpowder that was in the casing.
Even before World War I, with the occupation of Serbia in early 1916, a direct overland connection was created between Germany and the Ottoman Empire, and Germany became the Ottomans’ major supplier of military equipment. Historical evidence shows the presence of two Ottoman units at the Schneller Compound. One piece of evidence came from Moshe Peikovich, Yigal Alon’s older brother, who served as an infantry officer in the Ottoman army and was stationed at the Schneller Compound with his unit to guard the 75 mm cannons deployed there (Peikovich 1969). Aliza Gidoni, who lived in a house adjacent to the Schneller Compound, described an artillery shell that struck the Schneller Compound’s clock tower—further evidence of military presence in the area. The shelling of the clock tower may not have been coincidental. The Schneller Compound was on a hill with a controlling view of its surroundings, and the clock tower, being in a good position for observation or artillery range-finding, had probably become a target of the British army. Toward the end of the battles for Jerusalem, the Gidoni family was evicted from their home by the German military forces, who used it for their own needs (Gross 1993:193–194). Gidoni noted in her description that when the Ottoman soldiers retreated, they discarded weapons and equipment that were weighing them down. Soldiers who were stationed at the site or were passing through it could have thrown equipment into the cistern. In addition, Gidoni attested that a good number of Jewish deserters had either returned to their families in Jerusalem, living near her home, or sought asylum in the homes of Jews (Gross 1993:196–197). Some of these men may have discarded bayonets in the cistern.
The piece of railroad track (Fig. 11) is apparently associated with the narrow-gauge railroad (width 0.6 m) laid by the British between the Jerusalem and el-Bireh railroad stations in May–June 1918, which passed near the Schneller Compound (Great Britain Army 1918). Supplies and ammunition were transported by this railroad to British units holding the line a few kilometers north of Ramallah (Travis 2008:162). When the line was dismantled in late 1918, a part of the rail tracks may have been discarded in the cistern.
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Reem A., Wiegmann A. and Arviv K. 2015. From 70 to 1948: The Story of Two Monumental Burial Caves in Jerusalem. In A. Baruch and A. Faust eds. New Studies on Jerusalem 21. Ramat Gan. Pp. 257–291 (Hebrew).
Tanami D. 2014. Jerusalem, Schneller Compound. HA-ESI 126.
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