In 2018–2019, the archaeological Temple Mount Sifting operation was at a limited scope, and on June 2019 was fully resumed at a new location (License Nos. G-12/2018, G-42/2019; map ref. 223137/632797). The authors initiated the project in late 2004 under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University and with the assistance of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. From 2005 to early in 2017, the sifting operation was funded and operated by the Ir David Foundation. Since June 2019, the sifting is conducted at the Miẓpe Ha-Masu’ot complex on Mount Scopus (map ref. 223484/632893) and financed by private donors through the Israel Archaeology Foundation. As of 2011, the research and publication of the finds have been carried out at the sifting project’s laboratory in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, with ongoing funding by the Israel Archaeology Foundation. The sifting project is directed by Z. Dvira and G. Barkay, assisted in 2018–2019 by Y. Farhi, O. Cohen-Klonymus, Y. Marcus, H. Shaham, A. Avraham, A. Greener and D. Gutreich (archaeological management of sifting process), D. Shani (drawing, research administration assistant, gaming pieces), I. Dashberg and H. Elboim (administration and finances), H. Cohen-Klonymus (research director, data processing, weights, stoneware and flint items), F. Snyder (opus sectile, glass bracelets, glass rings, beads, cross pendants), H. Richman (Iron Age and Persian pottery, modern weapons), P. Reuven (Hellenistic–Early Islamic pottery), I. Eisenstadt (preliminary pottery and bone sorting), H. Mienis (shells and mollusks), A. Greener (figurines), D. Gutreich (glass, Crusader pottery), N. Ahipaz (pre-Byzantine numismatics), R. Kool (medieval numismatics), A. Berman (Early and Late Islamic numismatics), B. Brandl (Egyptian glyptography), R. Buchnik (archaeozoology), Y. Marcus (stucco, fresco and plaster), S. Amurai-Stark and M. Hershkovitz (gems and metal rings), K. Shwartsman (pottery research assistant), T. Pace (keys), J. Damm (organic residue analysis), G. Ludvik (semi-precious stone beads), Y. Elkayam (semi-precious stones), R. Richman and Y. Luban (drawing), T. Rogovski and Z. Radovan (photography), M. Lavi (coin conservation and cleaning), O. Cohen (conservation of architectural features, metals, and coin cleaning), D. Lavita (material identification and geological consultation), S. Sapir and M. Swirsky (sorting and processing finds for statistical analysis), and J. Greene and D. Shani (public relations and online content).
The sifting project began in response to illegal construction and excavations on the Temple Mount (map ref. 222533–88/631503–92) in 1996–2001. These operations led to the removal of some 400 trucks-worth of soil and its deposition in the Qidron Valley (map ref. 222730–4/632220–341) and at other sites. The sifting project collected most of the soil from these sites and transported it to the Zurim Valley National Park, where it was stored for sifting.
The project was prompted by the fact that despite the Temple Mount’s central place in the history of Jerusalem and the region, no systematic excavations has even taken place in it. By sifting the soil that was removed from it, important information can be gleaned about the Temple Mount’s material culture through the ages. The operation is managed as a tourist and educational program.
To date, three preliminary reports have been published, offering reviews of the sifting project and brief discussions of selected finds (Barkay and Zweig 2005; Barkay and Zweig 2007; Barkay and Dvira 2012; Barkay and Dvira 2016). Additional preliminary reports of studies of various finds have also been published (Elkayam et al. 2015; Snyder, Barkay and Dvira 2016; Greener, Barkay and Dvira 2017; Snyder, Barkay and Dvira 2019). Notably, the number of finds produced by the sifting project is huge, due to which the ongoing task of sorting, identifying, dating, researching and publishing them will continue to carry on for a long time.
In 2018, a pilot project was launched to distribute the sifting to communities throughout the country. Two experiments were conducted at schools in Petaḥ Tiqwa and Teqoʻa. The soil was transported in giant bags to the schoolyards, where a mobile sifting facility and water pipes were installed. Altogether, 550 buckets of soil were sifted in the course of five days. However, the project was discontinued due to high running costs. In June 2019, sifting was resumed at the Miẓpe Ha-Masu’ot complex at Mount Scopus after a new sifting facility was established. It proceeds in the same format as that previously used at Zurim Valley.
In 2018–2019, the sifting produced finds similar to those found in previous years. They are described below.
(1) Pottery dating from the First Temple period to the present; very little of the pottery (less than 0.5 %) predates the Iron Age.
(2) Coins dating from the fourth century BCE—YHD coins—to the present.
(3) Numerous Byzantine-period tesserae.
(4) Fragments and tesserae of glass mosaics, some gilded, originating from the Dome of the Rock’s outer walls. They were installed at the beginning of the Early Islamic period and removed in the sixteenth century CE to be replaced with glazed wall tiles.
(5) Glazed wall tiles from renovations carried out on the Dome of the Rock’s outer walls since the seventeenth-century CE. Kiln debris from the wall-tile production was also found.
(6) Jewelry: glass rings, glass bracelets, metal rings and beads.
(7) Arrowheads, mostly of the Crusader period, and modern weapons and ammunition.
(8) Inlays of various materials and periods, including mother-of-pearl inlays that were incorporated in the Dome of the Rock’s wall mosaics.
(9) Weights dating from the First Temple period to the British Mandate.
(10) Multiple stoneware items, including many attributed to the late Second Temple period stoneware industry.
(11) Opus sectile floor-tile fragments from the Early Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic and Crusader periods.
(12) Iron Age figurine fragments.
(13) Nails, including bronze nails, Crusader horseshoe nails and Roman sandal nails (caliga nails).
(14) Bone-industry production debris.
(15) Glass vessel fragments.
To date, approximately three-quarters of the evacuated soil was sifted, and we estimate that five more years are needed to complete the sifting. This does not include, however, large mounds of dirt in the eastern part of the Temple Mount that have not yet been removed due to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling. The finds produced by sifting are numerous and diverse; for the past seven years, we have been working to process and publish them.
Barkay G. and Dvira Y.S. 2012. The Temple Mount Sifting Project: Third Preliminary Report. In E. Meiron ed. City of David, Studies of Ancient Jerusalem 13. Jerusalem. Pp. 74–76 (Hebrew).
Barkay G. and Dvira Z. 2016. Relics in the Rubble: The Temple Mount Sifting Project. BAR 42/6:44–55.
Barkay G. and Zweig Y. 2005. The Temple Mount Sifting Project: First Preliminary Report. In E. Baruch, Z. Greenhut and A. Faust eds. New Studies on Jerusalem: Proceedings of the Eleventh Conference. Ramat Gan. Pp. 213–237 (Hebrew).
Barkay G. and Zweig Y. 2007. New Data in the Sifting Project of Soil from the Temple Mount: Second Preliminary Report. In E. Meiron ed. City of David, Studies of Ancient Jerusalem 8. Jerusalem. Pp. 27–66 (Hebrew).
Elkayam Y., Amar Z., Barkay G. and Dvira Y. 2015. Semi-Precious Stones from the Temple Mount Sifting Project and their Significance. In E. Baruch and A. Faust eds. New Studies on Jerusalem: Proceedings of the Twenty-First Conference. Ramat Gan. Pp. 307–319 (Hebrew).
Greener A., Barkay G. and Dvira Y.S. 2017. Iron Age II Figurine Fragments from the Temple Mount Soil. In E. Baruch and A. Faust eds. New Studies on Jerusalem: Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Conference. Ramat Gan. Pp. 213–237 (Hebrew; English abstract).
Snyder F., Barkay G. and Dvira Y.S. 2016. Reconstruction of the Colored Floors of the Temple Courtyards of the Late Second Temple. In E. Meiron ed. City of David, Studies of Ancient Jerusalem 11. Jerusalem. Pp. 49–58 (Hebrew).
Snyder F., Barkay G. and Dvira Z. 2019. Reconstruction of Crusader Floors in the Dome of the Rock Based on Picturesque Palestine Illustrations and Finds from the Temple Mount Sifting Project. In D. Gurevich and A. Kidron eds. Exploring the Holy Land: 150 Years of the Palestine Exploration Fund. Sheffield. Pp. 81–98.