It’s only natural to see increasing evidence of Jerusalem’s glorious Jewish past being unearthed, quite literally, under modern Israeli sovereignty. The new archaeological finds are also very timely – as the Arab onslaught attempting to detach Jerusalem from its Jewish roots gains steam, the facts on the ground, or “under” the ground, show quite otherwise.
The most recent find is that of an enormous rock quarry from the period of the Second Temple practically under the modern-day neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The find directly links contemporary Israelis with their ancestors in Yerushalayim 2,000 years ago.
The practice in Israel is that before any major construction project, a “rescue” dig is carried out to find the archaeological treasures that might be hidden in the area. Many of Israel’s greatest historical treasures have been discovered in this manner.
In the latest case, a new highway – Route 20 – is being planned in northern Jerusalem. The road will lead from Golda Meir Boulevard northward to Atarot and environs. Its route crosses over yet another new roadway, the recently completed east-west Road 21 from Pisgat Ze’ev to Begin Blvd.
In preparation for Route 20, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists were called in – and their findings there were impressive, even if not terribly surprising. They found giant rocks hewn into large steps; pick axes and wedges used by the quarrymen; and a special hand-size key, curved with teeth. What was it doing there?
“We can only surmise that it might have fallen from the pocket of one of the quarrymen,” said Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
At the dig, about a quarter of an acre large, is a “spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings,” Zilberbod said. “What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying; some of them were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting before detachment.”
Some of the quarried stones are more than 2 meters long (about 7 feet). The archaeologists assume the giant stones were probably hewn for the sake of the construction of ancient Jerusalem’s magnificent public buildings.
The find is not surprising in that similar discoveries have been made before in the same general area. In 2007, the Antiquities Authority announced it had found (also in Ramat Shlomo) “the quarry” supplying the giant stones for the building of the Temple Mount. Little did the Antiquities Authority realize that just two years later, a similar quarry was found in what is now the Shmuel HaNavi area, between Ramat Eshkol and Meah She’arim.
With the most recent find it has become clear that the northern Jerusalem area is prime quarry land for construction. In fact, the northern neighborhoods are situated atop what we now know as Jerusalem’s Second Temple period “city of quarries.” The rock formation found there is particularly suitable for “harvesting.” In addition, the northern area is topographically higher than the Temple Mount area, facilitating the transport of the mammoth stones, presumably via oxen and wooden rollers.
Upon receiving news of the first find, Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute commented that it was both historically dramatic and spiritually exhilarating: “Precisely now when the Muslims are trying to erase all vestiges of the presence of our Holy Temple, and when even among our own leaders there is a trend toward giving it away…with this discovery, God is sending the Jewish people a kiss, as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you. There are those who want to separate you and the Temple Mount, but I still have big, happy plans for both you and for the Holy Temple.”
So much for ancient construction in Jerusalem; what of the present? Danny Danon, Israel’s deputy defense minister, toured Mt. Scopus and other potential Jerusalem growth spots and was briefed on construction plans in the east and north of the capital. Possibly the most major project in the works is the construction of an army base for military colleges on Mt. Scopus. It will be 8 acres large, and over 1,400 IDF officers and soldiers will serve there.
“This base will have first-degree importance both strategically and in terms of our connection with the city,” Danon said. “This is yet another move to unite Yerushalayim de-facto. Hundreds of officers and soldiers will ascend to the city every day, and will help strengthen its standing, both for Israelis and for the whole world.”