Photo Credit: The Temple Mount Sifting Project
American Volunteers sift archaeological materials from the First Temple period through the modern era.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project, which has been operating since 2004, has encountered severe funding difficulties in the past year. As of now, the sifting work has been stopped and the research of the many invaluable finds recovered up to this date is about to stop as well.

According to the project’s spokesperson, despite oral promises by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support the project, no formal promise of funding or support has been announced. TMSP has launched a crowdfunding campaign calling on the public to take action and responsibility where Israel’s governments during the past 12 years have not, and to help them continue the research and save the heritage of Jerusalem’s most important site and yield more significant discoveries.

Sifting Project directors Zachi Dvira, Dr. Gabriel Barkay, and Edward Baustein meet with PM Netanyahu to discuss government funding for the project. / Photo credit: The Temple Mount Sifting Project

TMSP was established in response to the illegal removal of 9,000 tons of antiquities-rich earth from the Temple Mount by Israel’s Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement under the supervision of the Waqf in 1999. The sifting of this material has been taking palce in the Tzurim Valley National Park since 2004, under the direction of archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira, with the purpose of recovering the archaeological artifacts permeating the soil and conducting in-depth research of the finds.

TMSP’s are the first archaeological finds from within the Temple Mount itself that are being studied and scientifically published. The project is done under the auspices of Bar Ilan University with the funding through the Israel Archaeology Foundation. The operation of the sifting site was funded, until recently, by the Ir David Foundation (Elad).

The research that has been conducted so far on the sifted artifacts has already yielded significant discoveries and innovations. Among them are: identifying many finds from the early days of the First Temple Period (debated in recent scholarly circles); deciphering a seal impression of a Priest from the Late First Temple Period that sealed a fabric parcel of precious metals, reconstruction of floor patterns of the lavish courts of the Second Temple; the discovery of many architectural finds from the Byzantine Period which are evidence of structures on the Temple Mount contradicting the notion that described the Mount as a garbage dump in this time period; and researching a large collection of Early Islamic coins and the most richly varied collection of common and extremely rare coins from the Crusader Period, as well as unearthing much evidence of the presence of the Knights Templar.

First Temple Period seal impression, probably from a sack of precious metals, naming the Immer family known from the book of Jeremiah. / Photo credit: The Temple Mount Sifting Project

A few weeks ago, the sifting of soil from the Temple Mount was officially stopped, and in the coming months the research in the project’s archaeological laboratory will stop as well. To prevent this, the project has launched a crowdfunding campaign asking the public to support the continuation of the project.

Dr. Dvira, archaeologist and project co-funder, said in a statement: “In order to continue the sifting of the soil from the Temple Mount and recover additional artifacts, we first need to fund the research and publication of finds that have already been recovered.

“If I were asked at the beginning of the project about the finds we might discover, I couldn’t have imagined the work that we are doing now. I couldn’t have imagined that we would be able to reconstruct the patterns of the lavish floors of Herod’s Temple Courts that we recently published. I couldn’t have imagined the current research on pottery, inscriptions, weaponry, coins, or any of the hundreds of thousands of finds and the fields of research that we are conducting.

Touching the archaeological materials from the Temple Mount help child volunteers to connect deeply with their heritage. / Photo credit: The Temple Mount Sifting Project

“If we can complete even our current research, we are sure to discover many new and important data about the history of the Temple Mount. We are currently at a critical junction: the project will either close down or continue toward the research and publication of the artifacts we have already recovered. I deeply hope that we will be able to continue the research that will inevitably yield many more discoveries important to our understanding of the heritage of each and every one of us.”

Dr. Barkay, the other co-funder, said in a statement: “The Sifting Project is an extraordinary educational tool. To date, more than 200 thousand people from Israel and all over the world have participated in the sifting. This is an unprecedented phenomenon in archaeological practice, and makes this project the most exposed archaeological research in the world. The tangible contact of the participants with the soil, stones, and archaeological finds is an irreplaceable educational tool connecting people to their heritage. We hope we will be able to continue this important activity.”


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