Photo Credit: Virginia Winters courtesy of Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Archaeologists working for the University of North Carolina in Charlotte along the southern wall of the Old City in the National Park around the walls of ancient Jerusalem have discovered for the first time the remains of the Crusaders’ siege that led to the fall of Jerusalem exactly 920 years ago today.

A small building from the same period was excavated in the same location, with gold jewelry, pearls and precious stones embedded in its floor, alongside two crosses and a number of arrowheads.

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The Crusader siege that lasted five weeks, ended on July 15, 1099, with the conquest of the city by Christian forces and the slaughter of its Jewish and Muslim defenders, which lasted another week.

Although most of the Crusader forces concentrated on the northern side of the city, one of the forces led by Raymond of Saint Gilles and his men from Provence in southern France tried to break into the city from the direction of Mount Zion on the south-western side.

The excavation near the Old City’s southern wall. / Virginia Winters courtesy of Israel Nature and Parks Authority

The chroniclers tell us that Raymond’s men encountered a problem when they tried to bring their siege tower closer to the wall of the city. This was because between the city and the siege forces there was a moat. Raymond paid his men with gold to fill the moat under the cover of night and guide the siege tower to the wall.

The efforts to plug the moat were successful, but the Muslims and the Jews set the tower on fire.

The excavations are being conducted by Professors Shimon Gibson and James Tabor from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, in cooperation with Dr. Rafi Lewis of Ashkelon Academic College.

The moat, which until now was known only from descriptions of the Crusader chroniclers, was discovered for the first time, with evidence of fighting. The moat was about 50 feet wide and about 12 feet deep.

“This is a significant contribution to our knowledge of the Crusader period,” said Dr. Lewis, who is an expert on Crusader archeology and battlefield archeology. “This is because we found the moat mentioned in the sources and we are able to actually reconstruct the line of the fighting front.”

The most important findings, including the jewel, were found by archaeologists Jonathan Hitchings and Melanie Samed who carefully exposed it from the layers of soil where it was embedded.

Professor Gibson suggested that the jewel may be Egyptian in origin, and “could have been used as a complex earring that was also used to close a veil around a woman’s face.”

In addition to these exciting findings, the excavators uncovered the remains of buildings from the First and Second Temple periods, as well as the extension of the city’s Byzantine Cardo Maximus avenue.

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