for National Geographic News
Archaeological excavations have incited violence at a Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews, Arabs, and Christians—the man-made plateau known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount.
But two other, more obscure archaeological projects have the potential to fan the flames even further.
The Temple Mount covers the hill where Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac at God's behest. Muslims also believe Muhammad ascended to heaven there to receive prayers from God before returning to Earth.
The hill's rocky peak protrudes from the center of the complex's paved surface and today is sheltered by Islam's Dome of the Rock.
Friday's skirmish between Muslim protesters and Israeli police was related to a bulldozer-assisted excavation near the complex.
The project is designed to determine whether the construction of a new walkway to replace a collapsed earthen ramp would disturb artifacts that may be under the site. But Muslim leaders across the Middle East have voiced concerns that the Israeli endeavor may harm sacred sites.
Today Jerusalem's mayor decided to postpone construction work. The search for artifacts continues.
The walkway project is joined in controversy by an archaeologist's claim that he has found the location of the ancient Jewish temple on the mount, and by the Israeli excavation of an ancient site in an Arab section of Jerusalem.
Arab Neighborhood, Israeli Dig
A few months ago archaeologists discovered a road south of the mount that may have been Jerusalem's main street during the Second Temple period (about 515 B.C. to A.D. 70). The Second Temple was the reconstruction of King Solomon's temple, which had been destroyed decades earlier.
Despite the ancient road's sensitive location—partly in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan—Israelis have continued digging an excavation tunnel.
"The dig has revealed remains from the Second Temple period which were previously unknown," said Gideon Avni, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority's excavations and surveys department.
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