Solomon's Temple Artifacts Found by Muslim Workers

Mati Milstein in Tel Aviv, Israel
for National Geographic News
October 23, 2007
Muslim workers have unearthed artifacts on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, says an Israeli agency.

The artifacts, which date to the First Jewish Temple period—the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.—were found by employees of the Waqf Muslim religious trust doing maintenance work, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) reported.

The artifacts may be the first physical evidence of human activity at the Temple Mount—also known as Solomon's Temple—in that time.

Religious leaders do not allow archaeological excavations on Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites for Judaism and Islam. The site, known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is now covered by Islam's Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque.

The human-made plateau covers the hill where Jews and Christians believe Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac at God's behest. Islam teaches that Abraham almost sacrificed his son Ishmael, rather than Issac, at God's behest on this site.

Muslims also believe Muhammad ascended to heaven there to receive prayers from God before returning to Earth.

Physical Evidence

Jerusalem's district archaeologist Yuval Baruch is supervising the Muslim maintenance project.

Baruch and Sy Gitin, director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, Ronny Reich of Haifa University, and Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, concluded that the finds might help reconstruct the dimensions and boundaries of the Temple Mount during the First Temple Period.

The findings include animal bones; ceramic bowl rims, bases, and body sherds; the base of a juglet used to pour oil; the handle of a small juglet; and the rim of a storage jar, according to the IAA.

The bowl sherds were decorated with wheel burnishing lines characteristic of the First Temple Period.

In addition, a piece of a whitewashed, handmade object was found. It may have been used to decorate a larger object or may have been the leg of an animal figurine.

These unique findings could shed new light on what is hidden beneath Israel's most mysterious archaeological site, the archaeologists say.

"This is the first time we have shards from the Temple Mount with a [uniform] date," Haifa University's Reich told National Geographic News.

The find "most certainly" indicates the presence of people in the temple during the late eighth century and seventh century B.C., he said.

"From an archaeological standpoint, this is the first time this has happened," Reich said.

"You can say that this was written in the Bible—but the Bible is a text and texts can be played around with. This is physical evidence."

Crude Excavations

Gideon Avni is IAA's excavations and surveys department director.

"This is the first time we have found artifacts that have not been disturbed by later periods," Avni said.

But he doesn't believe this will help pinpoint the location of the First Temple on the mount.

Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who discovered King Herod's tomb earlier this year, was highly critical of the Temple Mount work.

"In such a special place, [the Waqf] should have conducted an organized and proper excavation. But this was done with bulldozers and mechanical tools," Netzer said.

"Digging of this sort can cause damage."

The Temple Mount was Jordanian territory until the 1967 war, when Israel conquered Jerusalem's Old City. Israel left internal administration of the compound to the Waqf, while Israeli police took responsibility for overall security.

"The Waqf is conducting work on the Temple Mount supervised by Israeli police and the IAA," Avni said.

"There are all sorts of political understandings that led to this arrangement."

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