Renewing the Archaeological Excavations
The renovation of the Tower of David Museum is a rare opportunity to renew archaeological excavations after 35 years. Archaeologists Amit Re’em and Noam Zilberberg tell about the exciting discoveries, the advanced research methods and the great significance of excavations in one of Jerusalem’s central, historic symbols.
The Tower of David Museum is currently undergoing major renovation, restoration and renewal which will reshape the image of the museum for decades to come. After 35 years, this momentous project enabled the renewed excavations at the Tower of David, the historic symbol of the city and one of the largest and most important ancient sites in Jerusalem.
“The museum’s renovation affords us a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” says Amit Re'em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist, Israel Antiquities Authority, and Director of the Excavations at the Tower of David together with Noam Zilberberg and Racheli Harel. “The excavations at the Citadel allow us to reveal new finds, and to shed new light on prior discoveries in order to solve the secrets of the Citadel’s past.”
The Tower of David, which houses the Tower of David Museum, is one of the main historical sites in Jerusalem. To date, very important archaeological artifacts have been found in the Citadel, shedding light on events that shaped the city stretching back from the days of the Biblical kings of Judah until today.
Archaeological research began here during the British Mandate. Field archaeologist Cedric Norman Johns discovered ancient walls from the days of the Second Temple, as well as objects from the Herodian Period, the Byzantine Period and the Middle Ages. After 1967, noted Israeli archaeologists began excavating in the Citadel, uncovering more important finds, until the Tower of David Museum was founded in 1989. Now the excavations are being renewed.
Exciting finds have already been discovered at the site. The most surprising find was discovered almost by accident behind a door sealed since the museum’s founding in the 1980’s. “Through the door we entered into a storage room used early on by the museum,” relates Re’em. “We decided to clear the room and, to our amazement, we found an elaborate bathroom known as a ‘latrine’, from the Middle Ages (the exact date is still being determined, according to the items found in situ).
"It is important to note that until now, only one other similar ‘latrine’ from the Crusader Period has been found in Israel, in the Hospitaller complex in Akko. Even more interestingly, under the latrine we discovered a wide, long sewage channel, which exits from the septic tank of the ancient bathrooms. This channel carries waste water to the Ben Hinnom valley, outside of the ancient city walls, and we suspect that it was also used as an escape route. This exciting chapter is still being investigated."
Other significant discoveries have been uncovered in the framework of the excavations: a monumental wall 27 meters long apparently part of the extensive line of defenses, and ceiling tiles imprinted with the seal of the Roman legion that captured Jerusalem in 70 CE.
The excavation is being carried out in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Tower of David Museum and the Weizmann Institute of Science in order to learn about ancient bonding materials (adhesives connecting building components) and the organic remains within them. “With the help of scientific research we can investigate the components in bonding materials. The exact composition helps identify the period of construction and an exact date of the Citadel,” explains Re’em. “We can extract from the excavation findings Carbon 14 samples from organic matter. By employing a complicated process of burning the carbon and passing it through a particle accelerator, we can know when the plaster was formed. This is an innovative technique to date archaeological findings.”
An additional advanced method being used is photogrammetry. In this technique thousands of photographs are taken in a space that has been slated for excavation. The photographs are scanned to a computer, which connects them into a very exact 3D model, allowing one to see the space in a way that is not possible for human vision. This opens a new dimension of insights and research for archaeologists.
Re’em concludes by reporting that the excavation, documentation, and the field research should last a few months. “We are very excited about this historic opportunity for research, study, and enriching existing knowledge about one of the most important symbols of Jerusalem,” he said. “We hope to expose and discover many more finds which will give us a more complete, full picture of the Citadel’s building phases through different historical periods.”