Silwan/City of David: Some Positive Effects, and New Causes for Concern
1. Our efforts and the debate on archeology in Jerusalem
2. Tunnels and galleries – new (and very old) ways of excavation
3. A dangerous master plan prepared by the municipality for "the City of David"
4. The excavations in the Givati parking lot – an opportunity for change
5. Renewed call to take the archaeology out of the hands of the settlers
Our efforts and the debate on archeology in Jerusalem
Dear Colleagues and Supporters,
The petition to take archaeology out of the hands of settler groups in Wadi Hilweh/City of David has garnered hundreds of signatures from academic institutions around the world. It has provided important and solid backing to the efforts made on the ground by Emek Shaveh and others to stem the tide of politicized excavation in the City of David, provoking considerable concern in the Israel Antiquities Authority. The extent of this concern can be gauged by the apologetics offered by the IAA for their involvement, as well as by their vicious attacks on Emek Shaveh archaeologists. These have included the forced resignation from the IAA of one of our number, the public denunciation by the IAA of the WAC-Ramallah Intercongress visit to Silwan, and a diatribe aimed at another Emek Shaveh archaeologist by the head of the IAA at an academic conference.
The impact of the petition on the work itself, however, has been limited. While we do sense that work in the Giv’ati parking lot, where late strata were being dismantled in a drive to bedrock in order to make room for a parking tower, has slowed, it has not stopped. And while an increasing number of Israeli archaeologists are making their voices heard in opposition to the IAA policies in the historic basin of Jerusalem, the heads of that institution are increasingly caught up in collaborations with the well-funded partisan groups who underwrite the excavations.
Also, as time goes by, dubious professional practices that are the inevitable outcome of ethical indifference are becoming more and more pronounced in all parts of the excavated area.
Tunnels and galleries – new (and very old) ways of excavation
The plan to create tunnels for pedestrian tourist traffic between Wadi Hilweh and the Old City has led to a revival of gallery excavation — a common 19th century practice abandoned with the onset of stratigraphic excavation. New galleries have been excavated in all parts of the City of David, and the plans for further tunneling suggest that galleries have now been recognized by the IAA as acceptable archaeological procedure.
Currently active gallery excavations include:
1. Excavations around the Gihon spring. A gallery has been cut westward toward the rock scarp upon which the Middle Bronze Age fortifications excavated by Kenyon in the 1960s rest (see photos). In addition, another gallery is being excavated on the north side of the spring area.
2. Excavations along the Early Roman street that climbs from the Siloam Pool area toward the upper city on the east flank of the central valley. These include two tunnels excavated on either side of the mosque that flanks the pool.
3. Extensive excavation is now taking place in connection with the large drain that is associated with the street, beginning midway up the slope and extending up towards the Giv‘ati parking lot. The excavations were presented in the past as mere clearance of debris from the drain, but they may well extend beyond it.
Excavators for the IAA have stated that the gallery excavations tunnel through unstratified midden tips which have been methodically excavated in the past and can therefore be removed summarily. (One might compare this to the removal of Temple Mount fills by the Muslim Waqf in 1999, which generated severe criticism from those who now are responsible for the tunneling in Wadi Hilweh). We would suggest that the branding of all the material as unstratified will be a self-fulfilling prophecy as long as tunneling continues.
Here is what William Dancey says about tunneling in Brian Fagan’s Oxford Companion to Archaeology (1996; p.230):
"Early archaeological excavation was little more than mining for artifacts, and engineers were frequently consulted for advice on tunneling into deep deposits. Although a minerals extraction approach such as this continues today among vandals and uneducated collectors, professional archaeology has changed radically. Where at one time little or no attention was given to the spatial relationships or context of things in an archaeological deposit, today a set of rigorous standards guides archaeological digging. At the core of these controls is the need to record finds within a local grid system and to document the soils and sediments containing the finds."
There is no doubt that today, engineers are the most sought-after experts in the City of David, providing the knowhow and miles of steel girders to shore up the subterranean excavations, as indeed described by El’ad’s David Beeri:
"Behind this wall there are 18 meters of mountain, and up above are Arab houses [that might collapse]. I want to get to the bottom of the mountain, to find the cistern … So we start to excavate cautiously, supporting all this with iron support beams that hold up the mountain and the houses. We found ourselves with 5 kilometers of welded iron beams in there, sheer madness. We drove the price of iron up."
For the full record of Be'eri regarding the excavations, click here.
A dangerous master plan prepared by the municipality for "the City of David"
A new development plan initiated by the Jerusalem Municipality purports to serve the interest of all inhabitants of Wadi Hilweh, as well as those of the antiquities of the City of David. It transpires that El’ad actually funded some of expenses of the architects employed by the municipality in preparing the plan. This has led to a petition at the Jerusalem District Court, still pending.
Among the troubling provisions of the plan are at least 14 new houses and three “public buildings” to be built by settlers within the confines of the ancient mound. This establishes without a doubt the main priority of El’ad and highlights the disingenuousness of their claim to be protectors of the antiquities of the site. Also, extensive parking areas and new roads planned in and around Wadi Hilweh will convert the neighborhood into an urban island, entirely given over to the needs of the tourist industry (as envisioned and managed by El’ad). Almost no provisions are made for the needs of the present inhabitants of the area.
See here maps of the plan.
The excavations in the Givati parking lot – an opportunity for change
As we suspected all along, the Givati parking lot excavations—officially described as test excavations in order to determine the presence of significant antiquities—are little more than an elaborate prologue to the construction of a new visitors’ center and tourist hub. All attempts at any kind of transparent academic oversight of the planned construction have been blocked. The excavation of the third quadrant of the parking lot has begun. Interestingly, the first quadrant was excavated to a depth of about 15 meters, removing all layers down to Early Roman; the second quadrant stopped one layer above—in the Late Roman stratum (although soundings were carried to a greater depth) Where will the third quadrant stop? Perhaps it is not too late to call for a full excavation and preservation of the remaining portions of the Early Islamic strata. This would be a golden opportunity to undo some of the damage already inflicted and to convert the entire operation into a positive demonstration of the power of a multicultural approach to the antiquities of Jerusalem.
The first two quadrants
The third quadrant prepared for excavation
Renewed call to take the archaeology out of the hands of the settlers
We ask you to join in support of our call to change the way archaeology is being conducted in the City of David: Click Here to Sign the Renewed Petition
What else can you do?
Share this information with people who might be interested and can join the effort.
Raise the issue within the academic debate at your university.
Write of your concern to the Israel Antiquities Authority and to other colleagues in Israel and in the world.
For any question, suggestions or thoughts, please contact us. We would be happy to discuss all this directly with you, and try to find ways to cooperate.
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