Rare High Priest’s stone weight from Second Temple period found in Jerusalem
Asked how it felt to have the soot of one of Judaism’s most historic events on his flesh, Gutfeld paused thoughtfully for a moment. “It is amazing when you think about what you are digging.”
A routine archeological excavation of an Old City synagogue destroyed by Jordanian troops during the War of Independence turned into much more, after the burnt remains of rare relics from the Second Temple period in 70 AD were revealed several meters below ground level.
Among the artifacts unearthed in the 2013 excavation in the Jewish Quarter included a rare stone scaled weight inscribed with the name of a priestly family, covered in millennia-old ashes from the fire that Roman soldiers used to burn Jerusalem to the ground.
The synagogue in question, Teferet Yisrael, which was built during the mid-19th century, and served as one of the two main synagogues of the Jewish Quarter, along with the Hurva synagogue, was bombed in May of 1948 by the Jordanian Legion.
Despite its historic import, the process to rebuild the synagogues did not begin in earnest until 10 years ago, said Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist Dr. Oren Gutfeld on Thursday, noting that antiquities laws require excavations before construction of any kind.
“After we cleared all the ruins from 1948, we started in the basement of the synagogue and uncovered its ritual bath [mikveh], heating system, and parts of a chandelier,” said Gutfeld, who oversaw the dig with Hillel Geva, director of the Israel Exploration Society.
“And when we dug beneath the basement floor we uncovered a building from the Mamluk Period in the 13-14th centuries, which turned out to be a Byzantine structure in secondary use, probably for public purposes.”
Approximately 3 meters below the basement, Gutfeld said the Byzantine building was paved with mosaic tiles amid fresco walls, indicating it was a non-residential structure.
“Immediately after we took out the floors we arrived to a very, very massive and deep conflagration layer from the year 70 AD, when the city was burned to the ground,” he said.
“It was so massive, that every day after finishing the work we were all black [from the ancient soot], like firemen.”
Upon removing the burnt layer of debris, Gutfeld said a mikveh from the Second Temple period was found next to a storage facility filled with fragments of pottery, stone vessels, animal bones, and ancient coins.
“During the fire and destruction, something blocked it, and it stayed frozen in time for 2,000 years,” he said.
“While I was digging in the burnt layer, I found a stone weight covered with soot, and only one of the 600 stone weights uncovered from the Second Temple period had a Hebrew inscription. So, I looked at it and smiled to myself
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