Israeli archaeologists have discovered the quarry that supplied the massive stones used in the construction of the Second Temple compound, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced yesterday
At a press conference yesterday, IAA representatives presented its discovery of the ancient quarry, covering more than five dunams, in the course of salvage excavations ahead of a municipal construction project in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. While dozens of quarries have been discovered over the years in the Jerusalem region, the uniqueness of the one in Ramat Shlomo lies in the enormous size of the rocks quarried there. These measured between 5 and 8 meters in length, like the stones preserved in the lower parts of the Temple Mount and compound walls.
Each block of stone was quarried in stages, explained the excavation director, Irina Zilberbod: First, narrow deep trenches were dug on all four sides, isolating the block from the surrounding bedrock. Then, cleaving stakes were hammered into the lower part of the block, until a fissure formed and the stone was released.
An intact cleaving stake left behind by the unknown stonecutters was found at the site, along with coins and potsherds dating from the first century C.E. - the high point for construction projects of the Second Temple period.
The city's rulers at the time wanted important public buildings to be constructed of high-quality stone, which originates in hard layers of limestone of the type termed malakeh in Arabic, from the word for majesty, because of its beauty and quality. The IAA says this is the first discovery of a quarry which can be tied to the grand construction projects in Jerusalem of the Second Temple era.
Shuefat ridge, today the site of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, rises about 80 meters above the height of the Temple Mount. The ridge's proximity to the main road that reached Jerusalem from the north was probably the determining factor for situating this central quarry. From here, archaeologists believe, the enormous stones were dragged down the moderate slopes to the construction sites in Jerusalem. The use of these huge stones, placed on the foundation rock during the construction of the Temple Mount, is thought to be what preserved the structure's stability for thousands of years, without any need for plaster or cement.
The salvage excavation was conducted at a site where a neighborhood school is slated to go up. With the discovery of the quarry, Mayor Uri Lupolianski ordered a stop to the construction project and a budget of NIS 350,000 for funding the salvage dig.