Islamic-era Skeletons 'Disappeared' From Elad-sponsored Dig

Contrary to regulations, the skeletons were removed, and were not reported to the Ministry of Religious Services.

Dozens of skeletons from the early Islamic period were discovered during excavations near the Temple Mount, on a site slated for construction by a right-wing Jewish organization. Contrary to regulations, the skeletons were removed, and were not reported to the Ministry of Religious Services. The Israel Antiquities Authority termed the incident "a serious mishap."

The IAA's Dr. Doron Ben Ami is directing the excavations at the Givati Parking Lot in Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, across from the entrance to the Dung Gate. Elad, an association devoted to Judaizing East Jerusalem, is funding the dig at the site, where it plans to build an events hall with underground parking. The IAA is excavating there even though Elad never filed building plans with the planning authorities.

In recent weeks, workers excavating at a depth of two to three meters reached a layer from the 8th or 9th century C.E., some 200 years after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. They discovered several dozen skeletons, skulls and bone fragments, thought to date from the early Islamic period. An IAA source said "dozens of crates" containing bone fragments were removed, which suggests at least 100 skeletons were found.

IAA regulations require that any graves discovered be reported immediately to the Religious Services Ministry and to Atra Kadisha, an ultra-Orthodox organization dedicated to preserving ancient Jewish grave sites. For some reason this discovery was not reported, and the skeletal remains were carted away before ministry officials arrived to inspect the site. The ministry learned of the discovery only two weeks later, following inquiries by Haaretz.

Nor have the Muslim religious authorities been notified, even though the skeletons are thought to be Muslim.

An archaeologist who worked at the IAA expressed surprise at the manhandling of skeletons discovered less than a hundred meters from Al Aqsa mosque. "The moment a digger comes across bones, he must stop immediately and inform his supervisors," he said, adding that IAA director Shuka Dorfman has threatened to fire anyone who fails to report the discovery of bones.

The IAA refused to explain the "serious mishap," but said Dorfman "accepts responsibility" for it.

Another archaeologist familiar with excavations in Jerusalem lamented the lost opportunity to learn more about the city's past: "This was not a regular cemetery, since then they would also have found many tombstones. It may have been a private burial site, perhaps a mass grave following an epidemic or war, but in any case it is a very important discovery that could shed light on life in Jerusalem in that period. It's a scandal they destroyed it."