Smashed Century-old Jewish Gravestones Found in East Jerusalem

Jordan had repurposed the gravestones when aiming to build a gas station on the Mount of Olives, archaeologist surmises.

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Shattered Jewish gravestones dating from late 18th-early 19th century, found during a salvage excavation in East Jerusalem.Credit: Yoli Schwartz, IAA
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Smashed headstones from Jewish graves dating back about a century were discovered in a salvage dig in East Jerusalem.

The gravestones were apparently taken from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and repurposed for construction, during the 1960s, when Jordan controlled east Jerusalem. postulates the archaeologist handling the salvage dig, Ya'acov Billig for the Israel Antiquities Authority. Jordan wanted to expand the road and build a gas station on the mountain, he explains – though the project ultimately fell through because of the Six-Day War.

In Israel, when a construction projects will involve groundwork, customarily the ISA conducts a preliminary inspection of the site to check for historical remains. It is not rare for ancient artifacts and even whole previously unknown towns to be discovered in the process.

Nor is it rare for ancient gravestones, and other building materials, to be repurposed over the thousands of years people have been building in the region.

In this case, the gravestones were discovered on the site where a hotel is slated to be built over a parking lot in the neighborhood of Bab a-Zahara, right by Herod's Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem (in Hebrew, the entrance is known as Shaar Haprachim" or Flowers Gate).

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Salvage excavation in East Jerusalem, by Herod's Gate.Credit: Yoli Schwartz, IAA
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Herod's Gate, Old City of JerusalemCredit: Olivier Fitoussi
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Remnant from a Jewish gravestone, dating late 18th-early 19th century, in situ.Credit: Yolki Schwartz, IAA

The salvage dig was run by ISA archaeologist Ya'acov Billig. The initial discovery was the remains of a destroyed building, with Hebrew engraved on some of its stones – including, clearly, the Hebrew acronym "תנצבה" – "May his soul be bound in the bundle of life", the Jewish months of Adar and Sivan, and more – including the years 1895, 1912 and 1917, in Hebrew letters.

The ISA has given the gravestone remnants to the burial society Havre Kadisha, which is handling a project to rehabilitate the cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

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