The scientific analysis of a handful of charred seeds leads scientists to the date of the ancient arch.
Who built Wilson’s Arch? It wasn’t Charles Wilson, a British ordinance surveyor in and around Jerusalem toward the end of the 19th century. The arch, partially visible to all visitors to the Western Wall, has been a prominent fixture in Jerusalem’s landscape for centuries. Some have thought it was originally constructed around the turn of the common era by the Roman king Herod – one of the great builders of history – but others had assigned it a later date, believing it was erected in the Early Islamic Period, some 600 years later. This research was published earlier this week on science magazine.
Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto and Dr. Johanna Regev of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Scientific Archaeology Unit spearheaded the chronological research of a recent archaeological excavation conducted with the expressed aim of solving the Wilson’s Arch riddle. The excavation, located in the Western Wall Tunnels, was led by archaeologist Dr. Joe Uziel, Tehillah Liebermann and Dr. Avi Solomon, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and undertaken by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation as part of the tourist development of the site.
The Weizmann Institute researchers have been perfecting methods of “micro-archaeology” to characterize the layered deposits and to then determine the connection between any sample that is dated and the archaeological event to be dated, in great detail. “For this project we had to develop a very specific strategy, starting by being in the excavation itself,” explains Boaretto.
Prof. Boaretto explains that conducting archaeological research on urban structures like Wilson’s Arch, and in particular determining its age, is much more complicated than in almost any other archaeological setting. In an urban center that is still occupied over 2,000 years later, the structures might be used for centuries, components may have been reused, parts of the structure torn down and rebuilt, and the stones themselves keep their secrets close. Absolute dating of architectural structures, as opposed to relative dating based on pottery and coins, is particularly important to correlate with existing texts and with historical figures. It is little wonder, then, that the history of Wilson’s Arch has remained elusive.
One of the key materials the group sought in Wilson’s Arch was remains of the mortar or cement used between the stones. This material was produced at high temperatures and aggregates were added to acquire desired properties; thus, charred seeds can sometimes be found embedded in the plaster. So, the first challenge was to determine whether the charred material was indeed a constituent of the original plaster, and the next challenge was to determine if this plaster was part of the original construction or a later repair. Any seeds found under the bases of the large structures could also be dated and the dates of the seeds are assumed to be older than the construction. Every date obtained was thus the result of a mini-research project. Back in the D-REAMS (Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometer) lab in the Weizmann Institute of Science, Boaretto and her team analyzed the plaster and the charred materials they removed from the dig site to study their composition and crystallinity and from there, to determine their age.
Seeds found between the large boulders of the arch returned dates prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, during the period when Jerusalem was governed directly by the Roman Procurators, the most famous of whom is Pontius Pilate.
According to Dr. Uziel of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "This comprehensive dating of the micro-remains provided an unequivocal solution to a lengthy archaeological riddle – the riddle of the date of Wilson's Arch.” The arch was part of a bridge which led worshippers to the Temple Mount and was built as part of the Western Wall of the compound some 2,000 years ago. Through this joint research project, we were able to determine that the arch, which supported one of the main pathways to the Second Temple, was built in two distinct stages. In its early days, during the rule of King Herod the Great or slightly afterwards, the bridge was 7.5 meters wide. Just a short time later, in the first century CE, the width of the bridge was doubled, reaching a width of 15 meters. “The size and workmanship of the arch attest to the importance of the Temple Mount during the days of the Second Temple, when thousands of people would have taken part in the ceremonies, particularly during holidays,” he adds.
The archaeological team also worked on dating another piece of Jerusalem’s history -- a small theater-like structure constructed beneath Wilson's Arch. The radiocarbon dating indicates that the theater's construction was most likely initiated just before a historically significant date -- the outbreak of the Second Jewish Revolt in 132 CE, often known as the Bar Kochva revolt – and not later than Hadrian's death. Ultimately, the group dated 33 samples from many different locations, covering a period of over 1000 years.
“The Wilson’s Arch riddle could not have been solved without the use of micro-archaeology,” says Boaretto. “We showed that the extreme accuracy of our lab results, even for the tiniest of samples, can resolve these issues with a high degree of certainty, and we think they might help solve other archaeological puzzles for which radiocarbon dating had not previously been considered to be sufficiently precise.”
“From an arch built by Herod, to a theater complex abandoned before it was completed as a consequence of the Bar Kochba revolt, you can take a fresh look at the city's history and place this monumental building in its proper historical setting. That certainly helps solve this riddle,” she says.
Bringing the Western Wall Home A variety of activities and films for the whole family so you can sense the Western Wall from home.
We are happy to report that this week, many worshippers returned to pray at the Western Wall, in accordance with the Israeli government’s decision and the cancellation of the restriction of praying only 500 meters from one’s place of residence.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is organizing the Western Wall Plaza in preparation for the arrival of worshippers this coming Shabbat. Last night, prayer areas were added to the upper plaza in addition to the prayer areas that had already been set up in the prayer plaza this week.
As of this Shabbat and the upcoming days – the updated allowance is for up to 500 worshippers at the Western Wall simultaneously. If the prayer areas that have been cordoned off will all become full, worshippers will be requested to wait outside of the entrances to the Western Wall until space becomes available.
Entrance to the Western Wall on weekdays is contingent on wearing a mask and having temperature taken prior to entering.
Returning to the Western Wall
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation announces that, due to the government’s decision to cancel the restriction of prayer only at a distance of up to 500 meters from one’s place of residence while maintaining the restriction of up to 19 people during prayer in an open area, the worshipers that have so yearned to visit the sacred stones and pray in front of them, can return to the Western Wall while keeping to the Health Ministry restrictions.
The Western Wall prayer plazas will be divided into as many prayer areas as possible in the given area and in accordance with the regulations.
For the next few days, up to 300 worshippers will be allowed to come to the Western Wall plaza simultaneously, contingent on them wearing masks. Should the prayer areas all get full, worshippers will be requested to wait outside the entrances to the Western Wall, with the required distances between them, until space becomes available.
Likewise, bar/bat mitzvah families can return to celebrate at the Western Wall in accordance with regulations. Families will have to coordinate their arrival in advance through the Western Wall website or hotline (*5958) to ensure that the prayer area will be available at the time of their arrival.
The sites of Western Wall Tunnels remain closed until further notice.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, congratulated the government on its decision.
The government made an exception last night in the case of the Western Wall and has allowed there to be three prayers a day at the Western Wall Plaza, in accordance with regulations of the Health Ministry. These prayer services will be broadcast live for the benefit of the public.Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, expressed his appreciation to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri for his involvement in allowing these prayers to continue.
The prayers will be broadcast live, on a daily basis, at the following times:
Due to the drop in covid-19 cases in Israel and the subsequent lifting of some Health Ministry restrictions regarding prayer quorums in open areas, we will be having our final broadcasting of mincha afternoon prayers and maariv evening prayers today, Tuesday, 25th of Iyar, May 19th. We will thus be ending our series of prayer broadcasts from the Western Wall. With wishes for good health and good news
No live broadcasts of service will be taking place during Shabbat and Holiday's
The prayer will be broadcast via phone (# 02-3011133) as well as on digital platforms:Kotel webcams: www.thekotel.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/thekotel1Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WesternWall
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is proud to present The Western Wall Tunnels 360 LIVE in the comfort of your own home.
The traditional Birkat Kohanim and Shacharit prayers of Chol Hamoed Pesach took place this morning at the Western Wall Plaza with a great deal of excitement and in a very unusual way with a minyan of kohanim who are residents of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. They were joined for a special prayer and blessing dedicated to the complete recovery of the United States, and the entire world by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman who is also a kohen. The prayers were led by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.
Due to the corona pandemic, the moving Birkat Kohanim at the Western Wall took place this year in a very limited fashion and in accordance with the authorities’ regulations.
The minyan recited the blessings written in the Torah with great emotion, during Shacharit and Mussaf prayers, as emissaries of all kohanim since the days of the Temple. They prayed for all who have fallen ill among the Jewish nation and the entire world and for the end of the pandemic.
This year, we are marking 50 years since the reinstatement of the Birkat Kohanim tradition by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gafner, zz”l, now organized by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz prayed for the sick of the Jewish people and the entire world and for the end of the pandemic, and said: “These days, with the entire Jewish people and everyone in the world looking up to Heaven, Birkat Kohanim is that much more significant. We know that the gates of tears are never closed, let alone the gates of the Western Wall. May Birkat Kohanim and the prayers of masses of Jews to protect us from harm rise up to Heaven and may the good Lord tell Satan – Stop! And may we all merit to return to pray a prayer of thanksgiving with great joy at the Western Wall.”
Every year, a moving and impressive Birkat Kohanim takes place during Chol Hamoed Pesach and Chol Hamoed Succot in the presence of hundreds of kohanim and many thousands of Jews from Israel and around the world.
This morning (Tuesday), the Western Wall stones, visited and touched by thousands of people from Israel and around the world all year round, were sanitized and cleaned in order to protect those who come to the Western Wall even now.
With Passover approaching, the custom continues and this morning, the prayer notes tucked in between the stones in the past six months were removed using gloves and disposable wooden tools. The notes were collected in special bags and will be buried along with other sacred papers (genizah) on Mount of Olives.
Only since this past Rosh Hashana, over 18,000 prayer notes from around the world have been sent to the Western Wall through the Western Wall internet site.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, accompanied the note removal personally and prayed for the recovery of all those who have fallen ill – from among the Jewish nation and nations of the entire world. “During these difficult days in which the plague is spreading around the world and threatening our lives, we collect prayers from around the world at the remnant of our destroyed Temple, prayers to the Creator of the Universe that He should send us a complete healing and good health and redeem us from this difficult virus that has attacked the world.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, in conjunction with the residents of the Jewish Quarter, is doing all it can within the guidelines so that the prayer of Jews continues to be heard near the stones of the Western Wall.
The afternoon mincha prayers will be broadcast live on Mondays through Thursdays at 13:20 Israel time here
"In Nissan our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt, and in Nissan we will be redeemed."Tens of Jewish Quarter residents came to the Kotel for moving Rosh Chodesh prayers at the Western Wall Plaza, in strict adherence with the Health Ministry regulations.
Over the course of Thursday morning, tens of Jewish Quarter residents came to the Western Wall Plaza for Rosh Chodesh prayers, in keeping with the guidelines set by the Health Ministry. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, in conjunction with the residents of the Jewish Quarter, is doing all it can within the guidelines so that the prayer of Jews continues to be heard near the stones of the Western Wall.Beginning next week, the afternoon mincha prayers will be broadcast live on Mondays through Thursdays at 1:20pm Israel time.
The prayer service can be seen on the Kotel website www.thekotel.org, on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv0_DIttrXo, or on the Western Wall Heritage Foundation Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WesternWallOfficial/