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An elevator project near Jerusalem’s Western Wall yields archaeological surprises

A project to increase access for disabled people to Jerusalem’s Western Wall has turned into an extensive excavation into the city’s history.

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The archaeologists removed more than 30 feet of debris and building materials that had accumulated over the course of two millennia. Waypoints included the remains of the Judean villa from the final days before the destruction of the ancient Jewish temple in AD 70, as well as Ottoman pipes built into a 2,000-year-old aqueduct that supplied Jerusalem with water from springs near Bethlehem, early Islamic oil lamps, bricks stamped with the name of the 10th Legion, the Roman army that besieged, destroyed, and was subsequently encamped in Jerusalem, and the Western Wall Tunnels.

Archaeologist Oren Gutfeld said they were taken aback to find remnants of the 2nd century Roman city of Aelia Capitolina, which had been rebuilt on the site of ancient Jerusalem.

The villa’s frescoes and mosaics, which have only survived in fragments, testify to the homeowners’ high social status. When Gutfeld and Haber’s team finally reached solid rock, they made one final discovery: a private Jewish ritual bath cut into the limestone mountainside and vaulted with enormous dressed stones.

According to Haber, the mikveh’s (a Jewish ritual bath) prominence stems from its setting above the temple plaza.

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She explained, “We are in the city’s wealthy neighborhood on the eve of its destruction.”

Even though the elevator project hasn’t sparked as much controversy as other construction or archeological digs in Jerusalem, the city is still politically charged due to its status as a holy site for three major religions. Israelis consider the entire city of Jerusalem to be their eternal, undivided capital, while Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

In the 1967 Middle Eastern War, Israel conquered East Jerusalem, which included the Old City and holy sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Subsequently, it formally annexed East Jerusalem, a move that was largely ignored by the international community.

You can find the original publication of this story in Los Angeles Times.

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