Archaeologists unearth Herod's Temple quarry

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The Independent Online

Israeli archaeologists have discovered a quarry that provided King Herod with the stones he used to renovate the biblical Second Temple compound, offering rare insight into construction of the holiest site in Judaism.

The source of the stones, used nearly 2,000 years ago to reconstruct the compound, called the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, was discovered on the site of a proposed school in a Jerusalem suburb.

"This is the first time stones which were used to build the Temple Mount walls were found," said Yuval Baruch, an archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority involved in the dig. Quarries mined for the massive stones, each weighing more than 20 tons, eluded researchers until now, he said. Mr Baruch added that coins and pottery found in the quarry confirm the stone was used during the period of Herod's expansion of the Temple Mount in 19BC.

Researchers said the strongest piece of evidence was found wedged into one of the massive cuts in the limestone: an iron stake used to split the stone. The tool was, apparently, improperly used, accidentally lodged in the stone and forgotten. "It stayed here for 2,000 years for us to find because a worker didn't know what to do with it," said Ehud Nesher, also of the Antiquities Authority. He said the outlines of the stone cuts indicated the site was a massive public project.

Herod was the Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land from 37BC. His most famous construction project was the renovation of the Second Temple, replacing a smaller structure that itself replaced the First Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC.

In addition to the quarry site, archaeologists discovered a road that was possibly used to transport the stones, Baruch said. How the boulders were moved to the construction site remains a mystery, he added.

Stephen Pfann, president of the University of The Holy Land, described the discovery as encouraging. "It would be difficult to find any other buildings in any other period that would warrant stones of that size," Mr Pfann said, adding that further testing of the rock was necessary to confirm the findings.

The Second Temple was leveled by Roman conquerors in AD70. The Western Wall is the best-known surviving remnant of the structure.