Incredibly important ancient treasures from first-century Jerusalem – from the time of the ancient Jewish Temple and from the time Jesus was crucified – were dug out of the ground of Mount Zion in the 1970s and put into temporary storage. Usually this is where the scientific study of archaeological finds starts, with archaeologists writing up reports and with special objects being shown in museums. Unfortunately, owing to unpredictable circumstances, these unique finds were shifted from one location to another. Eventually their exact whereabouts came to be forgotten. Three decades went by. Everyone thought the finds were lost forever. Indeed I began searching for these artifacts in the 1990s but without luck, and I, too, gave up on the search. And then, suddenly, a miracle occurred: hundreds of crates, boxes and bags of archaeological artifacts were found locked away in padlocked cellars in the Old City. It turned out that these were the artifacts I had been hunting for over so many years…
This sounds like the lead-up of a movie but it is a true story, and the quantity and quality of artifacts is amazing. When we began unpacking some of the crates I was astonished to find a veritable treasure trove of unique and important objects, including a large bronze Christian crucifix, small potsherds with Hebrew and Greek inscriptions, some dating to Old Testament times, and well-preserved, large wall paintings from two thousand years ago (similar to those known from Pompeii) depicting columned-buildings, birds, and floral designs. Such museum-quality artifacts could help rewrite the history of Mount Zion and ancient Jerusalem, and you would think institutions would be falling over each other to help finance a project to preserve them, but they aren't. This is why I need your help.
The shocker is that these objects are in a very bad state of decay owing to the substandard storage conditions they were held in over the past three decades. For the vast quantities of artifacts retrieved, please have a look at our video. Plastic bags are disintegrating, boxes are falling apart, and objects are jumbled and crushed. Unique objects are being scattered. Restored pots, metal and glass, and painted plaster, are falling to pieces. We found that rats and mice had nested in many of the boxes, using ancient pots to burrow into, lining their nests with identifying labels. The only way we archaeologists know about the provenance of objects is from what is written on these identifying labels attached to the bags or boxes, providing information about location and position at the time of discovery, and the circumstances of retrieval. Unfortunately, much of the written information on the labels is rapidly fading and will become invisible. This is because of the change in environment (light and humidity) now that we have extracted the boxes and bags of artifacts out of the dark, moist cellars where they were originally kept and placed them into one well lit and airy chamber. Other labels are simply rotting and crumbling to pieces, as a result of the damp conditions in which they were kept over the decades. Obviously without the vital information recorded on these labels, we will lose provenance for many of the artifacts and the direct result of this is that our knowledge of the ancient history of Mount Zion will be seriously impaired. It would be such a pity.
This is where you come into the picture. With your help we can change this situation. We are seeking finances to carry out urgent first aid operations on these artifacts: to make a comprehensive list of everything that has been found, to repackage fragile objects, to copy written information from old labels onto new labels, and to undertake essential conservation measures on restored vessels. I estimate we could do this over a couple of months of intensive work, and this would buy us time to save the information on the labels that we would otherwise lose.
In the long run, of course, all this material will need to undergo substantial cataloguing and research, with every artifact being drawn, photographed and studied. Eventually the resulting information will be put together with the stratigraphic and architectural data that was obtained from the actual excavations in the 1970s and which is in documentary form. Altogether this material would then be prepared for publication as a scientific monograph. This could take years. What is urgent is that we conduct the first-aid activities on the masses of artifacts so that we can save basic and essential information, otherwise we will lose out in the long run leaving nothing for scholars and specialists to study when more substantial funding is found. Hence, the current urgency to correct this dire state of affairs and the need for your support before it is too late; every dollar received will be a vital contribution towards saving this material for posterity, and for that I extend my sincere thanks in advance.
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