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Western Wall Chisel

2,000-year-old chisel found at the Western Wall may have been used in its construction

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Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient chisel that may have been used in the construction of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, according to a report in Haaretz. The chisel was found along with a number of other Second Temple-era artifacts, which draw into question the belief that the wall was commissioned to be built by King Herod.

The Western Wall, otherwise known as the Wailing Wall or Kotel, is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount. It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard, and is arguably the most sacred site recognised by the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself.

To the Muslims, the Western Wall is revered as the Wall of Buraq, the place where Muhammad tethered his winged horse Buraq after being transported from Mecca to Jerusalem.  According to the story, Muhammad had been in his home city of Mecca when the angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared to him followed by the Buraq. Muhammad mounted the Buraq and, in the company of Grabriel, travelled to the “farthest mosque”, believed to be Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Here, he stopped to pray before being taken to the various heavens, to meet first the earlier prophets and then Allah.

Muhammad's winged horse, Buraq

According to accounts, Muhammad tethered his winged horse, Buraq, at the Western Wall. Image source: Wikipedia.

Just over half the wall dates from the end of the Second Temple period, commonly believed to have been constructed around 19 BC by Herod the Great. Archaeologists were excavating near a tunnel at the lower based of the wall when Eli Shukron, an archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), found the 6-inch long chisel. Shukron believes the chisel, which has a flattened head as a result of being repeatedly banged on a rock, may have fallen from a stonemason’s hand as he was working on scaffolding in the higher sections of the wall.

“The chisel was found inside rubble of stone chips that fell from the stonemasons working on the rocks comprising the Western Wall,” Shukron told Israel’s daily Haaretz.

Ancient Chisel

The ancient chisel. Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Shukron described how the discovery brings to life the history and humanity behind the ancient wall: “People pray and kiss these holy stones every day, but somebody carved them, somebody chiseled them, somebody positioned them,” said Shukron. “They were workers, human beings, who had tools. Today for the first time we can touch a chisel that belonged to one of them,” he added.

Other artifacts found at the site include a Roman sword, cooking vessels, a gold bell, coins and a ceramic seal.  The coins date to decades after Herod’s death, which Shukron maintains is evidence that the construction of the Western Wall had not even begun at the time of Herod’s death.  However, much more evidence would need to be gathered to reach this conclusion, and some scholars have suggested that the wall began in Herod’s reign but was not finished until much later.

Featured image: ‘At The Western Wall’ by Menucha Yankelevitz

By April Holloway

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