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This earpiece, perhaps of Egyptian manufacture, is apparent loot from the First Crusade sack of Jerusalem in July, 1099 (Credit: Virginia Withers)


University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte-led archaeological dig on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion has been going on for over a decade, looking at an area where there were no known ruins of major temples, churches or palaces, but nonetheless sacred land where three millennia of struggle and culture has long lain buried, evidence in layer upon layer of significant historical events.

Virtually every dig season, a significant discovery has been made at the site, adding real detail to the records of this globally-renowned city, giving new insights to what has often been imperfectly preserved in ancient histories. This year’s findings are no different, confirming previously unverified details from nearly thousand-year-old historical accounts of the First Crusade – history that had never been confirmed regarding the five-week siege, conquest, sack and massacre of the Fatamid (Muslim)-controlled city in July of 1099.

The dig’s archeological team — co-directed by UNC Charlotte professor of history Shimon Gibson, Rafi Lewis, a faculty member at the University of Haifa and Ashkelon Academic College, and James Tabor, UNC Charlotte professor of religious studies — has revealed the rumored, but never physically detected, moat-trench the Fatamid defenders dug along the city’s southern wall to protect against siege engines – a defense that contemporary accounts claim helped stymie the southern assault.

Through stratigraphic evidence, the archaeologists have been able to confirm the 11th Century date of the 17-meter-wide by 4-meter-deep ditch, which abutted the Fatimid city wall (built in the same place as the current wall near the current Zion Gate), and have also found artifacts from the assault itself, including arrowheads, Crusader bronze cross pendants, and a spectacular piece of Muslim gold jewelry, which is probable booty from the conquest.

In past seasons, the team found remnants of a Fatamid city gate at the site, which, the archaeologists argue, makes the area a likely focal point for the Crusaders’ main southern assault on the city wall. Despite reported attempts to fill the trench by the attacking forces, the southern assault was ultimately unsuccessful. The city’s defenses were finally breached by a simultaneous operation from the north.

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