Recently a group of archaeologists got together with residents of the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem to create an alternative archaeology. Aware of the ongoing erosion of the meaning of the word “archaeology”, and concerned with the political use to which archaeological research has been put, they decided to establish an organization that would try instead to represent a different archaeology. The group is called “From Shiloah to Silwan”.
The group offers alternative archaeological tours in the village of Silwan, which is located south of the Temple Mount, just outside the Old city, a few dozen metres from the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The choice of Silwan village and the cooperation with residents of the village was not coincidental. The “City of David” archaeological garden contains within it artifacts from the beginning of Jerusalem around 5000 BCE up to the 11th century CE nearly continuously. After the cessation of habitation in the 11th century CE the area of the village became inhabited again around the 16th century. The site is of great importance because of the archaeological findings that trace the beginnings of the city’s development from a modest settlement in the Chalcolithic era (5000-4000 BCE) up to the fortified city in the Middle Bronze Age II, that is, about 1700 BCE.
From the identification of the site in the 19th century by the British researcher Charles Warren to the present day, large areas in the village have been excavated and studied in order to investigate the past and origins of Jerusalem. Up to 1967 the spot was researched by the British, the Americans and the French, and since 1978 the site has been researched by Israeli research teams.
Over the course of 130 years of archaeological research in the “City of David”, up to the 1990s, life in the village developed in conjunction with and alongside the archaeological research, such that the presence of the one barely affected the other.
In the 1990s, the “City of David” archaeological garden (which is part of the Jerusalem Walls national park) was transferred to the management of the “Elad” association, a private organization with a right-wing ideology the goal of which is the Judaization of Silwan village. The association made of the national park a part of the campaign to gain control over the village and dispossess its original residents. To that end the association finances all the archaeological excavations that are conducted in public areas in the village, and invested large amounts of money in order to convert the archaeological garden into one of the most visited sites in the country. The Elad association’s tour tells mainly about King David, a little bit about the Second Temple (a historical period that is referred to in archaeological terms as the Early Roman period), the Jews in the 19th century and the settlement in the 20th century – an account that completely ignores scores of archaeological and historical strata and deals mainly with one stratum (the days of King David), which itself has become the subject of many questions. The tour is tendentious and biased, and is intended to cause the visitor to identify with the activities of the Elad association and to impart legitimacy to its activities. Such activities are conducted in opposition to the village residents and even in opposition to the law. The tour teaches hardly a thing about the development of the city, its beginnings and life within it.
The alternative archaeological tour in ancient Jerusalem is intended to present archaeology as a cultural discipline and not as a political instrument. An archaeology that is not concerned with searching for the truth of the Bible or its non-truth. In the opinion of members of this group, it is not the role of archaeology in this country to prove or to refute the existence of one king or another. Archaeology concerns itself with strata and eras and not with historical figures. The group represents the past of Jerusalem in conjunction with the lives of residents of the village in the present. The focus on ancient Jerusalem (the “City of David”) was done because in that complex place, where the city began its journey, and near the Temple Mount – an extremely sensitive spot, injustices are being done in the name of archaeology: open areas, roads and paths that had served village residents in the past have been converted in recent years into excavation zones that are closed to the residents, and which complicate their lives. The use of archaeology against the local residents is damaging to archaeological research itself in addition to harming many residents of the village. Members of the group believe that the past of Jerusalem, like the past of every place, does not belong to any specific person or group. The past belongs to all residents and to all who visit the site.
Our tours are conducted by two guides: one is an archaeologist and the other is a village resident. In conjunction with the archaeological story of Jerusalem, its beginnings and its development, the story of today’s villagers is told. The tour will focus on the archaeological findings that are open to the general public starting with area G in the upper part of the park, through part of the excavation areas the along the slope as far as the Pool of Siloah. At other points in the tour residents tell of life in the village, and the difficulties imposed by the efforts of the Elad association to dispossess them.
An additional purpose of the tour is to present an archaeology that bridges different eras and cultures and permits residents in the present to continue to be part of the place in which they live and not to feel threatened by the rich past that is located under their village.
Details about the organization, the tours and general information can be found at the following website: http://www.alt-arch.org