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Archaeological evidence of the First Crusade discovered

crusade archaeology

Archaeologists digging along the southern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem on Mount Zion have announced the discovery of a ditch and artefacts that have been linked to siege and conquest of the city in 1099 during the First Crusade.

The finds include gold jewelry, perhaps remnants of booty collected by members of the Crusader army breaking into Jerusalem, following a five-week siege lasting until 15 July 1099. On the same floor of the excavated building were arrowheads and bronze cross-pendants.

By all accounts, the Crusader attack on the city of Jerusalem was a bloody one and took place on two sides of the city. While the principal forces broke into the city from the north, little has been known about the attack from the south. Archaeology is now clarifying the historical picture.

Chroniclers tell us that the Provencal forces led by Raymond de St Gille on the south side, positioned themselves somewhere on Mount Zion and proceeded to attack the wall. However, there was a ditch in front of the wall and they could not get their wooden siege tower up against the wall, and so Raymond asked his men, under cover of night, to fill in the ditch for payment of gold dinars.

Fatimid jewelry
Fatimid jewelry discovered during the 2019 Mt Zion archaeological dig. Photo Virginia Withers /

Recent excavations conducted by archaeologists have revealed significant remains which shed further light on that dramatic moment in July 1099 when the Crusaders breached the fortifications and ransacked the city, with a bloody and brutal aftermath lasting a whole week. The ditch mentioned by the chroniclers has finally been found and dated to the time of the Fatimid defence system in the 11th century.  It was at least 17 metres wide and about 4 metres deep. Additionally, the ruins of an abandoned house were found outside the ditch and on its floor was the exciting find of gold jewelry, together with pendant-cross and several arrowheads.  “This is enormously important for Crusader scholarship,” said Dr Rafi Lewis of Ashkelon Academic College, “because not only do we have the remains of the ditch that we only knew about from the sources but we also have the remains of the frontline battle itself.”

The jewelry was found by archaeologists John Hutchins and Melanie Samed, and they carefully extracted it from the ground where it had lain for exactly 920 years. This piece of jewelry consists of fine gold workmanship and includes pearls and colored beads. According to Professor Shimon Gibson, a co-Director of the excavation project, “this piece of jewelry may have been of Egyptian origin and it seems to have been used as an attachment for the ear, and because of its size, perhaps also to hold a veil in position around a women’s head.”

This project is conducted by Professors Shimon Gibson and James Tabor from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in conjunction with Ashkelon Academic College, and with sponsorship from the Loy H. Witherspoon bequest, and from Aron Levy, John Hoffman, Ron and Cherylee Vanderham, and David and Patty Tyler.  Substantial remains of the city dating back to the Iron Age (7th-6th centuries BCE) was uncovered this summer season, including vaulted basements from the time of Herod the Great.

Click here to learn more about the Mount Zion Archaeological Project



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