A 2,000-year-old stonemason's chisel that may have been used in the construction of Jerusalem's Western Wall has been unearthed at the bottom of the structure along with a number of Second Temple-era objects, claims an Israeili archaeologist.
Some of the artifacts, which include a Roman sword, cooking vessels, a gold bell, coins and a ceramic seal, would suggest the Western Wall, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews, had not been built by King Herod at all.
Eli Shukron, an archaeologist working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), found the chisel last summer during a dig near a tunnel at the lower base of the Western Wall.
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Also known as the Wailing Wall, the massive structure is venerated by Jews as the sole remnant of their Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. 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.
Shukron, who has been working in the area with archaeologist Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa for the past 19 years, believes the chisel fell from a stonemason's hand as he was working on scaffolding in the higher sections of the wall. The builder did not bother to get down and retrieve it.
"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.
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About 6 inches long, the metal tool features a flattened head, as a result of being repeatedly banged on rock.
"People pray and kiss these holy stones every day, but somebody carved them, somebody chiseled them, somebody positioned them," Shukron was reported as saying.
"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.
According to Haaretz, the IAA has not yet confirmed the finding, but Shukron trusts his findings.
"I have no doubt that it belongs to the time the Wall was built," he said.
"We found it at the base of the Western Wall, about six meters (19.68 feet) below the main street of Jerusalem in the era of the Second Temple," he added.
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Commonly believed to have been part of King Herod's massive expansion project on the Temple Mount, which included the Second Temple itself, the Western Wall may have not been built by the Bible's bloodiest tyrant after all.
According to Shukron, the excavation revealed a number of coins beneath the wall which date decades after Herod's death.
This would suggest that construction of the Western Wall had not even begun at the time of Herod's death and was likely completed only generations later by one of his descendants.
The IAA said it would not comment on the discovery until analysis on the chisel and other findings were completed.
Image: the 2,000-year-old chisel. Credt: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority