by Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on Tuesday announced the discovery of segments of an arched bridge and aqueduct at an excavation site outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Yehiel Zelinger, the IAA archaeologist responsible for the dig, termed the find "Spectacular." He said the bridge was originally part of an ancient aqueduct that brought water to the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period (between 536 BC and 70 AD), when an estimated number of 50,000 Jews returned from the Babylonian exile to build the Second Temple on the site of the destroyed First Temple.
"We actually excavated here the aqueduct that went from Bethlehem to the Temple Mount," Zelinger said of what he called a "salvage dig," that was initiated two weeks earlier, alongside a modern-day dig by the Jerusalem Municipality to lay new water lines.
ANCIENT FINDS BENEATH MODERN NEEDS
A salvage dig includes finds that are uncovered in the course of a non-archaeological excavation - a fairly common occurrence in Jerusalem, due to the thousands of years of human activity in and around the Old City. Archaeologists work with the construction crews to decide how to best preserve the finds. But not all sites are significant enough to remain open: some are staked off, investigated, marked and photographed - and then carefully covered over with sand for future archaeologists.
"If we can excavate and get the knowledge, and then let them work - that's what we usually do," Zelinger said, referring to the water company crew working alongside the dig site. "We're trying not to be in the way, but if there's something unique - we have the law on our side," Zelinger said.
The IAA said a carved inscription on the bridge showed that it was built by the Mamluk sultan Nasser al-Din Muhammed Ibn Qalawun in 1320 AD.
The find lies among lawns and olive trees in a landscaped park among the slopes of the narrow upper Hinnom Valley, between the Ottoman-era walls of the Old City to the East and the Yemin Moshe neighborhood to the west.
"It was probably built on the same route of the Second Temple bridge that's running over here," Zelinger told Xinhua, pointing to a copy of 18th-century topographic map of the area.