|The Conservation of a Crusader Burial Structure|
|Duration||June 2011 - January 2012|
During June 2011-January 2012 conservation measures were carried out at Akeldama. The action, on behalf of the Jerusalem Development Authority and Nature and Parks Authority, were implemented by the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department: Arch. Avi Mashiah, Arch. Tamar Nativ and Yuval Abraham (survey and planning) and Ing. Jacob Schaffer (engineering survey and planning). The conservation measures were implemented in the field by two teams headed by Eyal Kaho and Tsagai Asamain respectively, with the participation of the following workers: Omar Shehadeh, Zakariya Khiat, Dais Zakai, Razem Samir, Shuweki Mohammed and Azam Abu-Aduan.
The Akeldama burial structure is located in the Valley of Hinnom National Park. The Nature and Parks Authority is promoting a trail “around Jerusalem” and is developing a network of paths between the tombs in Valley of Hinnom. This development activity served as a stimulus for the conservation of the structure.
The structure is situated on the southern slope of Valley of Hinnom. The meaning of the name Akeldama is “Field of Blood”. This is a vaulted building that was erected in the Crusader period and was used as a burial facility for pilgrims who died during their stay in Jerusalem. Their bodies were dropped into this structure through openings in the building’s ceiling. Taking soil from this place to cemeteries in Europe was a common practice.
The structure consists of a pointed cross-vault that is incorporated in the side of the bedrock in the north and supported in the south by pillars. These are made of massive, meticulously dressed stones employing construction technology characteristic of the Crusader period.
Burial caves and complexes dating to the Second Temple period are located there. According to Christian tradition, the place was purchased with money that Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus. Crosses carved in the caves attest to their use also in the Byzantine period and Middle Ages.
In 1892 the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Onuphrius was constructed alongside the Akeldama.
Akeldama was included in a survey of selected sites in the New City that was conducted in 2003. It also appears in the documents of the local master plan. In the same year an engineering survey was conducted at the site by engineers Ofer Cohen and Yardena Etgar, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in which the physical problems of the site were identified.
In 2011 Ing. Jacob Shaffer performed another engineering survey in which serious physical problems were identified that threatened the continued existence of the structure. Most of the problems involved cracking, crushing and the detachment of stones. In addition, it was discovered that the vault was losing its structural schema. This necessitated intensive intervention in order to stabilize it. The intervention included stabilizing the edges of the vault by means of completing the missing stonework. To do so we were compelled to close the eastern opening that was fixed in the vault, but the outline of the opening is still discernible in the form of a blockage embedded below the surface of the vault.
In addition to this, the following measures were implemented:
- Stabilizing the southern pillars that rest on the bedrock. This included completing any missing stonework, injecting mortar into the core and pointing up deep joints. In addition, a system for securing the pillars to the bedrock was installed.
- Stabilizing exposed cores by means of debesh construction.
- Stabilizing a soil section by means of debesh construction. This construction was covered with soil mixed with lime-based mortar.
- Treating tree roots with an herbicide and stabilizing stones that were held in place by the root system.
- Stabilizing the structure’s outer northern wall, most of which was missing. The work included exposing the original course of stones and reconstructing stone courses.
- Stabilizing the inner façade of the northern wall utilizing the original construction method. The work included: stabilizing building stones, completing stonework, filling deep joints, re-pointing joints, and filling cracks.
- Stabilizing the inner surface of the plastered vault and conserving it by means of completing stonework and inserting stone wedges (klinim), filling deep joints, stabilizing the edges of the original plaster and applying new plaster.
- Sealing the top of the structure.
- Arranging proper drainage of the area.
To view the figures, click on the figure caption