New Integrated Knowledge based approachs to the protection of cultural heritage from Earthquake-induced Risk

The Conservation of a Crusader Burial Structure
DurationJune 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. 
Conservation Measures
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
1. Site diagram.

2. Looking south, prior to intervention.

3. Looking east, at the time of intervention.

4. Looking east, upon completion of intervention.

5. Looking west, prior to intervention.

6. Looking west, at the time of intervention.

7. Looking west, upon completion of intervention.

8. Completing stone courses and debesh construction.

9. Center pillar, before and after the treatment.

10. Stabilizing an exposed core, before and after the treatment.

11. Openings in the vault, before and after the intervention.

12. Sealing the top of the vault.

Additional Projects
 Derekh Hebron - Conservation of the aqueduct to ancient Jerusalem
 The Western Wall, The Machkame Building - Conservation of the Southern Facade of the Machkema Building
 City of David - Conservation measures accompanying an excavation in the north of the City of David
 City of David - Conservation of the Shiloah Pool and preparing it for the public
 The Western Wall Tunnel - Conservation Report for 2005
 The Western Wall Tunnels, The Hasmonean Room - Conservation Treatment of the Hasmonean Room
 The Western Wall Tunnels, The Miqve’ot (ritual baths) - An excavation accompanied by conservation, conservation of the miqve’ot
 City of David, Givati Car Park - Stabilization and post-excavation conservation
 The Old City, Western Wall Tunnels - The Rabbi Getz Synagogue, Conservation and renewal
 The Western Wall Tunnels, The Secret Passage - Conservation and stabilization after excavation
 Zahal Square - Implementation of conservation measures
 The Old City - Conservation of the western ritual bath (miqve) in the Western Wall tunnel
 The Old City - Conserving the Engineers’ Tombs in the Jaffa Gate Plaza
 The Western Wall Tunnels, The Hasmonean Aqueduct - Conservation Measures for Removing Hazards
 The Western Wall Tunnels - Removing Hazards from the Hall with the Temple Mount Model
 The Old City - Conservation of the Church of St. Mary of the Knights (The German Church)
 The Western Wall - Hazard Removal
 Jerusalem - Maintaining Antiquities Sites in the Western Part of the City
 City of David - Conservation Maintenance
 The Wall Builders Garden - Conservation Measures
 Ophel City Walls - Conservation of the Walls
 The Wall Builders Garden - Conservation and Development
 Mount Zion - Conservation Measures at David’s Tomb
 The Old City - A Plaster 'Pilot' Project in the Crusader Cardo
 The Ades Synagogue - Conservation of the Murals, 2013

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