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For years, it was a Jerusalem archeological mystery. Where did the immense limestones used to build the Second Temple come from and how did they get there?
Some archeologists originally presumed that the quarry must have been located in close proximity to the Temple Mount, while others said it had to be located outside the built-up Old City.
But nobody knew for sure.
Then a group of archeologists from the state-run Antiquities Authority suddenly stumbled upon the quarry during a routine salvage excavation in an outlying neighborhood ahead of the planned construction of a new school.
The quarry is located in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, four kilometers northwest of the Old City, on a ridge that rises about 80 meters above the height of the Temple Mount.
"This is the first time stones which were used to build the Temple Mount walls were found," said Yuval Baruch, of the Antiquities Authority, who was involved in the dig. He said the site was used 2,000 years ago by dozens of King Herod's workers during the construction of the Mount's retaining walls.
SCORES OF quarries have previously been uncovered in Jerusalem - including ones larger than the present find - but this is the first archeologists believe was used in the construction of the Temple Mount itself.
The enormous size of the stones found at the site - up to eight meters long - as well as coins and fragments of pottery vessels dating back to the first century CE, indicated that this was the site used in the construction of the walls, including the Western Wall, the archeologists said.
"We have never found any other monument in Israel with stones this size except for the Temple Mount walls," Baruch said.
The Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land under Roman occupation, Herod has long been famous for his construction projects, using only the finest quality stones in the erection of public buildings.
The quarry's pristine white rock, which resembles marble, and its huge 5-7-ton blocks are similar to those found at the bottom of the Western Wall.
The huge stones were likely transported to the Temple Mount by horses, camels or slaves, Baruch said, noting that part of an ancient main road to Jerusalem which was used for the immense operation was recently uncovered just 100 meters from the quarry.
"Don't forget that this was a royal project, and gravity could help the transfer of the stones," said Bar-Ilan University archeologist Dr. Gabi Barkai, explain how such heavy material could be moved a number of kilometers by use of animals and slaves. Herod, he said, would have spared no amount of manpower to do it. And luckily, it was downhill.
Barkai, who was not involved in the dig, called the quarry "the most convenient place where good quality stones could be transferred to the Temple Mount."
He thinks the quarry was likely only one of several which provided stone for the Temple Mount, with the others still uncovered.
The quarry was abandoned after the Second Temple period and is now surrounded by a sprawling haredi community and olive trees planted by Arab villagers.
Although archeologists have only excavated about one-third of the site (the rest lies on private property and will not be touched), one of their biggest finds came about as the result of a forgetful worker who left his five-kilogram iron tool there. The iron stake used to split the stone was found wedged into one of the massive cuts in the white limestone.
For archeologists who long pondered the site of the Second Temple quarry, the sudden discovery was monumental. "This is a sensational historical find," Baruch concluded.