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A new state-of-the-art Israeli archaeological center that will house nearly a million archaeological objects and artifacts uncovered in the Holy Land - including thousands of Dead Sea Scrolls - is being built in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Sunday.
The multi-million dollar 'National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel' is being constructed opposite the Knesset between the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum, with all the funding for the center provided by philanthropists.
The elaborate campus, which will cover 20,000 square meters, is being designed by the architect Moshe Safdie, who authored the controversial city-backed plan to expand Jerusalem westward, which is currently being bitterly contested by an array of environmental groups in Israel.
"Whoever is not familiar with the ancient ways of this land will never be able to find the paths that will bring its residents to a better future," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during a groundbreaking ceremony at the site Sunday afternoon.
Olmert, who was a powerful advocate of the decade-old plan to build the new archaeological center dating back to his tenure as Jerusalem mayor, called the building's groundbreaking ceremony a "landmark" in an ancient journey dating back hundreds and thousands of years.
The center will make public priceless archaeological treasures accumulated over the decades - including 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran excavations - which have heretofore been stored in the IAA headquarters at the Rockefeller Museum in east Jerusalem, out of the eye of the public.
"The campus will represent a bridge between the past and the present and will serve as a resource for teaching the archaeological heritage of the country," said IAA director general Shuka Dorfman.
The plan of the building is based on the idea of an archaeological excavation, Safdie said.
The building is arranged around three courtyards built along three descending levels. A dark glass canopy, reminiscent of the shade nets over archaeological excavations, will cover the main courtyard, which will serve as an open archaeological garden. A ring-like
opening located in the canopy will allow rainwater to run into a pool situated in the courtyard below, creating a flowing waterfall. The three levels below it will be an open area that will include exhibition galleries, the largest library in the Middle East for the study of archaeology, a lecture hall and bridges overlooking the laboratories, and state treasures whose walls will be lined with glass curtains enabling the visitor to observe archaeological work in progress.
The campus will also include the country's nine-decade old archaeological archive, a 200-seat archaeological theater and an archaeological roof garden which will be used for the presentation of new finds.
The archaeological center is being named after the campus' primary donors, Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein, of Columbus, Ohio.
At the request of the donors, IAA officials have declined to cite the exact price of the building project.