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Israel Antiquities Authority begins salvage excavations for new Mugrabi ramp

The Israel Antiquities Authority has begun salvage excavations in the Jerusalem Archeological Park, for the purpose of erecting supporting pillars for a permanent Mugrabi ramp, to be built for the benefit and safety of visitors. The new ramp will replace the temporary wooden bridge which was built following the collapse of the old Mugrabi ramp, which was declared a "hazardous structure". The salvage excavations are standard archeological excavations conducted in declared archeological sites slated for construction and development. The purpose of the salvage excavations is to prevent and minimize damage which could be caused to ancient remains as a result of the construction. The new Mugrabi ramp, to be built by the Jerusalem Municipality, will replace the temporary wooden bridge, which was built following the partial collapse of the old ramp and its declaration as a public hazard. The collapse of the old ramp, the result of natural disasters over the years, occurred shortly after the earthquake and snowstorms which struck Jerusalem in February 2004 Once plans for the establishment of a permanent ramp were made known, the Israel Antiquities Authority conditioned its construction on the conduct of salvage excavations, as required by the Israeli Antiquities Law. In accordance with this Law, any construction on declared antiquities sites, such as Jerusalem in general and the Old City in particular, must be carried out with the approval of the Antiquities Authority and must conform to its instructions. - Dr. Gideon Avni: Why must excavations be conducted next to the Temple Mount? The salvage excavations in the compound are directed by a team of archeologists and professionals, experts in their fields, using internationally accepted methods employed in excavations in similar areas, and in accordance with the nature and type of the artifacts exposed. The excavations will take place, as is customary, during the winter and under the cover of several "hothouses". The removal of the remains of the old ramp will be carried out prior to the commencement of the archeological excavations, using a small mechanical tool (backhoe) and under close inspection by archeologists. Only after the excavations are completed will the exact location of the bridge pillars in the Archeological Park compound be determined. The construction of the pillars will be carried out in accordance with the instructions of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in order to ensure the preservation and protection of the findings which will be exposed. The archeological excavations, which will last several months, will provide an opportunity to study the nature of the archeological remains in the site. Their contribution to the study of Jerusalem's history is expected to be substantial. The archeological findings revealed will be preserved and incorporated in an Archeological Park which will be opened for the benefit of visitors from Israel and tourists from around the world. Video cameras have been installed to enable on-line viewing of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Mugrabi Gate Reconstruction Project in the Old City of Jerusalem. Yuval Baruch, archeologist with the Jerusalem district of the Israel Antiquities Authority: "Mugrabi Gate is the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Moslems - Jews, tourists, and others, according to an agreement reached after the Six Day War. Only Moslems are permitted to use the other gates. During the winter of 2004, part of the ramp leading to the Mugrabi Gate collapsed. This ramp separates the Western Wall from the archeological garden. After the collapse, a temporary wooden bridge was constructed, part of it located in the women's area of the Western Wall Plaza. The fallen portion of the ramp was fenced in and entry to it prohibited, as it was pronounced a dangerous structure. By law the debris must be removed or the collapsed part rebuilt. The Israel Antiquities Authority is in contact with archeologists specializing in ancient structures, who decided that it would no longer be possible to use the ramp that had partially collapsed. It was consequently resolved to construct a new ramp and remove the one that had collapsed. Architect Aya Carmi submitted several proposals for the new structure, one of which was accepted. This proposal calls for a bridge with a more moderate slope and longer length than the old one, to be built from the archeological garden almost to the gate, with part of it located on the original ascent. The reason for the moderate slope, which lengthens the bridge, is the authorities’ legal obligation to provide wheelchair access. At this stage, the Israel Antiquities Authority entered the picture. The authority imposed two conditions on the bridge planners: a) Israeli law mandates carrying out rescue excavations everywhere there is a risk of damage to antiquities. Rescue excavations, customary in the majority of countries, are meant to document and preserve remnants before construction. b) The remnants discovered will be integrated in the archeological park - whatever is suitable for exhibition. A week ago, excavations began in order to construct four columns that will support the bridge. The distance between the columns and the Western Wall and the Temple Mount is 80 meters. The Mugrabi Ramp will be fully excavated, but the excavators will not approach the wall of the Temple Mount." Baruch emphasized that the Antiquities Authority has never excavated or permitted any excavations in the area of the Temple Mount, due to its historical value. The bridge itself will be located at a distance of ten meters to the west of the Temple Mount wall. The excavations will last for eight months.

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