(Times of Israel) Under a tarp in one little-visited corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem lies a pile of rotting timber that would hardly catch a visitor's eye.
In a padlocked storage space under a building in the settlement of Ofra, in the West Bank, lies an even larger pile of similar beams, some with rusted metal nails. Still more of the same beams can be found in one of the rooms of the Rockefeller Museum, outside Jerusalem's Old City.
Despite their unprepossessing appearance, the beams are unique and important to scholars because of their place of origin — the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount — and their age: Some were hewed from trees felled nearly 3,000 years ago.
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The beams offer a fascinating historical record of Jerusalem, including Byzantine cathedrals, early Muslim houses of prayer and, not inconceivably, the ancient temple complex itself. But though there are signs of renewed interest in them — including an article this month in Biblical Archaeology Review, a US publication — the several hundred existing beams have never been subjected to a comprehensive academic study, and many are in danger of decay and disintegration.