Quarry used for Jewish temple unearthed in Israel

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JERUSALEM, Sep 23 (Reuters) Archaeologists have found an ancient quarry where King Herod's workers may have chiselled the giant stones used to rebuild the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said today experts believe stones as long as eight metres were extracted from the quarry and then dragged by oxen to building sites in Jerusalem for major projects such as the temple.

''This construction most likely included the walls of the Temple Mount and other monumental buildings,'' the authority said in a statement.

Some of the blocks discovered at the site resemble stones used in the lower parts of the Temple Mount compound, the site of two biblical Jewish temples, the statement said.

Jews believe King Solomon built the first Jerusalem temple 3,000 years ago. In 1 BC, King Herod rebuilt and expanded a second temple on the same site, which was razed by the Romans during the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The complex known as Temple Mount by Jews is also revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). It houses Islam's third-holiest mosque, making it Jerusalem's most contested site and giving it a pivotal role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said workers stumbled upon the quarry during excavations as part of a plan to build a new school in an outlying Jerusalem neighbourhood known as Ramat Shlomo.

Archaeologists also discovered coins and shards of pottery which confirm the quarry was operating during the Second Temple period, when rulers of the city under King Herod embarked on major construction projects.

King Herod looms large in biblical history. Appointed ''king of the Jews'' by the Roman Senate in about 40 BC, Herod rebuilt and expanded the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of Matthew says Herod ordered the killing of young male children in Jesus's birthplace of Bethlehem -- known as the ''Massacre of the Innocents'' -- for fear he would lose his throne to a new ''king of the Jews'' whose birth had been related to him by the Magi.

Archaeologists also found a complete iron tool at the site which they believe was used to chisel out the blocks from the quarry.

REUTERS AB RK2040

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