The Israel Antiquities Authority briefly halted an underground excavation in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem due to fears of a structural collapse in the area, according to a Monday report in Haaretz. According to the report the authority made the decision after finding out the land around the dig was sinking.
The IAA told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that a brief work stoppage had occurred several months ago, but that excavation is ongoing at the City of David’s 2,000-year-old subterranean road, some five meters (16 feet) beneath the neighborhood of 20,000.
Silwan residents have warned for years of fissures, collapses, and undermined buildings in the neighborhood due to the excavations, but the Antiquities Authority said the digs were not related to any problems on the modern surface.
The Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel in response to the charges that a few months ago, specialized engineering instruments that monitor the Herodian-era road had detected a minor shift on the ancient road and “immediately implemented a new engineering solution that has proven effective.” The IAA further claims that the subterranean ancient road lies in an area that was not beneath any homes.
The controversial project has drawn criticism from international governments and media due to its location in an Arab neighborhood.
The site’s horizontal excavation methodology, in which archaeologists excavate the site laterally, has also drawn fire from some archaeologists.
The 600-meter-long path, called the “Pilgrims’ Path” or the “Pilgrimage Road,” was built by the Romans between 20 CE and 30 CE and was buried with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Jewish pilgrims used the path when ascending to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount.
The Antiquities Authority intends to open the site as a tourist attraction, as well as conduct the dig for research purposes.
The City of David Park tourist site is located near the dig in Silwan. The nationalistic Elad group funds the City of David excavations, as well as several of the Jewish settlers who have made homes in the neighborhood.
The Emek Shaveh organization, which strives to prevent politicization of archaeology in Israel, said in a report released in March that it had found cracks in 38 housing units with 200 residents in Silwan near the dig site. The group reported severe damage, including large cracks and sunken floors, in 10 of the housing units.
In June 2019, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt sparked criticism for partaking in an inaugural ceremony at the site.
The ceremonial event angered the Palestinian Authority, as well as several left-wing Israeli organizations, which claimed the opening of the site would further entrench an Israeli presence in eastern parts of the city that Palestinians hope will one day serve as their capital.