Recently I received this email:
Shalom Dr. Ritmeyer
According to the Talmud a very very deep pit was present at the south western corner of the second temple altar to receive libations. Is there any pits that we know about that are likely canditates for the pit of the libation pit.
None of the cisterns or other cavities that have been recorded by Warren could be identified as the libation pit you mention. The area in which the altar was located, just to the east of the Dome of the Rock (see previous post on The New Sanhedrin and the Temple Mount), has never been excavated. Yet I believe that Shlomo is right, for it is mentioned in Middot 3.3 that “at the [south-west corner of the altar] in the pavement below was a place one cubit square where was a slab of marble on which a ring was fixed; by it they used to go down to the pit and clean it.”
According to the bedrock levels, the altar stood on the rock, which is located about 1 meter below the level of the present platform, which is indicated by the lower blue line on the drawing. I believe therefore that the foundation of the altar may still be there. The following drawing, which is an east-west section through Herod’s Temple and the Altar (in red) and the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain (in blue) shows how these structures were related to the bedrock (i.e. Mount Moriah)
The pit therefore must have been carved out of the rock, including possibly the channel that drained the water and the blood from the sacrifices and the libation offerings into the Kidron Valley. There is a real possibility that these remains are preserved and it would take only a little bit of excavation to find it. How exciting that would be!