Report from Jerusalem #74, 30th November 2015

Acra Citadel Found

In the second century BCE in the fight with the Maccabees, the Syrian Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a citadel called the Acra in Jerusalem to control and watch over events on the Temple Mount, where the Maccabees had recaptured the Temple.  As the Temple Mount was higher than the surrounding areas, the Acra would have had to have been a tower high enough to oversee the Mount, and its location has been sought for many years by archaeologists but without avail.  However in the last few weeks, scholars from the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) working at the Givati parking lot just south of the Temple Mount have unearthed the massive foundations of what they consider to have been a high tower, perhaps twenty metres in height, and which they now think were the foundations of the Acra tower, which, if high enough, could have been used to supervise the activities on the Temple Mount. In addition to the tower foundations, the IAA found the base of an adjoining wall and the remains of a sloping rampart located to keep attackers away from the base of the wall and the tower. They also found evidence of the remains of a battle around the base of the tower in the form of lead sling shots, ballista stones and arrowheads, some of them in bronze, with the sign of a trident stamped on them, symbolizing the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. These would have been evidence of the battle conducted by the Maccabees in an attempt to storm the tower, which was hampering their activities on the Temple Mount.

Fine Mosaic in Lod

During excavations by the IAA at a large villa of the Roman period in th Neveh Yerek area of Lod, twenty kilometers south-east of  Tel Aviv, a brilliant mosaic was uncovered in what had been the living room floor of the villa, which stood in a neighbourhood of wealthy dwellings. The mosaic depicts scenes of hunting, figures of animals, fish and birds, with vases and baskets of flowers, and the archaeologists said that the images indicated a highly developed artistic ability. The work was found as the ground was being prepared for a visitor’s centre, in the name of Shelby White and Leon Levy, to view another colourful mosaic, already found in the courtyard of the mansion, which had measured approximately twelve metres square.  The mosaic will be lifted and shown in several museums at home and abroad and it will then be returned and the villa and the two mosaics will be displayed to the public.

Oldest Domesticated Seeds Found in Galilee

The world’s oldest domesticated Fava seeds have been found in the Galilee, in Israel. It is considered that the Fava bean (vicia faba), which bears large pods with edible seeds, dates back for more than ten thousand years, making them the world’s oldest domesticated seeds. They were found in storage pits after they had been husked, and the seeds were of a uniform size, indicating they were all cultivated and harvested at the same period of the year.  At this time an agricultural revolution was taking place throughout the region, when animals and plants were being domesticated and it is clear from several finds that the Galilee was the main producer of legumes at this period.

Early Statuette Found by Young Boy

Itai Halperin, an eight year old boy on a day trip with is family around Bet Shemesh, picked up a round ceramic object and soon realized it was the ancient head of a small statue and turned it over to the IAA, who recognized it as the head of the sculpture of a naked fertility goddess.  They considered it to be of the period between the eighth and sixth centuries BCE and its find area would indicate that this was a place controlled by the kingdom of Judah, of which Bet Shemesh was a prominent city. The find was important according to the IAA and Itai was awarded a special archaeological certificate to celebrate his find. He thanked them and said that he wanted one day to be like the celebrated Indiana Jones.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F Albright Institute of Archeological Research, Jerusalem

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Rosenberg in Israel. It represents his personal assessment. The Society takes no responsibility for the content.

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Report from Jerusalem #73, 25th October 2015

Destruction in Palmyra

Reports continue to circulate that ancient Roman monuments are being destroyed in the city of Palmyra in Syria by Islamic State terrorists, who claim that these antiquities are pagan structures that need to be obliterated. Evidence of the destruction is confirmed by satellite images. The structures include the main amphitheatre, the temple of Baal Shamin, the temple of Bel, the triumphal arch and others of the Roman period; all of these constitute the area designated as a World Heritage Centre by UNESCO, who have declared the destructions to be a war crime. The Islamic State leaders have also killed Khaled-al-Asaad, the 82-year old archaeologist who had looked after the remains for the last forty years. The UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has declared that the perpetrators must be held responsible for their crimes and it is hoped that UNESCO can organize a suitable court to hand down punishments, and see to it that no further damage is caused to this historic site.

Ancient Sarophagus Discovered in Ashkelon

The local police and an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) unit recently seized a stone sarcophagus from building workers who were concealing it so that its finding would not delay their construction work on site. The sarcophagus is a rare decorated one and is dated to the late Roman period. The heavy stone coffin is adorned with the figure of a man leaning on his left arm and with a tunic wrapped around his waist.  Judging by the image and its clothing, the IAA thought that the tomb was not that of a Jew and, in accordance with normal practice, would have been placed near the family vault, but nothing further has been found. Besides the figure of a man, the stonework is also decorated with carvings of an amphora and vines with grapes and leaves. The IAA said it was aware of the need of speed on construction sites but that in an historic city like Ashkelon (on the coast, south of Tel Aviv) there had to be care taken to see that historic artifacts were carefully preserved and if found, they must be inspected by the IAA before they can be removed or inadvertently damaged.

Byzantine Mosaic from Kiryat-Gat

The relic of a floor mosaic from a Byzantine church was discovered two years ago in the industrial park of Kiryat Gat, 25 km east of Ashkelon.  It shows a rare street map of a settlement named Chortaso or Kartasa, in Egypt which, according to Christian tradition, was the burial site of the prophet Habakkuk. Other parts of the mosaic depict a number of animals, a goblet with red fruit and a Nile scene with a sailing boat. The images are elaborate and the artist had used tiles of seventeen different colours which, the IAA said, made it the most elaborate ever discovered in Israel. The mosaic is being prepared for display to the public at its site in the Kiryat-Gat industrial complex.

Davidic Seal Found at Temple Sifting Project

At the sifting site set up by Prof. Gabriel Barkai, to search through material removed from the Jerusalem Temple site by the Wakf in 1999, a ten-year old Russian boy volunteer, Matvei Tcepliaev,  recently unearthed a small dark stone seal that has been dated to the tenth century BCE. According to Barkai, this is the first seal of its kind to have been found in Jerusalem. Its dating corresponds to the period of the Jebusites, the conquest of the city by King David, and the building of the Temple by his son Solomon. It is particularly significant that it comes from the Temple site itself, Barkai added. It is well known that the sifting programme is ongoing and that to date more than half a million finds are in the process of being examined and researched.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Rosenberg in Israel. It represents his personal assessment. The Society takes no responsibility for its content.

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Report from Jerusalem #72, 25th August 2015

Ancient Torah Fragment Restored

The Byzantine synagogue of Ein Gedi was excavated forty-five years ago and a charred scroll fragment was retrieved from the ark.  The fragment could not be deciphered at the time, according to Dr. Sefi Porath, the excavator,  and it was eventually scanned by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and sent to Prof. Brent Seales of Kentucky University, whose software was able to recognize the first eight verses of the Book of Leviticus of the Hebrew Bible, The discovery was quite astonishing to Pnina Shor of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project, who said that “ we can now bequeath to future generations part of the Bible from the Ark of a 1,500 year-old synagogue.”

Obscure Drawings Found on Second Temple Ritual Bath

The mikveh (ritual bath) was discovered two months ago during the construction of two nursery schools in the Arnona district of Jerusalem when an ancient cave was uncovered. The mikveh was dated to the first century CE, according to the IAA, and one wall was found to be covered with Aramaic inscriptions and drawings of a boat, a palm tree and other plants. The archaeologists, Royce Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann said such an assembly of symbols from the Second Temple period was extremely rare and for them to be found on the walls of a mikveh was a puzzle, as were the inscriptions themselves.  They have now been removed to the conservation laboratories of the IAA for further study, decipherment and preservatory treatment. It is hoped that the inscriptions can then be read after which they will eventually be put on show to the public.

Chicken Bred for Mass Consumption in Fourth Century BCE

According to researchers at Haifa University, the first instance of breeding chickens and eggs for mass consumption took place in the area of Lachish two thousand three hundred years ago, before the practice spread to Europe. Professors Gilboa and Bar-Oz said that underground breeding facilities of the Hellenistic period had been found in the lowland area, which indicated local use, and the large numbers of bones at a great number of sites showed the potential for an export industry, which may have supplied other parts of the Middle East and even spread to Europe as well.

Washington Museum to Show Israeli Antiquities

The Museum of the Bible, which is due to open in Washington DC, USA in 2017, will have a large area reserved for temporary exhibitions, and it is planned to set out an area of four thousand square feet for a show of Israeli antiquities, according to a press release issued by Israel Hasson, director of the IAA, “which will make the archaeological heritage of Israel and the vital work conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority accessible to people around the world.”

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F Albright Institute of Archeological Research, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #71, 20th July 2015

Ancient Road Station Near Jerusalem

During construction of improvements to Highway 1 the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at Abu Gosh at the west entry to Jerusalem, archaeologists uncovered a Byzantine period road station. The station, next to a deep spring called Ein Naka’a, included a 16m. long church with a side chapel (6.5 m. by 3.5 m.) that had a white mosaic floor and a baptisterium in the shape of a four-leaf clover in one corner. According to Yoli Schwartz of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who excavated the site, finds included oil lamps, coins, glass vessels, marble fragments and mother-of-pearl shell, indicating intensive activity at the site, just beside the ancient road from the coast up to Jerusalem, much on the lines of the present highway. The finds are being closely studied and documented and the site will be cleared and preserved for public viewing.

Canaanite Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa

In 2012, Prof. Yossi Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the IAA found scattered shards of 10th century BCE ceramic jars at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley. Many of the fragments carried individual letters of Canaanite script and it was finally possible to join matching pieces together, when it was found that one jug, carefully restored, was inscribed with the name Eshbaal ben Beda. Prof. Garfinkel noted that one Eshbaal ben Shaul is mentioned in I Chron, 8:33. He was ruling over (northern) Israel while David was ruling over Judah. That Eshbaal (whose name had been changed to Ish-Boshet) was murdered and decapitated and his head brought to David. Prof. Garfinkel said that these letters showed that writing was more widespread at this period than had been thought, since they now had this and three other inscriptions (another from Qeiyafa, one from Jerusalem and one from Bet-Shemesh) which had been published.

Second Temple Mikveh under House Near Jerusalem

The Jerusalem District archaeologist, Amit Re’em, of the IAA, announced the discovery of a two-thousand year old ritual bath (mikveh) under the floor boards of a house in Ein Kerem, a suburb of Jerusalem, The mikveh was discovered by opening a trap door in the floor of the house, that gave access to stone steps leading down to a rock-cut basin of 3.5m. by 2.4m. containing stone-cut pottery vessels of the 1st century CE, together with further fragments and traces of fire, that may be some indication of the destruction of the city in 70 CE. The owner and his wife contacted the IAA when they opened the trap door and together they cleaned out the mikveh and recorded the finds. Seeing that the salon floor had a ready-made trap door, it is possible that the original builders of the house were aware of the mikveh in their basement but did not give the information to the present owners for fear that it might reduce the value of the property. This is of course not the case and the present owners are very proud that they have an apartment based on an historic mikveh that has been excavated and recorded by the IAA.

Tombs in Galilee Declared World Heritage Site

The Rabbinic tombs in Bet-Shearim, south-east of Haifa, have been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at their meeting in Bonn in Germany last week. The committee said that “Bet Shearim bears unique testimony to ancient Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Jehudah the Patriarch, who is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 CE.” The initial approach to UNESCO was prepared by archaeologist Dr. Tzvika Gal of the IAA and handled over the last four years by archaeologist Dr. Tzvika Zuk of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Bet-Shearim is the ninth site to be inscribed on the World Heritage list and it contains many engraved Menorah (candelabra) representations and other Jewish symbols, as well as the tombs of many prominent Rabbinic and other figures of the period, after interment in Jerusalem had become impossible and undesirable due to the Roman and later occupations. There are also numerous inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew in the Bet-Shearim caves.

Burial Cave in Jerusalem Entered Illegally

The IAA unit for the Prevention of Robberies recently arrested a Palestinian father and his four children and a family friend, who were digging in an ancient burial cave on Mount Scopus by the Hebrew University. The six were apprehended while working in the cave with shovels and other digging equipment. The father said that two of his children had heard muffled sounds from the cave and he, who claimed to be an exorcist, was looking for the treasure that, he said, the spirits were also searching for. The six suspects were released on bail and will be brought to court shortly and charged with entering an archaeological site illegally, for which the punishment can be up to five years in prison.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #70, 11th June 2015

Mummies in Chile Subject to Melting

The Museum at the University of Tatapaca in northern Chile houses a number of mummies dating back to 5000 BCE, believed to be the oldest in the world, according to the curator Mariela Santos. Over the last few years she has noticed that the mummies are melting, disintegrating and turning into a mysterious black ooze. The staff have called in a Harvard scientist Ralph Mitchell, a bacteria specialist, to investigate. He has come to the conclusion that the mummies are victims of climate change, due to the increased humidity over northern Chile in the last ten years, and the common micro-organisms have become voracious consumers of collagen, the main component of the skin of the mummies. Mitchell warned that this was the first case known to him but that the phenomenon may be increasing and affecting other valuable remains in other locations.

The mummies in question are known as the Chinchorro mummies. There are about 120 at the museum and date from a community of hunter-gatherers. They are unusual in that they include human foetuses, and the early deaths are considered to have been due to arsenic poisoning caused by drinking water poisoned by volcanic eruptions. The mummies have survived due to the arid conditions of the Atacama Desert where they were excavated. Mitchell and the museum curators are working on a solution and consider that humidity and temperature control offer the best solution. To achieve that a new museum is planned at cost of $56 million, by the Chilean government, where each mummy will be housed in its own glass cubicle with its own microclimate, and it is hoped that will save them. But Santos is not optimistic and said: “from the moment they are taken out of the ground they start deteriorating.”

Ancient Treasures of Palmyra Threatened

Islamic State fighters are in occupation of Palmyra, whose remains were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site and listed as being in danger in 2013. The fate of its antiquities remains unclear. Also known as Tadmur, Palmyra was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, and stands at the intersection of important routes to Damascus and Homs. Two weeks ago, while fighting was proceeding at two kilometres from the city Syrian antiquities Chief Abdulkarim said that the international community was not doing anything to protect the antiquities but “would weep and despair” after the damage had been done, as had happened in Iraq. In Palmyra, he said, the Roman-era colonnades, some well-preserved temples and a theatre were under direct threat from the Islamic extremists who were converging on the city.

Hasmonean Aqueduct Exposed in Jerusalem

During the construction of a sewage line in the Har Homa district to the south of Jerusalem, a section of the lower aqueduct constructed by the Hasmonean kings to distribute water throughout the city two thousand years ago, was found by archaeologist Ya’akov Billig, director of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). According to Billig, the aqueduct had been built in open areas around the city, but due to modern expansion, it was now buried under several residential areas. The aqueduct was one of the principal sources of water for the inhabitants and was preserved for two thousand years until replaced by a piped and pumped system in modern times. Due to its historic interest, the aqueduct will be further exposed, studied and preserved by the IAA, who plan to make sections accessible and visible to the public.

Oldest Musical Image Found in Western Galilee

A cylinder seal impression of the Early Bronze Age of about 3000 BCE was identified by the IAA as the scene of a Mesopotamian wedding in which the king has sexual congress with a goddess, and the seated figures are holding a musical instrument that looks like a lyre. Yoli Shwartz of the IAA said, “the seal’s engraving includes music and dancing, a banquet, a meeting between the king and the goddess and their sexual union.” Archaeologists claim that the inscription represents the sacred marriage rite conducted by the king with a priestess, representing the goddess, and was a necessary ritual to increase fertility of the crops and animals. The small relic, the oldest representation of a musical instrument yet found in Israel, will be exhibited to the public at a forthcoming symposium at the Hebrew University to be entitled, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll”.

Visitors Archaeology Centre Approved Conditionally

A large visitor’s centre planned to be built over the Givati Parking lot, located opposite the City of David entrance and south of the Dung gate, has been approved by the National Planning Appeals Board, subject to severe restrictions. The plan was to build a large complex of exhibition spaces, offices, parking places and facilities for visitors on pilotis or stilts so as to preserve the existing archaeological remains on the site. There were objections to the plan, known as the Kedem Centre, from two environmental groups that thought it was very near to the City walls and would oversail them visually and destroy the archaeological remains on the site. The Kedem Centre was the brainchild of the Elad Foundation, who are sponsoring the City of David excavation, and wanted to see a suitable complex to provide facilities for visitors coming to the site and give them an explanation of its importance. The plan has now been approved but with the condition that it be reduced in size and height so as not to dominate this sensitive area. Another condition has been that the plan for the preservation of the archaeological remains must be submitted for public approval before building work commences.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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