Report from Jerusalem #65, 16th December 2014

Scroll Looters Caught Red-Handed

In the first week of December, inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Robbery Prevention Unit arrested thieves carrying out illegal excavations in a cave using a metal detector and other tools. The culprits had been observed by the Arad Rescue Unit working at the so-called Cave of Skulls on the northern cliff of Nahal Tze’elim, about 15 km. west of the Dead Sea and 5 km. north of Arad. The cave is extremely difficult to reach, and the trespassers, young men from near Hebron, rappelled down from the top of the cliff to reach the cave. They were spotted by the Arad Rescue Unit who alerted the IAA inspectors, who came and waited for the culprits at the top of the cliff and arrested them. They were taken to the Arad police station where they were questioned and detained. According to Amir Ganor, director of the Robbery Prevention Unit, scroll robbers have been operating in the area for many years in the hope of finding scrolls, scraps of ancient texts and artifacts left in the caves from the times of the Great Revolt and the Bar-Kochba Revolt, which can be sold for large sums in the antiquity markets in Israel and abroad. He added that it was the first time in decades that the thieves had been caught in the act of looting. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Woolley and Lawrence Museum at Carchemish

The Turkish government is planning to open a museum to the work of Leonard Woolley and T.E.Lawrence at Jerabulus, where the excavators lived from 1910 -1914, overlooking the site of Carchemish. The museum, due to open next May, is being organized by Nicolo Marchetti of Bologna University, who says they are working very close to an area of fighting between Turkey and Syrian rebels, and they will erect a very high anti-sniper wall around the museum for the safety of visitors. Archaeological work at Carchemish, on the Euphrates, resumed in 2011 and is ongoing.

Aerial Photography Simplified with High-Tech

It is often desired to photograph an archaeological site from the air, which helps to see the overall layout and also identify nearby areas that may require excavation. The difficulty has been the cost of hiring aircraft or balloons for the job and the time involved in getting the results. Now in Israel that task has been greatly simplified by two companies that can provide clear and accurate photographs taken from a camera mounted on an aerial drone. The work is done by a pilot on the ground and an expert photographer, who work together and can arrange for pictures taken from all angles. The images are directed straight to the excavator’s computer and the cost is considerably less and much faster than comparable aerial photography of the past.

Large Ancient Farmhouse in Central Israel

coin of Alexander the Great

Silver coin of Alexander bearing image of Heracles

An Iron Age farmhouse of the 8th century BCE has been unearthed at Rosh Ha’ayin, a few kms. east of Petah Tikva. It extends over a large area measuring 30m by 40m and was in fact a small settlement in itself, providing for processing the agricultural produce as well as residential quarters. There was also a number of wine presses found nearby, which suggest that wine production was the most important agricultural activity of the area. According to Amit Shadman, the dig director of the IAA, the farmhouse was built during the Assyrian Conquest, continued into the Persian period of the 6th century BCE and later into the Hellenistic period as well. This was confirmed by the finding on one floor of a rare silver coin bearing the head of Zeus on one side and that of Heracles on the other, together with the name of Alexander (the Great). The site will be preserved and conserved within the town by the IAA for the benefit of local residents and visitors.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #64, 10th November 2014

Earthquake and Recent Finds at Susita

Excavation continues at Susita, the site on the hills overlooking the east bank of Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. The finds were discovered under the roof of a building that collapsed in the earthquake of 363 CE. Susita was also called Hippos as it sits like a horse on a hilltop 350m. above the lake. According to the excavator, Dr. Michael Eisenberg of Haifa University, the collapsed building, the largest on the site, was a basilica that served as a marketplace, and a number of skeletons were discovered under its collapsed roof. One of them was of a young woman who was wearing a golden dove-shaped pendant. Also found was the marble leg of a statue that may have been 2m. high, that of a god or an athlete. The earthquake of 363 was a powerful one and completely destroyed the city, which took twenty years to be rebuilt and, according to Eisenberg, there was a later earthquake of 749 CE, which destroyed the city completely – the city was never rebuilt. The city had a bastion of the Roman period that overlooked the lake and there the archaeologists found a catapult-like machine that would have been 8m. long and could have launched massive stone ammunition, some of which was still extant at the site.

Ancient Mikveh – Recent Graffiti, South of Beit Shemesh

In a rescue dig at the Ha’Ela junction, before the widening of Route 38, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has uncovered an ancient mikveh, believed to be dated to about 100 CE, and a massive water cistern of about two hundred years later. Great interest centred on the fact that the ceiling of the cistern had been scratched with the names of two Australian soldiers at the time of the British Mandate. According to Yoav Tsur of the IAA, the find “allows us to reconstruct a double story – a Jewish settlement of the second century CE, probably against the background of the Bar-Kochba Revolt and another story, no less fascinating, about a group of Australian soldiers who visited the site 1,700 years later and left their mark”. They left their names, Corporals Scarlett and Walsh and their numbers in the RAE (Royal Australian Engineers) with the date 30/5/1940.

According to the IAA, research shows that Scarlett died in 1970 and Walsh in 2005, but the IAA will contact their families to tell them about the find. The Israel National Roads Company has agreed to slightly change the junction layout so that the finds can be incorporated in the adjacent landscaping.

Latin Inscription Found in Jerusalem

Although found in July, this inscription from the time of the reign of the Emperor Hadrian was only recently displayed to the public at the Rockefeller Museum. It is on a large stone, weighing one ton and was found in secondary use as part of the cover of a deep cistern, with part of the stone cut out in a semi-circle to accommodate a small manhole cover to the cistern.

The inscription reads (in translation):

To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Pathicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the fourteenth time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the tenth legion Fretensis Antoniniana

It is dated to the year 129/130 CE, when Hadrian was touring his eastern colonies and dedicated the rebuilt Jerusalem as Colonia Aelia Capitolina. The inscription is in fine classic Roman lettering and according to Dr. Rina Avner who led the IAA team that located it, “there is no doubt that this is one of the most important official Latin inscriptions that have been discovered in this country.”

The other half of the inscription, which was found many years ago by the French diplomat Charles Clermont-Ganneau, is on display in the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum at the Lion’s gate of the old City.

The new inscription find was the subject of a day-long seminar last week at the Rockefeller Museum, where it will shortly be put on permanent display.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #63, 24th September 2014

Oldest Metal Object ever Found in the Region

It is claimed that a small copper object found in an excavation at Tel Tsaf, south of Beit Shean in Israel, is the oldest metal object ever found in the Middle East. The object is described as an awl, a small pointed pin-shaped tool that was used for punching holes, and was dated to the late 6th or early 5th millennium BCE. It was found in a rich commercial centre that dates to around 5000 BCE and excavation commenced there in 1970. The claim is published in the journal PLOS ONE by Dr. Danny Rosenberg of Haifa University and Dr. Florian Klimscha of the German Archaeological Institute of Berlin. The site had been identified as a wealthy trading centre due to its large mudbrick buildings and the number of storage silos holding vast quantities of wheat and barley.   Other findings included pieces made from obsidian, shells from the Nile and figurines of people and animals. The copper awl, 4 cms. long, was found by Prof. Yossi Garfinkel in a sealed grave covered by large stones inside a silo, indicating the importance of the buried body and that of the awl to the deceased. This copper artifact and its date moves back the known use of metal in the region by several hundred years.

Huge Ancient Reservoir at Beit Shearim

In an excavation conducted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at the burial sites of Beit Shearim, 15 km. south-east of Haifa, a huge underground reservoir was found. It had two staircases for water carriers going up and down and had a capacity of 1,300 cubic metres of water, and the INPA dated it to the Roman period of the early centuries CE.

Internet Archaeological Museum

The IAA announced that it was launching an Internet Archaeological Museum “accessible at the touch of a button”. It will be organised in collaboration with the Israel and Rockefeller Museums and the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library and will feature some 2,500 artifacts of the most important collections of the Levant. The site will be accessed at www.antiquities.org.il and will be updated regularly by the IAA.

Byzantine Compound at Beit Shemesh

A large and well preserved compound was recently uncovered by the IAA at Beit Shemesh, 15 km. south-west of Jerusalem. The excavators, Irene Zibelbrod and Tehilla Libman, said the site was surrounded by a substantial wall and enclosed an industrial area and a residential one. They found a large olive press and a very large winepress with two treading floors and a collecting vat, and they believe that the site had been a monastery of the Byzantine period, although no church or evidence of other religious activity had been found. The impressive size of the presses and other industrial remains suggested that the compound had acted as a regional centre with numerous rooms, some with mosaic floors. The excavation was conducted prior to the expansion of Beit Shemesh, and the archaeological remains will be preserved as a landmark in the new residential area.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #62, 18th August 2014

Jewish Revolt Coins Discovered

During work on the expansion of the Jerusalem to Tel Aviv highway, a rescue dig by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered a previously unknown village of the Roman period. In the corner of one room a cache of 114 bronze coins was discovered. The coins are all dated to year four (69/70 CE) of the Jewish Revolt. They are all the same denomination of one-quarter or one-eighth shekel value, and must have been hidden just before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, according to Pablo Betzer and Eyal Marco, directors of the dig. The coins are marked “Geulat Zion” on the obverse and show a lulav and citrons with date 4 on the reverse. The village, now called Hirbet Mazruk, was destroyed by the Romans, partly rebuilt and destroyed again at the Bar Kochba revolt seventy years later. It is planned to preserve the village remains as part of the landscape works beside the new highway.

Rare Roman Coin Found at Bethsaida

A bronze coin of the reign of Agrippa II, great-grandson of Herod the Great, was found at Bethsaida, the site on the north shore of Lake Kinneret, which is being dug under the direction of Rami Arav, who dates the coin to 85 CE. It was minted at Caesarea Maritima and has the head of Roman Emperor Domitian on one side and a palm tree on the reverse.

Ancient Game Board Found at Tel Gezer

An inscribed game board, about 25cm long × 6cm wide, with three counters and two dice was recently uncovered at Tel Gezer, a Solomonic site 25 km. south-east of Tel Aviv. In spite of continued rocket fire from Gaza, the mainly United States student volunteers have refused to leave and have continued work on the site, and jump into their excavation pits when the sirens wail, according to joint directors Steve Ortiz of SW Baptist Theological Seminary of Fort Worth, Texas and Sam Wolff of the IAA.

Threat of Erosion to Western Wall

A recent study at the Hebrew University has shown that the interstices between the stones of the outer wall of the Jerusalem Temple, the site known as the Western Wall, a major tourist and religious attraction, are causing unusually high erosion of the limestone blocks that make up the wall.

The cause was due to “rapid dissolution along micron-scale grain boundaries followed by mechanical detachment of tiny particles from the surface” according to the researchers.

They add that it may be possible to develop materials that bind the tiny crystals into the rock and thus counteract the rate of erosion. In contrast, the air of Jerusalem is rather dusty with particles of sand blowing in from the Judean desert, and my scientific advisor says that this leaves a grainy deposit on the buildings that generally helps to preserve the ancient stonework.

Death of the IAA Director-General, Joshua Dorfmann

On 31st July of this year Joshua (Shuka) Dorfmann passed away. He was aged 64 and had been Director-general of the IAA since 2000. He had been appointed from the Army, where he was the principal artillery officer of the Israel Defence Forces with the rank of brigadier. He had an MA degree from Haifa University in Political Science and in his time at the IAA he had organised a large expansion of rescue digs throughout the country. His position will be filled by his deputy Dr. Uzi Dahari, until a new Director General can be appointed.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #61, 23rd July 2014

Wall Paintings Depicting Crusader Period

The nuns of the Saint-Louis Hospital, near the old City of Jerusalem, have recently uncovered a series of nineteenth century paintings depicting the Crusader period in their basement storage areas.  Because the paintings are “like murals from the times of the Crusaders” according to Amit Re’em, district archaeologist of the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), they are of interest to the IAA, who have been helping the nuns to clean and preserve the paintings before they are displayed to the public.  The hospital, named after King Louis IX of France, leader of the Seventh Crusade of 1248 CE, was completed in 1896 and the basement was decorated by murals showing the works of the Crusaders in Jerusalem. The paintings are of historical interest but as they are not antiques themselves, the IAA has no budget to assist in preserving them and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, who staff the hospice and care for terminal patients of all religions, are actively seeking funds to help them to preserve these interesting and historic murals.

Lead Seal of 12th Century Found Near Monastery

The seal was found in the Bayit Vegan area of Jerusalem in a rescue excavation of a Byzantine period farmyard, under the direction of Benjamin Storchan and Dr. Benjamin Dolinka of the IAA. The site had been abandoned after the Byzantine period and resettled during the Crusader and Mamluk periods, and appears to have been a farmyard belonging to the monastery of Mar Saba on the Nahal Kidron outside Jerusalem. The seal is an extremely rare example and depicts the bust of a bearded saint, who holds a cross in one hand and the Gospel in the other, and around it is the inscription, Saint Sabas, in Greek. Other artifacts found depict the daily life of the farm, while the seal, or bulla as it is called, would have been affixed to a letter to ensure that it was not opened by an unauthorised person. After authentication and recording, the seal was presented to Theopholis III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, on whose property it had been found. He noted its importance for the history of Christianity in the Holy Land.

Educational Centre in Grand Hall of Temple Mount Tunnels

In early June a new educational centre was opened under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, connected to the tunnels running alongside the Kotel, the outer Western Wall of the Temple. The area is delimited by tall arches standing on stone pillars and is surrounded by an Herodian staircase, a section of a Roman roadway and a Mamluk bath-house, showing the variety of periods that constitute this part of underground Jerusalem. The excavated area will become an educational centre for Jewish history and the elaborate excavation and preparatory work have been funded by Zvi Hirsch Bogolyubov, a Ukrainian billionaire living in Dnepropetrovsk and London, who wanted to demonstrate his love for Israel.

National Park World Heritage Site

The complex of caves in the Beit Guvrin-Maresha national park, south-west of Jerusalem, has been accepted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at its recent meeting in Qatar, where it was described as “a city under a city” formed by man-made caves, hollowed out of thick layers of soft homogenous chalk, in a series of historical periods of some two thousand years from the Iron Age to that of the Crusaders. The caves, which started as quarries, were later converted to craft centres, places of worship, bath-houses, tombs and hiding places. The site will be the 8th Israeli World Heritage Site. At the same meeting in Qatar, UNESCO included the early agricultural terraces of the village of Battir in the West Bank in the list of World Heritage Sites and also that of World Heritage Sites in Danger, in the name of the Palestinian Authority.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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