Report from Jerusalem #76, 25th February 2016

Conference on Work of the P.E.F. in Palestine/Israel

A conference was recently held in Haifa to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund in the country. Prof. David Jacobson reported, “The founders agreed that the new organisation would conduct its activities on scientific principles, abstain from any political controversies and not operate as a religious society.” That is what enabled a unique collaboration between people of different fields, such as Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster, George Grove, author of the Grove Dictionary of Music, and Captain Charles Wilson of the Royal Engineers to exist. Biblical Archaeology was then considered a branch of theology, vague and descriptive. Early scholars who came to the Holy Land were not experts in drawing maps or in documenting ancient architecture. The PEF introduced the accuracy of military cartography into this discipline and thus established many standards that we use in modern Archaeology today.”

Funerary Inscriptions in Galilee

Two funeral inscriptions have been found at Tzipori in the Galilee bearing the names of two individuals described as Rabbis, written in Aramaic and Greek, according to Dr. Moti Aviam of the Kinneret College of Galilean Archaeology. The find has been reported by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The names have not yet been deciphered but judging by the calligraphy, they date to the late Roman era of 1700 years ago. Tzipori was the town in which the famous Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi lived, compiled and edited the Mishnah, the comprehensive record of Jewish law and practice. The use of the term Rabbi indicates that the position was recognised and respected by the general population at this early time.

Central Israel Ancient Diet Revealed

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered the diet of ancient hunters living at the Qesem Cave site, a few kilometers outside Tel Aviv. Prof. Avi Gopher said that they had evidence of tortoise bones from fire-pits that were between 200,000 and 400,000 years old. The evidence is that the hunters ate the turtles in several ways and prepared them in different ways. Tortoises had for long been part of man’s diet but this is the first time that evidence of fire had been found. In some cases the tortoises were roasted whole in their shells, in others the shells had been cracked and the animals dismembered and cooked in several different ways. Due to the slow speed of the animals it was possible for children and the elderly to catch the tortoises and thus eating them was more common than was to be expected, According to Prof. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University, the sophisticated preparation and cooking of the tortoises. “represents an extraordinary level of biological and cultural evolution in early man.”

Egyptian Beetle Seal Found in Galilee

Amit Haklai, a resident of Tiberias, was hiking on the Karnei Hattin plains west of Tiberias with his children, when he spotted a very small white object in a beetle shape and with carvings on it. He suspected it to be an Egyptian seal and handed it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who identified it as an Egyptian scarab seal of the second millenium BCE. Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor of the Israel Museum identified it as a seal of Thutmose III (1481-1425 BCE) sitting on his throne, with his name in heiroglyphics. This Pharaoh set up administrative control in Canaan and fought several local battles including that of Megiddo. This is the first time that such a seal has been found on the ground in this area, it may have risen to the surface after a rainstorm.  In the Bronze Age a fortified citadel stood in this area, the Horns of Hattin and the scarab can apparently be linked to the period when the citadel existed, according to Yardena Alexander of the IAA.

Chalcolithic Period Homes in Northern Jerusalem

The IAA recently announced the finding of a residential compound at Shuafat neighbourhood in northern Jerusalem, when road building was being undertaken. Remains of the Copper Age, of seven thousand years ago, are extremely rare in the Judean Hills, according to Dr. Omri Barlzilai, “and now for the first time we have discovered in this area significant remains of seven thousand years ago,” he added. The excavation exposes two houses complete with floors, pottery vessels, flints and a basalt bowl, all typical of the period. There were also a few animal bones that allow us to recreate the eating habits of the people, according to Ronit Lupo, who directed the excavations, and who said that “the finds show that there was a thriving settlement here in Jerusalem in ancient times.”

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #75, 18th January 2016

Hidden Chamber in Tomb of Tutankhamun?

The Egyptian Antiquities Minister has declared that there are probably hidden passages behind the walls of the tomb and that they may contain the body of Queen Nefertiti, of the 14th century BCE, presumed to be the stepmother of King Tut, and whose body has never been found. Radar imaging of the tomb has been taken and sent to Japan for analysis. The finding of the Queen’s last resting place would be the most remarkable find of Egyptian archaeology, and it is expected that the results of the Japanese analysis will be available later in February.  The investigation is being led by British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, who said that the work of the expedition is going well, with the help of Egyptian and Japanese experts.

Collector Arrested for Trying to Sell Ancient Coins

An Israeli coin collector from  a kibbutz in northern Israel in the Gilboa region, was arrested for trying to sell three thousand coins of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, which he had amassed and was attempting to sell to Israeli and overseas clients without permission or a licence. Many of the coins had been found by him in the fields around the kibbutz and had been professionally cleaned in a laboratory in his own home. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said the coins should have been declared to them and their sale would violate the cultural heritage of Israel and that if found guilty, the coins would be impounded and the collector might be punished with a five-year prison sentence.

Ancient Terraces Restored after Fire

A major fire five years ago that destroyed forests in the Carmel area, south of Haifa, revealed  two-thousand-year old terraces on the hillside, which are now being restored. The fire also exposed ancient earthenware of the Roman period, of approximately the same age as the terraces. The Keren Kayemet of Israel and the Jewish National Fund are now restoring the forest area but will ensure that the spread of vegetation and trees will be considerably thinner that before and that the danger of fire will be avoided. The terraces will be left exposed to be seen by visitors and other interested parties.

Royal Seal of Hezekiah Discovered

Excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,  directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar, have uncovered the clay impression of the seal of King Hezekiah,which reads, “Belonging to King Hezekiah (son of) Ahaz King of Judah” and was followed by the symbol of a sun with two wings flanked by ankh symbols representing life. The seal impression was found in a refuse dump that stood next to a royal building used to store foodstuffs. The building was constructed earlier in the time of Solomon, together with a gatehouse and two towers dating to the tenth century BCE. as part of local fortifications. The seal came to light during wet-sifting procedures carried out nearby in the facility directed by Prof. Gabriel Barkai.

Iron-Age Farmhouse Discovered in Central Israel

In Rosh Ha’ayin, fifteen kilometers east of Tel Aviv, during preparations for  new neighbourhood buildings were unearthed a well-preserved farmhouse of approximately 700 BCE.  The farm covered an area of  at least 30m by 50m and its building contained 24 rooms, according to Amit Shadman of the IAA, who is conducting the dig. The buildings included a large storage silo for grains, which were grown and processed in the area. Numerous millstones were found which would have been used to grind the grain into flour, and also oil presses were exposed in simple rock-hewn sites, Two silver coins were also found of the fourth century BCE bearing the likeness of the goddess Athena and the Athenian owl. According to Shadman the farm operated for centuries until abandoned in the Hellenistic period. Many years later, a new settlement wave used the site for a church, a large oil press, residential quarters and stables. The church had floors with coloured mosaics and a Greek inscription stating that “This place was built under Theodosius the priest. Peace be with you when you come and peace be with you when you go, Amen”.  Later again a lime kiln was built here in the Ottoman period. In view of the number of important finds, the ancient remains will be preserved in situ and will be installed in the communal areas of the neighbourhood development and will be carefully displayed and open to the public.

Late Bronze Age Complex Unearthed in Nahariya

As a high-rise block of flats was being built on the seashore in Nahariya, north of Haifa, the remains of a so-called citadel were uncovered. The IAA directors saw it as an administrative centre for sailors who sailed the area over three thousand years ago. It contained rooms with ceramic figurines, with foreign weapons and pottery vessels, attesting to relations with Cyprus and others of the Mediterranean lands. It also acted as a fortress and was destroyed at least four times by fire and was always rebuilt. There was evidence of an abundance of cereal, grape and vegetable seeds that the sailors would have had access to. The remains will be preserved and according to the architect Alex Shpol, will be incorporated into the basement levels of the new beachside residential tower by the Kochav Company Ltd, the developers.

 Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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.

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.

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