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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Report from Jerusalem #60, 20th April 2014

Exhibition of Early Masks at the Israel Museum

A new temporary exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem shows a collection of twelve masks from Jericho and other sites around the Dead Sea.

The masks are all of stone and dated to the Pre-pottery Neolithic B period of about nine thousand years ago. They were dispersed among several museums and private collections and have been collected together here for the first time. The Israel Museum had two of them, one from Nahal Hemar in the Judean Desert and one from nearby Horvat Duma, according to Debby Hershman, the curator. They are all beautifully mounted on separate stands and individually spotlit in a dark room, which gives one an uncanny feeling of being watched by surreal ancestors, and found wanting. Their purpose is unclear but the Museum speculates that they were used for unknown rituals in a world where the symbols of death breathed life into those that viewed them. The exhibition remains open until 13th September 2014.

Crac Des Chevaliers Threatened

It has been reported that Syrian government forces have been shelling the walls of this well-preserved Crusader castle, in the Homs gap of Syria, where rebels have been entrenched. The castle is an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important standing medieval castles in the world. Heavy shelling had already damaged some of the interior structures, according to earlier reports.

Prehistoric Diet in Ramle

Archaeologists of Haifa University, led by Dr. Yossi Zaidner, have uncovered early human remains at the Hector site in Ramle, south of Ben Gurion airport, in a very deep pit-like area that dates back to the Mousterian period of the Paleolithic era of 170,000 years ago. The remains include a considerable number of large bones that relate to equids, fallow deer and rhinoceros, which were presumably the diet of the humans that camped out in this deep and open area. This is one of the earliest remains of human settlement in the Middle East and is most unusual, according to Dr. Zaidner, for being located in an open- air camp rather than a cave.

Second Temple Ossuaries Looted

Two Palestinians from Bethlehem were recently arrested trying to sell eleven ossuaries to two Israeli collectors. They were all detained by police at a security checkpoint and reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), whose Eitan Klein recognized the artefacts as Second Temple burial coffins by their fine double rosette carvings on the limestone. The ossuaries had come from an unknown cave in the Jerusalem area, and one of them was quite small and probably that of a deceased child.  Two of the ossuaries had names inscribed, but only the first names, being Yoezer and Ralfin, written in Hebrew and Greek.

The boxes will be held by the IAA pending the trial of the criminals, and the bones transferred to the Ministry of Religious Affairs for conventional Jewish burial.

Tomb of Prominent Canaanite?

During a rescue dig before the laying of a gas pipeline at Tel Shadud near Sarid, 6 kms. south-west of Nazareth,  a cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropomorphic carved lid of an Egyptian type, was found. Inside was an adult skeleton, tentatively identified by Dr. Ron Be’eri, one of the directors of the dig, as a Canaanite who may have served the Egyptian government. With the body was found a gold signet ring with the name of Seti I, father of Ramesses the Great, engraved on it. This dates the remains to 13th century BCE. Nearby were the graves of two men and two women, who may have been family members of the coffin deceased, as well as pieces of pottery, a bronze dagger and bowl and other bronze fragments. These were considered to be offerings to the gods and also utensils for the use of the deceased in the afterlife. Dr. Be’eri thought that the skeleton may have been that of an Egyptian official or a wealthy Canaanite of the local elite, imitating Egyptian customs. The IAA will take DNA samples from inside the coffin to try and determine the original nationality of the deceased.

Prize Awarded to Prof. Gabriel Barkai

The Moskowitz Prize for Zionism has recently been awarded to three recipients – to Michael Freund of the Jerusalem Post, to Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon of the ex-Gush Katif settlers, and to archaeologist Prof. Gabriel Barkai, who share the prize of $100,000. The award to Prof. Barkai is for his lifelong work on the ancient history of Jerusalem and in particular for his salvage of the remains removed from the Temple Mount by the Islamic authorities, and for setting up the major sifting complex to analyse those remains.

Jerusalem Spring Citadel Dig Completed

After fifteen years of work at the Gihon Spring, Professors Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have now completed their uncovering of the great fortress that protected the spring in the Canaanite period of 1,800 years ago, and continued in use during the reigns of David and Solomon and thereafter. The structure was of truly massive stonework the like of which was  notseen again until the time of Herod the Great. The work was discovered when a new visitors’ centre was planned, whichhad to be delayed until the archaeologists had completed their investigations. It can now go ahead and the public will be allowed access to see the exposed megaliths of the impressive foundations of the fortress. The question now remains – if the Gihon Spring was so heavily fortified, why did Hezekiah (or another) have to build the extensive rock-cut tunnel to protect the spring from the Assyrians?

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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Report from Jerusalem #59, 24th March 2014

The World of the Philistines Museum

A new museum has opened in Ashdod on the Israeli coast, devoted to the Philistines, who lived in that area some three thousand years ago. It is called the Corinne Mamane Museum, after a young archaeologist who was tragically killed in a road accident nearby. It is a serious collection of Philistine remains and artifacts from 12th to 7th centuries BCE, but it is geared to create interest for local schoolchildren who flock to it regularly. In one section dealing with the life of Samson and his fights with the Philistines, there is a whole wall devoted to a large photographic tableau of Gustav Dore’s engraving of Samson seizing the two pillars of the temple of Dagon (Judges 16:30). As one stands in front of it and claps ones hands, the picture disintegrates, the pillars collapse and all the Philistines fall down dead. There is also a table with images of many pottery fragments spread around, as one touches each piece, it appears to fly off onto  a central screen and join together with the other pieces to make up a large amphora, suitably restored. These are fascinating exhibits for children and adults alike. The professional adviser to the Museum was Prof. Aren Maeir.

Ancient Miqveh in Spain

The synagogue of Gerona, in Catalonia, Spain, was founded in 1435 and abandoned at the expulsion of the Spanish Jews in 1492. Gerona had an active Jewish population of over twenty families. Recently a contemporary miqveh has been uncovered on the site, which is a rare find as so few ritual baths remain of that early date in Europe. The synagogue site now houses a museum of local Jewish history, and Alon Bar, the Israeli Ambassador to Spain, attended the unveiling of the miqveh together with Spanish dignitaries, who said that  the Spanish authorities see the find as an important link with their Jewish past, which they now hope to promote.

Sy Gitin Retires as Director of the Albright Institute of Archaeology

In July of this year Prof. Seymour Gitin, 78, will retire as Director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, after thirty-four years in office. He will be replaced by Dr. Matthew Adams, an Egyptologist who trained at Penn State University and has taught at several American universities and is director of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project in Israel.

Prof. Gitin expanded the activities of the Institute to include an international fellowship programme with 65 fellows from all over the world, including the Far East, as well as local Israelis and Palestinians. He instituted an annual programme of 80 events, such as weekly lectures and field trips, and conducted a major excavation at Tel Miqne-Ekron, organised in conjunction with the Hebrew University, with Trude Dothan and Gitin as joint directors.

Other field projects associated with the Albright include sites at Ashkelon, Tel Kedesh, Gezer, Sepphoris. Tel Regev and Tel Zeitah. During Prof. Gitin’s term of office, the Institute has undergone major renovations to its premises in East Jerusalem and the library holdings have increased threefold. The Albright is now the premier English-speaking archaeological facility in Israel.

Sy himself has authored nearly two hundred publications and will continue working on the Tel Miqne-Ekron material in his retirement, when he will remain as Dorot Director and Professor of Archaeology Emeritus. He has received prizes and awards from many universities and from the Israel Museum for his outstanding contribution to the archaeology of the Levant in general, and to the history of the Philistines in particular. We wish him a long and active retirement in good health.

Exhibition of Earliest Masks at Israel Museum

The exhibition of twelve of the world’s oldest masks has featured in the Museum since early March, and will remain open until September 2014.  Further information will be available in due course.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Library

As part of its ambitious new building project called the Schottenstein National Campus for Archaeology in Israel, now under construction on Museum Hill by the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) will erect the largest library  of the archaeology of Israel in the Middle East, and perhaps in the world. It will be called the Mandel National Library for Archaeology in Israel, and is being built thanks to donations from the Mandel Foundation of Cleveland, USA.  It will house 150,000 volumes and include 500 rare books and thousands of periodicals. The facility, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, will be open to the public as well as scholars and it is hoped it will be completed by April 2016.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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