Report from Israel, November 2017

More Bullae From the City of David Excavation

During the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority directed by Dr. Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf at the City of David in Jerusalem dozens of ancient seals (bullae) dating to the Iron Age period were unearthed.

The bullae are small pieces of clay which in ancient times served to seal letters. Usually they bear a stamp with the name or sign of the clerk or administrator who sent the letter. One of the seals mentions a man by the name of “Achiav ben Menachem”. Other bullae mention the name “Pinchas”. According to the directors of the excavation “Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service of the Kingdom of Judea”.

A Multilayer Ancient Site Excavated Near Beit El

Archaeologists from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria Archaeology division revealed a multilayer ancient site underneath the marching ground of the IDF training base close to Bet El. The excavation results point out that the settlement existed during the First Temple Period.

The site was rebuilt during the Persian Period, and was inhabited by a Jewish population during the Hellenistic and Hasmonean period. The settlement remained in Jewish hands all the way up to the Roman Period and was probably abandoned after the Great Revolt against the Roman or the failure of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt. The site was inhabited again during the Byzantine Period by Christians as attested from the remains of a church and a bath-house that were found during the excavations. Eventually, the site was destroyed in the great earthquake of 748 CE and never restored again. According to Yevgeni Aharonovich, the director of the excavation on behalf of the civil administration, “the findings were amazing. Most of them were exquisitely preserved. We found keys to doors to housing units and work implements used by the Jews who lived there, attesting to the period during which the town existed”.

Roman Theatre-Like Structure Discovered Below Wilson’s Arch and Opposite the Western Wall

Image of the ‘odeon’ by Tessa Rajak

A sensational discovery was revealed during the Archaeological excavation conducted by Dr. Joe Uziel and Tehillah Lieberman from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Avi Solomon from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. During the excavation, which took place exactly below Wilson’s Arch, eight completely preserved stone courses from the Western Wall were unearthed under a layer of earth about eight meters thick. Below this layer the remains of a semicircular theater-like structure apparently dating to the second century C.E. were found. This public building contained approximately 200 seats. The fact that the structure’s measurements are relatively small, in addition to the structure’s location under a roofed space (Wilson’s Arch), led the directors of the excavation to believe that this is either an odeon— used, in most cases, for acoustic performances, or a bouleuterion—the building where a city council met, in this case presumably the council of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. Several findings at the site, such as a staircase that was never completely hewn, led the excavators to note that the building was not complete in its construction. They speculate that the structure could date to the building activities that were conducted right after the foundation of Aelia Capitolina. It could be that the beginning of the Bar- Kokhba revolt forced the Romans stationed in the colony to abandon all construction activities.

Galilean Stone Vessel Workshop from the Roman Period Revealed

A Roman-era chalkstone quarry used to produce tableware and storage vessels was excavated by a joint expedition from the Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority at Reineh, a village located close to Nazareth in the Lower Galilee. During the excavation thousands of stone cores, the ancient industrial waste from stone mugs and bowls produced on a lathe were found.

According to Dr. Yonatan Adler from the Ariel University and a director of the excavation, the ancient Jewish ritual laws state that vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material which can never become ritually impure.

He adds that “Until today only two other similar sites have been excavated, and both of these were in the area of Jerusalem. Our excavation is highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well”.

Byzantine Greek Inscription Uncovered during an Excavation at Jerusalem

A Greek inscription was found during a salvage excavation close to the Old City’s Damascus Gate headed by David Gellman on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The inscription mentions the 6th-century Roman Emperor Justinian, as well as a certain Constantine—who served as abbot of a church. This is a translation of the inscription: “The most pious Roman Emperor Flavius Justinian and the most God-loving priest and abbot, Constantine, erected the building in which (this mosaic) sits during the 14th indiction”. This suggests that the mosaic should be dated to the year 550/551 A.D. Researchers believe that the building of which the mosaic was once part was used as a monastery and hostel for pilgrims.

Emperor Justinian and Constantine the priest were also mentioned in the inscription that was found during Nahman Avigad’s excavation at the Nea church. These two inscriptions emphasize the large scale constriction activities that took place in Jerusalem during Justinian reign in the middle of the sixth century C.E.

Dr Eitan Klein is a Deputy Director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Archaeologist of the classical periods and a Lecturer at the Land of Israel Department at Ashqelon Academic College

The Central Timna Valley Project: Technological and Social Aspects of Ancient Copper Exploitation in the Timna Valley, Israel

This report was sent to the AIAS by Erez Ben-Yosef

The Timna Valley in southern Israel is one of the best-preserved ancient copper ore districts in the world. More than six millennia of copper mining and smelting are represented in the archaeology of the valley, which fortuitously was only little damaged by modern exploitation. Located deep within the southern Levantine deserts and far from any permanent water sources, the region presented serious challenges to the societies interested in exploiting its rich copper ore in all periods.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the valley witnessed several periods of substantial copper production, the most intense of which occurred in the early Iron Age (ca. 1200 – 900 BCE). The archaeological remains from this period have been the focus of the ongoing Central Timna Valley (CTV) Project of Tel Aviv University, which explores the technological and social aspects of the industry by excavations, surveys, and the application of advanced analytic and micro-archaeological methods. The latter include the integration of several dating techniques (radiocarbon, archaeomagnetism and luminescence), aimed at establishing a robust, high-resolution timeframe for the industrial remains; in turn, this chronological skeleton enables a detailed diachronic study of technological developments and social processes, including the formation of the Edomite Kingdom mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Egyptian and Assyrian sources. This kingdom, centered around the lucrative copper mines of the region, was able to flourish after the major geopolitical powers of the Ancient Near East collapsed at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

The project’s excavations uncovered a wide array of materials, from production waste (slag, tuyeres and furnace fragments) to pottery and ground stones, including a unique collection of textiles and other rarely preserved organic remains. The latter have helped to better understand the life of the Iron Age metalworkers by illuminating aspects that are usually inaccessible in common archaeological research, such as clothing and the maintenance of draft animals.

Various analytic studies have been used to extract further insights on the industry and the society behind it, including archaeobotanical and archaeozoological investigations, pollen analysis, chemical and mineralogical studies of slag and other smelting waste, petrographic studies of pottery, and more. One of the most intriguing observations so far indicates close connections between the copper mines and the Mediterranean region, raising once again the question of “King Solomon’s Mines,” and the possibility that the Timna copper was the source of wealth of Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE.

Results of the CTV Project were featured in the international media including the New York Times, National Geographic Society, Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post.

 

Report from Israel, July 2017

ADVANCED IMAGING TECHNOLOGY USED TO REVEAL HIDDEN OSTRACON INSCRIPTION

A multi-disciplinary team from Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Department of Archaeology used advanced imaging technology to reveal a hitherto unnoticed inscription on a pottery shard. In the 1965 excavations at the First Temple Period Fortress of Tel Arad, the late professor Yohanan Aharoni found several ostraca, some of which were deciphered. The ancient site served as a military outpost on the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah. The ostracon is dated to circa 600 BCE, shortly before the Babylonians destroyed the Kingdom of Judah’s in 586 BCE.

On the verso, the text on the shard mentions money transfers, but the recto was considered blank. With multispectral imaging techniques, the team was able to decipher three lines, comprising 17 words. The letter was addressed to Elyashiv, the quartermaster of the Arad Fortress, and requests wine and food from the warehouses of the fortress for a certain military unit.

IRON AGE-PERSIAN PERIOD RESERVOIR CLOSE TO ROSH HA-‘AYIN

An elongated water cistern was found during an excavation directed by Gilad Itach from the Israel Antiquities Authority at a site located close to the modern city Rosh Ha-‘Ayin. The cistern (20 meters long and more than 4 meters wide) was hewn below a large building that was settled during the Late Iron Age Period and until the Persian Period. On the upper plaster layer graffiti of crosses, human figures and Arabic inscriptions were found. The cistern was part of an administrative farmstead that was built after the Assyrian conquest (721-720 BCE) of the area.

A JEWISH SETTLEMENT FROM THE ROMAN PERIOD AT BEIT NATTIF

A Jewish settlement dating from the Late Second Temple Period to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt was unearthed during rescue excavations directed by Sarah Hirshberg and Shua Kisilevitz from the Israel Antiquities Authority. The site lies some 500 meters to the west of Kh. Beit Nattif. Eight ritual baths, cisterns, and underground hiding complex from the second century Bar-Kokhba Revolt, along with rock-hewn industrial installations were found. The ancient buildings have not survived and their stones were taken to construct buildings in later periods since XXXX. This site is probably the one mentioned in historical sources as a capital of one of the Second Temple Period toparchies of Judea (Josephus, Jewish War, IV, 444–446; Pliny, Natural History, V, 70).

DIETARY HABITS IN JERUSALEM FROM THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD

More than 5,000 animal bones from Second Temple Period landfills from the City of David were analyzed by PhD candidate Abra Sapiciarich, under the supervision of Dr. Yuval Gadot and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority. The researchers discovered that the Jewish population preferred sheep and goats to chickens and cows, indicative of the dietary habits of Jewish residents in Jerusalem during that time. According to Sapir-Hen, pigeon bones were only found in landfills near the Temple Mount, and not farther away, in landfills from the City of David. This might indicate that pigeons were only used in religious rituals.

A 7TH CENTURY COIN HOARD NEAR JERUSALEM

A hoard of nine Byzantine Period bronze coins was uncovered during a salvage excavation close to ‘Ein Hemed. The excavation, directed by Annette Landes-Nagar from the Israel Antiquities Authority, exposed a large two-storey structure and an adjacent winepress that were part of a large complex, apparently serving Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The hoard was found near the wall of the building and was probably placed in a cloth purse that was concealed inside a hidden niche. The coins bear the images of three Byzantine emperors: Justinian (483-565 AD), Maurice (539-602 CE) and Phocas (547-610 CE). The hoard was probably hidden there before the Sassanid Persian invasion in 614 CE.

Dr Eitan Klein is the Deputy Director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Archaeologist of the classical periods and a Lecturer at the Land of Israel Department at Ashqelon Academic College

Report from Jerusalem #78, September 2016

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem Israel

Gold Coin Of Roman Emperor Nero

During a recent excavation on Mount Zion, a gold coin with the image of the Roman Emperor Nero was found by archaeologists from the University of North Carolina in the ruins of a large mansion in the Upper City of Jerualem that may have belonged to one of the priestly families that served in the Temple. The excavation was directed by Dr.Shimon Gibson, who worked with Dr. James Tabor and Dr. Rafael Lewis. The coin reads “NERO CAESAR AUG IMP” and on the reverse was an oak wreath with the letters EX S C. Dr. David Jacobson of London has dated the coin to 56/57 CE. The coin was found in one of the large mansions belonging to the priestly families and may have been hidden to save it from the Roman troops that ransacked the properties when they destroyed the Temple in 70 CE.

Norwegian Embassy Driver Smuggles Antiquities

The Norwegian Embassy car was stopped at the Allenby Bridge to Jordan and the police uncovered 10 kilograms of ancient coins and small figurines. The driver of the diplomatic car was arrested but no details of the origin of the antiquities has yet been released.

Ancient Egyptian Amulet

Over three hundred students were excavating in Tzipori in the Galilee, under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority, where a three thousand year old Egyptian ring-shaped amulet was uncovered. No suggestions as to why it was found here have been offered.

Ancient Olive Pits Found In Jordan Valley

Archaeologists from the University of Haifa have found seven thousand year old olive pits west of the Jordanian border. The find made by the University’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology suggest that the pits are the result of artificial irrigation. Prof. Daniel Rosenberg said the find would require a change in the perception of ancient agricultural procedures and a re-evaluation of their sophistication in agriculture.

Temple Weight In Jerusalem

An inscribed stone weight found in 2013 has recently been deciphered said the excavator Dr. Oren Gutfeld. It belonged to a synagogue that had been bombed by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948. When it was being cleared a building from the Mameluke period was found beneath it and below that a massive Byzantine structure with tiled floors and walls and a storage area with pottery, animal bones and coins. It also contained a stone weight with a two line inscription, which the excavator Oren Gutfeld finally deciphered as the name of the priestly family Katros in Hebrew and ancient Persian, This family is mentioned in the Mishna as being corrupt and buying into the priesthood; the weight may have been used in some way for this purpose.

Ancient Kiln and Pottery Shop  

During an excavation at Shlomi in the Western Galilee an unusual kiln was discovered as part of a pottery manufacturing site. Instead of the usual form of kiln built above ground in stone and mudbrick, this kiln, said to be 1,600 years old, was hewn out of the bedrock, according to Joppe Gosker of the Israel Antiquities Authority who also noted that the site included a system for storing water and compartments for the pottery, The work was uncovered in a chalk sub-base where a new housing was being built. The kiln and surrounding finds will be opened to the new residents and to the public at a later date.

These notes have been gathered as a service to the Society, who take no responsibility for its content. 

Report from Jerusalem #77, 8th June 2016

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem Israel

First Temple Period Seal from Jerusalem

A seal bearing the name Elihana bat Gael was recently unearthed in a large building in the Givati parking lot that was being excavated in the City of David area. It was inscribed in paleo-Hebrew lettering in reverse script and was found with another seal in similar lettering inscribed with the name of Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu, a male. Both seals were considered to be about 2,500 years old. Finding such seals is a rarity and finding one of a female is even rarer. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), she must have been an important person who had legal status, “allowing her to conduct business and own property”. In this case, she must have been of a very elevated status as her name is given as the daughter of her father and not as the wife of her husband, which was the more common case.

Ancient Egyptian Amulet Discovered by Young Girl

In the sifting programme organised by Gabriel Barkai, a twelve-year-old girl, Neshama Spielman, has uncovered a rare Egyptian Amulet bearing the name of Thutmose III of the 15th century BCE. Spielman noticed the find as something special as it was on a piece of pottery different from others and handed it over to the experts for further identification. Thutmose III (1479-1425 BCE) is credited with extending Egypt in domination over Canaan and defeating a coalition of Canaanite kings at Megiddo in 1457 BCE according to Barkai.

Second Temple Settlement and Synagogue on the Sea of Galilee

Excavations at Migdal, ancient Magdala, on the western banks of the Kinneret have revealed a two-thousand year old settlement and its synagogue. The site is of the Roman period and of interest to Christians as well as Jews as it was known as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, who was the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke. The synagogue contained a number of significant remains including a large stone in the central hall with a carving of the Jerusalem Temple, an inscribed jug and an incense shovel. The site is open to the public and excavation work will continue next season by the IAA with a group of students and volunteers from Mexico.

Return of Egyptian Sarcophagi

A number of ancient wooden coffin lids that were stolen from Egypt, smuggled to Dubai and then taken to London and a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, have been seized by the IAA and will be returned to Egypt. They have been examined as being authentic and having been cut from ancient coffins, and the IAA will ensure that they are returned to Cairo in the near future. The items were smuggled in 2012, damaged and deliberately cut in half for easier transportation.

Roman Treasure Trove off Caesarea

Divers discovered Roman artefacts in a shipwreck off Caesarea in April 2016. The items included a candlestick devoted to the sun-god Sol and a statue of the moon goddess Luna, as well as vessels for carrying water, all in bronze and excellent condition, having been preserved by a covering of the local sea sand.

The divers will be rewarded by a special citation for reporting their find to the IAA, who will be examining the finds further before displaying them to the public.

Roman Gold Coin Found in Galilee

While hiking in the eastern Galilee, Laurie Rimon, a member of Kibbutz  Kfar Blum, found a rare gold coin, which was only the second gold coin of its type found in the world, according to the IAA to whom Laurie submitted it. According to Donald Ariel head of the IAA Coin Department, the find could indicate the presence of the Roman army in the area two thousand years ago when quelling the Bar-Kochba revolt. Some Roman officers were paid a high salary of three gold coins. The coin shows the symbols of the Roman army with the name of the Emperor Trajan on one side and a portrait of Emperor Augustus deified on the other. The only other known version of the coin is on display in the British Museum in London.

Ancient Glass Kilns Found Near Haifa

During the construction of the Jezreel Valley Railway project, the oldest Israeli kilns were uncovered, which had been used for the manufacture of glass. According to the IAA, the kilns produced glass that was sold throughout the Middle East and was the first-known production of this material. It seems that the sand from the area of Akko was particularly fine and suitable for manufacturing. Gas and chemical analysis has shown that glass items from Europe and in shipwrecks came from this area. The ancient kilns were deemed to be 1,600 years old and the IAA discovered that they contained fragments of raw Judean glass. The kilns date to the late Roman period and indicate that Israel was one of the foremost centres for the production of glass in the ancient world.

These notes have been gathered as a service to the Society, who take no responsibility for its content.