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. 

Report from Jerusalem #76, 25th February 2016

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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.”

 

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 #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

Report from Jerusalem #69, 4th May 2015

Egyptian Style Artifacts from Southern Cave

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently displayed artifacts unearthed from a cave near Tel Halif, 15 km. north of Beersheba. The items were found during a looting probe and date to the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age, say from 1500 to 1000 BCE. Yuli Schwartz of the IAA said that the thieves had been thwarted and the IAA were now carrying out a salvage excavation. She said that more than 300 pottery vessels of alabaster, seals and seal impressions had been found, as well as jewellery of bronze, shell and faience in considerable quantities. The appearance of the artifacts were in an Egyptian style and suggest that there had been an Egyptian governmental centre in the area at the time, Many of the stone seals were scarab-shaped with Egyptian images, and several were inscribed on semi-precious stones from Egypt and the Sinai.

Some had the names of Egyptian Pharaohs, one had a sphinx with the name of Thutmose (c.1480 BCE), another with the name of Amenhotep (c. 1370 BCE), and one with the name of Ptah, god of Memphis. It appears the objects were mainly made in Egypt but some were of Israelite work using Egyptian methods and motifs. Dr. Ben-Tor of the Israel Museum noted that most of the finds dated to the 15th and 14th centuries BCE when Canaan was ruled by the Egyptians. The excavation continues and the finds have been transferred to the IAA laboratories for cleaning and further study before being put on display again.

Praise for Finders of Undersea Gold Coins

The divers who discovered the largest hoard of gold coins ever found in Israel were honoured at a recent ceremony at the Nebe Shuayb Druze shrine in the Galilee. They had found 2,600 gold coins of the Fatimid period on the seabed in near-perfect condition, and they reported it immediately to the IAA. Most of the coins bear the name of the Fatamid Caliph al-Hakim bi Amra-Allah who is believed to have founded the Druze religion in 1017 CE, and therefore the find was of tremendous interest to the Druze community, and their spiritual leader Sheikh Tarif attended the ceremony. The IAA said that they were proud to connect the Druze to their local past. No information was given as to how the coins had ended up on the sea-bed in Caesarea harbour. At the ceremony the six divers were presented by the IAA and the Caesarea Corporation with certificates of exemplary citizenship and with a replica of one of the gold coins.

Dome of the Rock, Tension over Carpet Renewal

The Islamic Trust, the Waqf, have recently replaced the worn carpet inside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The IAA were not informed of the change and it only came to the notice of Zachi Dvira, a colleague of Gabi Barkai, who saw pictures of the move on pages of Islamic Facebook and expressed concern to the IAA, who were unaware of it. The concern is not with the change of the modern carpet but with the floor below which could have been examined when the old carpet was lifted.

It seems that the floor below is covered with tiles of the Crusader period, and these were removed or changed without proper supervision. Under the tiles the earlier floor might have shown evidence of earlier pavings or the existence of another floor below. The IAA should have been informed and could have done the necessary research and taken photographs. The Israeli government will not allow the work to be opened up again due to delicate relations with the Jordanian government, who financed the operation. According to the Waqf management the work was long overdue and they said “our work in the Dome is transparent, we are only putting down carpet, nothing more, nothing less.” The suspicion by some commentators, is that the Waqf are trying to remove all traces of the Crusader geometric flooring of the 11th century CE, as pieces had previously appeared in Gabi Barkai’s sifting of the earlier material that was illegally removed by the Waqf without supervision in 1999.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem