Student Reports 2019

Jacob Deans, University of Cambridge

With the generous support of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society’s Shelia and Anthony Rabin Grant, I was able to take part in the University of Chicago’s excavations at Tell Keisan (or Tel Kison in Hebrew), directed by David Schloen (University of Chicago), Gunnar Lehman (Ben Gurion of the Negev) and Liz Bloch-Smith (Princeton Theological Seminary).

            Tell Keisan, situated in the Galilee, has evidence of habitation stretching from the Neolithic period right through to an outpost built by Saladin during the Crusader period. This season, however, the excavation focused on Area E — a Phoenician site dating from the early Bronze Age through to the Persian Period — while an adjunct group excavated the remains of a neighbouring Byzantine church in Area A.

            This Phoenician site, while not as large or prosperous as others further north, was likely a trading outpost of relative importance, linking together the northern Levantine city states with the various emergent polities in the south — including, perhaps, the kingdom of Israel during the Iron Age. The directors of the dig tended to have a predilection for the High Chronology, so evidence of trade, economic development and so forth in Iron Age I seemed to be viewed by some of those on the dig in the context of the formation of a nearby Israelite state in the 10th century BCE.

            Accordingly, the primary aim of the dig (at least from the perspective of the volunteers) was to work down from Persian-period to Iron II and Iron I strata. Because of this, in the square I was assigned to, we initially worked on a possible refuse pit from the Persian Period, so one had to attentively look for evidence of the pit line while stripping away layers — changes in soil colour and density, the size and regularity of ceramic finds, hints of stratification — all while sectioning the bulkhead at the side of the square. As time went on, I had the opportunity to rotate between a number of different tasks, attend lectures and field trips, and travel around the country.

            This was my first taste of the practical side of archaeology (being a Theology undergraduate), so I felt like I came away from the dig season with a few insights I wouldn’t have gained elsewhere. I was impressed by the highly rigorous data collection at the site, aided in part by the use of OCHRE (Online Cultural and Historical Research Environment), a data management tool developed at the University of Chicago (see https://voices.uchicago.edu/ochre/). But what also intrigued me was the process of interpretation of finds on-site — whether field readings of pottery (usually done by the inimitable Gunnar Lehman), or simply the process of making observations yourself and relaying them to one’s square supervisor. In this sense, one was constantly interpreting as well as recording data. The way in which the discipline sits between the sciences and the humanities is not something that non-archaeologists always give due thought to when dealing with archaeological data, so it was interesting for me — someone with no prior experience — to gain that particular insight. I would like to thank the AIAS for their financial support, and all those from the University of Chicago for what was a memorable and highly edifying month.

Dominik Hronec, Kings College London

The summer of 2019 marked the ninth season of the Huqoq excavation project led by professor Jodi Magness from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thanks to a generous contribution by the AIAS and encouragement from my professor (Joan Taylor from KCL), I was able to participate as a student volunteer at the Huqoq archaeological site under the supervision of an assistant director Shua Kisilevitz.

            The Sunday to Friday daily routine started at 4 am when we woke up and walked from the nearby kibbutz to the site at 4:30 am. We would start digging at 5 am and finish at around noon. After the dig we would wash the daily findings and have a lecture, workshop or go on a field trip organised by the researchers in a particular area of expertise from our Huqoq staff.

            The excavation of a Jewish village at Huqoq uncovered its 5th century CE Late Roman synagogue with unique figurative floor mosaics depicting both biblical and non-biblical scenes. The 2019 season uncovered two new mosaics. One of these is the depiction of four beasts from the Book of Daniel, chapter 7.  The other is the depiction of a short passage from the Exodus 15:27 showing the episode of Elim. The Elim passage was identified after unearthing the inscription — ‘And they came to Elim’.

            What I realised very early on was that the excavation at Huqoq was not only about the mosaics that make the headlines. Yes, they are the most significant findings in Huqoq, but it is not up to the archaeologists to decide what is important and what is not. The role of the archaeologists is to uncover and document everything from the latest to earliest activity at the site for any later academic purposes. Over the course of 16 centuries, different communities have inhabited the Huqoq village: expanding the synagogue building and adding new layers on top of the synagogue building up until the 20th century. In order to reach the floor level of the 5th-century synagogue, the team of nearly 50 students and staff members travelled back in time by carefully uncovering stratum after stratum, century after century. 

            I was assigned to excavate the south side, located outside the synagogue, which covered the area in front of the synagogue’s main entrance. Our group of four, excavated two squares dating from the 18th century back to medieval period. Every day, digging was marked by the findings of various fragments such as pottery, animal bones, glass, tesserae, coins, metal and charcoal. The most significant finding unearthed in our first square located at the farthest side of the site was a medieval water channel that filled the cistern with rainwater. The second square that we excavated was located next to the synagogue’s threshold. Our stratum was a medieval building extension to the synagogue, built around the above-mentioned cistern and the synagogue courtyard. In the corner of the medieval room, our team discovered a byzantine assemblage, consisting of chandelier fragments in the form of glass oil lamps, chains, lamp and wick holders. Due to the delicacy of the material, the excavation required a very careful and subtle procedure and it took us several days to fully uncover all the chandelier fragments.

            The unforgettable one-month archaeological experience in Huqoq has encouraged me to apply for the next season and consider undertaking a PhD in Bible and Archaeology.

Lily Nash, University of Durham

This past summer saw the third season of excavations at the legionary base of Roman Legion VI Ferrata in northern Israel, near to the biblical site of Megiddo. They were conducted by the Jezreel Valley Regional Project (JVRP) and directed by Matthew J. Adams, Yotam Tepper, and Susan Cohen. The JVRP is a long-term, multi-disciplinary survey and excavation project that aims to investigate the history of human activity in the Jezreel Valley from the Palaeolithic through to the Ottoman period. Excavation at the legionary base of Legion VI Ferrata provides an important window into life in this region during the Roman period.

            Established in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian during the early 2nd century CE, the legion’s base utilised its strategic position at the entranceof the Jezreel Valley to monitor the traffic passing through the region to Galilee and the inland valleys of northern Palestine. In this capacity, the legionary base had crucial access to important centres for the local —– and occasionally rebellious — Jewish population. So far, excavation at the site has revealed clear ties to major political and cultural events in the formative years of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity and has provided an incredible new window into the nature and function of Roman military occupation in the eastern Roman provinces.

            This year, excavation was focused in two areas of the legion’s principia (legionary headquarters compound). Area B was located in the rear cultic space (sacellum), in which the all-important legionary standards and the treasury would have been housed. The discovery of monumental architecture and large blocks of worked stone during the course of fieldwork provided further confirmation that the structure in question was indeed the base’s sacellum. Area C was situated in the street-facing corner of the principia in the hope that excavators would uncover the remains of a sewer system and the outer wall of the compound. Indeed, a significant water system and extensive piping was revealed.

            I excavated for the most part in Area C under the supervision of Paul Flesher and Robin Knauth. In the nine squares that we opened over the course of the season, we found significant architectural remains. These finds included large stone building blocks, a column fragment, and layers of floor substructure that covered the remains of a drainage system. Other exciting finds consisted of an unanticipated quantity of coins and a stamped roof tile that provided further confirmation that our site was indeed the base utilised by VI Ferrata Legion. Over the course of the excavation I learnt a great deal about fieldwork methods and recording, adding much to my previously basic skill set. In particular, I was very interested in the use of photogrammetry and GIS software in the recording process and was able to observe and assist with this aspect of the recording, developing technological skills that I will be able to utilise in my upcoming Honours project at the University of Melbourne in 2020.

Alex Rodzinka, Institute of Archaeology, UCL

Tel Yaqush. Never underestimate the value of a plastic bucket.

Thanks to the grant from AIAS I was able to take part in Tel Yaqush Research and Excavation Project in Jordan Valley, Israel. It was my second season at Tel Yaqush so it was exciting to come back and explore the site a bit more as well as meet a few familiar faces. Tel Yaqush is an Early Bronze Age settlement where, in different phases of occupation, two communities can be distinguished, local, and that of Khirbet Kerak, which is widely believed to originate from Transcaucasia. Interestingly, it is a sister site of Tel Beth Yerah, where I had the privilege of working in 2015, my first excavation in Israel. That is the reason for naming the whole culture and the specific type of pottery they produced, after Khirbet Kerak. This provided a satisfying continuity to my excavations in Israel.

The current project is in a way a continuation of work that had been done at the site over 20 years ago when the team from the University of Chicago first started excavating there. This year I worked exclusively on re-excavating a square opened in the early 2000s in the area BM, which was especially challenging as we were dealing with the documentation left by the previous researchers and with the choices that they had made regarding excavating the area. Another task was deciding what was actually in situ and what was the result of more recent conditions affecting the square, because it had been exposed for two decades. We were dealing with multiple walls and pavements, mostly from Early Bronze I. Certain parts of the square remained much higher than the rest for no apparent reason and we began by removing them as they only caused confusion. It was satisfying to see the walls connect as we exposed them further, noting what the previous excavators had missed. I think I learned a lot from fellow students, especially when it comes to distinguishing the differences in the soil colour and recognising the elusive mudbricks in sections. Less intellectually stimulating were countless hours spent on washing pottery late into the evening, but they gave us the chance to talk about our many interests outside of archaeology. To me the most interesting and eye-opening were conversations with my Israeli friend who has worked on many excavations in this country, big and fast-paced, led by Israeli teams and just so different from the digs I have been a part of. It gives one perspective and appreciation for archaeology well done.

Rebekah Welton, University of Exeter

Rebekkah in the field.

Thanks to the very generous Slope Award offered to me by the AIAS I was able to spend three weeks excavating on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in the summer of 2019. I had recently graduated from my PhD programme and wanted to continue with my archaeological work in Jerusalem beyond the end of my doctorate. Having already excavated on Mount Zion under the directorship of Rafi Lewis and Shimon Gibson for five seasons I was eager to return and be a part of this unfolding and increasingly exciting site.

            As an Area Supervisor I oversaw the excavations of the northern area of the site in which we came down onto structural remains dating from the Late Byzantine, Early Byzantine and Early Roman periods. I also excavated an in-situ tabun (bread oven) base which indicated a floor level. Unfortunately, much of the floor adjacent to the tabun base was no longer intact, having been cut through by later builders. As I continued to oversee the excavation below this level, we eventually came down onto bedrock in which a square shaped cavity had been cut. I look forwarded to excavating this cavity in a later season.

In the southern area of the site we made some finds of major significance. In the remains of a ruined house we uncovered arrowheads, crosses and gold jewellery from a stratum dating from the 11th century CE. We surmise that these finds relate to the Crusader attack on Jerusalem in July 1099 as we have also identified the 17 m wide and 4 m deep ditch which abutted the Fatimid city wall. This ditch was sealed with a burnt layer containing coins dating to the time of King Baldwin III who, during a later civil war in 1153, burnt much of the city. One piece of jewellery, likely used for fastening a headscarf or other clothing, is simply breath-taking. It is constructed of gold in an Egyptian style and decorated with pearls and other semi-precious stones – blue, green and turquoise in colour.

            Another significant stratum dating to the Iron Age contained not only Iron Age potsherds but also Scythian type bronze and iron arrowheads amongst burnt wood and ash layers. Such a stratum and its finds may corroborate the reported Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 586/587 BCE, making this discovery particularly pertinent for my own research interests which relate to the material culture of Iron Age Israel and Judah. Another piece of jewellery was found here, this time from the Iron Age. It was made of gold and silver and appears to be fashioned into the shape of a bunch of grapes held from a clasp. This earring or garment tassel was likely lost during the action of the attack and buried until its excavation some 2600 years later. Considering that jewellery is normally looted and melted down, the discovery of both these gold pieces of ornamentation is exciting because it provides us with a glimpse into the daily lives of people involved in these momentous historical events.

            As anticipated, my time excavating in Jerusalem was both enjoyable and thoroughly enriching for my understanding of material culture and the methods by which it is uncovered. I am privileged to be a part of such a unique and fascinating project and am once again grateful for the support of the AIAS in my continued involvement.

 

Archaeological Report from Israel – December 2019

DR EITAN KLEIN, ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

THE LARGEST NEOLITHIC SETTLEMENT IN ISRAEL REVEALED IN MOTZA
A large Neolithic Period Settlement was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Motza, five kilometers west of Jerusalem. The site is located on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near natural springs and close to a fertile valley optimal for long-term settlement. The excavations revealed large buildings with alleys running between them, evidence of advanced planning. Some rooms were used as living spaces, some as public facilities, and others for ritual purposes. The finds include thousands of flint arrowheads used for hunting, axes for tree-felling, along with sickle blades and knives. Several small finds were also discovered as burial offerings in the belief that they would be used by the individual in the afterlife. Numerous graves were found in and amongst the houses. The offerings include stone-made objects, some from obsidian, others from sea shells. The offerings testify that already during the Neolithic Period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places and provide insight to the city’s trade networks. According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “This is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period (9,000 years ago) is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived in the settlement”.

Photo: Eyal Marco, Israel Antiquities Authority.

A MASSIVE CITY FROM THE EARLY BRONZE AGE AT EIN ASAWIR
A city spanning over 650 dunams, large enough to accommodate around 6,000 inhabitants, was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Ein Asawir (En Esur), in the Northern part of the Sharon. The excavation, directed by Itai Elad, Dr. Yitzhak Paz and Dr. Dina Shalem, revealed a planned city from the Early Bronze Age, around the end of the 4th millennium B.C.E., but evidence of an earlier Chalcolithic city (about 7,000 years old) was also discovered beneath the EB houses.

Next to the site are two springs which offered an abundant water supply and were used for agricultural cultivation of the surrounding land. The city contained well-planned streets, residential and public areas, and a fortification wall. A large ritual temple was found in the public area of the site. Situated in the temple’s courtyard was a large stone basin for holding liquids used during religious rituals. Inside the temple a facility containing burnt animal bones was revealed, evidence of sacrificial offerings. Along with the bones were several rare figurines, including a human head, and a seal impression of a man with lifted hands standing beside an animal. According to the directors, “The Early Bronze Age is a fascinating period in the history of ancient Canaan, one in which the rural population gives way to a complex society living mostly in urban settings. The residential buildings, diverse facilities and the public buildings are evidence that an organized society and social hierarchy existed at the time”.

Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

GARUM FACTORY NEAR ASHKELON
Vats used to produce fish sauce (garum) that are among the few known in the Eastern Mediterranean, were recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Ashkelon. The excavation, directed by Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, has revealed evidence of 2000-year old Roman and Byzantine culinary preferences. The ancient Roman diet was based largely on fish sauce. Historical sources refer to the production of special fish sauce that was used as a basic condiment for food in the Roman and Byzantine Eras throughout the Mediterranean basin. They report that the accompanying strong odours during its production required its being distanced from urban areas. In our case the installations were discovered approximately 2 km. to the east from the ancient city of Ashkelon. The Roman site was eventually abandoned and in the Byzantine Period, during the 5th Century C.E., a monastic community settles at the site, making a living from wine production. Three winepresses were found next to a decorated church. A large kiln complex, where wine jars were produced, was located nearby. These appear to have been used for exporting wine, which was the primary income for the monastery.

According to Dr. Erickson-Gini: “The site, which served as an industrial area over several periods, was again abandoned sometime after the Islamic conquest of the region in 7th c. C.E. and later nomadic families, probably residing in tents, dismantled the structures and sold the different parts for building material elsewhere.”

Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

THE ‘STEPPED STREET’ IN THE CITY OF DAVID POSSIBLY CONSTRUCTED BY PONTIUS PILATE
A 2,000-year-old street that may have been commissioned by Pontius Pilate for pilgrims has been uncovered in Jerusalem by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority in the last few years. The ‘Stepped Street’ is situated in the City of David and stretched between the Pool of Siloam in the south and Temple Mount in the north. Parts of the street has been known for over 50 years, however exactly when it was built was unclear. Previous archaeological data suggested it was constructed at some point between the reign of Herod the Great, around 37 B.C., and that of Herod Agrippa II, who died around 100 C.E. In a recent research, published by Nahshon Szanton, Moran Hagbi, Dr. Joe Uziel and Dr. Donald T. Ariel from the Israel Antiquities Authority, 100 coins that had been found in latest excavations trapped beneath the paving slabs of the street were analyzed. The latest of the coins found dated to between 17 and 31 C.E., during the period when Pontius Pilate governed Judea.

The street was found beneath layers of destruction from the Great Revolt against the Romans, in which Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. It was paved with stone slabs and about 10,000 tons of quarried limestone rock, a task that would have required a huge amount of time and skill. Compared to other streets from the time, this walkway would have been very grand, adding weight to the idea it served as a pilgrim route. According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel “Statistically, coins minted some 10 years later than 30 C.E. are the most common coins in Jerusalem, so not having them beneath the street means the street was built before their appearance, in other words only in the time of Pontius Pilate. He may have had the street built in order to reduce tensions with the Jewish population in the city at the time”.

Photo: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

SYNAGOGUE MOSAIC REVEALED IN THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
Fragments of a mosaic depicting animals were uncovered during an excavation of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, Haifa University, at a synagogue in the ancient settlement of Majdolia in the Golan Heights. The excavation, directed by Dr. Mechael Osband, uncovered a synagogue active from the first century C.E., after the Second Temple was destroyed, to the end of the third century C.E. Only the fragmented bottom layer of the mosaic was preserved. The fragments that were uncovered point to the floor of the synagogue once being colorful and filled with geometric shapes. The central hall’s mosaic was found to be complex and rich in shapes and colors, and despite its state, designs of footprints of birds and other animals could be identified.

According to Dr. Osband: “In the third century we see an interesting combination of the already established tradition of synagogues, following the destruction of the Second Temple, with new artistic elements that will later become widespread, such as colourful animal mosaics. The discovery had vast importance to the historical record, as most experts assumed that the Jewish settlement on the Golan Heights ceased following the First Jewish–Roman War in 67 C.E. and the destruction of Gamla, a central trade and commerce hub in the area, during that period. This new find strengthens the notion that the Jewish settlement in the area continued even after the war.”

Archaeological Report from Israel, August 2019

A fifth-century Samaritan Mosaic Discovered at Zur-Nathan

A 5th-century Blessing Inscription was discovered at Zur-Nathan in the Sharon Plain during a survey and excavation directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Greek inscription reads: ‘Only God, help the beautiful property of Master Adios, Amen’.

Zur-Nathan mosaic
Zur-Nathan mosaics. Photograph courtesy of Yitzhak Marmelstein, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The inscription was discovered in an impressive wine-press that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual called Adios. The inscription’s formula and the location of discovery points to the estate belonging to Samaritans.

According to Hagit Torge, director of the excavations: ‘This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya’.

The inscription in the wine-press is additional testimony to once-extensive Samaritan settlement in the southern Sharon Plain during the Byzantine period.

Two Funerary Busts from Beit She’an

A local woman taking a winter walk near the city of Beit She’an spotted two funerary busts sticking up out of the ground, apparently exposed by the rain. The woman called the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the Israel Antiquities Authority who transferred them to the national Treasury.

Funerary busts from Beit She’an in situ. Photograph courtesy of Dr Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The statues have been dated to the the 3rd–4th centuries CE, the Late Roman Period. They are made of local limestone and closely describe facial and dress features.

Dr. Eitan Klein from the Israel Antiquities Authority who studied the busts said: ‘Funerary busts were often located in or around burial chambers, and appear to generally describe the deceased. Similar statues have been found near Beit She’an and in northern Jordan, but no two are alike. These two busts were made in the oriental style, testifying to the waning of the classical styles and adoption of local styles in this region during the Late Roman Period’.

Antiquities Looters Caught at Khirbet Huqoq Synagogue

Two looters were caught at the ancient Synagogue of Khirbet Huquq in the lower Galilee. The two were caught red-handed by inspectors of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) while illegally digging in search for ancient coins, aided by a metal detector and digging equipment.

A metal detectorist at work. Photograph courtesy of Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The looters had been under surveillance from the moment they arrived on the site. According to Nir Distelfeld from the Israel Antiquities Authority ‘the two had ancient coins in their pockets. They succeeded to dig dozens of shallow pits into the site’s surface, permanently damaging archaeological strata’.

Khirbet Huqoq has been studied by Archeologists since the 19th century. Since 2011 it has been excavated by archeologists from the University of North Carolina, headed by Prof. Jodi Magness, and assisted by the IAA and the Tel Aviv University. During the excavation a 5th-century synagogue adorned with magnificent mosaics has been found.

A Greek Inscription with the City’s Name Uncovered at Haluza

A Greek inscription mentioning the city’s name was uncovered during an excavation at Haluza in the western Negev.

Haluza inscription
Detail of a Greek inscription from Haluza. Photograph courtesy of Dr Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavations at the site have been ongoing for the past three years, led by a team of the German University of Cologne under the direction of Prof. Michael Heisenelmann and a team of students from the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn, in cooperation with Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The name Haluza is mentioned in historical sources, but this is the first evidence for the name of the city to be found at the site itself. The text, which read ‘Elusa’ in Greek, is currently being studied by Professor Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University. The site ceased to exist in the 7th century C.E., but the name Haluza was commemorated in the Arabic name for the ruins: Al-Khalasa.

A Bulla of ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant’

A bulla bearing the Hebrew name ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant’ was uncovered during archaeological excavations of the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David, carried by Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The artefact was discovered inside a public building that was probably destroyed during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in the second book of Kings 23:11, where he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah, who took part in the king’s religious reforms. The title ‘Servant of the King’ frequently appears in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king.

Information in this report was kindly provided by Dr Eitan Klein, 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.

Archaeological Report from Israel, December 2018

Second Temple ‘Jerusalem’ Inscription Exhibited to the Public

A unique stone inscription dating to the Second Temple Period, mentioning Jerusalem in Hebrew letters and using the spelling as we know it today ((ירושלים), was found last winter near the International Convention Center, during an excavation directed by Danit Levy from the Israel Antiquities Authority. During the excavation, the foundations of a Roman structure supported by columns were uncovered. On one of the stone column drums an Aramaic inscription appears. The inscription is written in Hebrew letters typical of the late Second Temple Period (1st Century CE) and reads: “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem”. The drum was probably reused in the late Roman structure. The inscription is now on display for the public at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Second Temple ‘Jerusalem’ Inscription
(Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

A Neolithic Stone Mask Was Found in the Southern Hebron Hills

Information regarding the discovery of a Neolithic stone mask (7500-6000 BCE) by an Israeli citizen led the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the Israel Antiquities Authority to trace its origins at the beginning of 2018. During the investigation the finder led the Unit’s inspectors to the place where he found the mask in the Pnei Hever region of the southern Hebron Hills. There are presently 15 Neolithic stone masks across the globe known to researchers, of which only three come from clear archaeological contexts, including this one. According to Ronit Lupu of the ATPU “The find is significant because we know the archaeological context, and this is something that is of the utmost importance in Archaeology”. Dr. Omry Barzilai, head of the IAA Archaeological Research Department said that “In Neolithic sites we’ve identified a lot of objects that are related to ritual activity, therefore we believe that such objects—like this mask—are actually functional and can be connected to funerary rituals”.

Neolithic stone mask.
(Gideon Goldenberg, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Graffiti of Ships Were Found inside a Roman Period Cistern at Be’er Sheva

During an excavation headed by Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen of the Israel Antiquities Authority in modern Be’er Sheva, a Roman era cistern was found. The cistern dates to the 1st or 2nd century C.E., based on the hewing techniques of the installation and staircase out of the bedrock and the plastering texture. The cistern was probably created to store water for a Roman-period site found 800 meters away. Thirteen ships, one sailor, and several animals are meticulously carved into the plaster covering the cistern walls. According to the excavator the ship graffiti are technically appropriate and are in correct proportion, suggesting that the roman-era artist had actual knowledge of ship construction.

Ship graffito
(Davida Eisenberg-Degen, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

A Fatimid Coin Hoard Revealed in Caesarea

A hoard of 24 gold coins and a gold earring was recently discovered in a bronze pot during ongoing excavation and conservation work in the ancient harbor of Caesarea led by Dr. Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar from the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Caesarea Development Corporation and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The bronze pot in which the hoard was placed was secreted between stones in a 1.5 meter-deep subterranean watering hole. Found among the hoard of Fatimid dinars are six extremely rare 11th century Byzantine coins from the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071–1079), of which less than a handful have been discovered in Israel. Those coins hint at contacts or potential trade relations between Caesarea and Constantinople during the period. According to IAA archaeologists, it seems that the hoard was hidden during the Crusader conquest of the city from the Fatimid Empire in 1101 CE.

Fatimid coin hoard
(Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Caesarea Development Corporation.)

A Trove of Hellenistic Bullae Found in Mareshah, Judaean Foothills

An enormous trove of 1,020 clay seal impressions was found recently during exploration of a newly discovered seven-room cave complex at the ancient city of Maresha by Dr. Ian Stern, director of the Archaeological Seminars Institute. The unfired bullae sealed the knots of papyrus scrolls that did not survive due to the moist atmosphere in the cave. An initial survey of 300 of the 1,020 bullae indicates that they were strung on documents from a large private archive. The seals primarily date from the 2nd century BCE and depicted images of gods, including Athena, Aphrodite, and Apollo, as well as erotic themes, masks, standing figures, cornucopiae, Greek letters and numbers indicating dates. According to Dr. Stern “It really underlines the fact that the city was a major cosmopolitan center; an inland city with indelible ties to the outside world”.

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

Archaeological Report from Israel, August 2018

Coins from the Time of the Great Revolt Unearthed at the Ophel Compound

A hoard of bronze Jewish Revolt coins has been discovered at the Ophel excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The coins were uncovered in a 7×14 meters cave close to the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Most of the coins date to Year Four of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans (69-70 CE) and bear the inscription “For the Redemption of Zion”. The coins were found directly above a Hasmonean Period layer. According to Mazar the cave was probably used in the last days of the rebellion by Jewish refugees.

New Section of the Incense Route Discovered in the Negev  

Milestones from the Roman road. (Photo: Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority.)
Milestones from the Roman road. (Photo: Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

An educational tour for guides from the Sde-Boker Field School revealed a new section of the ancient Incense Route north of Ramon Crater. This was followed by a study organized by the Israel Milestone Committee, Sde-Boker Field School, the Hevel Eilot regional council and the Dead Sea and Arava Research Institute directed by Prof. Chaim Ben David from the Kinneret Academic College and Shuka Ravek in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Israel Antiquities Authority.

The new Roman road section was found between the Mahmal Ascent and Mount Grafon. It was previously claimed by scholars that this section passed along a more eastern route. Along this section six milestone stations were found. Some of the milestones bear Latin and Greek inscriptions. In an initial reading, Prof. Benjamin Isaac from the Tel Aviv University identified one inscription from the reign of Emperor Partinax (193–194 CE) and one from the reign of Septimius Severus (195–198 CE).

The Incense Route stretched from Arabian Peninsula through the Negev to Gaza port. From there goods could be transported overseas to other parts of the Mediterranean.

Head of a Figurine of a Biblical Royal Person Found in Upper Galilee

The head of a figurine dated to the 9th century BCE was unearthed during the 2017 excavation season at Tel Abel Beth Maacah, an ancient site near modern Metula in Upper Galilee, headed by Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack from the Hebrew University in cooperation with Azusa Pacific University. The item was found on the floor of an Iron Age structure inside a layer dating to the 9th century BCE. The faience head is an exceedingly rare example of figurative art from the Holy Land during that time. The figure, probably representing royalty, is bearded and wearing a golden striped diadem. The design of the figurine represents the generic way Semitic people are described during that period.

According to Dr. Yahalom-Mack during the 9th century BCE the site was situated between three regional powers: the Aramean Kingdom, the Phoenician city of Tyre, and the Israelite Kingdom. Due to this location the site may have shifted hands between these kingdoms.

New Discoveries at Bethsaida

A 10th century BCE city gate was uncovered by the Bethsaida Excavations Project, headed by Prof. Rami Arav from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and sponsored by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, during the 2018 excavation season. The city gate was found well preserved at approximately 3 meters high. During the excavation the city wall which surrounded the settlement in the 10th-8th centuries BCE and a tower were also revealed. Prof. Arav suggests identifying the site with Tzer (Joshua 19:35), the capital of the Aramean biblical kingdom of Geshur.

In addition, excavations were conducted under the floors of a Roman temple which was uncovered in a previous season. According to Prof. Arav the temple was probably dedicated to the worship of Julia, the daughter of Caesar Augustus.

Coin from the Bar Kokhba Revolt was Found Inside a Refuge Cave  North of Modi’in

A coin from the third or fourth year for the Bar Kokhba revolt (134-136 CE) was discovered alongside pottery fragments and glass vessels from the same period inside a karstic cave close to the Palestinian village Qibya, approximately 8 km. north of Modi’in. One side of the coin is minted with a palm tree and the inscription “Shim[on]”, while the other side shows vine leaves with the inscription “To the freedom of Jerusalem”.

Excavations in the cave. (Photo: Boaz Langford, The Hebrew University).
Excavations in the cave. (Photo: Boaz Langford, The Hebrew University).

The Bar-Kokhba coin from Qibiya Cave (Photo: Shlomi Amami).
The Bar-Kokhba coin from Qibiya Cave (Photo: Shlomi Amami).

The cave was found during the ‘Southern Samaria Survey Project’ conducted on behalf of the Bar-Ilan University, the University of Ariel and the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria’s archeology unit, headed by Dvir Raviv and Aharon Tavger.

The items were brought by Jewish refugees who fled to the cave due to the battles that took place in the area during the Bar-Kokhba revolt. The coin testifies that the Bar-Kokhba administration ruled also the northern areas of Judea until the last stages of the revolt.

Information in this report was kindly provided by Dr Eitan Klein, 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