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 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 #73, 25th October 2015

Destruction in Palmyra

Reports continue to circulate that ancient Roman monuments are being destroyed in the city of Palmyra in Syria by Islamic State terrorists, who claim that these antiquities are pagan structures that need to be obliterated. Evidence of the destruction is confirmed by satellite images. The structures include the main amphitheatre, the temple of Baal Shamin, the temple of Bel, the triumphal arch and others of the Roman period; all of these constitute the area designated as a World Heritage Centre by UNESCO, who have declared the destructions to be a war crime. The Islamic State leaders have also killed Khaled-al-Asaad, the 82-year old archaeologist who had looked after the remains for the last forty years. The UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has declared that the perpetrators must be held responsible for their crimes and it is hoped that UNESCO can organize a suitable court to hand down punishments, and see to it that no further damage is caused to this historic site.

Ancient Sarophagus Discovered in Ashkelon

The local police and an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) unit recently seized a stone sarcophagus from building workers who were concealing it so that its finding would not delay their construction work on site. The sarcophagus is a rare decorated one and is dated to the late Roman period. The heavy stone coffin is adorned with the figure of a man leaning on his left arm and with a tunic wrapped around his waist.  Judging by the image and its clothing, the IAA thought that the tomb was not that of a Jew and, in accordance with normal practice, would have been placed near the family vault, but nothing further has been found. Besides the figure of a man, the stonework is also decorated with carvings of an amphora and vines with grapes and leaves. The IAA said it was aware of the need of speed on construction sites but that in an historic city like Ashkelon (on the coast, south of Tel Aviv) there had to be care taken to see that historic artifacts were carefully preserved and if found, they must be inspected by the IAA before they can be removed or inadvertently damaged.

Byzantine Mosaic from Kiryat-Gat

The relic of a floor mosaic from a Byzantine church was discovered two years ago in the industrial park of Kiryat Gat, 25 km east of Ashkelon.  It shows a rare street map of a settlement named Chortaso or Kartasa, in Egypt which, according to Christian tradition, was the burial site of the prophet Habakkuk. Other parts of the mosaic depict a number of animals, a goblet with red fruit and a Nile scene with a sailing boat. The images are elaborate and the artist had used tiles of seventeen different colours which, the IAA said, made it the most elaborate ever discovered in Israel. The mosaic is being prepared for display to the public at its site in the Kiryat-Gat industrial complex.

Davidic Seal Found at Temple Sifting Project

At the sifting site set up by Prof. Gabriel Barkai, to search through material removed from the Jerusalem Temple site by the Wakf in 1999, a ten-year old Russian boy volunteer, Matvei Tcepliaev,  recently unearthed a small dark stone seal that has been dated to the tenth century BCE. According to Barkai, this is the first seal of its kind to have been found in Jerusalem. Its dating corresponds to the period of the Jebusites, the conquest of the city by King David, and the building of the Temple by his son Solomon. It is particularly significant that it comes from the Temple site itself, Barkai added. It is well known that the sifting programme is ongoing and that to date more than half a million finds are in the process of being examined and researched.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Rosenberg in Israel. It represents his personal assessment. The Society takes no responsibility for its content.

Report from Jerusalem #71, 20th July 2015

Ancient Road Station Near Jerusalem

During construction of improvements to Highway 1 the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at Abu Gosh at the west entry to Jerusalem, archaeologists uncovered a Byzantine period road station. The station, next to a deep spring called Ein Naka’a, included a 16m. long church with a side chapel (6.5 m. by 3.5 m.) that had a white mosaic floor and a baptisterium in the shape of a four-leaf clover in one corner. According to Yoli Schwartz of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who excavated the site, finds included oil lamps, coins, glass vessels, marble fragments and mother-of-pearl shell, indicating intensive activity at the site, just beside the ancient road from the coast up to Jerusalem, much on the lines of the present highway. The finds are being closely studied and documented and the site will be cleared and preserved for public viewing.

Canaanite Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa

In 2012, Prof. Yossi Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the IAA found scattered shards of 10th century BCE ceramic jars at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley. Many of the fragments carried individual letters of Canaanite script and it was finally possible to join matching pieces together, when it was found that one jug, carefully restored, was inscribed with the name Eshbaal ben Beda. Prof. Garfinkel noted that one Eshbaal ben Shaul is mentioned in I Chron, 8:33. He was ruling over (northern) Israel while David was ruling over Judah. That Eshbaal (whose name had been changed to Ish-Boshet) was murdered and decapitated and his head brought to David. Prof. Garfinkel said that these letters showed that writing was more widespread at this period than had been thought, since they now had this and three other inscriptions (another from Qeiyafa, one from Jerusalem and one from Bet-Shemesh) which had been published.

Second Temple Mikveh under House Near Jerusalem

The Jerusalem District archaeologist, Amit Re’em, of the IAA, announced the discovery of a two-thousand year old ritual bath (mikveh) under the floor boards of a house in Ein Kerem, a suburb of Jerusalem, The mikveh was discovered by opening a trap door in the floor of the house, that gave access to stone steps leading down to a rock-cut basin of 3.5m. by 2.4m. containing stone-cut pottery vessels of the 1st century CE, together with further fragments and traces of fire, that may be some indication of the destruction of the city in 70 CE. The owner and his wife contacted the IAA when they opened the trap door and together they cleaned out the mikveh and recorded the finds. Seeing that the salon floor had a ready-made trap door, it is possible that the original builders of the house were aware of the mikveh in their basement but did not give the information to the present owners for fear that it might reduce the value of the property. This is of course not the case and the present owners are very proud that they have an apartment based on an historic mikveh that has been excavated and recorded by the IAA.

Tombs in Galilee Declared World Heritage Site

The Rabbinic tombs in Bet-Shearim, south-east of Haifa, have been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at their meeting in Bonn in Germany last week. The committee said that “Bet Shearim bears unique testimony to ancient Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Jehudah the Patriarch, who is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 CE.” The initial approach to UNESCO was prepared by archaeologist Dr. Tzvika Gal of the IAA and handled over the last four years by archaeologist Dr. Tzvika Zuk of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Bet-Shearim is the ninth site to be inscribed on the World Heritage list and it contains many engraved Menorah (candelabra) representations and other Jewish symbols, as well as the tombs of many prominent Rabbinic and other figures of the period, after interment in Jerusalem had become impossible and undesirable due to the Roman and later occupations. There are also numerous inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew in the Bet-Shearim caves.

Burial Cave in Jerusalem Entered Illegally

The IAA unit for the Prevention of Robberies recently arrested a Palestinian father and his four children and a family friend, who were digging in an ancient burial cave on Mount Scopus by the Hebrew University. The six were apprehended while working in the cave with shovels and other digging equipment. The father said that two of his children had heard muffled sounds from the cave and he, who claimed to be an exorcist, was looking for the treasure that, he said, the spirits were also searching for. The six suspects were released on bail and will be brought to court shortly and charged with entering an archaeological site illegally, for which the punishment can be up to five years in prison.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem