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

Report from Jerusalem #66, 20th January 2015

Earliest Evidence of Olive Oil Found

At a salvage dig conducted at Tzippori in the lower Galilee last year by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and directed by Dr. Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov, and reported in the Israel Journal of Plant Sciences, pottery was found with a residue of olive oil dating back some eight thousand years. The directors researched fragments of the pottery with scientist Dr. Dvory Namdar of Hebrew University and found by chemical means that the jars had absorbed organic remains containing olive oil, that could be traced back to the Early Chalcolithic period. Of the twenty shards that were examined two samples of the pottery were found to be particularly ancient and could be dated back to 5800 BCE.

Remains of an olive oil industry of this period were found some years ago at Kfar Samir near Haifa, but the find at Tzippori is the earliest evidence of its use in domestic vessels in Israel and perhaps in the Middle East as a whole. Together with evidence of field crops such as grain and legumes, it indicates that the composition of the basic Mediterranean diet existed at the earliest periods, much as it remains today.

Fragment Showing Menorah of Second Temple Period

A rescue dig in the Carmel National Park near Yokne’am, 20 km. south-east of Haifa, being dug before the construction of a water reservoir for the town, exposed an industrial area of the late Roman and early Byzantine period with a number of refuse pits. In one of the pits one of which the directors for the IAA, Limor Talmi and Dan Kirzne, found the small fragment of a glass bracelet, about 25 x 12 cm. decorated with the symbol of a seven-branched Menorah (candelabra) like the one known from the Second Temple. The bracelet was of turquoise-coloured glass and was found with many other pieces and fragments of glass vessels, jewellery, and even small window panes, which suggested that the area had included a glass manufactory that served the surrounding residential population, who were clearly living in relative affluence.

Damage to Ancient Sites in Syria

The United Nations, through UNITAR, has reported that more than 290 historic and cultural sites have been damaged by the civil war in Syria, according to evidence from satellite images. The sites included Raqqa and the oasis city of Palmyra, the ancient city of Bosra and early settlements in the north of Syria. In addition, the head of Syria’s antiquities and museums agency is reported as saying that thousands of museum artifacts have been moved recently to secure warehouses to avoid the danger of looting.

Looters of Ancient Cave Arrested

Last December two Arabs were caught red-handed digging a large hole into an ancient cave near the West Bank in search of buried gold objects. They had been hired to carry out the work by two Israelis from Hefer, who were also arrested.

The illegal excavators were equipped with drills, lighting units, shovels, buckets and a generator. They were discovered by the Robbery-prevention unit of the IAA and taken to the police station at Tayiba for questioning. Unauthorised excavation is a criminal offence and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Ancient Looted Coins Found in Private Home

A man was initially arrested at an antiquities site in the Bet Shemesh area where he was discovered using a metal detector. The police found that he was carrying digging tools and later searched his home where they found 800 ancient bronze coins of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, as well as other ancient objects and jewellery. Dr. Klein, deputy director of the Robbery-prevention unit of the IAA said that unauthorized searching for ancient coins is a criminal offence. Ancient coins are most important to archaeologists and historians and, if found in situ, can provide dates, names of rulers and the place of production.

Temple Outer Wall Destruction Reassessed

The large stones that lie at the foot of the southern end of the western outer wall of the Temple Mount have always been considered to be the result of toppling by the Roman forces, when they destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE. However, Prof. Shimon Gibson, who is digging nearby near the Zion Gate, has now re-examined them and claims that they fell as a result of a major earthquake that occurred in 363 BCE, one that has been well documented as damaging several monuments in the Jerusalem area and the adjoining Rift valley.

‘‘By The Rivers Of Babylon”

A new exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem sets out to describe the life of the Jews exiled from Jerusalem in the years 597 and 586 BCE. It is based on an archive of Babylonian cuneiform documents that describe life in the town of Al-Yahuda (literally, the City of Judah) where the exiles were at first located. The exhibition includes the texts, some models and small sculptures, and remains open until mid January 2016.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem