Events

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.

Report from Israel, April 2018

King Herod’s Winery at Herodium

Archaeological excavations conducted at the Herodium National Park over the past year by the Ehud Netzer Expedition of the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University, headed by archaeologists Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy, have revealed King Herod’s winery. In the structure that surrounds the circular palace/fortress they discovered dozens of huge jugs packed into a storage area, as well as ten pits that likely functioned as fermentation tanks. In addition, dozens of amphorae were unearthed which bear inscriptions and seals revealing that they were once produced in Italy and then shipped by sea to Iudaea. These discoveries shed light on the drinking habits of the royal family.

The earliest remains of Homo Sapiens outside of Africa found at Mt. Carmel

A fossil of an upper jawbone and stone tools were found in Misliya cave, located on Mount Carmel, during a prehistoric excavation headed by Dr. Mina Weinstein-Evron from Haifa University and by Prof. Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University. The researchers determined that the jawbone is from Homo Sapiens. The Misiliya fossil was dated back to 170,000-190,000 years ago by several different techniques, including uranium isotope analysis. The discovery hints that the trek of Homo Sapiens out of Africa should be pushed back by more than 40,000 years from the time suspected until now.

High-quality Roman Mosaic revealed at Caesarea

Roman mosaic from Caesarea (© Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

A multicoloured Roman mosaic from the 2nd–3rd centuries CE, bearing an inscription in ancient Greek, has been uncovered at the Caesarea National Park during an excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority headed by Dr. Peter Gendelman and Dr. Uzi Ad. The excavation revealed a large building from the Byzantine Period that was part of a commercial area. Under the Byzantine-era structure they found a Roman-era building paved with a mosaic. According to the directors of the excavation, the colorful mosaic, measuring more than 3.5 x 8 meters, is of a rare high quality. It features three figures, multicolored geometric patterns and a long inscription in Greek, which were damaged by the Byzantine building constructed on top of it. The figures, all males, wear togas and apparently belong to the upper class. The mosaic was executed at a very high artistic level, of a type that can be found in places like Antioch in Turkey. The images were depicted using small tesserae, with about 12,000 stones per square meter.

Byzantine Monastery Discovered at Ramat Beit Shemesh  

Pedestal from Byzantine monastery (© Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Well-preserved remains of a Byzantine monastery and church were unearthed in Ramat Beit Shemesh, close to Khirbet Beit Battif, during an excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The expedition uncovered a massive structure built of large hewn stones, as well as a number of architectural elements, such as an imported marble pillar base decorated with crosses. One room of the monastery was paved with colourful mosaic decorated with birds, leafs, and pomegranates. The structure was abandoned during the 7th century CE. According to Benyamin Storchan, the director of the excavation, the artifacts found in the large building may indicate that the site was important and perhaps a center for ancient pilgrims in the Judean foothills region.

An Idumean Temple/Palace Unearthed In Southern Judean Foothills

Objects from the Idumean temple, (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

A massive structure from the Hellenistic Period (3-2 Centuries BCE), built from masonry stones, was excavated at Horvat ‘Amuda, some 3.5 Kilometers south-east of Tel Maresha. The excavation was held by Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Evidence of the structure’s existence was documented during a drone survey conducted by the expedition in the area between Tel Maresha and Moshav Amazia.

In one of the rooms excavated at the site, two stone incense altars were uncovered. One of the altars was found adorned by a crouching bull set inside the entrance of a temple’s façade adorned with decorated columns. The directors of the excavation suggest that this may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Idumeans. Additional findings include painted bowls, juglets and oil lamps from the Hellenistic Period. It appears that the Idumean structure was intentionally dismantled, perhaps during the Hasmonean conquests of the region.

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Report from Israel, July 2017

ADVANCED IMAGING TECHNOLOGY USED TO REVEAL HIDDEN OSTRACON INSCRIPTION

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

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

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

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

A JEWISH SETTLEMENT FROM THE ROMAN PERIOD AT BEIT NATTIF

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

DIETARY HABITS IN JERUSALEM FROM THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD

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

A 7TH CENTURY COIN HOARD NEAR JERUSALEM

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

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