Ancient treasures in Gaza
There was a report last August about the difficulties of presenting archaeological remains in and around Gaza city. Much work has been done in the area in the past and much remains to be done, but at present organized digs are difficult to arrange and stray finds or rescue digs are open to unpreventable looting. In addition, contractors are loathe to report any finds to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, as they will send a team of investigators and the building work will be held up for long periods. As a result discoveries are not notified and small finds are just covered over or looted by the contractors.
The Director of the Ministry, Mohammed Kheila, points out that funds for rescue work have been allocated, but his staff is small and unable to deal with all the many sites, both on private and public projects. Hayam al-Bitar, head of the Hamas Government Museums Department, says that they try and educate the public in the importance of the ancient findings and arrange suitable exhibitions, but they are hampered by lack of appropriate materials for cleaning and preservation due to the Israeli embargo on non-essential goods.
Philistine Temple at Tel es-Safi, near Kiryat Gat
Tel es-Safi (Tel Tsafit), identified as Biblical Gath, is being excavated by a team from Bar-Ilan University under the direction of Prof. Aren Maier. A Philistine temple building has been excavated, dating to the 10th century BCE, including two large column bases that would have supported pillars to the roof, and may have defined the inner sanctum of the temple. Several walls on the site appear to have collapsed outwards due to a severe earthquake. Prof. Maier speculates that it may have been the earthquake of c.750 BCE mentioned in the books of Isaiah (2:19, 21) and Amos (1:1, 4:11: 6:11, 9:1), and speculates that, judging by the damaged walls, it may have been of an intensity of 8 on today’s Richter scale. The excavators also found evidence of the siege equipment used by Hazael of Damascus in his destruction of Gath in around 830 BCE.
Reopening of Israel Musem in Jerusalem
There was a special ceremony in early August for archaeologists to celebrate the opening of the archaeological wing of the Museum, recently renovated on a large scale. All the existing exhibits have been newly presented in a most attractive new setting. Of special interest is a new room that presents details of some of the famous pioneers of archaeological work in Israel/Palestine. Individual sections are devoted to the work of Sir William Flinders Petrie, to Felicien de Saulcy (who worked in Jerusalem, Herodion and Airaq al-Amir) and Conrad Schick, several of whose Temple models are shown. There is also a section on the work of the Palestine Exploration Fun; the original theodolite, used for the Survey of Western Palestine by Charles Warren and others, is exhibited.
Heavy Gold Coin from Tel Kedesh
The heaviest gold coin ever found in Israel was uncovered recently at the dig in Kedesh led by Sharon Herbert and Andrea Berlin of the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota. Dating to the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty, ruling from Alexandria, the obverse shows the head of Queen Arsinoe Philadelphus, wife (and half-sister) of Ptolemy II, and the reverse has two overlapping cornucopia, symbols of plenty. The unusual size and weight (27.71 g), suggest that the coin, minted in Alexandria, was used for ceremonial purposes to honour the queen, rather than as currency. It was minted by one of her successors, Ptolemy V, in 191 BCE.
According to Dr. Donald Ariel, head of the IAA Coin Department, the coin – a mnaieion – had a nominal value of one mina, equivalent to 100 silver drachmas, and is then a and would have been equivalent in value to half-a-year’s average senior salary, about $80,000 today. Tell Kedesh, south of Kiryat Shemona, has been shown to be the administrative seat of the satrap (governor) during the Persian period and continued as such under the Ptolemies who reigned over Israel/Palestine after the death of Alexander the Great, until they were ousted by the Seleucids in 198 BCE. The coin was found by the central administrative building that housed public rooms and an archive.
Cameo of Eros from Givati Car Park site, Jerusalem
The large building site opposite the City of David Visitors’ Centre has recently offered up another piece of jewelry (previously there were gold and pearl earrings) of the Roman period. This time it is a small figure of Eros in relief cut into semi-precious pale blue onyx placed on a dark brown onyx background. The piece is only 1 cm. long and 0.7 cm. wide. It may have been enclosed in an oblong metal setting and used as a ring or even an earring. The figure of Eros is resting with his left hand on a reversed torch, an image that symbolizes the loss of life, according to Dr Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are leading the excavation of the site by the IAA.
A Moabite Temple
Last week an announcement from Amman reported on the finding of numerous sacred vessels within an Iron Age shrine (c.1200-539 BCE) at Khirbet ‘Ataroz (Biblical Ataroth) near to Madaba, south-west of Amman. According to Ziad al-Saad, Jordan Antiquities Chief, the structure measured 9 m. by 4 m., had a raised platform and two antechambers, and stood in an open courtyard of 12 m. by 12 m. The excavation turned up over 300 sacred vessels and figurines, including a bull figurine depicting the god Hadad, circular clay vessels, lamps and altars. The dig is being conducted with La Sierra University of California and the pieces will be exhibited in Jordan’s new Archaeological Museum on the Acropolis in Amman. We await further news of this important find.
Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
Albright Institute, Jerusalem