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