Archaeological Report from Israel, August 2019

A fifth-century Samaritan Mosaic Discovered at Zur-Nathan

A 5th-century Blessing Inscription was discovered at Zur-Nathan in the Sharon Plain during a survey and excavation directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Greek inscription reads: ‘Only God, help the beautiful property of Master Adios, Amen’.

Zur-Nathan mosaic
Zur-Nathan mosaics. Photograph courtesy of Yitzhak Marmelstein, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The inscription was discovered in an impressive wine-press that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual called Adios. The inscription’s formula and the location of discovery points to the estate belonging to Samaritans.

According to Hagit Torge, director of the excavations: ‘This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya’.

The inscription in the wine-press is additional testimony to once-extensive Samaritan settlement in the southern Sharon Plain during the Byzantine period.

Two Funerary Busts from Beit She’an

A local woman taking a winter walk near the city of Beit She’an spotted two funerary busts sticking up out of the ground, apparently exposed by the rain. The woman called the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the Israel Antiquities Authority who transferred them to the national Treasury.

Funerary busts from Beit She’an in situ. Photograph courtesy of Dr Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The statues have been dated to the the 3rd–4th centuries CE, the Late Roman Period. They are made of local limestone and closely describe facial and dress features.

Dr. Eitan Klein from the Israel Antiquities Authority who studied the busts said: ‘Funerary busts were often located in or around burial chambers, and appear to generally describe the deceased. Similar statues have been found near Beit She’an and in northern Jordan, but no two are alike. These two busts were made in the oriental style, testifying to the waning of the classical styles and adoption of local styles in this region during the Late Roman Period’.

Antiquities Looters Caught at Khirbet Huqoq Synagogue

Two looters were caught at the ancient Synagogue of Khirbet Huquq in the lower Galilee. The two were caught red-handed by inspectors of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) while illegally digging in search for ancient coins, aided by a metal detector and digging equipment.

A metal detectorist at work. Photograph courtesy of Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The looters had been under surveillance from the moment they arrived on the site. According to Nir Distelfeld from the Israel Antiquities Authority ‘the two had ancient coins in their pockets. They succeeded to dig dozens of shallow pits into the site’s surface, permanently damaging archaeological strata’.

Khirbet Huqoq has been studied by Archeologists since the 19th century. Since 2011 it has been excavated by archeologists from the University of North Carolina, headed by Prof. Jodi Magness, and assisted by the IAA and the Tel Aviv University. During the excavation a 5th-century synagogue adorned with magnificent mosaics has been found.

A Greek Inscription with the City’s Name Uncovered at Haluza

A Greek inscription mentioning the city’s name was uncovered during an excavation at Haluza in the western Negev.

Haluza inscription
Detail of a Greek inscription from Haluza. Photograph courtesy of Dr Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavations at the site have been ongoing for the past three years, led by a team of the German University of Cologne under the direction of Prof. Michael Heisenelmann and a team of students from the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn, in cooperation with Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The name Haluza is mentioned in historical sources, but this is the first evidence for the name of the city to be found at the site itself. The text, which read ‘Elusa’ in Greek, is currently being studied by Professor Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University. The site ceased to exist in the 7th century C.E., but the name Haluza was commemorated in the Arabic name for the ruins: Al-Khalasa.

A Bulla of ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant’

A bulla bearing the Hebrew name ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant’ was uncovered during archaeological excavations of the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David, carried by Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The artefact was discovered inside a public building that was probably destroyed during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in the second book of Kings 23:11, where he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah, who took part in the king’s religious reforms. The title ‘Servant of the King’ frequently appears in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king.

Information in this report was kindly provided by Dr Eitan Klein, 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.

Archaeological 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.

Information in this report was kindly provided by Dr Eitan Klein, 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