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

Report from Jerusalem #58, 24th February 2014

Church Uncovered near Kiryat Gat

At the village of Aluma, just north-west of Kiryat Gat and beside the ancient road from Ashkelon to Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has discovered the remains of a Byzantine Church with excellent mosaics. The building is 22m long and 12 m. wide and is of the basilica type with a wide nave and narrow aisles. All three sections have floors covered in colourful mosaics laid out as forty medallions framed by vine tendrils, each medallion depicting an animal or botanical symbol and with the names of local church leaders Demetrios and Herakles. There is a large external entry courtyard floored in white mosaic with a panel giving the names of Mary and Jesus, and the local donor. The church is the only one of this period found in the area and the IAA suggest that it was the focus of Christianity in this vicinity. Also found nearby was a potter’s workshop with remains of jugs and bowls, lamps and glass objects, indicating a rich local culture, according to Dr. Daniel Varga, director of the excavation. The mosaics will be removed for public display at a museum and the site covered back to preserve it.

Dead Sea Scrolls on Facebook

Since early December 2013, the IAA have put the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital library on Facebook and made the thousands of fragments available free of charge to the public, in an improved format thanks to use of a unique camera developed for the purpose. The website is www.deadseascrolls.org.il.  The upgraded website includes 10,000 new images, translations into Russian and German, and a faster search engine.

Ancient Well in Tel Aviv

In a salvage dig in the Ramat Hahayal area, a large Byzantine-era well, about 1,500 years old, has been uncovered. The mouth of the well is several meters wide and is an example of one that employed a donkey to draw water by means of clay vessels on a continual belt and discharge it into a nearby cistern or reservoir.

Metal Greek Statue from Gaza

A life-size bronze statue of a Greek god has been rescued from shallow waters by a Palestinian fisherman off the coast of Gaza. It weighs 500 kg and was hauled aboard his boat by four men, he says, and taken ashore on a cart because of its great weight. According to one expert it shows no sign of encrustation or barnacles and it is suspected to have been found on land, though not declared as such. The local government of Hamas heard of it and ordered it to be taken into police custody, since when it has been kept from view, to the intense frustration of local scholars and archaeologists. One expert from the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem is reported to have declared it to be priceless, very rare and virtually unique, but it should be noted that there are two life-size bronze statues in the Athens National Museum, which are called Poseidon and Paris. The Gaza statue has been dated to the fifth to first century BCE and dubbed Apollo, for reasons unknown.

Unesco Listing of Ancient Caves and Terraces

Israel has put forward to UNESCO for consideration at their next meeting in Doha in June, for the World Heritage List, the caves of Bet Guvrin and Maresha, southwest of Jerusalem. The caves belong to ancient cities that were inhabited from the time of the Edomites to the Crusaders.

At the same meeting, the Palestinian Authority have put forward the ancient terraces of Battir, a west-bank village near Jerusalem, whose terraces go back hundreds of years, it is claimed.

Persian Period Village Near Jerusalem

During work on a natural gas line from the coast to Jerusalem, remains of a large village were uncovered near Mitzpe Harel, west of Jerusalem. The settlement consisted of several houses around narrow pathways and was probably surrounded by orchards and vineyards, as prevalent in the area today. It looks as if the houses were the standard four-room house around a courtyard, and the village was perched on an elevated spur with good views of the surrounding country. According to the dig director Irina Zilberbord, the village was at its peak in the Hasmonean period of the second century BCE and was abandoned at the end of that period – perhaps when Herod drew away many peasant inhabitants for work on his reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, according to Dr. Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem regional archaeologist. It is reported, happily, that the gas line will now be relocated so that the site can remain accessible for further investigation.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.

Report from Jerusalem #53, 12th August 2013

Syrian Civil War Damage

Due to the ongoing disturbances, it is reported that the famous 12th century Crusader castle, the Crac des Chevaliers, has suffered severe damage. The castle is located on a hill outside the city of Homs, where the rebels have been using it as a stronghold and base for their snipers. In their attempt to regain control of Homs, the castle was bombed by Government forces and suffered a direct hit which destroyed some of the internal fortifications. In the past the Crac des Chevaliers has been a great tourist attraction.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, and King David’s Palace?

On 17th July Prof. Yossi Garfinkel of Hebrew University organized a tour of the site at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley, south of Beth Shemesh, where he has been digging for the last five seasons.  He announced that his work here was now complete and that he would be moving his team to Lachish for the next season to re-examine its early strata. During a festive site dinner for the occasion, he also announced that he had found the remains of a luxurious mansion and large storage facility that he designated as King David’s palace on the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which he has identified as biblical Sha’arayim, because of its two gates. Garfinkel claims that the presence of a well-planned city with a royal palace of the time of the 10th and 11th century BCE., as dated by C-14 analysis, is evidence of state organization under a central authority and administration during the early years of the Judean monarchy. In his opinion the archaeological evidence thus underpins the Biblical account, but this is not a view accepted by other scholars. The site excavations will be preserved and the area will shortly be laid out as a national park, making it easily accessible to visitors.

Tell Es-Safi, The Philistine Gath

After seventeen years of excavation, the archaeologists of Bar-Ilan University, under the direction of Prof. Aren Maeir, demonstrated to the press the various stages of the development of Tell es-Safi, one of the cities of the Philistine pentapolis, which lies in the plain inland from Ashkelon. Evidence is now clear of its various destructions and redevelopments from the 17th to the 9th centuries BCE.  Heavy destruction occurred under Hazael of Damascus in about 830 BCE, and then the rebuilt houses show evidence of sliding off their foundations, which the archaeologists attribute to the earthquake of 760 BCE, mentioned in the Book of Amos (1:1). The mudbrick houses somehow survived and evidence of extensive burning relates to the later destruction by the Assyrian Emperor Sennacherib on his way to assault Jerusalem in 701 BCE.

The Bar-Ilan archaeologists will shortly be able to use the latest on-site equipment, as they expect to receive an X-ray Fluorescent Spectrometer (XRS) for use together with their Fourier Transform IR Spectrometer (FTIR), equipment that is usually confined to the laboratory and which will now be available for use on site. This will allow microscopic samples to be analysed on site, said Maier, which will save having to send them away for analysis, and so save valuable time and give the site the information it requires on the spot. It will allow for evidence to be gathered in the field, which previously had to wait for long periods to be processed in off-site laboratories.  The equipment has been donated by the university president, Prof. Moshe Kaveh, who had recently visited the site with his grandchildren and was impressed by their keen interest.

Ancient Oil Press in Jerusalem

In an emergency salvage dig before foundations were constructed for the dormitory of the Jerusalem College of Technology, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has uncovered an ancient olive press, consisting of a large collection vat, a stone bowl and a stone wheel, all within a karst (limestone) cave.

No date has been given but the IAA said that the existence of the ancient press, and another similar one found in the area a few years ago, is evidence of a thriving early olive-oil industry in the Bet Hakerem area of west Jerusalem. The discovery will enable the College and the IAA to retain the finds in situ to demonstrate the workings of an ancient oil press, which forms part of the history of technology.

Matching Geniza Fragments Online

Computer scientists have devised an online system to record disparate fragments from the Cairo Geniza, that are held by different museums and individuals, and enable them to be matched and put together without having to travel to the various locations where they are held. The system has been devised by Prof. Ya’acov Choueka of the Friedberg Geniza Project of Tel Aviv University, who has, with a team of programmers, digitized 360,000 fragments that are looking for a match. The images come from 60 collections all over the world and the system was recently unveiled at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University last month. The project is still looking for another 300,000 fragments from museum libraries in Western Europe, Russia and some private collections. Individuals will be able to access the system at www.geniza.org

Village of Shikhin in Galilee

A joint expedition of the Kinneret College, Samford University and Kentucky Christian University, co-directed by Dr. Motty Aviam of Kinneret, has recently uncovered the village of Shikhin in the Galilee near to Tzippori (Sepphoris), the latter was the capital of the Galilee at one time. The village is mentioned by Josephus Flavius and in the Talmud as a village of many potters in the first century CE. The site has evidence of the remains of an early synagogue and considerable pottery works, including moulds for oil lamps, which are rare in a village. The excavation is important, according to Aviam, as it fills in a gap in the history of the Galilee between the First Temple and the Hasmonean periods, when there has been little evidence of its inhabitants. The proximity of the village to the former capital is also important as it will demonstrate how the local population lived in the rural areas in relation to the centre, and the expedition is keen to uncover more of the material culture that will demonstrate how the rural population lived.

Crusader Period Hospital in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that they had discovered part of the original hospital that stood in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, called the Muristan, which is a Persian word meaning hospital. The area was named for the Knights of St. John Hospitallers who occupied it after they were evacuated from the El Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, and now the site of the hospital has been found. The original building covered an area of 1.5 hectares (nearly 4 acres) but only one section remains on a site owned by the Wakf (Islamic Religious Authority) and to be developed as a restaurant by the Grand Bazaar Company of East Jerusalem. The exposed section is characterized by large pillars and gothic vaults spanning six metres (20 ft) and would have been surrounded by smaller halls. The IAA team, led by Amit Re’em and Renee Forestany, said that they identified the large hall from work done by Conrad Schick before 1900, who had mapped out its ruins from documents of the period in Latin and French. Re’em claimed that the hospital had been divided into several departments and could have accommodated up to two thousand patients in an emergency.

The Crusader staff had worked with Arab colleagues, whose knowledge of medical matters was far in advance of that of their Christian colleagues at this time. Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders in 1291, had renovated the hospital and allowed several Crusader monks and nuns to remain there to serve the local people. The existing hall is not open to visitors, but will now be renovated as part of the new restaurant, whose clients will be able to appreciate and absorb its medieval atmosphere together with its gastronomic delights.

Samaritan Byzantine Occupation by Appolonia

In advance of the northern development of Herzliya, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Oren Tal, and the IAA, led by Moshe Ajami, are examining a number of refuse pits that were the town dumps of an extensive Samaritan settlement, just south of ancient coastal Apollonia-Arsuf, of the late Byzantine period. The main pit so far excavated has thrown up 400 Byzantine coins, 200 Samaritan lamps, and gold and silver jewelry that includes an octagonal ring, inscribed with the Hebrew name of God on the outside of each of the eight sides. Some of the lamps were still sealed and unused and the excavators are intrigued by the fact that much of the refuse had been dumped before use. They speculate that there may have been some cultic reason for the Samaritans to discard unused material. They said that the community was a large one and that the octagonal ring was evidence of a high level of religious observance during the period of the sixth century. Investigation of the material continues and it is the intention of the IAA to clear all the findings from the site so that development of the area can proceed. [Evidence that the occupation was substantially Samaritan has not yet been made clear, but should be forthcoming when the coins are examined further, ed.].

 Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #51, 18th June 2013

UNESCO Delegation to Jerusalem Old City

At the end of May a delegation of UNESCO professionals arrived in Jerusalem to inspect new works and renovations in the Old City, which became a World Heritage site in 1981, but was also on the list of endangered sites. It was last inspected in 2004 and the current mission was to check the general state of preservation of the interior and particularly the walls, which had recently been renovated under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The UNESCO report was to be presented and then discussed in June in Paris, when Israel wanted to negotiate the replacement of the Mugrabi Gate access, where a bridge is planned, but that had been strongly opposed by the Arab administration, the Waqf. Unfortunately Israel called off the tour of inspection at the last minute because the Palestinians had, they said, “politicised” the inspection, when the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah claimed in public that “the visit of the UNESCO Mission is a preface for the victory of Palestinian and Arab diplomacy”. The Israeli side saw this as an attempt to politicise the inspection that was planned to be purely professional. It is hoped that the cancellation is only temporary and that the inspection, which was to cover six mosques, six churches and six synagogues, will be rescheduled to a later date.

Oldest Known Torah Scroll Found at Bologna, Italy

It was recently announced that Prof. Mauro Perani had discovered that a Torah scroll held in the library of the University of Bologna had been wrongly ascribed to the seventeenth century. It was really to be dated to between 1155 and 1225 said Perani, basing himself on the features of the script and format, and supported by two C14 tests. If all this is correct, the scroll would be the earliest complete Torah scroll (Sefer Torah) known to date. According to a photograph, the writing on the scroll is very clear and the parchment colour has only slightly darkened. The University reported that the scroll was probably acquired in the nineteenth century after Napoleon’s suppression of the local monasteries.

Mameluke Hostelry in Cana of Galilee

Work has recently been carried out on an extensive salvage dig at Kfar Kanna in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. The plot, with an area of about four dunams (nearly two acres), belongs to the Custodia Terrae Sanctae (Franciscan Order) and is located near to the Wedding Churches that commemorate Jesus’s first miracle of the water turned to wine at the Jewish wedding in Cana (Kfar Kanna). The excavation conducted by the IAA, under the direction of Yardenna Alexandre, uncovered a complex of five rooms built of stone walls on two sides of an extensive open courtyard. The rooms were roofed with short local timbers supported on stone arches, which were found in a collapsed state on the floors. The site is on a gentle rock slope to the west and rainwater was drained into a reservoir or cistern that served the residents. The abundant pottery remains and a few coins date the building to the Mameluke period, and the large quantities of animal bones on the site, together with a mass of culinary and dining vessels, suggest that the major activity was the preparation and consumption of meat meals.

The presence of imported vessels hints at foreign connections and this combination of the finds points to the possible identity of Christian pilgrims coming to the site of the miracle in the Mameluke and early Ottoman periods (15th to 16th centuries). Digging below the surface exposed limited earlier remains of the Roman and possibly Byzantine periods. After recording, the owners plan to construct a school and community centre on the site.

Computer Advance in Geniza Research

A team of computer scientists from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, led by Prof. Ya’akov Choueka of the Friedberg Genizah project, is piecing together all the disparate fragments of the Cairo Genizah. Their work is enabling variously-held fragments to be pieced together in a matter of weeks, rather than the years needed for more traditional methods, which required scholars to travel to the different locations. Choueka claims that his team are reconstructing “the original Genizah” and the information is being posted on-line here. for viewing by the public as well as scholars. The results of the project will be presented to the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem from July 28th to August 1st this year.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #50, 14th May 2013

Early and Unusual Ritual Bath in Jerusalem

Last April a mikvah of the Second Temple period was uncovered in Jerusalem, in the western suburb of Kiryat Menahem, in a rescue dig conducted before the construction of a major roadway project. The ritual bath is unique in that it was located underground in a cave, and the natural water was supplied by rain onto three basins and channels carved into the roof of the cave, an unusual feature. The area of the bath was rendered in a type of waterproof plaster, according to excavator Benyamin Storchan of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). It is not clear how the mikvah was dated to the Second Temple period. After the bath went out of use, the basins and channels were filled with earth; a hole was cut in the roof and the cave acted as a local cistern. The local authority is interested to have it restored to the original mikvah structure with the three water basins and channels, and they believe it will serve as an attraction to local residents and visitors.

Battles in Syria Topple Ancient Minaret in Aleppo

The ongoing battles in Syria have claimed another ancient monument, this time the nine-storey tower Minaret of Aleppo’s Mosque, allegedly of the Umayyad (661-750 CE) period. The tower had an internal stair to a high level canopied viewing gallery surmounted by a miniature replica mosque and Islamic crescent moon finial. The mosque stands in the Old City of Aleppo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Both sides of the conflict have blamed the collapse on each other, the State saying that it was due to rebel fire, and the rebels blaming Government tank shelling. At present large areas of Aleppo are in rebel hands but State troops remain in control of many other sectors of the city. Much of the original Mosque has been destroyed as well as the medieval stone-vaulted Suk or market.

The Gabriel Revelation Stone

In conjunction with the present Herod the Great Exhibition (which is proving very popular) the Israel Museum is displaying an unusual artifact. It is a long and narrow slab of stone inscribed in ink in two columns and dated by its calligraphy to 1st century BCE. It was found in 2007 on the east side of the Dead Sea and is on loan to the museum by the Jesselsohn family of Zurich. It is in two pieces that together make up 87 lines in neat square Hebrew script of the Herodian period, but with many lines unclear. The text purports to be written by the angel Gabriel in the first person, in conversation with a human being whom he warns of the destruction of Jerusalem but with the hope that God will save the city for the sake of the angel Michael and God’s servant David. The final lines are unclear and may have referred to the destruction of the city or its survival.

The back of the stone is smooth but not inscribed and the lower section is soiled, so it appears as if the piece was mounted against a wall with its base set into the ground. The artifact is exhibited together with early manuscripts relating to the angel Gabriel, and part of the War Scroll from Qumran, which uses a similar script. The exhibit will remain open until mid February 2014.

Byzantine Mosaic Floor in Northern Negev

A mosaic floor was recently found in the grounds of Kibbutz Beit Kama, 20 km. north of Beersheba, where the area is being prepared for the extension of the Trans-Israel Highway (Motorway 6) to Beersheba and Eilat. The mosaic floor is virtually complete in size but some portions are badly damaged, though the colours are vivid and the portrayal of doves, peacocks, jars of wine and vine branches is clear. The large square area is bordered by a heavy guilloche frame in black, red and white tesserae, set around a circular centrepiece with the four corners, between round and square, portraying stylized amphorae. According to the excavator, Dr. Rina Avner of the IAA, the mosaic floor belonged to a public building that had evidence of a complex water supply. In view of the emphasis of the mosaic on drink, it was perhaps a hostelry, that was part of a large Byzantine settlement of the 4th to 6th centuries, spread over 6 hectares alongside the ancient roadway to Beersheba from the north.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem