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.