Report from Jerusalem #69, 4th May 2015

Egyptian Style Artifacts from Southern Cave

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently displayed artifacts unearthed from a cave near Tel Halif, 15 km. north of Beersheba. The items were found during a looting probe and date to the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age, say from 1500 to 1000 BCE. Yuli Schwartz of the IAA said that the thieves had been thwarted and the IAA were now carrying out a salvage excavation. She said that more than 300 pottery vessels of alabaster, seals and seal impressions had been found, as well as jewellery of bronze, shell and faience in considerable quantities. The appearance of the artifacts were in an Egyptian style and suggest that there had been an Egyptian governmental centre in the area at the time, Many of the stone seals were scarab-shaped with Egyptian images, and several were inscribed on semi-precious stones from Egypt and the Sinai.

Some had the names of Egyptian Pharaohs, one had a sphinx with the name of Thutmose (c.1480 BCE), another with the name of Amenhotep (c. 1370 BCE), and one with the name of Ptah, god of Memphis. It appears the objects were mainly made in Egypt but some were of Israelite work using Egyptian methods and motifs. Dr. Ben-Tor of the Israel Museum noted that most of the finds dated to the 15th and 14th centuries BCE when Canaan was ruled by the Egyptians. The excavation continues and the finds have been transferred to the IAA laboratories for cleaning and further study before being put on display again.

Praise for Finders of Undersea Gold Coins

The divers who discovered the largest hoard of gold coins ever found in Israel were honoured at a recent ceremony at the Nebe Shuayb Druze shrine in the Galilee. They had found 2,600 gold coins of the Fatimid period on the seabed in near-perfect condition, and they reported it immediately to the IAA. Most of the coins bear the name of the Fatamid Caliph al-Hakim bi Amra-Allah who is believed to have founded the Druze religion in 1017 CE, and therefore the find was of tremendous interest to the Druze community, and their spiritual leader Sheikh Tarif attended the ceremony. The IAA said that they were proud to connect the Druze to their local past. No information was given as to how the coins had ended up on the sea-bed in Caesarea harbour. At the ceremony the six divers were presented by the IAA and the Caesarea Corporation with certificates of exemplary citizenship and with a replica of one of the gold coins.

Dome of the Rock, Tension over Carpet Renewal

The Islamic Trust, the Waqf, have recently replaced the worn carpet inside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The IAA were not informed of the change and it only came to the notice of Zachi Dvira, a colleague of Gabi Barkai, who saw pictures of the move on pages of Islamic Facebook and expressed concern to the IAA, who were unaware of it. The concern is not with the change of the modern carpet but with the floor below which could have been examined when the old carpet was lifted.

It seems that the floor below is covered with tiles of the Crusader period, and these were removed or changed without proper supervision. Under the tiles the earlier floor might have shown evidence of earlier pavings or the existence of another floor below. The IAA should have been informed and could have done the necessary research and taken photographs. The Israeli government will not allow the work to be opened up again due to delicate relations with the Jordanian government, who financed the operation. According to the Waqf management the work was long overdue and they said “our work in the Dome is transparent, we are only putting down carpet, nothing more, nothing less.” The suspicion by some commentators, is that the Waqf are trying to remove all traces of the Crusader geometric flooring of the 11th century CE, as pieces had previously appeared in Gabi Barkai’s sifting of the earlier material that was illegally removed by the Waqf without supervision in 1999.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem



Report from Jerusalem #60, 20th April 2014

Exhibition of Early Masks at the Israel Museum

A new temporary exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem shows a collection of twelve masks from Jericho and other sites around the Dead Sea.

The masks are all of stone and dated to the Pre-pottery Neolithic B period of about nine thousand years ago. They were dispersed among several museums and private collections and have been collected together here for the first time. The Israel Museum had two of them, one from Nahal Hemar in the Judean Desert and one from nearby Horvat Duma, according to Debby Hershman, the curator. They are all beautifully mounted on separate stands and individually spotlit in a dark room, which gives one an uncanny feeling of being watched by surreal ancestors, and found wanting. Their purpose is unclear but the Museum speculates that they were used for unknown rituals in a world where the symbols of death breathed life into those that viewed them. The exhibition remains open until 13th September 2014.

Crac Des Chevaliers Threatened

It has been reported that Syrian government forces have been shelling the walls of this well-preserved Crusader castle, in the Homs gap of Syria, where rebels have been entrenched. The castle is an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important standing medieval castles in the world. Heavy shelling had already damaged some of the interior structures, according to earlier reports.

Prehistoric Diet in Ramle

Archaeologists of Haifa University, led by Dr. Yossi Zaidner, have uncovered early human remains at the Hector site in Ramle, south of Ben Gurion airport, in a very deep pit-like area that dates back to the Mousterian period of the Paleolithic era of 170,000 years ago. The remains include a considerable number of large bones that relate to equids, fallow deer and rhinoceros, which were presumably the diet of the humans that camped out in this deep and open area. This is one of the earliest remains of human settlement in the Middle East and is most unusual, according to Dr. Zaidner, for being located in an open- air camp rather than a cave.

Second Temple Ossuaries Looted

Two Palestinians from Bethlehem were recently arrested trying to sell eleven ossuaries to two Israeli collectors. They were all detained by police at a security checkpoint and reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), whose Eitan Klein recognized the artefacts as Second Temple burial coffins by their fine double rosette carvings on the limestone. The ossuaries had come from an unknown cave in the Jerusalem area, and one of them was quite small and probably that of a deceased child.  Two of the ossuaries had names inscribed, but only the first names, being Yoezer and Ralfin, written in Hebrew and Greek.

The boxes will be held by the IAA pending the trial of the criminals, and the bones transferred to the Ministry of Religious Affairs for conventional Jewish burial.

Tomb of Prominent Canaanite?

During a rescue dig before the laying of a gas pipeline at Tel Shadud near Sarid, 6 kms. south-west of Nazareth,  a cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropomorphic carved lid of an Egyptian type, was found. Inside was an adult skeleton, tentatively identified by Dr. Ron Be’eri, one of the directors of the dig, as a Canaanite who may have served the Egyptian government. With the body was found a gold signet ring with the name of Seti I, father of Ramesses the Great, engraved on it. This dates the remains to 13th century BCE. Nearby were the graves of two men and two women, who may have been family members of the coffin deceased, as well as pieces of pottery, a bronze dagger and bowl and other bronze fragments. These were considered to be offerings to the gods and also utensils for the use of the deceased in the afterlife. Dr. Be’eri thought that the skeleton may have been that of an Egyptian official or a wealthy Canaanite of the local elite, imitating Egyptian customs. The IAA will take DNA samples from inside the coffin to try and determine the original nationality of the deceased.

Prize Awarded to Prof. Gabriel Barkai

The Moskowitz Prize for Zionism has recently been awarded to three recipients – to Michael Freund of the Jerusalem Post, to Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon of the ex-Gush Katif settlers, and to archaeologist Prof. Gabriel Barkai, who share the prize of $100,000. The award to Prof. Barkai is for his lifelong work on the ancient history of Jerusalem and in particular for his salvage of the remains removed from the Temple Mount by the Islamic authorities, and for setting up the major sifting complex to analyse those remains.

Jerusalem Spring Citadel Dig Completed

After fifteen years of work at the Gihon Spring, Professors Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have now completed their uncovering of the great fortress that protected the spring in the Canaanite period of 1,800 years ago, and continued in use during the reigns of David and Solomon and thereafter. The structure was of truly massive stonework the like of which was  notseen again until the time of Herod the Great. The work was discovered when a new visitors’ centre was planned, whichhad to be delayed until the archaeologists had completed their investigations. It can now go ahead and the public will be allowed access to see the exposed megaliths of the impressive foundations of the fortress. The question now remains – if the Gihon Spring was so heavily fortified, why did Hezekiah (or another) have to build the extensive rock-cut tunnel to protect the spring from the Assyrians?

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #47, 30th December 2012

Hasmonean Farm in Jerusalem

Remains of a farm site were uncovered at Kiryat Yovel in western Jerusalem by a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) a month or so ago. The remains have been dated from the fourth century BCE to first century CE and include the outlines of a few scattered buildings and some artifacts like small incense jars and pottery tags that may have been used to label jar contents. The work is still in progress and the designation of the site as a farm may have to be revised as excavation proceeds, although it is known that farms as such did exist in the Hellenistic period.

Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library was launched on 18th December, based on the between 15,000 and 30,000 fragments of the Scrolls, making up about 900 manuscripts, held by the IAA. The work of recording by high-resolution scanner is still in progress and is estimated to take another three years, at a cost of US$3.5 million. The archive can be accessed here.  This project is distinct from the eight scrolls owned by the Israel Museum whose teams are also working with Google to digitize its manuscripts.  Director of the work Pnina Shor states that each fragment is captured on six separate wavelengths that are then combined into one colour image that can be enlarged without loss of clarity. The fragments are also photographed by infra-red technology which produces a clear black-and-white image that is used to decipher faded text.  Shor claims that the few hundred scholars who specialize in Dead Sea studies can now access the material in the comfort of their homes, equally available to the millions around the world who have shown intense interest but have not been able to visit Israel to see the originals for themselves.

The project is named after Leon Levy who died in 2003, and whose Trust made the original donation to start the project. The Cambridge Digital Library has also recently posted online thousands of its ancient religious documents, including the Nash Papyrus of the first or second century BCE (that contains two portions of the Hebrew Bible) and the Cairo Geniza Collection.

Temple Site in Sinai

Reports have surfaced that the Antiquities Authority in Egypt has announced the find of four temples in Sinai dating back to the time of Thutmosis II (1518-1504 BCE). The temples are situated at Qantara, 2 miles east of the Suez Canal, on the military road to Canaan. The temple walls are in mudbrick and the largest is some 80m by 70m with walls of 4m thickness, decorated with paintings that indicate the religious nature of the buildings. There are also three ritual basins and a number of separate chambers for different gods in this large temple.

Sifting Excavated Material from Temple Mount

There has been a recent vague report of four truck loads of material being removed from the Temple Mount and dumped at a local tip. No further details have emerged but the removal of such material is illegal and although forbidden by a High Court ruling, it is still happening. This leads me to describe a recent visit to the Sifting Site at the foot of the Mount of Olives that has been organized to deal with the massive amount of material that was removed from the Temple Mount after the unsupervised excavation of the tunnel entrance to the underground mosque located in the so-called Stables of Solomon area. This material was rescued from a dump in Kidron Valley by Prof. Gabriel Barkai and is being steadily sorted and sifted at the facility that he has set up on the hillside below the site of the Hebrew University. It is worth a visit by tourists, who are welcome to come and hear an interesting lecture on the history of the Temple Mount, through the Israelite, Crusader, Byzantine and Islamic periods, and then proceed to the sifting area. It is a well-organized operation with about twenty sifting benches, each supplied with a spray water tap and buckets of raw material for dividing into six categories, such as pottery, stonework, metal and mosaic tesserae. It is fascinating work for children as well as adults, and the supervision by experts is both helpful and encouraging. Many important finds of the First and Second Temple periods have been sifted out and although few and far between, there is a lot to be learnt, and honourably felt, just from handling the historic debris. At the end of each session one of the experts will lecture on the most significant finds that were made that day.

The site is accessible by car on a small turning to the north from the main road of Derekh Ai-Tur (Shmuel ben Adyahu) which lies beyond the Rockfeller Museum, going east. Prof. Barkai or his student Zarhi Zweik are usually in attendance and Gabby estimates that they still have sifting work for the next fifteen years.

Ancient Temple Found at Motza

In a rescue dig before the improvement of Highway 1 leading to Tel Aviv, archaeologists have uncovered a large structure with massive walls, an entrance facing east and a number of ritual objects believed to be a temple of Iron Age IIA. The find was made at Motza, on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, by a team directed by Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz of the IAA. The inside of the building contains a smaller square construction, pottery vessels, chalices, and figures of humans and domestic animals, which are considered to have been used in cultic ceremonies. The temple is believed to be that of the town of Motza, on the borders of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 18:26). The important remains will be sealed and preserved and the highway extension built over them.  The site will not be accessible in the future, but the internal remains will be removed and restored and exhibited in one of the Jerusalem museums.

Stephen Rosenberg,

Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #42, 31st May 2012

First Temple Shrines at Khirbet Qeiyafa

The site, about 30km south-west of Jerusalem, continues to provide surprises. The excavator, Prof. Yossi Garfinkel, recently announced that he had found in three rooms of the site model clay shrines with decorative openings. He dates the shrines to several years before the establishment of the First Temple and suggests that the features of their openings can explain one of the biblical terms used in connection with the Temple. The openings or doorways are formed by triple-rebated frames of a distinctive nature and Prof. Garfinkel suggests that this is the explanation of the obscure term “shequfim” that is related to the Temple windows (I Kings 6:4). Carbon dating by Oxford University on ten burned olive pits has dated the city to between 1020 and 980 BCE, when it was destroyed. However it was later rebuilt in the Hellenistic period, but the model shrines relate to the earlier city, in which there were found no graven images, and no pig bones among the many animal remains of sheep/goat and cattle. This leads Prof. Garfinkel to claim that this was an Israelite city of the time of David located in the valley of Elah, the border area with Philistia. However, the model shrines look as if they may have contained small figurines and so they can be interpreted as having been pagan shrines, but no figures were found and this idea is rejected by the excavator.

Ancient Rabbinic Tomb at Tzipori (Sepphoris)

Three years ago a farmer in the agricultural village of Moshav Tzipori came across a burial cave on his land with a carved stone door inscribed with the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, a Talmudic sage of the third century CE. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) became interested and conducted an excavation and removed the inscribed door. Mitch Pilcer, the farmer, objected but later the IAA filed charges against him for illegal excavation and damage to an ancient site and antiquities. The initial case came to court only recently, and has raised a lot of interest among the ultra-orthodox, who claim that the ancient rabbi may himself appear as a witness, in accordance with the legend that Rabbi Yehoshua’s soul ascended to heaven directly from his tomb, a gateway between heaven and earth. Pilcer is keen to have the door restored to its site but the IAA is adamant that they must retain it for safekeeping.

Early Gold Jewellery from Megiddo

According to the excavators, the most valuable cache of gold jewellery of the Biblical period has now been discovered at Megiddo. The cache is dated to pre Iron Age I and belonged to the Canaanite inhabitants. It was found in a clay vessel unearthed in 2010 but has only recently been fully cleaned and evaluated. It includes nine large gold earrings, a gold ring seal and over a thousand small beads of gold, silver and carnelian, a semi-precious stone. One of the earrings is in the shape of a basket holding an ostrich-like bird and shows Egyptian influence, according to Professors David Ussiskin, Israel Finkelstein and Eric Cline, leaders of the expedition. The jewels are being studied further at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Museum before being exhibited to the public in due course.

Clay Seal Confirms Status of Bethlehem

During careful sifting of dirt from the passage to the Temple Mount from Siloam Pool, a tiny clay bulla or seal was uncovered with three lines of inscription. The wording reads….” In the seventh…..Bat lehem….to the kin(g)”. According to the excavator, Eli Shukron, this will have been the seal of a tax receipt referring to a quantity of produce delivered to the king, who may have been Hezekiah or one of his predecessors or successors, the script dating it to the 8th century BCE, and it shows that Bethlehem was part of the Judaean kingdom. The information was conveniently released to the press just before the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost) when the book of Ruth, telling of the Moabite girl who came to the city of Bethlehem, is read in the synagogue.     

Mosaic Floor of Synagogue Vandalised

Extensive damage to the mosaic floor and walls of the synagogue of Hamat-Tiveryah (southern Tiberias) was discovered earlier this week. The damage included graffiti against the Director of the IAA, blaming him for desecrating ancient Jewish graves in the area. This has suggested that the perpetrators were ultra-orthodox elements. The Synagogue, of the 4th century CE and earlier, has fine mosaics with a central zodiac, representations of the Temple Ark and candelabra, and several donor inscriptions. The damage will be repaired but the work, according to the IAA and the National Parks Authority who administer the site, will cost millions of shekalim. Some areas of mosaic will have to be replaced by facsimiles based on photographs. The police will do everything possible to bring the vandals to justice.

Forgery Trial Lingers On

Although the seven-year-old forgery trial relating to the Yehoash tablet and the James, brother of Jesus ossuary ended recently, with the two defendants being found not guilty of forgery, the case is now continuing regarding the ownership of the two artefacts. The IAA is adamant that they should not be returned to the defendants, while the defendants claim possession, after having been found innocent of the original charges. One of the defendants, Oded Golan, was found guilty of the minor charge of dealing in antiquities without a licence, to which he has pleaded guilty, and has now been given a commuted prison sentence and fined 30,000 NIS (£5,000). The trial Judge Aharon Farkash has implied that he cannot easily resolve the conflicting ownership claims and may be forced to the “Solomonic” decision to have the two pieces destroyed. This has caused alarm amongst the experts, who were not able to agree on whether the pieces were fakes or not, but who nevertheless do not want to see them destroyed. The ossuary was found to be an original, though the inscription on it was queried, and the dark stone tablet is of great curiosity value, even if not genuine.  So the trial judge is back in the hot seat again.                              

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #41, 24th April 2012

Two Bullae Found in Jerusalem

Two bullae, which were found several years ago by Dr. Eilat Mazar in the City of David, one by the Large Stone Structure (which Mazar thinks may have been the palace of David) and one by the northern or Nehemiah’s tower, are currently in the news because they are on display in America. One is in the name of Yehukhal ben Shelemyahu and the other Gedelyahu ben Pashhur, both known as ministers of King Zedekiah (597-587 BCE). They are two out of the four ministers who asked the king for Jeremiah to be put to death for spreading defeatist sentiments, and when the king said, “Behold, he is in your hands”, they threw him into a pit of mire (Jer. 38:1-6) from which he was later rescued.

Egyptian Scarab Found in City of David

A tiny scarab in the name of the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, written in hieroglyphics and with the imprint of a duck, was found at the Gihon section of the National Park by Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Dr. Joe Uziel. It is only 1.5 cm long and was probably used to stamp documents in the 13th century BCE when Egypt ruled Canaan and, according to the excavators, it is a unique find in the area.

Stolen Sarcophagus Covers Found in Jerusalem

Inspectors of the IAA have recently seized two Egyptian sarcophagus covers from a dealer’s store in the Old City. The covers are of wood with the virtual features of the deceased painted and modelled in plasterwork. They were pronounced genuine by the IAA and dated, one to the Late Bronze Age and one to the Iron Age. The covers had been neatly cut into two for easier transportation and the authorities think that they came to Israel via Dubai and Europe. The IAA say that legislation is now in place, since April 20th, to prevent the importation of any antiquities that have not been certified as legally exported from their country of origin. The Egyptian Government is requesting the return of the two covers and negotiations are in progress with the Foreign Ministry.

Syphonic Water Channel at Bet Yerah

During the construction of a new water carrier from the south to the city of Tiberias, the remains of an ancient water channel to Tel Beth Yerah, were unearthed and the work was delayed to enable a rescue dig to be carried out. The dig uncovered a pipeline from the ancient ‘Berenice aqueduct’ to the site of Hellenistic Bet Yerah, on the shores of the Kinneret, south of Tiberias. The pipeline had to cross the original riverbed of the Jordan, by sinking down to its level and rising on the other side up to the Tel.

This was done by means of a syphon built out of substantial interlocking basalt blocks, and the excavators found that this line had been built over an earlier pipeline of short interconnecting clay pipes, that had obviously failed under the considerable water pressure involved. The excavators, led by Yardenna Alexandre of the IAA, found that the large basalt blocks, or at least some of them, had probably been taken from the Early Roman-period syphon of Hippos-Sussita, on the east shore of the Kinneret, when it fell out of use. The basalt blocks, one of which had been carved out of a worn Corinthian capital, had a central channel with a bore of 30cm diameter while the earlier clay pipes were of only 8 to 10cm internal bore. The substantial water supply from the syphon was connected to a luxurious bathhouse adjacent to an early Islamic Ummayad palace, whose remains had been originally misinterpreted as an early synagogue and mikvah. This fact, together with the find of two bronze coins, would date the elaborate syphonic channel to the 7th century CE.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem