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 #67, 2nd March 2015

Oldest Human Skull Yet Found in the Middle East

Archaeologists and anthropologists have reported the finding of a fossilized partial skull in the Manot Cave in western Galilee seven years ago but only now reported after extensive verification of its date. Dr. Omri Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) claimed that the skull was 55,000 years old and “one of the most important discoveries in the history of human evolution”. He was standing outside the cave of the discovery, 40 km. north-east of the Carmel caves, and pointed out that the cave entrance had collapsed thousands of years ago and thus had hermetically sealed the remains and preserved the skull. He said that morphometric analysis had shown that the skull belonged to modern Homo Sapiens and thus was the earliest modern human skull ever found in the Middle East. Professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University explained that two main migrations of ancient and modern Homo Sapiens from East Africa occurred 120,000 years ago and again between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago and while modern Homo Sapiens went on to conquer the world, his ancient cousin never made it past the Middle East. However the migrant route of modern Homo Sapiens passed through the Levant on its way to Europe and Asia – the Levant being the only land route between Africa and Europe. It is not clear why only the skull of the corpse was found and the explorers (who have had to abseil many metres down into the cave) said that it is hoped to find further remains as the excavation continues.

Arrest of Grave Robbers at Antiquities Site

At the end of January, three young Bedouin men were apprehended by Guy Fitoussi, archaeologist and inspector of the IAA Robbery prevention Unit, at an ancient Ashkelon burial site and handed over to the Police. The men had come with a metal detector and digging equipment to the Byzantine-era tombs, but claimed to the police that they were only searching for worms to fish with at the nearby dock. Fitoussi said that they were attempting to open three 1,500 year old graves to search for artifacts such as jewellery and coins that may have been buried with the dead. He said that their activities in disturbing the graves were causing irreparable damage to future archaeological research and would destroy clues to understanding the lives and culture of the former inhabitants. Due to increasing looting of ancient sites in the area, the IAA Robbery Prevention Unit have mounted regular night-time surveys of the area, and it was during one of these that the looters were apprehended.

Fine Wine of the Byzantine Era

During exploration in the Negev desert conducted by Haifa University professors Guy Bar-Oz and Dr. Lior Weisbrod and Dr. Tali Erikson-Gini of the IAA, ancient charred grape seeds of the Byzantine era of 1,500 years ago were uncovered in an antique pile of botanical and animal remains. It is claimed that these seeds were of a sought-after wine of the period called the “Wine of the Negev”, an extremely expensive wine drunk by the society’s elite.

The seeds were found after careful sifting and it was not clear where they had come from. Guy Bar-Oz said that the vines from which the seeds would have come had not survived but their existence showed that such vines had grown in the Negev and had flourished without the need of large amounts of water, as was needed by vines in Europe. The next step, the explorers said, was to work with biologists to research the DNA of the seeds, and they would also now attempt to try to grow vines from the seeds and make wine from the grapes.

Treasure Trove of Gold Coins Found Off Caesarea

A very large collection of gold coins was recently discovered in the harbour of Caesarea National Park. The stash of coins was found by divers of the local diving club and reported to the IAA, who said that the divers were good honest citizens to have immediately reported the collection of coins. The director of the Marine Archaeology unit of the IAA, Kobi Sharvit, said that there would likely be a wreck nearby of a Fatimid treasury ship that was on its way to Cairo with tax revenues. Or it may have been that the coins were meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison stationed in Caesarea. The discovery consisted of nearly two thousand gold coins of the 11th century CE and was the largest collection ever found in Israel. The coins were in denominations of dinars, half-dinars and quarter-dinars and varied in size and weight. The oldest coin to be found was a quarter-dinar minted in Palermo, Sicily of the ninth century CE, while most of the coins were minted under the Fatimid Caliphs Al-Hakim and son Al-Zahir of 996-1036 CE who had developed Caesarea and adjoining coastal areas. In spite of their long incarceration, the coins were in good condition but some had been bent and showed tooth marks which, according to the IAA, demonstrate that they were physically checked by their owners or their traders.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem