Report from Jerusalem #70, 11th June 2015

Mummies in Chile Subject to Melting

The Museum at the University of Tatapaca in northern Chile houses a number of mummies dating back to 5000 BCE, believed to be the oldest in the world, according to the curator Mariela Santos. Over the last few years she has noticed that the mummies are melting, disintegrating and turning into a mysterious black ooze. The staff have called in a Harvard scientist Ralph Mitchell, a bacteria specialist, to investigate. He has come to the conclusion that the mummies are victims of climate change, due to the increased humidity over northern Chile in the last ten years, and the common micro-organisms have become voracious consumers of collagen, the main component of the skin of the mummies. Mitchell warned that this was the first case known to him but that the phenomenon may be increasing and affecting other valuable remains in other locations.

The mummies in question are known as the Chinchorro mummies. There are about 120 at the museum and date from a community of hunter-gatherers. They are unusual in that they include human foetuses, and the early deaths are considered to have been due to arsenic poisoning caused by drinking water poisoned by volcanic eruptions. The mummies have survived due to the arid conditions of the Atacama Desert where they were excavated. Mitchell and the museum curators are working on a solution and consider that humidity and temperature control offer the best solution. To achieve that a new museum is planned at cost of $56 million, by the Chilean government, where each mummy will be housed in its own glass cubicle with its own microclimate, and it is hoped that will save them. But Santos is not optimistic and said: “from the moment they are taken out of the ground they start deteriorating.”

Ancient Treasures of Palmyra Threatened

Islamic State fighters are in occupation of Palmyra, whose remains were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site and listed as being in danger in 2013. The fate of its antiquities remains unclear. Also known as Tadmur, Palmyra was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, and stands at the intersection of important routes to Damascus and Homs. Two weeks ago, while fighting was proceeding at two kilometres from the city Syrian antiquities Chief Abdulkarim said that the international community was not doing anything to protect the antiquities but “would weep and despair” after the damage had been done, as had happened in Iraq. In Palmyra, he said, the Roman-era colonnades, some well-preserved temples and a theatre were under direct threat from the Islamic extremists who were converging on the city.

Hasmonean Aqueduct Exposed in Jerusalem

During the construction of a sewage line in the Har Homa district to the south of Jerusalem, a section of the lower aqueduct constructed by the Hasmonean kings to distribute water throughout the city two thousand years ago, was found by archaeologist Ya’akov Billig, director of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). According to Billig, the aqueduct had been built in open areas around the city, but due to modern expansion, it was now buried under several residential areas. The aqueduct was one of the principal sources of water for the inhabitants and was preserved for two thousand years until replaced by a piped and pumped system in modern times. Due to its historic interest, the aqueduct will be further exposed, studied and preserved by the IAA, who plan to make sections accessible and visible to the public.

Oldest Musical Image Found in Western Galilee

A cylinder seal impression of the Early Bronze Age of about 3000 BCE was identified by the IAA as the scene of a Mesopotamian wedding in which the king has sexual congress with a goddess, and the seated figures are holding a musical instrument that looks like a lyre. Yoli Shwartz of the IAA said, “the seal’s engraving includes music and dancing, a banquet, a meeting between the king and the goddess and their sexual union.” Archaeologists claim that the inscription represents the sacred marriage rite conducted by the king with a priestess, representing the goddess, and was a necessary ritual to increase fertility of the crops and animals. The small relic, the oldest representation of a musical instrument yet found in Israel, will be exhibited to the public at a forthcoming symposium at the Hebrew University to be entitled, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll”.

Visitors Archaeology Centre Approved Conditionally

A large visitor’s centre planned to be built over the Givati Parking lot, located opposite the City of David entrance and south of the Dung gate, has been approved by the National Planning Appeals Board, subject to severe restrictions. The plan was to build a large complex of exhibition spaces, offices, parking places and facilities for visitors on pilotis or stilts so as to preserve the existing archaeological remains on the site. There were objections to the plan, known as the Kedem Centre, from two environmental groups that thought it was very near to the City walls and would oversail them visually and destroy the archaeological remains on the site. The Kedem Centre was the brainchild of the Elad Foundation, who are sponsoring the City of David excavation, and wanted to see a suitable complex to provide facilities for visitors coming to the site and give them an explanation of its importance. The plan has now been approved but with the condition that it be reduced in size and height so as not to dominate this sensitive area. Another condition has been that the plan for the preservation of the archaeological remains must be submitted for public approval before building work commences.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

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 #62, 18th August 2014

Jewish Revolt Coins Discovered

During work on the expansion of the Jerusalem to Tel Aviv highway, a rescue dig by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered a previously unknown village of the Roman period. In the corner of one room a cache of 114 bronze coins was discovered. The coins are all dated to year four (69/70 CE) of the Jewish Revolt. They are all the same denomination of one-quarter or one-eighth shekel value, and must have been hidden just before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, according to Pablo Betzer and Eyal Marco, directors of the dig. The coins are marked “Geulat Zion” on the obverse and show a lulav and citrons with date 4 on the reverse. The village, now called Hirbet Mazruk, was destroyed by the Romans, partly rebuilt and destroyed again at the Bar Kochba revolt seventy years later. It is planned to preserve the village remains as part of the landscape works beside the new highway.

Rare Roman Coin Found at Bethsaida

A bronze coin of the reign of Agrippa II, great-grandson of Herod the Great, was found at Bethsaida, the site on the north shore of Lake Kinneret, which is being dug under the direction of Rami Arav, who dates the coin to 85 CE. It was minted at Caesarea Maritima and has the head of Roman Emperor Domitian on one side and a palm tree on the reverse.

Ancient Game Board Found at Tel Gezer

An inscribed game board, about 25cm long × 6cm wide, with three counters and two dice was recently uncovered at Tel Gezer, a Solomonic site 25 km. south-east of Tel Aviv. In spite of continued rocket fire from Gaza, the mainly United States student volunteers have refused to leave and have continued work on the site, and jump into their excavation pits when the sirens wail, according to joint directors Steve Ortiz of SW Baptist Theological Seminary of Fort Worth, Texas and Sam Wolff of the IAA.

Threat of Erosion to Western Wall

A recent study at the Hebrew University has shown that the interstices between the stones of the outer wall of the Jerusalem Temple, the site known as the Western Wall, a major tourist and religious attraction, are causing unusually high erosion of the limestone blocks that make up the wall.

The cause was due to “rapid dissolution along micron-scale grain boundaries followed by mechanical detachment of tiny particles from the surface” according to the researchers.

They add that it may be possible to develop materials that bind the tiny crystals into the rock and thus counteract the rate of erosion. In contrast, the air of Jerusalem is rather dusty with particles of sand blowing in from the Judean desert, and my scientific advisor says that this leaves a grainy deposit on the buildings that generally helps to preserve the ancient stonework.

Death of the IAA Director-General, Joshua Dorfmann

On 31st July of this year Joshua (Shuka) Dorfmann passed away. He was aged 64 and had been Director-general of the IAA since 2000. He had been appointed from the Army, where he was the principal artillery officer of the Israel Defence Forces with the rank of brigadier. He had an MA degree from Haifa University in Political Science and in his time at the IAA he had organised a large expansion of rescue digs throughout the country. His position will be filled by his deputy Dr. Uzi Dahari, until a new Director General can be appointed.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #61, 23rd July 2014

Wall Paintings Depicting Crusader Period

The nuns of the Saint-Louis Hospital, near the old City of Jerusalem, have recently uncovered a series of nineteenth century paintings depicting the Crusader period in their basement storage areas.  Because the paintings are “like murals from the times of the Crusaders” according to Amit Re’em, district archaeologist of the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), they are of interest to the IAA, who have been helping the nuns to clean and preserve the paintings before they are displayed to the public.  The hospital, named after King Louis IX of France, leader of the Seventh Crusade of 1248 CE, was completed in 1896 and the basement was decorated by murals showing the works of the Crusaders in Jerusalem. The paintings are of historical interest but as they are not antiques themselves, the IAA has no budget to assist in preserving them and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, who staff the hospice and care for terminal patients of all religions, are actively seeking funds to help them to preserve these interesting and historic murals.

Lead Seal of 12th Century Found Near Monastery

The seal was found in the Bayit Vegan area of Jerusalem in a rescue excavation of a Byzantine period farmyard, under the direction of Benjamin Storchan and Dr. Benjamin Dolinka of the IAA. The site had been abandoned after the Byzantine period and resettled during the Crusader and Mamluk periods, and appears to have been a farmyard belonging to the monastery of Mar Saba on the Nahal Kidron outside Jerusalem. The seal is an extremely rare example and depicts the bust of a bearded saint, who holds a cross in one hand and the Gospel in the other, and around it is the inscription, Saint Sabas, in Greek. Other artifacts found depict the daily life of the farm, while the seal, or bulla as it is called, would have been affixed to a letter to ensure that it was not opened by an unauthorised person. After authentication and recording, the seal was presented to Theopholis III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, on whose property it had been found. He noted its importance for the history of Christianity in the Holy Land.

Educational Centre in Grand Hall of Temple Mount Tunnels

In early June a new educational centre was opened under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, connected to the tunnels running alongside the Kotel, the outer Western Wall of the Temple. The area is delimited by tall arches standing on stone pillars and is surrounded by an Herodian staircase, a section of a Roman roadway and a Mamluk bath-house, showing the variety of periods that constitute this part of underground Jerusalem. The excavated area will become an educational centre for Jewish history and the elaborate excavation and preparatory work have been funded by Zvi Hirsch Bogolyubov, a Ukrainian billionaire living in Dnepropetrovsk and London, who wanted to demonstrate his love for Israel.

National Park World Heritage Site

The complex of caves in the Beit Guvrin-Maresha national park, south-west of Jerusalem, has been accepted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at its recent meeting in Qatar, where it was described as “a city under a city” formed by man-made caves, hollowed out of thick layers of soft homogenous chalk, in a series of historical periods of some two thousand years from the Iron Age to that of the Crusaders. The caves, which started as quarries, were later converted to craft centres, places of worship, bath-houses, tombs and hiding places. The site will be the 8th Israeli World Heritage Site. At the same meeting in Qatar, UNESCO included the early agricultural terraces of the village of Battir in the West Bank in the list of World Heritage Sites and also that of World Heritage Sites in Danger, in the name of the Palestinian Authority.

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