Report from Jerusalem #54, 7th October 2013

Assyrian Period Finds at Ashdod-Yam

A small number of trial digs were conducted at Ashdod-Yam in the 1960s, which demonstrated the antiquity of the port but it is only this year that excavations were resumed, this time under the direction of Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv Archaeology Department. The expedition has uncovered a fortification system of the port dating to the 8th century BCE, the period of the Assyrian occupation, as well as much later evidence of the Hellenistic period of the 2nd century BCE, after the time that Alexander the Great was making his way down this coast to Egypt. The excavators found remains of a building of that period with Hellenistic coins and weights. This has been just the first season of the excavations and more finds are expected.

Jerusalem, Pottery Fragments from Before 586 BCE

Fragments of pottery that can be dated to the reign of Zedekiah, the Judaean client king appointed by the Babylonians in 597 BCE, have been uncovered at the City of David excavation conducted by Dr. Joe Uziel and Nahshon Zanton for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).  The fragments include small figureheads, lamps with single and multiple spouts, inscribed handles and above all a bowl fragment with an incomplete inscription in paleo-Hebrew lettering, which reads as “….ryah bn bnh….”.  The excavators point out the similarity with the name Zechariah ben Benayah, the father of the prophet Jahaziel (2 Chron.20:14) who advised King Jehoshaphat (870-845 BCE) about going to war against Ammon and Moab. They also point out that the inscription was written on the bowl before firing, and thus was not just something written on it as a sherd, and so it might imply possible ownership of the bowl.

Nimrud Fortress, 13th Century Lion Relief

Qa’alat Nimrod is a 12th and 13th century fortress in the upper Galilee and one of the finest castles in Israel. Mark Twain, who found Jerusalem to be a dirty and unpleasant city, praised Nimrod Castle as one of the finest monuments of the Holy Land. It looks like a Crusader castle but is in fact an Ayyubid and Mamluk foundation built to protect the road from the coast to Damascus against the Crusaders, It was strengthened and reconstructed by the Mamluk sultan Baybars in about 1270 CE. Today it stands prominently in a National Park where recently a large lion relief was found and identified by Dr. Moshe Hartal of the IAA.  The lion was the royal symbol of the sultan Baybars and the stone carving is over one metre long. It is a rare and monumental piece that probably came from the castle, and is the second one of a lion to be found in this area in the last fifteen years.

Gold Cache found near Temple Mount

The gold items were found just about 50m south of the Temple Mount in the Ophel excavations conducted by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University over the last four years. The extraordinary find consisted of 36 gold coins, a pair of gold earrings, a silver ingot and a large 10cm. gold medallion, on a short chain, depicting a seven-branch menorah, a shofar and a scroll, which Mazar thought might have adorned a Torah scroll. The artefacts were found in two locations, one hidden below floor level and the other hastily scattered above the floor, as if left in a hurry. Both are dated by the excavator back to 614 CE, when there was a short invasion of Jerusalem by the Persians to 629 CE. Dr. Mazar thinks that the hoard was destined as a contribution to a synagogue to be built near the site and abandoned at the threat of the Persian invasion, and later never retrieved by the owners. The gold coins have been dated by Lior Sandberg, of the Tel Aviv Institute of Archaeology, to a series of Byzantine rulers dating from the 4th to the early 7th centuries CE. After preparation, it is intended to exhibit the artefacts worldwide before placing them for public display in the Israel Museum.

Award to Prof. David Ussishkin

The Percia Schimmel Prize for 2013 will be awarded to Prof. David Ussishkin at the Israel Museum on 4th February 2014. It is given for Distinguished Contribution to Archaeology in Eretz Israel and the Lands of the Bible. David Ussishkin is retired professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and directed the excavations at Lachish for many years from the 1980s. He has recently published the five definitive volumes of that expedition and is at present co-director with Israel Finkelstein of the renewed Megiddo excavations. He has been a frequent and popular lecturer to the AIAS in London.

Correction to Report No. 53

In connection with the Crusader hospital, Report no.53  stated that “Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1291”. This was wrong, the date should have been 1187. It was the Mamluks who defeated the second wave of Crusaders at Akko (Acre) in 1291. My apologies and thanks to John Bartlett for pointing out my mistake.

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

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 #45, 14th September 2012

“Seal of Samson” found near Beit Shemesh

A small seal has been found on the floor of a house dated to the 12th century BCE at the site of Tel Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. It shows a human figure in combat with a four-legged animal. In size it is only 12mm across and the figures are very diagrammatic, but as the period and location fit with the Biblical story of Samson and his unarmed fight with a lion (Judges 14:6), it has been dubbed the Samson seal, though Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz of Tel Aviv University, who is in charge of the dig at Beit Shemesh, is careful to say this is for convenience only and does not imply that such a combat took place, nor does it support in any way the existence of the heroic figure of Samson.

Exhibition of Vessels from Tel Qashish

The contents of a favissa, or store of disused cultic objects, uncovered at Tel Qashish in 2010 is now on display at the Haifa National Maritime Museum. Tel Qashish lies about 2 km north of Yokneam and 20 km southeast of Haifa. The artifacts are dated to the 13th century BCE and, according to the exhibition’s curator Avshalom Zemer, it is the first time that a discarded treasure of that early date has been found and displayed.

The hoard was found in a pit of limestone rock and comprised 200 artifacts, many rare and previously unknown, that originated from Mycenaean Greece and Cyprus as well as locally. The local items include goblets (one with a human face) large and small cylindrical stands, incense burners and libation chalices, which indicate that they have come from a nearby temple, which has not yet been found, nor has any local deity been identified. The imported ware included bowls, juglets, cooking pots, cup-and-saucer sets from Cyprus, and stirrup jars and flasks from Greece. The imports imply strong trade connections with the Aegean, which suggested that the exhibition be placed in the Maritime museum, but the artifacts are the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who conducted the salvage dig that uncovered the hoard before the Haifa Bay gas pipeline was laid.

Highway Extension Uncovers Early Figurines

During extension of Highway Route One at Motza, west of Jerusalem, archaeologists discovered two small figurines, one of a ram and one of a wild bovine, The carvings in limestone are remarkably precise, according to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, co-director of the dig for the IAA . The pieces are dated to the Pre-pottery Neolithic B (approx. 8th millennium BCE) and according to the excavators are contemporary to the period when nomadic hunters were changing to a sedentary agricultural life. The other director of the dig, Anna Elrikh, believes that the figurines are related to the domestication of these animals that took place at the time. Other finds at the site include stone-age tools, and funereal and cultic objects, which have not yet been shown to the public.

Reservoir Under Outer Wall of Jerusalem Temple

During work on the underground tunnel to the Temple Mount from the Gihon area, the excavator Eli Shukron, working for the IAA, uncovered access to a vast underground reservoir or cistern measuring 12m by 5m and 4.5m high. It is dated to the First Temple period (pre 586 BCE) because it has the same type of wall plaster used in nearby cisterns in the Gihon area, which have been dated by pottery. The special plaster used to waterproof the stone walls has been found in several earlier locations and is claimed to be an Israelite invention that made the storage of winter water a practical proposition. The reservoir would have been filled by rainwater seeping down from the Temple Mount and because of its size Eli Shukron believes it was a public facility used by the Temple priests as well as by pilgrims. This is the first time that evidence of stored water has been found so near to the site of the Temple. It is not yet clear how the water was brought to the surface, though it was probably by means of skins lowered through openings in the roof of the reservoir.

Recording of Heritage Sites in Israel

During the months of September and October 2012 Wikimedia has organized a photography competition that will record cultural sites throughout 32 countries, including Israel. The work is organized by “Wiki loves Monuments” and Wikimedia Israel and will enable the public to download all the photographs free of charge when completed. The images of Israel will include over 600 buildings and ancient monuments, many religious sites as well as listed buildings in the older Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods. The organizers will select the ten best photographs taken in Israel, which will be submitted to the world-wide committee, and the best images will win local cash prizes. But all accepted images will become available to the public at no charge, according to Wikimedia.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #44, 16th July 2012

Mount Carmel Caves on UNESCO World Heritage List

At its meeting on 29th June at St Petersburg, the World Heritage Committee agreed to place a set of four Carmel caves on its Heritage List. The document read, “The four caves are located in one of the best preserved fossilized reefs of the Mediterranean region, and contain artifacts covering 500,000 years of human evolution, from the Lower Paleolithic era till today”.

They are the Nahal Me’orot caves of Tabun, Jamal, El-Wad and Skhul. The Tabun and other caves were first investigated by Dorothy Garrod in 1929-34 and she found there a complete skeleton of a Neanderthal woman, which was dated from 60,000 to 50,000 BP (before Present). The Jamal cave is a single chamber cave, while El-Wad has an entrance chamber that leads to five others that contain stone house remains and a cemetery with skeleton fragments of a hundred individuals. The listing includes the terraces to the caves that display evidence of artistic activity and agriculture. The caves reflect man’s prehistoric culture and his transformation from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist that occurred over hundreds of years. The credit for bringing the caves to the attention of UNESCO must go to Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of Haifa University, who has been passionate in preserving the evidence of the caves over many years.

Bethlehem Church on UNESCO List

At the same meeting, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was also placed on the World Heritage List in the name of the Palestine Authority. The PA claimed that the Church was in danger, but in fact the Church is in fairly good condition, although repairs are needed to the roof. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Church Patriarchs had opposed the original listing application but the PA has provided written guarantees that it will not intervene in the internal affairs of the site, in particular the “status quo” agreement which defines the full autonomy of the three churches (including the Roman Catholics) in the management of the site.

Early Synagogue to North-West of Sea of Galilee

At Huqoq, a village mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, archaeologists Jodi Magness, with David Amit and Shua Kasilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), have found remains of a large synagogue of the late Roman period of the 4th century CE, a time which saw a great increase in synagogue building in the Galilee and the Golan.  The synagogue has a mosaic floor that includes an inscription alongside two faces, one of them destroyed, but the other is female, very graphic and most unusual for a synagogue. There is also a depiction of the story of Samson sending flaming torches tied to the tails of foxes into the fields of Philistine standing corn (Judges 15:4ff), which is again used as a mosaic subject in another recently discovered  synagogue at nearby Wadi Hamam. The richness of the mosaics and the fact that remains of the structure show impressive use of large ashlar stonework is surprising in a small village setting and indicates the affluence of the area, which was watered by a spring, near a trade route, a centre of fertile land and famous for its mustard plants. “I guess mustard was lucrative” said Jodi Magness.

Crusader Coin Trove Found at Apollonia

At Tel Arshaf, on the coast north of Herzliya, in the course of a three-year dig headed by Prof. Oren Tal of Tel Aviv University, a large cache of golden coins of the Crusader period has been uncovered. The coins had been placed in a sand-filled pottery vessel, now broken, under the floor tiles of the castle, and it looked like a deliberate act of concealment, probably made by the defenders during a prolonged siege by Muslim troops. The excavation has also uncovered arrowheads and catapult stones, evidence of the Arab siege. The Crusaders, who called their castle Apollonia, held the stronghold in the 13th century, when it was eventually conquered and razed to the ground by the Mamluks, who failed to check under the floor tiles. The hoard is of 108 gold coins minted around 1,000 CE in Egypt, and is today valued at over $100,000. After cleaning, the hoard will be put on exhibition.

Hellenistic Harbour at Akko (Acre)

During conservation work to the southern sea wall of the modern harbour at Akko, evidence appeared of large well laid and dressed stones as used in many other installations along the Phoenician coast, and may have indicated the base of a large building or the foundation of a port installation. The finding of a series of mooring stones along the quay makes it clear that it was the latter, and thus was evidence for a large port in the Hellenistic period of 300-200 BCE. The stone floor was littered with fragments of pottery vessels from across the Aegean, from ports such as Knidos (W.Turkey) and Rhodes, by which it could be dated. The flooring had a slight slope to the south and was flanked on two sides by walls built in the Phoenician style, which suggests that the floor was the base of a slipway used to haul ships onto the shore, according to Kobi Sharvit, director of the IAA Marine Archaeology Unit. The section of the harbour uncovered so far indicates that it was a military installation, probably the chief naval base of Coele-Syria (Palestine/Israel) that was deliberately attacked and destroyed by enemies of the Seleucid powers, who could have been Egyptian forces under the Ptolemies, or even the Hasmoneans many years later.

Tel Hatzor, Jars of Burnt Wheat

Excavations at Hatzor have been in progress for many years under Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of Hebrew University and  Dr. Tsvika Tzuk, of the Nature and Parks Authority, who administer the archaeological site. Recently fourteen large pithoi storage jars have been uncovered and found to contain stores of burnt wheat that are dated to the Middle Bronze Age of 2,200 BCE. They were found in the storage room of the monumental building, perhaps a palace, of the Canaanite period. When excavation is complete this season, the jars and contents will be transferred to the IAA laboratories for further investigation and conservation, before being exhibited and then replaced on site.

Commemoration of Petrie’s Death

On the 70th anniversary of the death of Flinders Petrie a special ceremony was held at his graveside in Jerusalem. This report is by Sam Wolff of the IAA, with an addition in brackets by Shimon Gibson.

“On 30 July 2012 an evening gathering was organized by the IAA to commemorate the 70th year of the passing of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, pioneer British archaeologist and Egyptologist. The well-attended event was held in the courtyard of the former Bishop Gorbat School, current Jerusalem University College, on Mt. Zion, metres away from Petrie’s grave, which is located in the Protestant Cemetery alongside other prominent archaeologists and architects like James Starkey, Clarence Fisher, Conrad Schick. After a brief tour of the cemetery and introductory remarks, Gabriel Barkay delivered an appreciation of Petrie’s achievements. This was followed by a brief lecture by Shimon Gibson which, among other items of interest, included a graphic description of his visit to the Royal College of Surgeons in London in order to confirm the identity of a human head preserved in a jar, reputed to be the head of Petrie (who was an advocate of the Eugenics movement and believed that a measure of human intelligence could be based on the measurement of skulls). The evening ended with a screening of a BBC documentary of Petrie’s life and contribution to archaeology, both in Egypt and in Palestine.”

Ancient Pool and Bust at Sussita

At the hilltop Hellenistic site of Sussita, overlooking the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, Prof. Arthur Segal has been leading a team from the University of Haifa for thirteen seasons and recent finds include a bust of an unknown worthy dated to the third century BCE, which the archaeologists think had come from a grave monument. In the last season they have also uncovered the well paved floor remains of an early local swimming pool, but no date has yet been given, This is a surprising find as water supply to the high level town must have been severely restricted.

Restoration to City Walls of Jerusalem Completed

The 4 km. of the ancient city walls of Jerusalem have undergone an eight year programme of repair and restoration under the supervision of Avi Mashiah of the IAA. The National Parks Authority and the Jerusalem Development Authority were also involved in the work and funding came from the Prime Minister’s Office. It is the first time since the British Mandate that the walls as a whole have been surveyed and repaired. The work included restoration of the seven gates of the City and at the Zion Gate nearly 300 bullet holes, dating from 1967, were filled but the evidence left showing for historical accuracy. The work at the Herod and Damascus Gates was carefully co-ordinated with the local Arab traders who have open stalls at these gates, and much of the work was carried out at night so as not to disrupt trade. At the Damascus Gate the original ornamental high-level carvings were restored, at first to the angry protests of the locals, but it was explained that the original stonework was likely to collapse and now local residents and traders are happy to see the new work, and realize that the bright colours of the restoration will soon fade and blend in with the old. The whole of the walls have now been restored except for the portion at the south east corner, which is under the control of the Waqf, the Islamic administrators of the Temple Mount, who are proceeding with their repairs more slowly.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem