Report from Jerusalem #74, 30th November 2015

Acra Citadel Found

In the second century BCE in the fight with the Maccabees, the Syrian Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a citadel called the Acra in Jerusalem to control and watch over events on the Temple Mount, where the Maccabees had recaptured the Temple.  As the Temple Mount was higher than the surrounding areas, the Acra would have had to have been a tower high enough to oversee the Mount, and its location has been sought for many years by archaeologists but without avail.  However in the last few weeks, scholars from the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) working at the Givati parking lot just south of the Temple Mount have unearthed the massive foundations of what they consider to have been a high tower, perhaps twenty metres in height, and which they now think were the foundations of the Acra tower, which, if high enough, could have been used to supervise the activities on the Temple Mount. In addition to the tower foundations, the IAA found the base of an adjoining wall and the remains of a sloping rampart located to keep attackers away from the base of the wall and the tower. They also found evidence of the remains of a battle around the base of the tower in the form of lead sling shots, ballista stones and arrowheads, some of them in bronze, with the sign of a trident stamped on them, symbolizing the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. These would have been evidence of the battle conducted by the Maccabees in an attempt to storm the tower, which was hampering their activities on the Temple Mount.

Fine Mosaic in Lod

During excavations by the IAA at a large villa of the Roman period in th Neveh Yerek area of Lod, twenty kilometers south-east of  Tel Aviv, a brilliant mosaic was uncovered in what had been the living room floor of the villa, which stood in a neighbourhood of wealthy dwellings. The mosaic depicts scenes of hunting, figures of animals, fish and birds, with vases and baskets of flowers, and the archaeologists said that the images indicated a highly developed artistic ability. The work was found as the ground was being prepared for a visitor’s centre, in the name of Shelby White and Leon Levy, to view another colourful mosaic, already found in the courtyard of the mansion, which had measured approximately twelve metres square.  The mosaic will be lifted and shown in several museums at home and abroad and it will then be returned and the villa and the two mosaics will be displayed to the public.

Oldest Domesticated Seeds Found in Galilee

The world’s oldest domesticated Fava seeds have been found in the Galilee, in Israel. It is considered that the Fava bean (vicia faba), which bears large pods with edible seeds, dates back for more than ten thousand years, making them the world’s oldest domesticated seeds. They were found in storage pits after they had been husked, and the seeds were of a uniform size, indicating they were all cultivated and harvested at the same period of the year.  At this time an agricultural revolution was taking place throughout the region, when animals and plants were being domesticated and it is clear from several finds that the Galilee was the main producer of legumes at this period.

Early Statuette Found by Young Boy

Itai Halperin, an eight year old boy on a day trip with is family around Bet Shemesh, picked up a round ceramic object and soon realized it was the ancient head of a small statue and turned it over to the IAA, who recognized it as the head of the sculpture of a naked fertility goddess.  They considered it to be of the period between the eighth and sixth centuries BCE and its find area would indicate that this was a place controlled by the kingdom of Judah, of which Bet Shemesh was a prominent city. The find was important according to the IAA and Itai was awarded a special archaeological certificate to celebrate his find. He thanked them and said that he wanted one day to be like the celebrated Indiana Jones.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F Albright Institute of Archeological Research, Jerusalem

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Rosenberg in Israel. It represents his personal assessment. The Society takes no responsibility for the content.

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 #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

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, #18, November 2009

Vandalism at Nabatean Avdat

Since the vandalism of the Nabatean site at Avdat, which I mentioned in the last Report, two Bedouins have been arrested. One of them was the sole guard on the site and both of the men have denied responsibility. The State has great difficulty in dealing with the Bedouins, who are often of no fixed abode and live by a culture different from that of the majority of the population. Many of them serve in the army and perform valuable services, particularly as guides and trackers in the Negev. However the damage to the archaeological site was criminal and comprehensive and will no doubt be punished accordingly.

Roman mosaic from Lod

The remarkable 1,700 year old mosaic of Lod, which was also mentioned in a previous Report, has been moved to the Israel Museum for essential preservation work. When the plaster base was uncovered, the restoration team looked for the original guide lines that outlined the placing of the tesserae. To their surprise they also found the imprint of several feet and sandals of the original artists. Jacques Neguer of the IAA Conservation Department, described them as having been made by sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44 sandals. The mosaic will be fully restored and the footprints will be removed and exhibited separately at the new Mosaic Archaeological Centre in Lod.

New exhibit at the Davidson Centre, Jerusalem

A new exhibition at the Davidson Centre by the Temple Mount in Jerusalem opened on November 11th. It is organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and will show the latest finds from the area, including the sarcophagus lid inscribed with the words “Ben Hacohen Hagadol” and many coins of the Roman and Jewish mints of the Great Revolt period of 66-70 CE. There will also be a model of the city during Second Temple times. Many of the exhibits come from very recent digs, by Prof. Ronnie Reich and others, but some go back to the excavations headed by Prof. Benjamin Mazar in the 1970s.

New book discusses the Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif

Although we do no want to get involved in the political scene, you will know that arguments about the Jewish presence (or non-presence) on the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount continue to rage. It was therefore very heartening that a new volume on the subject was recently launched at the Ecole Biblique in East Jerusalem, called “WHERE HEAVEN AND EARTH MEET: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade”. It gives a detail outline of the site’s history and is the result of three years’ work and discussion by 22 scholars from the Moslem, Christian and Jewish academies and faiths, and it is a remarkable demonstration of the respect that exists between their separate worlds and literatures.

New discoveries from Acre

In a rescue dig last month in Acre, just north of the City wall, a hoard of broken marble items was uncovered. They date to the 13th century Crusader period and were found in a sealed cellar that contained 350 pieces, including a stone cross and broken tombstones. Dr. Edna Stern, who conducted the dig on behalf of the IAA, said this was a unique find for the period and demonstrated the high quality of the work being undertaken by the Crusaders in their local capital. Crusader Acre fell to the Mameluks in 1291, presumably before the hoarder of these precious fragments, some of which may have been imported, was able to use them in local building work.

Also at Acre, experts from 16 countries met this month for the second UNESCO World Heritage workshop on “Disaster Risk Reduction to Cultural Heritage Sites”. The first such meeting had been held in Olympia, Greece, in 2008. Areas of collaboration were identified, particularly between Israel and Jordan, and especially in the field of dangers from earthquakes, where the work being done by Israel at Masada can be applied to similar sites at Petra in Jordan, both being subject to such dangers in the Rift Valley around the Jordan basin. The focus of the papers was to identify the dangers and take preventative measures before disaster struck, and to pressurize governments into finding the necessary funds. An International Conservation Centre is being set up by Israel in the Old City of Acre to establish training in the conservation of these valuable Heritage sites all around the world.

Stephen G. Rosenberg
Albright Institute, Jerusalem