Report from Jerusalem, #20, January 2010

Earliest settlers at Gesher B’not Ya’akov site, north of Lake Kinneret

This site on the banks of the Jordan has yielded evidence of very early artifacts of the Acheulian culture, according to researchers from the Hebrew University, so early in fact, that they seem to indicate human activity half-a-million years earlier than previously thought. There was in this area a freshwater lake (later Lake Hule, now drained) that changed over the years and which supported “a hundred thousand years of hominid occupation”. The evidence comes from a high density of fish and crab bones indicating the earliest signs of fish consumption by prehistoric people. There are remains of charred wood and signs of processing of basalt and other stone hand tools located around a hearth. The tools are in the form of hand axes, scrapers, and choppers, as well as hammers and anvils that suggest the processing of nuts for roasting and eating.

The evidence of dating is not clear and sceptics have suggested that the remains could be typical of any date of camping site with fish bones, nutshells and a hearth. It remains to be seen what further evidence of dating the Hebrew University researchers will be bringing forward.

Taliban, one of the Lost Tribes?

A senior research fellow at the Institute of Haematology of Mumbai (Bombay) has been awarded a grant to the Technion of Haifa to study the possibility that the core of the Taliban movement has a blood link to one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. This subject, which up to now has been in the realms of fantasy, is given a certain legitimacy by the fact that the examination of DNA samples and links can now be put on a scientific basis. Shahnaz Ali, an Indian scientist, will be supervised by Prof. Skorecki of the Technion who is well-known for researching Jewish genetic origins.

The majority of the Afghan Taliban are Pashtuns, and it has been their belief that they are the descendants of the Afridi Pathans, and there is a popular theory that their tribes are descendants of the Israelite tribe of Ephraim, that was exiled by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.
Shahnaz has taken extensive blood samples of the local Taliban population and the grant will enable him to analyse them at Haifa, where the work is expected to take up to one year.

Khirbet Qeiyafa (Valley of Elah fortress) ostracon deciphered.

The pottery shard with ink writing, uncovered last year by Prof. Yossi Garfinkel at the above site, has now been deciphered by Prof. Gershon Galil of Haifa University. It is written in ink in a form of Paleo-Hebrew script on five lines separated by a series of dashes, an unusual feature. Galil notes that the language is Hebrew as it uses certain words, such as “almanah” (widow) not used in the language of adjoining cultures. The sentiments expressed, such a taking care of slaves and strangers, are not to be found in the writings of neighbouring nations, but relate closely to social issues expressed in Hebrew writings, such as Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 72:3 and Exodus 23:2.

Galil postulates that the fact that scribes were active at this period in peripheral areas such as this site, must indicate that in the capital and other urban areas, scribes were perhaps even better trained and able to record significant data.

The ostracon, judging by the context in which it was found, is of the tenth century BCE and is therefore the earliest example of Hebrew writing known so far (presumably some experts consider it earlier than the Gezer Calendar). Galil also notes that the writing is evidence of a kingdom that administers a form of justice in its territory, and this would indicate an administration existing in the tenth century BCE, which would be the period of King David, according to the Biblical chronology.

The text of the shard, in English (as published by Galil) is as follows.

“You shall do (it), but worship the (Lord),
Judge the sla(ve) and the wid(ow)…. judge the orph(an),
(and) the stranger. (P)lead for the infant…. plead for the po(or and)
the widow. Rehabilitate (the poor) at the hands of the king.
Protect the po(or and) the slave…support the stranger”.

This is a most important find but the reading printed here made by Galil is strongly challenged by some scholars and not accepted by Garfinkel himself. It seems that for some reason Galil, who is a fine historian but not known as an epigrapher, has rather jumped the gun and come to a reading and to conclusions that are not accepted by many archaeologists and epigraphers. One looks forward to seeing the full scholarly publication of the text, when hopefully we can expect to see a consensus on the reading and its implication for the history of the period.

Early settlement at Ramat Aviv, north of Tel Aviv.

There was intelligent life in Tel Aviv eight thousand years ago, and near the University! The Israel Antiquities Authority have recently uncovered a structure in Ramat Aviv dating it to between 7,800 and 8,400 years ago. It lay on the northern bank of the Yarkon river, where it was joined by its Ayalon tributary, the kind of well-watered site selected by the earliest settlers, who left behind basalt bowls and animal remains, including hippopotamus bones and sheep/goat teeth, according to Ayelet Dayan who directed the dig for the IAA.

Stephen G. Rosenberg,
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem