Report from Jerusalem #41, 24th April 2012

Two Bullae Found in Jerusalem

Two bullae, which were found several years ago by Dr. Eilat Mazar in the City of David, one by the Large Stone Structure (which Mazar thinks may have been the palace of David) and one by the northern or Nehemiah’s tower, are currently in the news because they are on display in America. One is in the name of Yehukhal ben Shelemyahu and the other Gedelyahu ben Pashhur, both known as ministers of King Zedekiah (597-587 BCE). They are two out of the four ministers who asked the king for Jeremiah to be put to death for spreading defeatist sentiments, and when the king said, “Behold, he is in your hands”, they threw him into a pit of mire (Jer. 38:1-6) from which he was later rescued.

Egyptian Scarab Found in City of David

A tiny scarab in the name of the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, written in hieroglyphics and with the imprint of a duck, was found at the Gihon section of the National Park by Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Dr. Joe Uziel. It is only 1.5 cm long and was probably used to stamp documents in the 13th century BCE when Egypt ruled Canaan and, according to the excavators, it is a unique find in the area.

Stolen Sarcophagus Covers Found in Jerusalem

Inspectors of the IAA have recently seized two Egyptian sarcophagus covers from a dealer’s store in the Old City. The covers are of wood with the virtual features of the deceased painted and modelled in plasterwork. They were pronounced genuine by the IAA and dated, one to the Late Bronze Age and one to the Iron Age. The covers had been neatly cut into two for easier transportation and the authorities think that they came to Israel via Dubai and Europe. The IAA say that legislation is now in place, since April 20th, to prevent the importation of any antiquities that have not been certified as legally exported from their country of origin. The Egyptian Government is requesting the return of the two covers and negotiations are in progress with the Foreign Ministry.

Syphonic Water Channel at Bet Yerah

During the construction of a new water carrier from the south to the city of Tiberias, the remains of an ancient water channel to Tel Beth Yerah, were unearthed and the work was delayed to enable a rescue dig to be carried out. The dig uncovered a pipeline from the ancient ‘Berenice aqueduct’ to the site of Hellenistic Bet Yerah, on the shores of the Kinneret, south of Tiberias. The pipeline had to cross the original riverbed of the Jordan, by sinking down to its level and rising on the other side up to the Tel.

This was done by means of a syphon built out of substantial interlocking basalt blocks, and the excavators found that this line had been built over an earlier pipeline of short interconnecting clay pipes, that had obviously failed under the considerable water pressure involved. The excavators, led by Yardenna Alexandre of the IAA, found that the large basalt blocks, or at least some of them, had probably been taken from the Early Roman-period syphon of Hippos-Sussita, on the east shore of the Kinneret, when it fell out of use. The basalt blocks, one of which had been carved out of a worn Corinthian capital, had a central channel with a bore of 30cm diameter while the earlier clay pipes were of only 8 to 10cm internal bore. The substantial water supply from the syphon was connected to a luxurious bathhouse adjacent to an early Islamic Ummayad palace, whose remains had been originally misinterpreted as an early synagogue and mikvah. This fact, together with the find of two bronze coins, would date the elaborate syphonic channel to the 7th century CE.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem, #6, October 2008

Ehud Netzer continues on the Herodian theme at the Albright Institute, speculating on the exact function of the mountain palace: was it a summer palace, a fortress, Herod’s burial place? Netzer was convinced that it was all three and, to my mind, he proved his case. His talk nearly clashed with Hanan Eshel who was launching his new book on the and Hasmoneans and the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute a little later on the same night of 23 October. On 28 October at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University there will be a seminar on Urbanisation in the South Levant in the Early Bronze Age with Israel Finkelstein, Pierre de Miroschedji and Rafi Greenberg. And on 30 October at the Hebrew University the annual seminar to review the year’s work in Jerusalem and Environs will be held with talks by Zvi Greenhut, Dan Barag, Yossi Garfinkel, Oded Lipschitz, Shimon Gibson, Ronnie Reich and others. There is plenty of meat here for the hungry archaeologist.

A fairly sensational find was announced earlier this month when a sarcophagus cover was found with the inscription “ben Hacohen Hagadol” (son of the High Priest) on the cover. The discovery was made (in-situ!) on an extensive dig by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) probably at Bet Hanina, just north of Jerusalem. However the IAA are not giving out further details except to say that the site is in the tribal area of Benjamin, where it is known that many of the Cohanim (priests) of the last Temple period (30-70 CE) lived. I think we can expect further details of this interesting find and the site in due course.

The water tunnel under the City of David, usually called Hezekiah’s Tunnel, continues to attract many visitors and I would like to record the impressions of a newcomer to the site, who came with me recently through the water tunnel. He is Robert Lipman, an accountant from London, now living in Ashkelon, who writes, ‘Here the two vital factors for the survival of the inhabitants 3,000 years ago come into play. Walls for protection providing safety from invaders and brigands and the supply of precious life-sustaining water. Hence the importance of the tunnel as a conduit for the supply of water in times of siege and adversity….the journey is made along a tepid man-made water course which at times just sloshes through one’s plastic shoes and at others splashes just below the knees of one’s shorts…one feels great empathy for the men who hewed out this vital narrow conduit. In places it is tall enough to stand erect and in others it is necessary to crouch … Imagine the excitement of the two teams of excavators as they approached one another, impossibly by chance, as the tunnel twists and turns, and then hearing each other excavating scarcely three cubits apart, before they finally meet….’ I think Lipman conveys some of the excitement of one’s first tour through this extraordinary tunnel, a major engineering feat of c.700 BCE. Even today there is still discussion as to how it was dug and why.

Besides the Hecht Archaeological Museum at Haifa University that I mentioned recently, the National Maritime Museum in Haifa is also showing archaeological work, the results of seventeen seasons of excavation at the site of Tel Shiqmona, at the foot of the northern tip of the Carmel mountain. The early settlement was sustained by rainwater run-off from the mountain that fed into the adjacent fields. The site dates back to the Late Bronze Age when it was an Egyptian outpost connected to Bet-Shean, and one of the most interesting exhibits is the famous scarab that alludes, in hieroglyphs, to a local Hyksos ruler, reading ‘Son of Ra, Ya’qob-her, grant life’, that some scholars have related to the patriarch Jacob.

Another famous item is a terracotta figure of a girl with a drum, from the 8th century BCE. There are many other early artifacts, and a considerable number of a much later date from the Byzantine period, including a fine mosaic floor with animal roundels. Early excavations took place at Tel Shiqmona in 1895 by G. Schumacher and later by Moshe Dothan in 1951 but the main work was conducted by Joseph Elgavish on behalf of the Haifa Museum of History from 1963 to 1979.

Finally, archaeological bacteria! It is reported that scientists from Tel Aviv and Hebrew University Medical schools, together with researchers from the Universities of Birmingham and Salford, have found the DNA of an early strain of tuberculosis in the bones of a mother and child at Athlit-Yam, just south of Haifa, that were buried in the Neolithic Pre-Pottery Age of 9,000 years ago. Although this is 3,000 years earlier than previous evidence of the disease, it is shown to be the human strain of tuberculosis and not one evolved from bovine TB, as previously thought. The community from which it evolved was settled at a period when animals were domesticated but not yet used for their milk. The find will enable researchers to work out how the bacteria have evolved over the centuries to the present day, when TB is still infecting millions around the world.

Stephen G Rosenberg
Albright Institute, Jerusalem