Report from Jerusalem #53, 12th August 2013

Syrian Civil War Damage

Due to the ongoing disturbances, it is reported that the famous 12th century Crusader castle, the Crac des Chevaliers, has suffered severe damage. The castle is located on a hill outside the city of Homs, where the rebels have been using it as a stronghold and base for their snipers. In their attempt to regain control of Homs, the castle was bombed by Government forces and suffered a direct hit which destroyed some of the internal fortifications. In the past the Crac des Chevaliers has been a great tourist attraction.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, and King David’s Palace?

On 17th July Prof. Yossi Garfinkel of Hebrew University organized a tour of the site at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley, south of Beth Shemesh, where he has been digging for the last five seasons.  He announced that his work here was now complete and that he would be moving his team to Lachish for the next season to re-examine its early strata. During a festive site dinner for the occasion, he also announced that he had found the remains of a luxurious mansion and large storage facility that he designated as King David’s palace on the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which he has identified as biblical Sha’arayim, because of its two gates. Garfinkel claims that the presence of a well-planned city with a royal palace of the time of the 10th and 11th century BCE., as dated by C-14 analysis, is evidence of state organization under a central authority and administration during the early years of the Judean monarchy. In his opinion the archaeological evidence thus underpins the Biblical account, but this is not a view accepted by other scholars. The site excavations will be preserved and the area will shortly be laid out as a national park, making it easily accessible to visitors.

Tell Es-Safi, The Philistine Gath

After seventeen years of excavation, the archaeologists of Bar-Ilan University, under the direction of Prof. Aren Maeir, demonstrated to the press the various stages of the development of Tell es-Safi, one of the cities of the Philistine pentapolis, which lies in the plain inland from Ashkelon. Evidence is now clear of its various destructions and redevelopments from the 17th to the 9th centuries BCE.  Heavy destruction occurred under Hazael of Damascus in about 830 BCE, and then the rebuilt houses show evidence of sliding off their foundations, which the archaeologists attribute to the earthquake of 760 BCE, mentioned in the Book of Amos (1:1). The mudbrick houses somehow survived and evidence of extensive burning relates to the later destruction by the Assyrian Emperor Sennacherib on his way to assault Jerusalem in 701 BCE.

The Bar-Ilan archaeologists will shortly be able to use the latest on-site equipment, as they expect to receive an X-ray Fluorescent Spectrometer (XRS) for use together with their Fourier Transform IR Spectrometer (FTIR), equipment that is usually confined to the laboratory and which will now be available for use on site. This will allow microscopic samples to be analysed on site, said Maier, which will save having to send them away for analysis, and so save valuable time and give the site the information it requires on the spot. It will allow for evidence to be gathered in the field, which previously had to wait for long periods to be processed in off-site laboratories.  The equipment has been donated by the university president, Prof. Moshe Kaveh, who had recently visited the site with his grandchildren and was impressed by their keen interest.

Ancient Oil Press in Jerusalem

In an emergency salvage dig before foundations were constructed for the dormitory of the Jerusalem College of Technology, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has uncovered an ancient olive press, consisting of a large collection vat, a stone bowl and a stone wheel, all within a karst (limestone) cave.

No date has been given but the IAA said that the existence of the ancient press, and another similar one found in the area a few years ago, is evidence of a thriving early olive-oil industry in the Bet Hakerem area of west Jerusalem. The discovery will enable the College and the IAA to retain the finds in situ to demonstrate the workings of an ancient oil press, which forms part of the history of technology.

Matching Geniza Fragments Online

Computer scientists have devised an online system to record disparate fragments from the Cairo Geniza, that are held by different museums and individuals, and enable them to be matched and put together without having to travel to the various locations where they are held. The system has been devised by Prof. Ya’acov Choueka of the Friedberg Geniza Project of Tel Aviv University, who has, with a team of programmers, digitized 360,000 fragments that are looking for a match. The images come from 60 collections all over the world and the system was recently unveiled at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University last month. The project is still looking for another 300,000 fragments from museum libraries in Western Europe, Russia and some private collections. Individuals will be able to access the system at

Village of Shikhin in Galilee

A joint expedition of the Kinneret College, Samford University and Kentucky Christian University, co-directed by Dr. Motty Aviam of Kinneret, has recently uncovered the village of Shikhin in the Galilee near to Tzippori (Sepphoris), the latter was the capital of the Galilee at one time. The village is mentioned by Josephus Flavius and in the Talmud as a village of many potters in the first century CE. The site has evidence of the remains of an early synagogue and considerable pottery works, including moulds for oil lamps, which are rare in a village. The excavation is important, according to Aviam, as it fills in a gap in the history of the Galilee between the First Temple and the Hasmonean periods, when there has been little evidence of its inhabitants. The proximity of the village to the former capital is also important as it will demonstrate how the local population lived in the rural areas in relation to the centre, and the expedition is keen to uncover more of the material culture that will demonstrate how the rural population lived.

Crusader Period Hospital in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that they had discovered part of the original hospital that stood in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, called the Muristan, which is a Persian word meaning hospital. The area was named for the Knights of St. John Hospitallers who occupied it after they were evacuated from the El Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, and now the site of the hospital has been found. The original building covered an area of 1.5 hectares (nearly 4 acres) but only one section remains on a site owned by the Wakf (Islamic Religious Authority) and to be developed as a restaurant by the Grand Bazaar Company of East Jerusalem. The exposed section is characterized by large pillars and gothic vaults spanning six metres (20 ft) and would have been surrounded by smaller halls. The IAA team, led by Amit Re’em and Renee Forestany, said that they identified the large hall from work done by Conrad Schick before 1900, who had mapped out its ruins from documents of the period in Latin and French. Re’em claimed that the hospital had been divided into several departments and could have accommodated up to two thousand patients in an emergency.

The Crusader staff had worked with Arab colleagues, whose knowledge of medical matters was far in advance of that of their Christian colleagues at this time. Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders in 1291, had renovated the hospital and allowed several Crusader monks and nuns to remain there to serve the local people. The existing hall is not open to visitors, but will now be renovated as part of the new restaurant, whose clients will be able to appreciate and absorb its medieval atmosphere together with its gastronomic delights.

Samaritan Byzantine Occupation by Appolonia

In advance of the northern development of Herzliya, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Oren Tal, and the IAA, led by Moshe Ajami, are examining a number of refuse pits that were the town dumps of an extensive Samaritan settlement, just south of ancient coastal Apollonia-Arsuf, of the late Byzantine period. The main pit so far excavated has thrown up 400 Byzantine coins, 200 Samaritan lamps, and gold and silver jewelry that includes an octagonal ring, inscribed with the Hebrew name of God on the outside of each of the eight sides. Some of the lamps were still sealed and unused and the excavators are intrigued by the fact that much of the refuse had been dumped before use. They speculate that there may have been some cultic reason for the Samaritans to discard unused material. They said that the community was a large one and that the octagonal ring was evidence of a high level of religious observance during the period of the sixth century. Investigation of the material continues and it is the intention of the IAA to clear all the findings from the site so that development of the area can proceed. [Evidence that the occupation was substantially Samaritan has not yet been made clear, but should be forthcoming when the coins are examined further, ed.].

 Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #35, 22nd September 2011

Two-Horned Altar from Tell-Es-Safi

The site of Tell es-Safi is considered to be the Philistine city of Gath and work had been going on there for many seasons, under the direction of Prof. Aren Maier of Bar-Ilan University. A recent find has been a large stone altar with two squarish horns. It was found within the ruins of a large building of the lower city that was destroyed by Hazael of Aram in the 9th century BCE. The altar is made of a single piece of stone, which is unique for its size, according to Prof. Maier. The dimensions are 50cm by 50cm by one metre high, which is equivalent to the cubit by cubit by 2 cubits high of the wooden incense altar of the Mishkan, as described in Exod. 30:1. Although one side is broken, Prof. Maier claims that the altar only had the two horns on the one side, not the usual four, and the reasons for this are obscure, though it may have been a Philistine characteristic. Another important find of the season was a jar with an inscription, which seems to have been in a Philistine version of Hebrew, but is as yet undeciphered.

Damascus Gate Restored

The most ornate of the Jerusalem Gates, the Damascus Gate or Sha’ar Shechem, has been fully cleaned and restored after four years of work on the ancient walls of the city.  The restoration work included the reconstitution of the projecting external guardbox that was cantilevered over the main arched entry, and served as a sentry box for one soldier to monitor all who entered from the north. It was destroyed during the 1967 war and was finally restored and unveiled last month. The gate is highly elaborate and was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent from the famous Islamic architect Sinan Minmar (1489-1578) of Constantinople in the mid-sixteenth century CE. Sinan was also the architect of the Sulemaniye Mosque, the second largest in Istanbul, whose huge dome rests on four massive pillars. The Damascus gate is planned with a double chicane which in plan is like the Hebrew letter Lamed, with two right angle turns. In elevation it sports 22 or more stepped finials, and it is founded on an earlier Roman gate from the time of Hadrian. According to Avi Mashiah, the architect of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who supervised the work, this gate is the most beautiful one of the wall and therefore it has been amply recorded in drawings and photographs which enabled the restoration to be completed accurately. The work was carried out in carefully planned stages so that the many small-scale Arab merchants, who lined the walls of the gate, were able to continue trading without interruption.

Kenyon Institute: Move into Non-Archaeological Fields of Study

The Kenyon Institute, formerly the British School of Archaeology, in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, has just announced a new series of lectures on Palestinian politics. The lecture for last week was entitled “The Question of Palestinian Representation in Historical Context and the State Recognition Initiative”, and was given by Dr. Abdel Razzeq Takriti of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. The Centre is also starting a series of classes in spoken Arabic, to run over the next three months.

From the point of view of the archaeological community of Jerusalem and the wider world, it would be most unfortunate if the Kenyon Institute, run by the Centre for British Research in the Levant, abandons the concern for archaeological subjects for which it was originally founded.

Continuos Occupation at Yavne-Yam

The ancient port of Yavne-Yam, that lies on the Mediterranean coast between Jaffa and Ashdod, recently gave up its latest secrets.  A complex of a fortress and a bath-house of the late Islamic period were excavated last season by a team from Tel Aviv University headed by Prof. Moshe Fischer. He pointed out that this latest find confirmed the use of the port city from the Middle Bronze Age period up to medieval times, and showed that the Islamic population continued the Roman practice of providing lavish bathing premises alongside their main public buildings. The latest finds, not yet published, indicate that the port was occupied continuously for a period of over three thousand years.

The Underground Passage from Robinson’s Arch to Siloam Pool

Work by Prof. Ronnie Reich of Haifa University and Eli Shukron of the IAA has continued on this amazing underground passageway and the sewer that ran below it, where a Roman sword and a tiny golden bell were found recently. The excavators have now been able to continue their exploration right up to the Herodian retaining wall of the Temple Mount (the Haram es-Sharif) and have uncovered the stepped foundations that underlie the massive ashlars of the wall, near to its maximum height of over 40 metres at the south-west corner, where it rises from the bedrock of the Tyropaean Valley. The discovery of the base of the wall attracted enormous interest and the site was visited by the Mayor of Jerusalem and other important dignitaries and politicians, who were reported to have been seen weeping at the wonder of the exposed foundations of the retaining wall to what is, for Jews, their holiest site. It is hoped that the site can be prepared for public viewing in the near future. It will certainly be interesting to see how Herod’s engineers coped with the problem of founding their huge walls on the naturally irregular bedrock of the mountain.

Corpus of Graffiti  Inscriptions

Over the years individual explorers have come across graffiti scratched into cave walls and other rough surfaces in many different places and languages. It is now the intention to publish all the known and readable ones that have been found in Israel over many years by several different scholars.  Prof. Jonathan Price of Tel Aviv Classics Department says the study of these casual writings has been neglected so far but their importance has now been recognised and the Corpus will be of great interest to historians.  The graffiti so far known are dated from the 4th century BCE, the early Hellenistic period, to the early Islamic age of 7th century CE and the Corpus is likely to contain 13,000 items in over ten languages. Some examples are the Greek name “Christo” found on limestone walls in the Judean hills, the Jewish family name “Sh-ph-n” (“rabbit”) found in a first century CE burial cave, and the name “Yonatan” in another burial cave. Many scrawls were found in the extended caves used by the Jewish population to hide from the Romans during the Jewish Revolts of 66 and 135 CE. some of which have still to be deciphered.

Stephen G. Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute, Jerusalem