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 #48, 18th February 2013

“Debris” Removed from Temple Mount

As mentioned last month, six lorry-loads of material were removed from the Temple Mount in early January, discovered by Zachi Dvira (Zweik) who works with Gabby Barkai on the sifting project. The Jerusalem Police declared this to be ordinary debris, but the archaeologists see it as valuable excavated material, that has been removed from the Temple Mount against the High Court order prohibiting removal of any material from the Mount. Archaeologists are trying to retrieve the material from the local refuse dump and bring it to the sifting site for proper examination.

Preservation of 300 Historical Sites

The 700 million shekel (about £120M) program is going ahead with one third dealing with Biblical and Second Temple sites, and the remaining with later periods. The earlier projects include funding for projects in the City of David, Tel Shilo, the Machpelah cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Herodian remains near Bethlehem. Although the news does not give full specifics, it is clear that the allocated money is being used for these purposes, and further funds will be made available in due course.

Israel Antiquities Authority Archives Digitized

The above-mentioned fund is also being used to support the publication of a database with the records of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The documents will become available to scholars and include 19th century letters on excavations at the City of David, plans for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake of 1927, and the extensive archives of the Rockefeller Museum. The work will give scholars access to valuable documents and will also ensure preservation of the archives, many of whose documents are suffering from disintegration because of poor paper quality and poor storage facilities in the past. Most of the documents are in English (they will receive Hebrew annotation) and are available on line here but no date has yet been given for the completion of the work.

Restoration of Avdat National Park

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has now completed restoration of the UNESCO Heritage site of the Avdat National Park in the Negev that was vandalized in October 2009. The work was carried out at a cost of nearly nine million shekels (£1.5m) but the Authority has made it clear that some of the archaeological evidence of original stonework has been lost forever due to the damage done by the vandals.

Herod the Great Exhibition at the Israel Museum

This fine exhibition opened at the Israel Museum on 12th February 2013 and will run for eight months. It is a tribute to Herod’s great building projects and also to the lifetime of investigation that Ehud Netzer devoted to their uncovering. In fact it appears that it was Netzer who started planning the exhibition after his location of Herod’s Tomb on Herodion, and before his tragic death at that site in October 2010. The exhibition mentions Herod’s tumultuous life, as a great fighter, lover and indeed murderer, but it is his tremendous building structures that are given pride of place, such as his many palaces, the port of Caesarea and Herodion itself. Herod’s tomb is shown with a reconstruction of the central tholos, using the actual carved stones from the site, and restorations of the three smashed sarcophagi that were found there. There are many clear wooden models, as were favoured by Netzer, of the tomb and other projects with ingenious films showing their locations in Masada, Jericho, Caesarea and elsewhere and how their construction took place in such difficult terrain. Netzer was of the opinion that Herod had played a personal role in the planning of these oversized projects.  Without him no architects or engineers would have dared to produce such ambitious plans, he thought.

There are wonderful original oversized carved Ionic and Corinthian capitals as were used at the Temple porticos and at Herod’s many palaces, but pride of place is given to the work at Herodion.  The original unique paintings of the royal box at the intimate hillside theatre at Herodion are displayed.

It appears that everything Herod did was on the grandest of scales and with the finest materials. As has been truly said, Emperors built for posterity but Herod built for eternity. This exhibition, coming more than two thousand years after his death,  makes that clear; it is a great tribute to the better side of Herod’s genius and energy, and also to the indefatigable work undertaken by Ehud Netzer over nearly fifty years.

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 #37, 6th December 2011

Arabic Inscription of the Crusader Period

An inscription in Arabic bearing the name of the Crusader ruler Frederick II and dated 1229 was recently discovered on a grey marble slab on the wall of a building in Tel Aviv, probably fixed there many years ago. According to Prof. Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University who deciphered it, this was the only Crusader inscription ever found in Arabic and probably came from the citadel that Frederick built in Jaffa, and on which he describes himself as King of Jerusalem. He hailed from Sicily and was the leader of the Sixth Crusade of 1228-1229. It is known that he was fluent in Arabic, his court was attended by many Muslim scholars and ambassadors and for that he was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. He was friendly with the Egyptian Sultan and won from him an armistice that made him King of Jerusalem without a fight. The titles of the inscription are readable in the Arabic but the remaining text has not survived. It is not yet clear where and when the slab will be exhibited to the public.

Palestine Authority (PA) Recognised by UNESCO: Impact on Archaeology

As a result of the recognition of the PA as a member state by UNESCO on October 31st, the PA is applying to UNESCO for grants to cover repair work to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and in particular for the sum of $12 million for essential repairs to the roof. The historic building of the Byzantine period is in urgent need of repairs which have not been carried out for many years by the three Christian denominations that administer it.

On another tack, the PA, now a member of UNESCO, has threatened to sue Israel for stealing and destroying Arab and Muslim antiquities. The renovation of the Mughrabi Bridge in Jerusalem is on hold until the PA’s intentions are clarified and (it is to be hoped), resolved.

Date Palm Grown from Seed Discovered at Masada

A seed uncovered in the 1960s at Masada, later planted in a secret location by scientists, has now sprouted and grown to an eight-foot high date palm. It has recently been replanted at Kibbutz Ketura in Arava, southern Israel. From a rare species it is hoped it will henceforth produce fruit for food and medicinal purposes.

When the sapling was 15 months old the original seed was shown by C.14 investigation at the University of Zurich to be from the period of the Roman siege of Masada in 73 CE. This species of palm was identified with Judaea and depicted on Roman coins as a symbol of the defeat of the Great Rebellion of 66-70 CE.

Coins Found Below Base of Outer Temple Wall

Further excavations by Eli Shukron of the IAA and Prof. Ronnie Reich of Haifa University inside the drainage channel at the foot of Robinson’s Arch have uncovered part of the base of the western Herodian retaining wall to the Jerusalem Temple and exposed coins that are dated to the Roman Governor Valerius Gratus of 15-16 CE. As this is some twenty years after the death of Herod the Great, it demonstrates that this part of the wall was built after his death, according to Prof. Reich.

The coins were found in a mikveh (ritual bath) that was part of a residential area that had been destroyed to make way for the massive retaining wall to be founded on bedrock. The coins indicate that this western part of the wall was probably built later than the one on the eastern and southern sides and was planned by Herod but only constructed by his grandson Herod Antipas.

This discovery caused a minor sensation among scholars in the press, but it has always been known that Herod, who started the Temple reconstruction in 22 BCE, never saw it completed at his death in 4 BCE. The work was not totally finished until about 60 CE and then, tragically, the completed Temple stood for only ten years before it was destroyed by the Romans.

The Gospel Trail North of Lake Kinneret

Last week the  Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov officially opened the Gospel Trail along the north side of the Lake of Kinneret in the Galilee, which will run for 63 kms (39 miles) from north of Tiberias on the west side of the lake eventually to Kursi on the opposite east bank. The Trail will pass through most of the important Christian sites along the banks, such as Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum and Bethsaida. Prepared by the Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund, the Trail consists of comfortable stone footpaths, sun and rain shelters and parking areas. The plan is to include hostels and hotels for the many Christian pilgrims that are expected to visit the area, which is sacred to the memory of Jesus, who spent much time in the fishing villages along the lake after he was evicted from Nazareth.

Archaeological excavations along the route have been conducted over many years by the Franciscan Fathers of Capernaum and the IAA and a joint application was made over the last few years to UNESCO to have the area designated as a site of Historic Interest.  The application has so far not succeeded as the management of the Trail has not yet been fully organized between the many different ownerships involved.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

 

Report from Jerusalem #34, 22nd August

Boundary stone found in Lower Galilee

A local visitor to the small community of Timrat, which lies a few kilometres west of Nazareth, happened to come across a large stone inscribed in black with the three Hebrew letters reading “Shabbat”. Mordechai Aviam, head of Archaeology at the nearby Kinneret College, has suggested that this was a marker for the Shabbat boundary around the village, marking the extent allowed for walking beyond the village on the Sabbath in the Mishnaic period.  The letters are large and clear and extend over a length of half a metre.   Boundary markers have been discovered at other locations but are inscribed in Greek and, according to Aviam, this is the first one to be found in Hebrew.  The stone is dated to the Roman/Byzantine period when the village would have been inhabited, and volunteer teams are now being sent to the area to search for more examples.

Ancient Shechem to be opened to the Public

A team from Holland and the Palestinian Authority has been working since 1997 at Tel Balata, the site of the ancient city of Shechem, and they plan to open the site to the public next year. It is hoped that the remains uncovered, and in some cases reconstructed by the Drew-McCormick Expedition directed by G.E.Wright in the early 1960s, will soon be available to be seen by visitors. Tel Balata, just east of modern Nablus, has been the site of a Palestinian refugee camp and in the last few years has become a centre of  old car sales and a dumping ground for second-hand and stolen vehicles. All this is being cleared away by the present expedition, supported by a team from UNESCO, and it is hoped that the site can be presented next year in a form useful to scholars and attractive to tourists.

Jerusalem sewage ditch yields up more treasures

From the waste water channel that runs from the Temple Mount to the Siloam Pool, in which the small golden bell was recently found, a Roman sword with part of an attached belt and a small inscribed stone were recently uncovered in the silt by Eli Shukron, working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The sword had a two-foot iron blade and is a military type that Shukron believes may have been stolen from the Roman garrison by a rebel Jew and then abandoned in the escape passage. The inscribed stone, from the same period, of the Roman destruction of the City in 70 CE, shows a menorah of five branches on a triple leg base. It is a fairly rough rendition and unclear why only five branches are shown though it may be that the artist did not want to reproduce the exact form of the menorah, since that might have been considered sacrilegious outside the Temple. The sword was found fused to its leather scabbard, badly decayed but with two ring buckles that had attached it to a soldier’s belt.

Phasaelis City Uncovered

At a site 20 km. north of Jericho, Hananiah Hizmi, working for the Archaeological Department of the Authority for Judaea and Samaria, is uncovering the 15 acres of a town planned by Herod the Great and started in the year 8 BCE, according to Josephus. It was the last of Herod’s great projects (he died in 4 BCE) and was being built as an agricultural complex in the name of his brother Phasael.  In this desert area, water was a problem and Herod’s engineers managed to bring it in by a thousand-metre long ground-level aqueduct from the springs now called Petzael. The site had been covered by Palestinian and Bedouin shacks and, as alternative accommodation has been provided, the huts have been cleared and the remains of the city uncovered. They include a water basin of 40m by 30m and 6m deep which was used to store the spring water and distribute it to adjoining fields. So far only two months of work have been spent on site and it is clear that much more time needs to be expended, as it is hoped to uncover all the residential and public buildings of this “new town” in the desert. If the remains come up as expected, this will be another example of a Herodian miracle, the building of a viable community in desert surroundings. The site continued in occupation for some time, as the excavators found the remains of a Byzantine Church with a mosaic floor. Today the name is preserved as the location goes under the title of El Fasayil and there is a small Jewish village at the springs called Petzael.

Bathhouse Hercules  in the Jezre’el Valley

In preparation for the building of a railway connection between Bet Shean and Haifa (partly for the benefit of Jordanian access to that port), a rescue dig at Horvat Tarbanet, west of Afula, has uncovered a  bright white marble torso and two fragments  that are clearly part of a statue of the Greek hero Hercules.  It is headless and portrays a highly muscular body with a lion’s pelt draped over the left arm (the animal’s head is visible), similar to the well-known Hercules Farnese statue of the Roman period.  The find was made by Walid Atrash of the IAA, who claims it to be of exceptional artistic quality. The torso, which stands about half-a-metre high was found by a bathhouse pool that had two rows of benches and a water-pumping system. The statue probably stood in a niche by the pool. It is dated to the late Roman period and it has been suggested that it was later deliberately smashed – hence the fragments – by iconoclasts in Byzantine or Islamic times.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem