Congratulations to David Jacobson, who has just been awarded the Shekel Prize for his book, Agrippa II: The Last of the Herods. Professor Jacobson is an AIAS Trustee, and Editor-in-Chief of the society’s journal, Strata. Read more about his book and the award here.
DR EITAN KLEIN, ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY
THE LARGEST NEOLITHIC SETTLEMENT IN ISRAEL REVEALED IN MOTZA
A large Neolithic Period Settlement was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Motza, five kilometers west of Jerusalem. The site is located on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near natural springs and close to a fertile valley optimal for long-term settlement. The excavations revealed large buildings with alleys running between them, evidence of advanced planning. Some rooms were used as living spaces, some as public facilities, and others for ritual purposes. The finds include thousands of flint arrowheads used for hunting, axes for tree-felling, along with sickle blades and knives. Several small finds were also discovered as burial offerings in the belief that they would be used by the individual in the afterlife. Numerous graves were found in and amongst the houses. The offerings include stone-made objects, some from obsidian, others from sea shells. The offerings testify that already during the Neolithic Period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places and provide insight to the city’s trade networks. According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “This is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period (9,000 years ago) is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived in the settlement”.
A MASSIVE CITY FROM THE EARLY BRONZE AGE AT EIN ASAWIR
A city spanning over 650 dunams, large enough to accommodate around 6,000 inhabitants, was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Ein Asawir (En Esur), in the Northern part of the Sharon. The excavation, directed by Itai Elad, Dr. Yitzhak Paz and Dr. Dina Shalem, revealed a planned city from the Early Bronze Age, around the end of the 4th millennium B.C.E., but evidence of an earlier Chalcolithic city (about 7,000 years old) was also discovered beneath the EB houses.
Next to the site are two springs which offered an abundant water supply and were used for agricultural cultivation of the surrounding land. The city contained well-planned streets, residential and public areas, and a fortification wall. A large ritual temple was found in the public area of the site. Situated in the temple’s courtyard was a large stone basin for holding liquids used during religious rituals. Inside the temple a facility containing burnt animal bones was revealed, evidence of sacrificial offerings. Along with the bones were several rare figurines, including a human head, and a seal impression of a man with lifted hands standing beside an animal. According to the directors, “The Early Bronze Age is a fascinating period in the history of ancient Canaan, one in which the rural population gives way to a complex society living mostly in urban settings. The residential buildings, diverse facilities and the public buildings are evidence that an organized society and social hierarchy existed at the time”.
GARUM FACTORY NEAR ASHKELON
Vats used to produce fish sauce (garum) that are among the few known in the Eastern Mediterranean, were recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Ashkelon. The excavation, directed by Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, has revealed evidence of 2000-year old Roman and Byzantine culinary preferences. The ancient Roman diet was based largely on fish sauce. Historical sources refer to the production of special fish sauce that was used as a basic condiment for food in the Roman and Byzantine Eras throughout the Mediterranean basin. They report that the accompanying strong odours during its production required its being distanced from urban areas. In our case the installations were discovered approximately 2 km. to the east from the ancient city of Ashkelon. The Roman site was eventually abandoned and in the Byzantine Period, during the 5th Century C.E., a monastic community settles at the site, making a living from wine production. Three winepresses were found next to a decorated church. A large kiln complex, where wine jars were produced, was located nearby. These appear to have been used for exporting wine, which was the primary income for the monastery.
According to Dr. Erickson-Gini: “The site, which served as an industrial area over several periods, was again abandoned sometime after the Islamic conquest of the region in 7th c. C.E. and later nomadic families, probably residing in tents, dismantled the structures and sold the different parts for building material elsewhere.”
THE ‘STEPPED STREET’ IN THE CITY OF DAVID POSSIBLY CONSTRUCTED BY PONTIUS PILATE
A 2,000-year-old street that may have been commissioned by Pontius Pilate for pilgrims has been uncovered in Jerusalem by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority in the last few years. The ‘Stepped Street’ is situated in the City of David and stretched between the Pool of Siloam in the south and Temple Mount in the north. Parts of the street has been known for over 50 years, however exactly when it was built was unclear. Previous archaeological data suggested it was constructed at some point between the reign of Herod the Great, around 37 B.C., and that of Herod Agrippa II, who died around 100 C.E. In a recent research, published by Nahshon Szanton, Moran Hagbi, Dr. Joe Uziel and Dr. Donald T. Ariel from the Israel Antiquities Authority, 100 coins that had been found in latest excavations trapped beneath the paving slabs of the street were analyzed. The latest of the coins found dated to between 17 and 31 C.E., during the period when Pontius Pilate governed Judea.
The street was found beneath layers of destruction from the Great Revolt against the Romans, in which Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. It was paved with stone slabs and about 10,000 tons of quarried limestone rock, a task that would have required a huge amount of time and skill. Compared to other streets from the time, this walkway would have been very grand, adding weight to the idea it served as a pilgrim route. According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel “Statistically, coins minted some 10 years later than 30 C.E. are the most common coins in Jerusalem, so not having them beneath the street means the street was built before their appearance, in other words only in the time of Pontius Pilate. He may have had the street built in order to reduce tensions with the Jewish population in the city at the time”.
SYNAGOGUE MOSAIC REVEALED IN THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
Fragments of a mosaic depicting animals were uncovered during an excavation of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, Haifa University, at a synagogue in the ancient settlement of Majdolia in the Golan Heights. The excavation, directed by Dr. Mechael Osband, uncovered a synagogue active from the first century C.E., after the Second Temple was destroyed, to the end of the third century C.E. Only the fragmented bottom layer of the mosaic was preserved. The fragments that were uncovered point to the floor of the synagogue once being colorful and filled with geometric shapes. The central hall’s mosaic was found to be complex and rich in shapes and colors, and despite its state, designs of footprints of birds and other animals could be identified.
According to Dr. Osband: “In the third century we see an interesting combination of the already established tradition of synagogues, following the destruction of the Second Temple, with new artistic elements that will later become widespread, such as colourful animal mosaics. The discovery had vast importance to the historical record, as most experts assumed that the Jewish settlement on the Golan Heights ceased following the First Jewish–Roman War in 67 C.E. and the destruction of Gamla, a central trade and commerce hub in the area, during that period. This new find strengthens the notion that the Jewish settlement in the area continued even after the war.”
Second Temple ‘Jerusalem’ Inscription Exhibited to the Public
A unique stone inscription dating to the Second Temple Period, mentioning Jerusalem in Hebrew letters and using the spelling as we know it today ((ירושלים), was found last winter near the International Convention Center, during an excavation directed by Danit Levy from the Israel Antiquities Authority. During the excavation, the foundations of a Roman structure supported by columns were uncovered. On one of the stone column drums an Aramaic inscription appears. The inscription is written in Hebrew letters typical of the late Second Temple Period (1st Century CE) and reads: “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem”. The drum was probably reused in the late Roman structure. The inscription is now on display for the public at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
A Neolithic Stone Mask Was Found in the Southern Hebron Hills
Information regarding the discovery of a Neolithic stone mask (7500-6000 BCE) by an Israeli citizen led the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the Israel Antiquities Authority to trace its origins at the beginning of 2018. During the investigation the finder led the Unit’s inspectors to the place where he found the mask in the Pnei Hever region of the southern Hebron Hills. There are presently 15 Neolithic stone masks across the globe known to researchers, of which only three come from clear archaeological contexts, including this one. According to Ronit Lupu of the ATPU “The find is significant because we know the archaeological context, and this is something that is of the utmost importance in Archaeology”. Dr. Omry Barzilai, head of the IAA Archaeological Research Department said that “In Neolithic sites we’ve identified a lot of objects that are related to ritual activity, therefore we believe that such objects—like this mask—are actually functional and can be connected to funerary rituals”.
Graffiti of Ships Were Found inside a Roman Period Cistern at Be’er Sheva
During an excavation headed by Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen of the Israel Antiquities Authority in modern Be’er Sheva, a Roman era cistern was found. The cistern dates to the 1st or 2nd century C.E., based on the hewing techniques of the installation and staircase out of the bedrock and the plastering texture. The cistern was probably created to store water for a Roman-period site found 800 meters away. Thirteen ships, one sailor, and several animals are meticulously carved into the plaster covering the cistern walls. According to the excavator the ship graffiti are technically appropriate and are in correct proportion, suggesting that the roman-era artist had actual knowledge of ship construction.
A Fatimid Coin Hoard Revealed in Caesarea
A hoard of 24 gold coins and a gold earring was recently discovered in a bronze pot during ongoing excavation and conservation work in the ancient harbor of Caesarea led by Dr. Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar from the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Caesarea Development Corporation and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The bronze pot in which the hoard was placed was secreted between stones in a 1.5 meter-deep subterranean watering hole. Found among the hoard of Fatimid dinars are six extremely rare 11th century Byzantine coins from the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071–1079), of which less than a handful have been discovered in Israel. Those coins hint at contacts or potential trade relations between Caesarea and Constantinople during the period. According to IAA archaeologists, it seems that the hoard was hidden during the Crusader conquest of the city from the Fatimid Empire in 1101 CE.
A Trove of Hellenistic Bullae Found in Mareshah, Judaean Foothills
An enormous trove of 1,020 clay seal impressions was found recently during exploration of a newly discovered seven-room cave complex at the ancient city of Maresha by Dr. Ian Stern, director of the Archaeological Seminars Institute. The unfired bullae sealed the knots of papyrus scrolls that did not survive due to the moist atmosphere in the cave. An initial survey of 300 of the 1,020 bullae indicates that they were strung on documents from a large private archive. The seals primarily date from the 2nd century BCE and depicted images of gods, including Athena, Aphrodite, and Apollo, as well as erotic themes, masks, standing figures, cornucopiae, Greek letters and numbers indicating dates. According to Dr. Stern “It really underlines the fact that the city was a major cosmopolitan center; an inland city with indelible ties to the outside world”.
Dr Eitan Klein is the Deputy Director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Archaeologist of the classical periods and a Lecturer at the Land of Israel Department at Ashqelon Academic College
Coins from the Time of the Great Revolt Unearthed at the Ophel Compound
A hoard of bronze Jewish Revolt coins has been discovered at the Ophel excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The coins were uncovered in a 7×14 meters cave close to the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Most of the coins date to Year Four of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans (69-70 CE) and bear the inscription “For the Redemption of Zion”. The coins were found directly above a Hasmonean Period layer. According to Mazar the cave was probably used in the last days of the rebellion by Jewish refugees.
New Section of the Incense Route Discovered in the Negev
An educational tour for guides from the Sde-Boker Field School revealed a new section of the ancient Incense Route north of Ramon Crater. This was followed by a study organized by the Israel Milestone Committee, Sde-Boker Field School, the Hevel Eilot regional council and the Dead Sea and Arava Research Institute directed by Prof. Chaim Ben David from the Kinneret Academic College and Shuka Ravek in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Israel Antiquities Authority.
The new Roman road section was found between the Mahmal Ascent and Mount Grafon. It was previously claimed by scholars that this section passed along a more eastern route. Along this section six milestone stations were found. Some of the milestones bear Latin and Greek inscriptions. In an initial reading, Prof. Benjamin Isaac from the Tel Aviv University identified one inscription from the reign of Emperor Partinax (193–194 CE) and one from the reign of Septimius Severus (195–198 CE).
The Incense Route stretched from Arabian Peninsula through the Negev to Gaza port. From there goods could be transported overseas to other parts of the Mediterranean.
Head of a Figurine of a Biblical Royal Person Found in Upper Galilee
The head of a figurine dated to the 9th century BCE was unearthed during the 2017 excavation season at Tel Abel Beth Maacah, an ancient site near modern Metula in Upper Galilee, headed by Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack from the Hebrew University in cooperation with Azusa Pacific University. The item was found on the floor of an Iron Age structure inside a layer dating to the 9th century BCE. The faience head is an exceedingly rare example of figurative art from the Holy Land during that time. The figure, probably representing royalty, is bearded and wearing a golden striped diadem. The design of the figurine represents the generic way Semitic people are described during that period.
According to Dr. Yahalom-Mack during the 9th century BCE the site was situated between three regional powers: the Aramean Kingdom, the Phoenician city of Tyre, and the Israelite Kingdom. Due to this location the site may have shifted hands between these kingdoms.
New Discoveries at Bethsaida
A 10th century BCE city gate was uncovered by the Bethsaida Excavations Project, headed by Prof. Rami Arav from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and sponsored by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, during the 2018 excavation season. The city gate was found well preserved at approximately 3 meters high. During the excavation the city wall which surrounded the settlement in the 10th-8th centuries BCE and a tower were also revealed. Prof. Arav suggests identifying the site with Tzer (Joshua 19:35), the capital of the Aramean biblical kingdom of Geshur.
In addition, excavations were conducted under the floors of a Roman temple which was uncovered in a previous season. According to Prof. Arav the temple was probably dedicated to the worship of Julia, the daughter of Caesar Augustus.
Coin from the Bar Kokhba Revolt was Found Inside a Refuge Cave North of Modi’in
A coin from the third or fourth year for the Bar Kokhba revolt (134-136 CE) was discovered alongside pottery fragments and glass vessels from the same period inside a karstic cave close to the Palestinian village Qibya, approximately 8 km. north of Modi’in. One side of the coin is minted with a palm tree and the inscription “Shim[on]”, while the other side shows vine leaves with the inscription “To the freedom of Jerusalem”.
The cave was found during the ‘Southern Samaria Survey Project’ conducted on behalf of the Bar-Ilan University, the University of Ariel and the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria’s archeology unit, headed by Dvir Raviv and Aharon Tavger.
The items were brought by Jewish refugees who fled to the cave due to the battles that took place in the area during the Bar-Kokhba revolt. The coin testifies that the Bar-Kokhba administration ruled also the northern areas of Judea until the last stages of the revolt.
Information in this report was kindly provided by Dr Eitan Klein, Deputy Director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Archaeologist of the classical periods and a Lecturer at the Land of Israel Department at Ashqelon Academic College
King Herod’s Winery at Herodium
Archaeological excavations conducted at the Herodium National Park over the past year by the Ehud Netzer Expedition of the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University, headed by archaeologists Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy, have revealed King Herod’s winery. In the structure that surrounds the circular palace/fortress they discovered dozens of huge jugs packed into a storage area, as well as ten pits that likely functioned as fermentation tanks. In addition, dozens of amphorae were unearthed which bear inscriptions and seals revealing that they were once produced in Italy and then shipped by sea to Iudaea. These discoveries shed light on the drinking habits of the royal family.
The earliest remains of Homo Sapiens outside of Africa found at Mt. Carmel
A fossil of an upper jawbone and stone tools were found in Misliya cave, located on Mount Carmel, during a prehistoric excavation headed by Dr. Mina Weinstein-Evron from Haifa University and by Prof. Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University. The researchers determined that the jawbone is from Homo Sapiens. The Misiliya fossil was dated back to 170,000-190,000 years ago by several different techniques, including uranium isotope analysis. The discovery hints that the trek of Homo Sapiens out of Africa should be pushed back by more than 40,000 years from the time suspected until now.
High-quality Roman Mosaic revealed at Caesarea
A multicoloured Roman mosaic from the 2nd–3rd centuries CE, bearing an inscription in ancient Greek, has been uncovered at the Caesarea National Park during an excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority headed by Dr. Peter Gendelman and Dr. Uzi Ad. The excavation revealed a large building from the Byzantine Period that was part of a commercial area. Under the Byzantine-era structure they found a Roman-era building paved with a mosaic. According to the directors of the excavation, the colorful mosaic, measuring more than 3.5 x 8 meters, is of a rare high quality. It features three figures, multicolored geometric patterns and a long inscription in Greek, which were damaged by the Byzantine building constructed on top of it. The figures, all males, wear togas and apparently belong to the upper class. The mosaic was executed at a very high artistic level, of a type that can be found in places like Antioch in Turkey. The images were depicted using small tesserae, with about 12,000 stones per square meter.
Byzantine Monastery Discovered at Ramat Beit Shemesh
Well-preserved remains of a Byzantine monastery and church were unearthed in Ramat Beit Shemesh, close to Khirbet Beit Battif, during an excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The expedition uncovered a massive structure built of large hewn stones, as well as a number of architectural elements, such as an imported marble pillar base decorated with crosses. One room of the monastery was paved with colourful mosaic decorated with birds, leafs, and pomegranates. The structure was abandoned during the 7th century CE. According to Benyamin Storchan, the director of the excavation, the artifacts found in the large building may indicate that the site was important and perhaps a center for ancient pilgrims in the Judean foothills region.
An Idumean Temple/Palace Unearthed In Southern Judean Foothills
A massive structure from the Hellenistic Period (3-2 Centuries BCE), built from masonry stones, was excavated at Horvat ‘Amuda, some 3.5 Kilometers south-east of Tel Maresha. The excavation was held by Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Evidence of the structure’s existence was documented during a drone survey conducted by the expedition in the area between Tel Maresha and Moshav Amazia.
In one of the rooms excavated at the site, two stone incense altars were uncovered. One of the altars was found adorned by a crouching bull set inside the entrance of a temple’s façade adorned with decorated columns. The directors of the excavation suggest that this may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Idumeans. Additional findings include painted bowls, juglets and oil lamps from the Hellenistic Period. It appears that the Idumean structure was intentionally dismantled, perhaps during the Hasmonean conquests of the region.
Dr Eitan Klein is a Deputy Director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Archaeologist of the classical periods and a Lecturer at the Land of Israel Department at Ashqelon Academic College