Archaeological Report from Israel, August 2019

A fifth-century Samaritan Mosaic Discovered at Zur-Nathan

A 5th-century Blessing Inscription was discovered at Zur-Nathan in the Sharon Plain during a survey and excavation directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Greek inscription reads: ‘Only God, help the beautiful property of Master Adios, Amen’.

Zur-Nathan mosaic
Zur-Nathan mosaics. Photograph courtesy of Yitzhak Marmelstein, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The inscription was discovered in an impressive wine-press that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual called Adios. The inscription’s formula and the location of discovery points to the estate belonging to Samaritans.

According to Hagit Torge, director of the excavations: ‘This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya’.

The inscription in the wine-press is additional testimony to once-extensive Samaritan settlement in the southern Sharon Plain during the Byzantine period.

Two Funerary Busts from Beit She’an

A local woman taking a winter walk near the city of Beit She’an spotted two funerary busts sticking up out of the ground, apparently exposed by the rain. The woman called the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the Israel Antiquities Authority who transferred them to the national Treasury.

Funerary busts from Beit She’an in situ. Photograph courtesy of Dr Eitan Klein, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The statues have been dated to the the 3rd–4th centuries CE, the Late Roman Period. They are made of local limestone and closely describe facial and dress features.

Dr. Eitan Klein from the Israel Antiquities Authority who studied the busts said: ‘Funerary busts were often located in or around burial chambers, and appear to generally describe the deceased. Similar statues have been found near Beit She’an and in northern Jordan, but no two are alike. These two busts were made in the oriental style, testifying to the waning of the classical styles and adoption of local styles in this region during the Late Roman Period’.

Antiquities Looters Caught at Khirbet Huqoq Synagogue

Two looters were caught at the ancient Synagogue of Khirbet Huquq in the lower Galilee. The two were caught red-handed by inspectors of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) while illegally digging in search for ancient coins, aided by a metal detector and digging equipment.

A metal detectorist at work. Photograph courtesy of Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The looters had been under surveillance from the moment they arrived on the site. According to Nir Distelfeld from the Israel Antiquities Authority ‘the two had ancient coins in their pockets. They succeeded to dig dozens of shallow pits into the site’s surface, permanently damaging archaeological strata’.

Khirbet Huqoq has been studied by Archeologists since the 19th century. Since 2011 it has been excavated by archeologists from the University of North Carolina, headed by Prof. Jodi Magness, and assisted by the IAA and the Tel Aviv University. During the excavation a 5th-century synagogue adorned with magnificent mosaics has been found.

A Greek Inscription with the City’s Name Uncovered at Haluza

A Greek inscription mentioning the city’s name was uncovered during an excavation at Haluza in the western Negev.

Haluza inscription
Detail of a Greek inscription from Haluza. Photograph courtesy of Dr Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavations at the site have been ongoing for the past three years, led by a team of the German University of Cologne under the direction of Prof. Michael Heisenelmann and a team of students from the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn, in cooperation with Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The name Haluza is mentioned in historical sources, but this is the first evidence for the name of the city to be found at the site itself. The text, which read ‘Elusa’ in Greek, is currently being studied by Professor Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University. The site ceased to exist in the 7th century C.E., but the name Haluza was commemorated in the Arabic name for the ruins: Al-Khalasa.

A Bulla of ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant’

A bulla bearing the Hebrew name ‘Natan-Melech the King’s Servant’ was uncovered during archaeological excavations of the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David, carried by Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The artefact was discovered inside a public building that was probably destroyed during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in the second book of Kings 23:11, where he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah, who took part in the king’s religious reforms. The title ‘Servant of the King’ frequently appears in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king.

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.

Archaeological Report from Israel, December 2018

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.

Second Temple ‘Jerusalem’ Inscription
(Danit Levy, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

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”.

Neolithic stone mask.
(Gideon Goldenberg, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

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.

Ship graffito
(Davida Eisenberg-Degen, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

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.

Fatimid coin hoard
(Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Caesarea Development Corporation.)

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

Archaeological Report from Israel, August 2018

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  

Milestones from the Roman road. (Photo: Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority.)
Milestones from the Roman road. (Photo: Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

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”.

Excavations in the cave. (Photo: Boaz Langford, The Hebrew University).
Excavations in the cave. (Photo: Boaz Langford, The Hebrew University).

The Bar-Kokhba coin from Qibiya Cave (Photo: Shlomi Amami).
The Bar-Kokhba coin from Qibiya Cave (Photo: Shlomi Amami).

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

Archaeological Report from Israel, April 2018

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

Roman mosaic from Caesarea (© Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

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  

Pedestal from Byzantine monastery (© Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

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

Objects from the Idumean temple, (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

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

Archaeological Report from Israel, November 2017

More Bullae From the City of David Excavation

During the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority directed by Dr. Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf at the City of David in Jerusalem dozens of ancient seals (bullae) dating to the Iron Age period were unearthed.

The bullae are small pieces of clay which in ancient times served to seal letters. Usually they bear a stamp with the name or sign of the clerk or administrator who sent the letter. One of the seals mentions a man by the name of “Achiav ben Menachem”. Other bullae mention the name “Pinchas”. According to the directors of the excavation “Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service of the Kingdom of Judea”.

A Multilayer Ancient Site Excavated Near Beit El

Archaeologists from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria Archaeology division revealed a multilayer ancient site underneath the marching ground of the IDF training base close to Bet El. The excavation results point out that the settlement existed during the First Temple Period.

The site was rebuilt during the Persian Period, and was inhabited by a Jewish population during the Hellenistic and Hasmonean period. The settlement remained in Jewish hands all the way up to the Roman Period and was probably abandoned after the Great Revolt against the Roman or the failure of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt. The site was inhabited again during the Byzantine Period by Christians as attested from the remains of a church and a bath-house that were found during the excavations. Eventually, the site was destroyed in the great earthquake of 748 CE and never restored again. According to Yevgeni Aharonovich, the director of the excavation on behalf of the civil administration, “the findings were amazing. Most of them were exquisitely preserved. We found keys to doors to housing units and work implements used by the Jews who lived there, attesting to the period during which the town existed”.

Roman Theatre-Like Structure Discovered Below Wilson’s Arch and Opposite the Western Wall

Image of the ‘odeon’ by Tessa Rajak

A sensational discovery was revealed during the Archaeological excavation conducted by Dr. Joe Uziel and Tehillah Lieberman from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Avi Solomon from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. During the excavation, which took place exactly below Wilson’s Arch, eight completely preserved stone courses from the Western Wall were unearthed under a layer of earth about eight meters thick. Below this layer the remains of a semicircular theater-like structure apparently dating to the second century C.E. were found. This public building contained approximately 200 seats. The fact that the structure’s measurements are relatively small, in addition to the structure’s location under a roofed space (Wilson’s Arch), led the directors of the excavation to believe that this is either an odeon— used, in most cases, for acoustic performances, or a bouleuterion—the building where a city council met, in this case presumably the council of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. Several findings at the site, such as a staircase that was never completely hewn, led the excavators to note that the building was not complete in its construction. They speculate that the structure could date to the building activities that were conducted right after the foundation of Aelia Capitolina. It could be that the beginning of the Bar- Kokhba revolt forced the Romans stationed in the colony to abandon all construction activities.

Galilean Stone Vessel Workshop from the Roman Period Revealed

A Roman-era chalkstone quarry used to produce tableware and storage vessels was excavated by a joint expedition from the Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority at Reineh, a village located close to Nazareth in the Lower Galilee. During the excavation thousands of stone cores, the ancient industrial waste from stone mugs and bowls produced on a lathe were found.

According to Dr. Yonatan Adler from the Ariel University and a director of the excavation, the ancient Jewish ritual laws state that vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material which can never become ritually impure.

He adds that “Until today only two other similar sites have been excavated, and both of these were in the area of Jerusalem. Our excavation is highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance not only in Jerusalem but in far-off Galilee as well”.

Byzantine Greek Inscription Uncovered during an Excavation at Jerusalem

A Greek inscription was found during a salvage excavation close to the Old City’s Damascus Gate headed by David Gellman on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The inscription mentions the 6th-century Roman Emperor Justinian, as well as a certain Constantine—who served as abbot of a church. This is a translation of the inscription: “The most pious Roman Emperor Flavius Justinian and the most God-loving priest and abbot, Constantine, erected the building in which (this mosaic) sits during the 14th indiction”. This suggests that the mosaic should be dated to the year 550/551 A.D. Researchers believe that the building of which the mosaic was once part was used as a monastery and hostel for pilgrims.

Emperor Justinian and Constantine the priest were also mentioned in the inscription that was found during Nahman Avigad’s excavation at the Nea church. These two inscriptions emphasize the large scale constriction activities that took place in Jerusalem during Justinian reign in the middle of the sixth century C.E.

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