Lecture Summaries 2014



Madeba Map
Section of the Madaba map mosaic (6th cent. CE), showing the site of Zoara/Zoora on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea

The biblical town of Zoar, referred to as Zoora in a 6th– century CE map, is located near modern Ghor es-Safi, by the southeastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Regular and illegal archeological excavations which took place in the 1980s and 1990s on the site brought to light an impressive number of Greek and Aramaic stone epitaphs dating to the 4th–6th centuries CE. Gravestones inscribed in Greek belong to Christian burials, while the fewer stones inscribed in Aramaic can be attributed to Jewish burials. This is a major discovery, not only because these texts are of exceptional quality and unusual character, but also for their sheer number: the corpus of newly-discovered epitaphs from Zoara/Zoora comprises 386 Greek and ca. 50 Aramaic inscriptions, more than can be found in most of the cities or towns in the Roman Near East.

Dr. Bultrighini studied Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Urbino and at Sapienza University of Rome, and received her PhD from G. d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara. In 2012/2013 she was a joint fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies (Harvard University) and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (Berlin), before joining the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at UCL in September 2013, where she is research associate in Ancient History and works as a member of a team on the ERC-funded project Calendars in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, directed by Professor Sacha Stern.  



Herod's Promontory Palace, Caesarea
Herod’s Promontory Palace, Caesarea

The Promontory Palace is one of very few Hellenistic palaces integrated into the structure of a major city whose remains are substantially preserved.  It was built as a vital part of Herod the Great’s newly founded city of Caesarea, on one of the largest artificial harbours ever constructed in the ancient world.  This lecture shed light on the building’s functions, its place in the urban structure of the city, and its relations to cities and palaces founded by Herod elsewhere in Judaea.  In addition, the Palace’s subsequent history as the Praetorium of the province’s governors shows how subsequent Roman rulers adapted rulers’ palaces as instruments of their own dominion.

Barbara Burrell is Associate Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati (Ohio, USA).  She has dug at sites across the Mediterranean, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel, and she is editor of the forthcoming Blackwell’s Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Empire.  She is spending spring of 2014 as a visiting scholar at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in order to write and edit the two-volume final report of her excavation of the Promontory Palace at Caesarea Maritima in Israel.



Scroll of Hanokh
Scroll fragment from the 2nd century BCE (IAA image)

Were there women in the sectarian community at Qumran?  This question was virtually inconceivable during the first forty years of research following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.  In those years the Scrolls and the Qumran site were interpreted as an ascetic, celibate, “monastic” community by the small coterie of scholars who had access to the finds, among them members of monastic orders. The public pressure for open access to the Scrolls that reached a crescendo in 1990 resulted in the expansion of the international team of editors and their publication of all 940 scrolls within about a decade.  This in turn led to a revolution in scholars’ understanding of the Qumran community, its library, its place in the socio-historical context of the Second Temple period, and its relevance for Judaism (and early Christianity) after the Temple’s destruction. One of most dramatic changes has come vis à vis the question of women at Qumran.  Today many scholars see the presence of women in the sectarian writings and at the Qumran site, and now ask not merely “Were there women at Qumran?” but “How prevalent were women at Qumran? Were they full members of the community? What roles did they assume?”  The lecture addressed these questions by presenting the relevant archaeological and textual evidence including the skeletal remains from the cemetery, the penal code from the Cave 4 copy of the Damascus Document, the Rule of the Congregation, and the so-called “Marriage Ritual.”

Dr. Esther G. Chazon is a senior lecturer in the Department of Hebrew Literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and heads the academic committee of Hebrew University’s Orion Center for the Study of Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature. She has published more than fifty articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls and related subjects and produced the first edition of fourteen of the scrolls in the Discoveries of Judaean Desert series.  She is currently working on a critical edition and commentary of the weekly liturgy entitled Words of the Luminaries.



This talk discussed the Babylonian cuneiform tablet which was brought, unread, to the British Museum by Douglas Simmonds, and turned out to be a new piece of the famous Babylonian Flood Story, with astonishing new information about what the Babylonian Ark looked like, what was needed to build it, and even how the animals were to go on board.  This illustrated talk will explain some of the remarkable contents of the tablet and what its decipherment finally led to: a documentary film (nearly completed) and a book (finished and published), showing how life as a British Museum curator can become at any moment a matter of volcanic excitement.

Dr Finkel is Assistant Keeper with responsibility for cuneiform inscriptions in the Middle East Department of the British Museum.  After studying Assyriology at the University of Birmingham with W. G. Lambert, he worked as a research associate in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.  Since 1979 he has been a British Museum curator, specialising in ancient Mesopotamian magic, medicine and literature.



Khirbet Qeiyafa

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a massive fortified city located on the summit of a hill overlooking the Elah Valley. This is a key strategic location in the biblical Kingdom of Judah, on the main road connecting Philistia and the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem and Hebron in the hill country. Professor Garfinkel’s excavations have unearthed, for the first time in the archaeological research of Israel, a fortified city in Judah from the late 11th- early 10th centuries BCE. This dating is based on radiometric dating from Oxford University. The urban planning, food habits, administration and cult are all different from the finds in Philistine or Canaanite sites, and from sites in the northern Kingdom of Israel. The site exhibits typical elements known only in the Kingdom of Judah, and demonstrates that these characteristics had already been developed in the time of King David.

Prof. Yosef Garfinkel holds the Yigael Yadin Professorship for the Archaeology of the Land of Israel at the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As a student he excavated at several prehistoric and biblical sites with some of the outstanding scholars of the field: Ruth Amiran, Yigael Yadin, Trude Dothan and Ofer Bar-Yosef. Prof. Garfinkel specialized in research on the late prehistoric period and conducted excavations at a variety of Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites: Yifta’el, Gesher, Tel Eli, Shaar Hagolan, Meitar, Ashkelon and Tel Tsaf. Finds from the Sha’ar Hagolan excavation are on display today at the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Israel Museum. Over the years he has published 17 books and over 120 articles. With the retirement of the veteran generation of teachers of biblical archaeology, he decided to turn to research on the biblical period in Judah and conducted a seven year project at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city from the time of King David in the Valley of Elah. For further understanding of the early history of the Kingdom of Judah a new excavation project has been started now at Tel Lachish.



Iron Age sherd
Iron Age inscribed sherd

The Palestine Exploration Fund’s excavations in Jerusalem from 1923 to 1925 were initiated with much expectation. The senior figure of the PEF’s recent past, Professor RAS Macalister, was appointed to head up the project, and he was joined by Rev. J. Garrow Duncan, a Scottish priest with some archaeological experience in Egypt. However, the results of the dig were disappointing, Macalister left after just a few months, there was conflict with the local workers, and the Silwani villagers objected to the excavation. What went wrong, and why? In addition to attempting to explain the difficulties surrounding the project, some of the many significant items from the Bronze Age through to the Ottoman period will be presented and discussed. Arguably the most important of the finds from the dig is a small sherd from the 7th century BC with the carved image of two deity figures, possibly the God of Israel and his consort Asherah. The sherd’s significance for our understanding of early Israelite religion will be considered.

Dr Gilmour is a near-eastern archaeologist based at the University of Oxford and a Senior Fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. He has excavated at a number of sites in Israel, Turkey and Cyprus, including the Philistine cities of Ekron and Ashkelon, and is currently on the team excavating at Idalion in Cyprus. His volume on the American excavations at Tell Gezer will appear later in 2014, and he is currently preparing for publication the 1923-25 Palestine Exploration Fund excavations in the City of David, Jerusalem.




Judahite papyri are not preserved in the archaeological record and the information contained in them has been lost. The bullae which once sealed these documents form the only existing evidence of a rich writing tradition that existed during the Iron Age. This lecture presented the results of a technological study of Judahite bullae from controlled excavations in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Determination of the provenance of the bullae sheds light on the administrative system and the political and economic structure of the kingdom of Judah during its final days. It also has some implications for the authenticity of several landmark bullae which have surfaced in the antiquities market during the last four decades.

Prof Goren received his PhD in archaeology from the Hebrew University in 1991. Between 1989 and 1996 he worked in the IAA as a petrography researcher. Since 1996 he has worked for Tel Aviv University, directing the MA program in Archaeology and Archaeo-materials and the Laboratory for Comparative Micro-archaeology. He also served as the Chair of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and later the Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. Prof. Goren’s main expertise is the scientific analysis of archaeological materials and technologies, such as ceramics, plasters, and lithics. His main research projects during the last decade have been provenance analysis of the ceramics of shipwrecks (Uluburun and others) and the study of the origin of archives of cuneiform tablets as shown by their clay composition.





Calendar from the Dead Sea Scrolls

What kind of calendars were used by Jewish communities in the first and early second century in Judea and the surrounding areas?  The lecture focussed on the dates and dating formulas used in legal documents found in the Cave of Letters in Nahal Hever, Wadi Murabba‛ât and other sites, many of which were hidden inside caves during the Second Jewish Revolt and in earlier periods. They include some with the names of Roman emperors, and others with revolutionary dating formulas, and the name of Bar Kokhba. Many deeds concern the personal and business lives of women. The lecture traced the surprising calendrical pattern which is to be found in most of these documents.

Dr Helen R. Jacobus is currently an honorary research associate at University College London. She researched the Aramaic calendars from Qumran for her doctorate at the University of Manchester, where she earned the Sean W. Dever Memorial Award in 2011. She has published several articles on calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Book of Esther, and her book, Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and their Reception: Ancient Astronomy and Astrology in Early Judaism, will be published by Brill in November 2014.



Khirbat al-Mudayna al-‘Aliya, Jordan.  An early Iron Age site on the Eastern Karak Plateau.

High precision radiocarbon dating has revolutionized our understanding of the early Iron Age in the Southern Levant.  So far, debate has focused mainly on whether radiocarbon dates undermine the correlations traditionally drawn between archaeological finds and biblical narratives relating to the United Monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon.  However, this focus has failed to realize the potential of radiocarbon dating for writing new narratives of archaeological events which are independent of the Bible.  In this lecture Dr. Routledge  discussed how new dates from archaeological sites in Jordan, Israel and Palestine suggest wide-spread social and economic changes across the Southern Levant early in the tenth century B.C.E.  These changes suggest an interesting new narrative of how and why kingdoms emerged in this region at the end of the early Iron Age.

Bruce Routledge is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, where he teaches the Archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Age Near East.  Dr. Routledge has directed archaeological research projects in Jordan for more than twenty years, most recently at the site of Dhiban, capital of Iron Age Moab.  He is also the author of two books, Moab in the Iron Age (2004) and Archaeology and State Theory (2013).



Gertrude Bell's caravan
Gertrude Bell’s caravan -men and camels,
at city walls of Hayil
(The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University, Y_339)

For as long as we know Near Eastern society has been fundamentally tribal. Its social structure, political institutions, and economy have always been embedded in tribal frameworks. These days tribes are often marginalized, on the edge of society, or politically incorporated in local and national governments. It is hard to imagine what a fully tribal society looked like before the age of globalization. In the 19th century the situation was very different. Then, travellers in the region had to negotiate with powerful tribes, such as the Anaze or the Beni Sakhr, who controlled political and economical networks. Protection schemes involving smaller tribes, villages and towns, competed with each other for territorial control. Many explorers felt they had stepped straight into the world of the Bible. Many of the explorers and travellers described their experiences in books, articles and letters. While essentially western in their outlook, they were often captivated by the simplicity of desert life, finding eternal truths and values in tribal laws and customs. A direct comparison between these 19th century tribal networks and the Bronze or Iron Ages in the Levant must be treated with caution. Nevertheless, documents from those periods show that there are marked similarities, in social and economic organisation, in territorial and power structures. In the 19th century, like in the past, tribes could gain power and develop into states under a strong leader. The tribal state of Hayil on the Arabian peninsula developed out of a tribal confederation, under a strong leader. The narrative cycle of David in the Old Testament, has strong similarities with recent tribal epics, and portrays David as a heroic tribal leader. These comparisons throw light on life in a tribal society, such as it may have been in the time of the Canaanites and Israelites.

Dr van der Steen is a Near Eastern archaeologist who has excavated extensively in the Levant, mostly in the Jordan Valley. Her PhD, Tribes and Territories in Transition, focused on the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age in the Jordan Valley and the early origins of Israel, as an outcome of tribal conflicts. She has published extensively on the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Levant, as well as on 19th century tribal politics in the region. Her monograph on the subject, ‘Near Eastern Tribal Societies in the 19th century: Between Tent and Town’ has been recently published. Eveline is Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University.