Report from Jerusalem, #1, April 2008

This is not the excavation season in Israel, but several digs are in progress and there is considerable activity on the conference front. Please note that at this stage the reports of digs are preliminary only and in no way official.

There was an evening meeting at the Hebrew University on April 6th to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Yigal Shiloh and the 30th anniversary of his excavations at the City of David in Jerusalem. The main speakers were Ronny Reich and Eilat Mazar who described the many new finds that were being excavated in the area of Shiloh’s original work.

On 10th April, the full-day Irene Levi-Sala Annual Research Seminar will be held at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on the subject of Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s Monuments at Deir el-Bahri in Egypt. The main speaker will be Zbigniew Szafranski of Warsaw University, who is Director of the Hatshepsut Mission, working at Deir el-Bahri. The co-ordinator of the programme is Eliezer Oren, head of the Department of Archaeology at Beersheba, who has lectured to the AIAS on several aoccasions.

The Hecht Museum of the University of Haifa has recently opened an important Exhibition on the Great Revolt in the Galilee, 66-70 CE. The exhibition follows the course of the Roman army’s defeat of the Jewish Revolt in the Galilee (the army then proceeded southwards to inflict its disastrous destruction on Jerusalem and the Temple). The catalogue (in Hebrew and English) examines the evidence of the battles and the hiding places of the Jews in the Galilee, the material culture of the Roman Army, and also the works of Josephus on the defeat of the towns of Yodefat and Gamla, whose descriptions are analysed critically and found not always to be in accordance with the archaeological evidence. The exhibition remains open for two years, until Spring 2010.

Tiberias has been the scene of much recent archaeological activity. The work in the southern area, started by Yizhar Hirschfeld, has had to be halted recently, due to Hirschfeld’s untimely death. It was continued for a time by his assistants Anna de Vincenz, Eran Meir and Shulamith Miller, who are now working on the publication of Hirschfeld’s finds. A recent salvage excavation to the south of the existing town has uncovered an Early Bronze Age settlement wall, still standing one and-a-half metres high, and also significant Umayyad remains, which indicate that there was both a very early colony before the new town of Tiberias was founded by Herod Agrippa, and also a more extensive residential area, well beyond the new town, in the Islamic period.

Much of the recently-exposed past of Tiberias will be incorporated into the planned Berko Archaeological Park that will cover 25 acres and is due to open in the late summer. It is named after Ozer Berkowitz, a well-loved local community leader and should become one of the town’s main tourist attractions.

Last month Shimon Gibson (Israel Editor of the Bulletin) opened a new excavation at Mount Zion, near the Zion Gate, with a preliminary dig of four weeks (to be continued in June) on the site of previous excavations by Magen Broshi in the seventies. The dig has already gone down to remains of residences of the Second Temple period, and will proceed further over time to the underlying First Temple remains. The excavation is sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which has sent volunteers to work on the site, and is co-directed by Gibson and James Tabor. They have in mind a programme of at least five seasons and then plan to turn the site over to an archaeological garden “theatre” showing the range of residential buildings from the First Temple period to late Islamic times.

Considerable First Temple remains are coming up at the excavations opposite the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, directed by Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). This is a very long and extensive salvage dig and has already yielded up evidence of the late Roman Decumanus that extended eastwards towards the Temple, and now, at the lower levels, artifacts such as personal seals of the First Temple period, have been found.

At the City of DavidEilat Mazar continues her work around the ‘Large Stone Structure’ that some believe can be identified with a royal palace of the time of King David, due to its location, its massive construction in the Phoenician style, and the earlier pottery fragments under the lower courses of the work. The dig comes under the auspices of the Hebrew University and the Shalem Foundation, a Jerusalem think-tank.

Excavations continue at Herodion under Ehud Netzer (who lectured to the Society on the subject) and his assistant Roie Porath. They continue working on the remains of the tholos that is considered to have been Herod’s tomb and are now planning to see how it relates to the monumental staircase that led from lower Herodion up to the palace within Herod’s artificial mountain.

Finally I should mention the upcoming 34th Archaeological Congress of Israel, due to be held on 15th and 16th April of this year. It is an annual event when all the academics get together to see where they and their colleagues stand on the state of the art. It is sponsored by the Departments of Archaeology of the five major universities of Israel and the IAA, and has an impressive list of 35 eminent lecturers speaking under such headings as Research versus Excavation, Archaeology and Society, Discoveries in Jerusalem, Re-excavating earlier Digs, Archaeology and Science, and Text versus Archaeological Finds.

Stephen Rosenberg,
Jerusalem, 6th April, 2008