Report from Jerusalem, #3, July 2008

We are now in the excavation season in Israel, in fact coming to the end of it shortly. The weather is hot and indeed sweltering in some places. As far as I am aware, digs have been going on at:
Rehov, near Bet Shean (under Ami Mazar),
Hazor (Amnon Ben-Tor),
Megiddo (Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin),
Tel Safi, former Gath (Aron Meier),
Gezer (Steve Ortiz and Sam Woolf),
Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Tel Azeka (Yossi Garfinkel),
Mount Zion (Shimon Gibson),
Tel Kedesh, in the north (Sharon Herbert and Andrea Berlin),
Tzipori (Ze’ev Weiss),
Yiftahel, rescue dig, IAA, (Hamudi Haleilah, Yanir Milevski, Nimrod Getzov),
Sussita, by Kinneret (Arthur Segal) and
Tel Kinrot and Tel Koor, near Rosh Pina (joint Dutch, Finnish, German, Swiss teams).
This is not a complete list by any means; my apologies to those I have omitted.

There must have been lots of finds and I mention just three exceptional ones of which I have heard. At Megiddo, they have uncovered a previously unknown Early Bronze Age temple next to the big section cut years ago. At the IAA rescue dig at Yiftahel, where a new junction is planned on the road between Haifa and Tiberias, three plastered skulls have been found, set in a row, dated to the Neolithic Pre-Pottery Period (not sure if A or B) similar to the ones of the ancestor cult found at Jericho. At Khirbet Qeiyafa they have found a two-chambered gate complex of the Early Iron Age (Iron II A).

The problem of ancient graves has come up again. Some have been found during the construction of a much-needed underground facility for the Barzilai hospital at Ashkelon, as the town is expecting more rocket attacks from the Gaza region. Work will be held up for the IAA to investigate. At the moment it seems the graves are of the Byzantine period and may be of Christian or pagan inhabitants.

A small white marble disc, 20cm in diameter, has been found by a diver off the coast at Yavneh-Yam, an ancient port between Tel Aviv and Ashdod. It is thought to have been used on a ship to ward off the Evil Eye and is dated to the 4th or 5th century BCE. The object is perfectly round, with a central hole, flat on one side and curved on the back. So far only four such pieces have been found.

An ancient catacomb has been found by Jordanian archaeologists under an early church at Rihab, northern Jordan. It is under the Church of St. Georgeous of 230 CE and could be the site of very early Christian worship. The excavators say they have found signs of early Christian rituals and they think the shrine was built underground to escape detection.

A date seed found by Yigal Yadin at Massada in the 1960s has been successfully germinated by scientists at Hadassah Hospital. It appears to be an extinct species of date palm that had extensive medicinal properties. It is hoped that the specimen will produce fruit in a few years (7 years after germination) and its location is being kept secret until further results are obtained. Radio-carbon dating on fragments show its date to have been compatible with the Roman Siege of Massada of 73 CE.

Further finds continue to be unearthed around the Silwan pool in Jerusalem by Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukron. On a recent tour we were shown a fine flight of steps that had led from the Pool up to the Temple Mount. It dates from the Herodian period and is built on top of a wide, man-high underground tunnel which was probably a sewer or waste water channel. Inside the tunnel were found many vessels and remains of provisions which indicate that the tunnel was used for escape purposes, probably by people fleeing from the Roman assault of 70 CE, which culminated in the destruction of the Herodian Temple.