Report from Jerusalem, #9, January 2009

Just in time for the Hanukkah holiday (at the end of December last year), when it is traditional for children to receive gifts of ‘Hanukkah gelt’, a young British volunteer, Nadine Ross of Birmingham, unearthed a cache of 264 gold coins at the dig on the car-park site opposite the City of David Visitors Centre, Jerusalem, which is being directed by Doron Ben-Ami for the IAA. This is the site where the Roman golden earring was found, as reported previously. The coins were minted at the time of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610-641 CE) and are in good condition. It looks as if the coins were hidden in a chink in one of the walls at the time of the Moslem conquest of Jerusalem; the owner obviously hoped to recover them at a later date.

Another case of a coin find by a young volunteer was made in the debris from the Waqf underground work on the Temple Mount. In the sifting of this material, which is being directed by Gaby Barkay, two coins were recovered recently (out of over 3000 found to date). One is a half-shekel, minted in Jerusalem at the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE), which depicts a branch of three pomegranates and the inscription ‘Sacred Jerusalem’. This is a relatively common coin; the second one, however, is much rarer. It is a Seleucid one depicting Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 BCE) who looted the Temple and aroused the enmity of the Maccabees.

In Egypt, two more tombs have been found in the necropolis of Saqqara, 12 miles south of Cairo. The tombs are rock cut and date to about 2300 BCE, the time of the Sixth Dynasty, and housed the remains of two senior officials, a man and a woman, according to the excavator Saleh Suleiman. The tombs are to the south-west of the known burial plots and indicate that the cemetery was much larger than previously thought.

In mid December UNESCO and the Egyptian Government announced that the world’s first underwater archaeological museum was being planned at the Bay of Alexandria, which contains many underwater remains of the Roman period and earlier. The museum will be built half underwater and half above water, presenting plenty of challenges to the designers and much that will be of interest and novelty to future visitors.

In what has become an urgent debate, the new underground facilities of the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon have been held up for many months due to the presence of graves and skeletons of the Byzantine period. Work on the facility, to provide an underground emergency room and operating theatre, started a year ago but was halted when the preliminary excavations revealed the presence of human bones. The hospital, which has catered for Israeli and Palestinian wounded, needs the facility urgently. Hopefully things can now proceed as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Metzger, has pronounced that the graves can be moved if the work is done with the necessary reverence.

At the Israel Museum, the archaeological section, as well as many others, is closed for extensive renovations and therefore a new service has been introduced which is proving popular with visitors. Every Monday and Wednesday (at 11 am) the museum is running tours to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem, with free guided tours of its extensive collections, most of them acquired at the time of the British Mandate. The Rockefeller itself is worth a visit, as it is an iconic building with one of the finest courtyards in Jerusalem. It is a haven of tranquillity with a lovely pool and a set of fine sculptured panels by Eric Gill. The tour is well worth taking for lovers of archaeology and architecture.

Finally, the newspaper Ha’aretz has just illustrated two remarkable finds made by Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukron in the debris fill of the hewn cistern by the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem. One is of a tiny (2 cm high) red ivory pomegranate figure surmounted by a sitting dove, the other a clay bulla (seal impression) of a ship being navigated by sailors using three oars. These finds were made together with dozens of fish bones and more than 170 bullae, all from the hewn cistern, and dating to the 9th century BCE, which shows, according to Reich and Shukron, that the City of David was then an important administrative centre. We await further details.

Stephen Rosenberg,
Albright Institute, Jerusalem