Report from Jerusalem, #30, 27th March

Bethlehem Church, UNESCO Heritage Site?

The Palestine Authority has recently applied to UNESCO to designate the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a World Heritage site. If agreed, this would be the first heritage site in the Palestine Authority area. At present the Authority’s area is not recognized by the United Nations as a state so their sites cannot get heritage status, but the applicants hope that the historical importance of the Church will override that consideration.

At present several sites in Israel have UNESCO Heritage status, including Megiddo, Tel Dan, Masada and the Bauhaus buildings of Tel Aviv, and several more are under consideration.

Jericho’s ancient Tower

Recently the Neolithic tower at Tel Jericho has been described as “the world’s first skyscraper” and claimed to be a marker of the summer solstice. The tower is dated to c. 8500 BCE and is the first known stone monument to be built by humankind. It is conical in shape and 8.5 metres high. It has an internal staircase and was plastered externally. In the past it had been considered to be a fortification, a place of refuge during flooding, a ritual centre or a symbol of communal power. Now Ron Barkai and Roy Liran, archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, claim to have found a distinct line of sight between the stair aperture of the tower and the mountain called Qarantal that lies directly west of the ancient site. By computer analysis they have worked out that at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, at this early period the mountain cast a shadow on the tower just before sunset.

This finding leads them to suggest that the tower was built, at great expense of labour, as a symbol used to demonstrate to villagers the advantage of giving up their hunting ways and settling down to a life of farming around the oasis.

Atlantis and Tarshish identified?

Prof. Richard Freund claims to have discovered Atlantis, the mythical city mentioned by Plato as being just beyond the Pillars of Hercules and disappearing into the sea after a violent earthquake. In a film by Simcha Jacobovici, who has done a number of popular films related to biblical subjects, Freund claims that Atlantis was a site off the coast of southern Spain, shown by aerial photos to be three concentric circles of sunken land around an island port. For extra interest Jacobovici has said that this Atlantis was the Tarshish known from the Bible, which mentions the ships of Tarshish (Ezek. 27 and elsewhere) and that Jonah took a boat to Tarshish (Jon. 1:3), which some scholars have equated with Tartessos in southern Spain.

Freund is professor at the University of Hartford and co-director of the ongoing dig at Betsaida with Ron Arav. As for Tartessos, in Spain, this has been equated with Tarshish because Herodotus mentions it as a port reached by the Phoenicians (1:163), but it is much simpler and robably more correct to say that the biblical Tarshish is the port of Tarsus, on the southern coast of Turkey, near to Phoenicia, whose local name is exactly as the Hebrew.

New Ground-penetrating Technology

A new “algorithmic toolkit” developed by Professor of Geophysics Lev Eppelbaum and his team at Tel Aviv University will be able to reveal underground archaeological remains free of interference from later obstructions like pipes, cables and modern construction. A clear picture, free of local “noise”, will emerge and enable archaeologists to work in densely built-up cities without the need for preliminary excavation. The system is called Multi-physical-archaeological-models, or Multi-PAM for short, and will cut expenditure of time and costs by many factors, but so far few details of how the apparatus works have emerged.

Three brief notices: Second Temple coins, headless Roman statue, Byzantine Mosaic

1. During a raid in Mazra’a, south of Nahariyah, police found a cache of ceramics and coins of the Second Temple period in the yard of a family who had been suspected of hiding weapons. The find has been taken to the local museum and further details are expected to be announced.

2. After the storm of 20th February, a headless Roman-style statue was found on the beach at Caesarea. It was nearly a metre tall and possibly of the goddess Aphrodite. This follows a similar find made at Ashkelon after a previous storm this winter.

3. In the Gaza strip, archaeologists from the Ecole Biblique of Jerusalem have uncovered a fine mosaic floor of the Byzantine period at the site of the St. Hilarion Monastery at Umm al-‘Amr. The work is supported by the French Consulate General and UNESCO and will include restoration and safeguarding the mosaic from damage by the public and the elements.

Stephen Rosenberg
W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem, #28, 5th January 2011

Non-Destructive Investigation By X-Ray

Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University has discovered a method of investigating clay and other materials by non-destructive methods, using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry . Having built up a data-base of results from former intrusive methods, he can now organize the analysis by merely scanning the object and comparing the results with the previous data. The scans will then show the type of clay or other material and its geographical origin. He is thus able to examine new finds and also older museum specimens without the need to break off a piece or cut off a sample. The method has been used on the Late Bronze Age fragment of a cuneiform letter from the City of David excavations that is dated to the El-Amarna period. Prof. Goren’s analysis shows that the tablet material is the Terra Rossa soil from around Jerusalem and it is therefore most probable that the item was written by a scribe in the Jerusalem area and may indeed have been part of a letter dictated by the Jebusite king Abdi-Heba to Egypt, to the court of Amenhotep III or IV at El-Amarna, and the fragment may have been part of the copy retained by the sender.

Aelia Capitolina, A Roman Bathing Pool in Jerusalem

During excavations for a new mikvah (ritual bath) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, a rescue dig by the IAA, directed by Dr. Ofer Sion, uncovered a large bathing pool that had been used by the Tenth Legion (Fretensis) of the Roman army in about 200 CE.  Evidence of the Roman build was the large number of floor and roof tiles with the stamp of the legion, and the many stamped roof tiles show that the facility was completely roofed. The location in the Jewish Quarter, some distance from the presumed army HQ in the Armenian Quarter, shows that the occupying soldiers were spread out throughout the city. The Tenth Legion was involved in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and later in the rebuilding of the city by Hadrian, after the abortive Bar-Kochba revolt of 135 CE. when it was renamed Aelia Capitolina.

The excavators were amused to find one of the roof tiles impressed with the paw marks of a dog.  Presumably the cur had walked over the wet tiles that had been spread out and left to dry.

Monastery of St. George in Wadi Qelt, West of Jericho

On 30th November a ceremony was held at the Monastery to celebrate the completion of a new road to St. George’s, that had been built by the Ministry of Tourism and other bodies to improve access, at the request of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III.¬† The present road had suffered damage from flash floods and a minor earthquake over the last few years, and the new one will make it easier for pilgrims and tourists alike, to visit this remarkable 5th-7th century complex of buildings that appear to hang from the side of the steep desert mountain over the lush green wadi below.

It is thought that the original buildings were constructed above a fourth-century synagogue. They were destroyed during the Persian invasion of Jerusalem in 614 CE. and later restored by the Crusaders. The interior boasts some very fine icons and frescoes. Today, St. George’s is one of only six monasteries still active in the Judean desert area.

Funding for Restoration of Historic Sites

In the context of the National Heritage Plan announced last February, the first tranche of 91 million shekels (16 million sterling) has now been allocated for work to 16 major sites, ancient and modern. One of the archaeological sites is Herodion, where work was recently halted due to the tragic death of Ehud Netzer. It can now continue with restoration of the unique frescoes at the small theatre, that will be preserved and made ready for presentation to the public by experts from the Hebrew University.

Another site will be the large Byzantine-period synagogue at Umm el-Kanatir, in the Golan heights, which is being restored piece by piece using computerized technology organized by Yeshu Drei and archaeologist Haim Ben-David.

Sudden Fierce Storm , Destruction and Discovery

Winter in Israel started with a destructive storm on 12th and 13th December, that wreaked havoc along the Mediterranean coast in particular. Many sites were affected but worst of all was Caesarea. Some of the foundations of the northern aqueduct were exposed and parts of the Crusader city wall suffered fractures due to subsidence. The Crusader-period breakwater, that protected the southern arm of the Herodian harbour was broken into three pieces and the port wall left unprotected from southern wave damage. Repair work will have to begin very shortly to avoid major damage to the ancient port.

At Ashdod-Yam, the ancient fortress close to the shore suffered damage.

In ancient Ashkelon, at the national park, there was damage to a mosaic floor and a row of several columns was overturned. On the beach ten metres below, the storm that hit the cliffs exposed and toppled a classic white marble Roman statue about 1.2m high. It was headless and without arms but depicted a fine female figure in a carefully folded toga and sandals and has been presumed to be of Aphrodite. It is from a bath house, exposed at the head of the cliffs, and may have been part of the dedication of the baths, that are dated to c. 300 CE.

Early Homo Sapiens from Cave in Israel, 400,000 Years Ago?

In 2000 Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University discovered the Qesem Cave where they claim to have found the earliest evidence of modern man. The cave is near Rosh Ha’ayin, about 20 km. east of Tel Aviv, and the archaeologists have located a series of human teeth that they claim are closer to the dental apparatus associated with anatomically modern Homo Sapiens, rather than their earlier brothers, the Neanderthals. They have found in the cave evidence of flint knapping, the mining of sub-surface materials for flint production, hunting and the cutting and sharing of animal meat, evidence of regular burning and so on, all activities associated with anatomically modern Homo Sapiens.

The claim is that these findings antedate the earliest evidence of anatomically modern Homo Sapiens from Africa and thus the scholars claim that the species existed at the Qesem cave many years earlier than presently realized. The dating of the teeth to between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago is however not yet at all clear and further results from the ongoing excavations are awaited before reaching any firm conclusions.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem, #23, June 2010

Medieval aqueduct in Jerusalem

An aqueduct from the Ottoman period was uncovered at the north end of the Sultan’s Pool just west of the Old City walls. It can be dated to 1320 CE and was carried on nine arches, two of which have been found, across the valley. This was part of a much earlier system that brought water from Solomon’s Pool at Bethlehem to inner Jerusalem. The Ottoman rulers reused and rebuilt part of the ancient aqueduct and later converted it to a metal pipeline. The archaeologists knew of its existence from 19th century photographs but the arches did not come to light until repairs were made recently to the present water supply. The early photograph showed an inscription dating to 1320, dedicated to Sultan Nassar al-Din Muhammad Ibn Qalawun, according to Yehiel Zelinger, who led the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The findings will be preserved in the redevelopment of the Sultan’s Pool area, south-west of the Jaffa Gate.

Graves in Ashkelon

We have mentioned previously that work to the Barzilai Hospital emergency underground shelter facility was held up due to the location of graves on the site. After a lengthy period of Government indecision, the work is now going ahead, and the IAA have been authorized to excavate the bones, which are considered to be of pagan origin, although this is disputed by some orthodox protesters. The bones will be carefully collected and handed over to the Religious Ministry for safekeeping. During his work on the site, Dr. Yigal Israel, of the IAA, uncovered a drum-shaped base with carved garlands that is considered to have been a Roman altar, which further underlines the pagan nature of the cemetery, that would have served Hellenistic Ashkelon.

Middle Bronze Age cultic artifacts found in Yoqne’am

In an emergency dig by the IAA before the laying of a natural gas pipeline in the north, a cache of over 100 artifacts was uncovered in a rock hollow along the route. According to director Edwin van den Brink of the IAA, some of the small vessels, containing liquids and dated to 3,500 years ago, came from Cyprus and Mycene (Greece). The items were probably buried after going out of use, indicating that they had served a cultic function associated with a nearby shrine, and were not just to be destroyed but had to be buried. The site lies at the foot of the Tel at Yoqne’am, in the Yezri’el Valley, and the IAA has agreed to exhibit the artifacts later in the year.

MBA Tombs in Nazareth

After considerable work on a site in central Nazareth, due to be developed as an hotel and shopping mall, bones were uncovered and a halt was called to the work, for fear of demonstrations by religious groups. However the work was reorganized to be completed in just one long day, as was done recently, under the direction of Yardenna Alexandre (nee Rosenberg) of the IAA. The excavation went to a depth of 10 metres and exposed four MBA shaft tombs, one of a warrior buried with his weapons, and one that had been reused in the Iron Age. Full details are not yet available.

18th Anniversary of the Bible Lands Museum

This Museum, which stands opposite the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, has been celebrating its 18 years of existence with anniversary lectures and a special exhibition named Angels and Demons. The exhibition is devoted to Jewish magic through the ages and the catalogue contains learned articles, including one by Prof. Mark Geller of University College, London. The opening Ceremony was addressed by Sir John Boardman, of Oxford, who lectured on ‘Greeks going East’. From this one can see that the Museum, which was founded by the late Dr. Elie Borowski in 1992, and is directed by his widow Batya, has now become a respectable centre of learning and excellence and we have come to appreciate the wonderful range of artifacts and the scholarship that has accompanied their display. There are some excellent models and it is a great resource for teaching schoolchildren.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem