Report from Jerusalem, #32, 21st June

Bethsaida РStratum  VII

Excavations at Bethsaida, which lies close to the northern shore of Lake Kinneret in the Galilee, re-started in June of this year. The work there has been conducted under the direction of Professors Rami Arav and Richard Freund for the last 25 years and has uncovered impressive remains of the Iron Age City that may have been the capital of the petty kingdom of Geshur.

Work this season will reach the foundations of the city, Stratum VII, which is currently dated to the middle of 10th century BCE. This is the period of the possible kingdom of David and Solomon, whose existence is doubted by the Tel Aviv School of Archaeologists, in opposition to the biblical account. This is a subject of debate at present and it is hoped that evidence this season from Stratum VII may help to throw light on the problem.

Hebrew University Museum – 70th Anniversary

A special exhibition has been mounted by the Hebrew University Museum of Jewish Antiquities on Mount Scopus to mark its 70th anniversary, having been founded back in the time of Prof Sukenik. Besides many items such as inscriptions, pottery and coins from the well-known excavations sponsored by the university, there are on show ceiling tiles from the Dura-Europos synagogue of the 3rd century CE, whose colourful frescoes are preserved in the National Museum of Damascus, the synagogue having originally been located in what is today Eastern Syria. The ceiling tiles are highly decorated and some of them mention the names of Samuel the Cohen, Abraham the treasurer and Samuel ben Supharah, who were presumably involved in the building of the synagogue.

Acre – Byzantine Structure Uncovered

The recent uncovering of an impressive building in the city of Acre, the ancient port north of Haifa, has prompted the speculation that this might be the remains of a church of the 6th century CE. The building was constructed of ashlar stonework and included a courtyard with a well and terracotta pipework. If they are the  remains of a church, it will be the first one discovered in the city, according to Nurit Feig of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who directed the excavation, and would add weight to the recorded fact that the Bishops of Acre and Caesarea attended international congresses in the city during the Byzantine period. According to Vatican archives an Italian pilgrim visited the churches of Acre in 570 CE, but no other public buildings of the period have so far been discovered in Acre.

The newly excavated building was found to contain a mosaic, roof tiles, pottery and coins. It was founded on a Hellenistic layer that included Rhodian amphorae and locally made pottery. The find cannot yet be opened to the public but will be fenced off and protected by sand and a textile covering while the adjoining mall and car park are completed.

Austrian Hospice –¬† Salvage Dig

A rescue dig is in progress at the Austrian Hospice, famous for its coffee, cream and Sachertorte, on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, Jerusalem. The site is close to the triumphal arch built for Hadrian’s visit to Aelia Capitolina in 135 CE, and the eastern Cardo of the city. The Austrian Hospice began rebuilding a low retaining wall on their north-eastern boundary, which had collapsed a few years ago. When excavating for a new foundation, older structures were immediately revealed and the IAA were called in. To date they have uncovered a substantial archway from the Ottoman period and a well-preserved medieval vaulted chamber. Considerable remains of 14th century CE imported tableware, including bowls from Italy and the Far East, indicate that this was an area occupied by well-heeled inhabitants, indeed an elite medieval society. The work continues.

Egyptologist Held For Selling And Smuggling Antiquities

It was reported that a retired US university lecturer in Egyptology was guiding a group of about twenty American tourists around the sites of two Tells in the Galilee and was selling them valuable archaeological artefacts for them to take out of the country. The suspect guide was detained at Ben Gurion airport by Customs and IAA officials but allowed to leave after signing a confession and posting a large deposit to ensure his return for future trial. The tourists were stopped at the Egyptian border at Taba, where they were found to be taking out valuable items. The photographs of the antiquities found on the guide and in his hotel room show fairly standard series of Roman oil lamps and bronze and silver coins of the Second Temple period.

The information released by the police and the IAA is sketchy pending the trial, and it is believed that the IAA are using the case to warn tourists against buying antiquities from unauthorized dealers and taking them out of the country, which is a criminal offence with a penalty of up to three years imprisonment.

Stop Press! Opening of Ophel City Walls Site

21st June saw the official opening of a new archaeological park to the north-east of the City of David Centre. The excavations were directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University, who described the remains as being possibly situated around the Water Gate mentioned in Nehemiah 3:26. These descriptions are still controversial and it is hoped that more information will be available in the next Report.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

 

Report from Jerusalem, #27, 16th November 2010

Israel Antiquities Authority

Last month the Reshut haAtiqot (Israel Antiquities Authority, IAA) celebrated its 20th anniversary. Before that it had been the Israel Department of Antiquities within the Ministry of Education, but in 1990 it became an independent body with its own budget and leadership structure. As will be known from these reports, the IAA has figured largely in most of the archaeological work in Israel and is responsible for much of the recovery and restoration of the important sites in the country. The IAA now numbers a permanent staff of about 450 men and women, many of them highly qualified experts in their various fields. The work is directed from Jerusalem but spread among local offices throughout the country. There are storage depots and workshops in several locations and new headquarters are in the process of being constructed in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum, which will concentrate all the various activities in one ambitious building. Besides the straightforward work of site excavation, and particularly rescue digs, the IAA has an active department for publications and preservation and restoration work. Education is important and staff are encouraged to undertake further professional training, to upgrade their academic degrees, and are sent abroad to lecture at international conferences.

Dead Sea Scrolls coming on line

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced its plan to digitalize the complete remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls to make them available to the public on line. In order to do this the IAA has teamed up with Google’s Israel Research and Design Centre in a $3.5 million project. The technology will enable each layer of each fragment to be viewed in colour and will make it unnecessary for the original pieces to be handled any more. It is planned to start the work before the end of the year and Google will then find a way to present the material on the Internet, together with transcriptions, translations and associated material. It is hoped that the first images will be available in Spring 2011 and work will then proceed continuously on the 30,000 fragments that have to be recorded in this way.

Mosaic floor at Tel Shikmona

The site was partly excavated from the 1950s to the 1970s and then fell into neglect and became used as a refuse tip. A new expedition by the University of Haifa, which is nearby, has cleaned the site and, on digging further, has uncovered some extensive floor mosaics of 6th century CE. The site lies by the sea shore west of Haifa, and was part of a major city in the area between 4th century BCE and the Muslim conquest of 7th CE. The previous finds included an Egyptian tomb, a Persian fortress and many elite items of Middle Bronze age. The mosaic presently being exposed and cleaned belonged to an ecclesiastical structure of the Byzantine period and will be exhibited as part of a public archaeological park connected to Hecht Park (connected with the Hecht Museum in the University building).

Professor Ehud Netzer, in Memoriam

On 28th October Ehud Netzer died, aged 76. His sudden death came as a great shock to all archaeologists in Israel and no doubt further afield as well. Netzer had retired as Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University recently but was still very active in expeditions in Israel and Albania and was busy on further publications of his work. He was the world expert on the colossal constructions of Herod the Great and had spent thirty years at the site of Herodion, some of it looking for the king’s tomb, which he finally located in 2007. As a result he travelled around the world describing this remarkable discovery. He continued his work at the site and was in a meeting with the Hebrew University to finalise plans to exhibit the frescoes he had uncovered at Herod’s private theatre at the site. It was then that he leaned against an unsafe wooden barrier and fell down 3m. backwards causing a massive concussion from which he never recovered. This was a tragic end to a distinguished career that started as a site architect under Yadin at Masada, and finished clarifying most of the important monuments of the Hasmonean and Herodian periods in Israel.

Stephen G. Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute, Jerusalem