Report from Jerusalem #47, 30th December 2012

Hasmonean Farm in Jerusalem

Remains of a farm site were uncovered at Kiryat Yovel in western Jerusalem by a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) a month or so ago. The remains have been dated from the fourth century BCE to first century CE and include the outlines of a few scattered buildings and some artifacts like small incense jars and pottery tags that may have been used to label jar contents. The work is still in progress and the designation of the site as a farm may have to be revised as excavation proceeds, although it is known that farms as such did exist in the Hellenistic period.

Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library was launched on 18th December, based on the between 15,000 and 30,000 fragments of the Scrolls, making up about 900 manuscripts, held by the IAA. The work of recording by high-resolution scanner is still in progress and is estimated to take another three years, at a cost of US$3.5 million. The archive can be accessed here.  This project is distinct from the eight scrolls owned by the Israel Museum whose teams are also working with Google to digitize its manuscripts.  Director of the work Pnina Shor states that each fragment is captured on six separate wavelengths that are then combined into one colour image that can be enlarged without loss of clarity. The fragments are also photographed by infra-red technology which produces a clear black-and-white image that is used to decipher faded text.  Shor claims that the few hundred scholars who specialize in Dead Sea studies can now access the material in the comfort of their homes, equally available to the millions around the world who have shown intense interest but have not been able to visit Israel to see the originals for themselves.

The project is named after Leon Levy who died in 2003, and whose Trust made the original donation to start the project. The Cambridge Digital Library has also recently posted online thousands of its ancient religious documents, including the Nash Papyrus of the first or second century BCE (that contains two portions of the Hebrew Bible) and the Cairo Geniza Collection.

Temple Site in Sinai

Reports have surfaced that the Antiquities Authority in Egypt has announced the find of four temples in Sinai dating back to the time of Thutmosis II (1518-1504 BCE). The temples are situated at Qantara, 2 miles east of the Suez Canal, on the military road to Canaan. The temple walls are in mudbrick and the largest is some 80m by 70m with walls of 4m thickness, decorated with paintings that indicate the religious nature of the buildings. There are also three ritual basins and a number of separate chambers for different gods in this large temple.

Sifting Excavated Material from Temple Mount

There has been a recent vague report of four truck loads of material being removed from the Temple Mount and dumped at a local tip. No further details have emerged but the removal of such material is illegal and although forbidden by a High Court ruling, it is still happening. This leads me to describe a recent visit to the Sifting Site at the foot of the Mount of Olives that has been organized to deal with the massive amount of material that was removed from the Temple Mount after the unsupervised excavation of the tunnel entrance to the underground mosque located in the so-called Stables of Solomon area. This material was rescued from a dump in Kidron Valley by Prof. Gabriel Barkai and is being steadily sorted and sifted at the facility that he has set up on the hillside below the site of the Hebrew University. It is worth a visit by tourists, who are welcome to come and hear an interesting lecture on the history of the Temple Mount, through the Israelite, Crusader, Byzantine and Islamic periods, and then proceed to the sifting area. It is a well-organized operation with about twenty sifting benches, each supplied with a spray water tap and buckets of raw material for dividing into six categories, such as pottery, stonework, metal and mosaic tesserae. It is fascinating work for children as well as adults, and the supervision by experts is both helpful and encouraging. Many important finds of the First and Second Temple periods have been sifted out and although few and far between, there is a lot to be learnt, and honourably felt, just from handling the historic debris. At the end of each session one of the experts will lecture on the most significant finds that were made that day.

The site is accessible by car on a small turning to the north from the main road of Derekh Ai-Tur (Shmuel ben Adyahu) which lies beyond the Rockfeller Museum, going east. Prof. Barkai or his student Zarhi Zweik are usually in attendance and Gabby estimates that they still have sifting work for the next fifteen years.

Ancient Temple Found at Motza

In a rescue dig before the improvement of Highway 1 leading to Tel Aviv, archaeologists have uncovered a large structure with massive walls, an entrance facing east and a number of ritual objects believed to be a temple of Iron Age IIA. The find was made at Motza, on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, by a team directed by Anna Eirikh, Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz of the IAA. The inside of the building contains a smaller square construction, pottery vessels, chalices, and figures of humans and domestic animals, which are considered to have been used in cultic ceremonies. The temple is believed to be that of the town of Motza, on the borders of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 18:26). The important remains will be sealed and preserved and the highway extension built over them.  The site will not be accessible in the future, but the internal remains will be removed and restored and exhibited in one of the Jerusalem museums.

Stephen Rosenberg,

Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem


Report from Jerusalem #46, 15th November 2012

Neolithic Beads and Figurines from Western Galilee

A large agricultural settlement extending over 20 hectares (50 acres) has been uncovered at Ein Zippori in the western Galilee. It is related to the Wadi Rabah culture that prevailed in Israel in the sixth to fifth millennia BCE, and collections of decorative beads in a large basin and ostrich images and figurines were found and demonstrated to the Press. The site excavators claim that these and other items are evidence of an early agricultural economy with extensive trade links.

Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens Interbred in Carmel

At the Nahal Me’arot caves in the Carmel range, recently granted UNESCO Heritage status, archaeologists have found tools of both Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens in close proximity. Daniel Kaufmann, working at the site, claims that the interbreeding of the two species, which genetic research has suggested existed in non-aggressive mating between the two sub-species, took place at this site where there is evidence of peaceful living side by side as early as 80,000 years ago.

Human Remains in Deep Well in The Jezreel Valley

In an emergency excavation preceding the enlargement of a junction at Enot Nisanit on Road 66 in the western Jezreel Valley, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered a well approximately 8m deep x 1.3m in diameter. The large diameter was reduced by two capstones set over the mouth. At the bottom of the well were found skeletal remains of a young woman and an older man of thirty or forty years of age.  The excavation director, Yotam Tepper, thinks the water became undrinkable after the bodies had fallen into the well, and many romantic suggestions have been made as to why the two skeletons were found here together. The well shaft also contained remains of animal bones, charcoal and other organic materials which have enabled the finds, including the human bones, to be dated to the early Neolithic period, about 8,500 years ago. A deep well of this early period is unique in Israel, according to Dr. Omri Barzilai of the IAA Prehistoric Branch, and indicates the population’s impressive knowledge of the hydrology of the area and their ability to work together to undertake such a considerable community project.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,  

W.F. Albright Institute of Archeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #45, 14th September 2012

“Seal of Samson” found near Beit Shemesh

A small seal has been found on the floor of a house dated to the 12th century BCE at the site of Tel Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. It shows a human figure in combat with a four-legged animal. In size it is only 12mm across and the figures are very diagrammatic, but as the period and location fit with the Biblical story of Samson and his unarmed fight with a lion (Judges 14:6), it has been dubbed the Samson seal, though Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz of Tel Aviv University, who is in charge of the dig at Beit Shemesh, is careful to say this is for convenience only and does not imply that such a combat took place, nor does it support in any way the existence of the heroic figure of Samson.

Exhibition of Vessels from Tel Qashish

The contents of a favissa, or store of disused cultic objects, uncovered at Tel Qashish in 2010 is now on display at the Haifa National Maritime Museum. Tel Qashish lies about 2 km north of Yokneam and 20 km southeast of Haifa. The artifacts are dated to the 13th century BCE and, according to the exhibition’s curator Avshalom Zemer, it is the first time that a discarded treasure of that early date has been found and displayed.

The hoard was found in a pit of limestone rock and comprised 200 artifacts, many rare and previously unknown, that originated from Mycenaean Greece and Cyprus as well as locally. The local items include goblets (one with a human face) large and small cylindrical stands, incense burners and libation chalices, which indicate that they have come from a nearby temple, which has not yet been found, nor has any local deity been identified. The imported ware included bowls, juglets, cooking pots, cup-and-saucer sets from Cyprus, and stirrup jars and flasks from Greece. The imports imply strong trade connections with the Aegean, which suggested that the exhibition be placed in the Maritime museum, but the artifacts are the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who conducted the salvage dig that uncovered the hoard before the Haifa Bay gas pipeline was laid.

Highway Extension Uncovers Early Figurines

During extension of Highway Route One at Motza, west of Jerusalem, archaeologists discovered two small figurines, one of a ram and one of a wild bovine, The carvings in limestone are remarkably precise, according to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, co-director of the dig for the IAA . The pieces are dated to the Pre-pottery Neolithic B (approx. 8th millennium BCE) and according to the excavators are contemporary to the period when nomadic hunters were changing to a sedentary agricultural life. The other director of the dig, Anna Elrikh, believes that the figurines are related to the domestication of these animals that took place at the time. Other finds at the site include stone-age tools, and funereal and cultic objects, which have not yet been shown to the public.

Reservoir Under Outer Wall of Jerusalem Temple

During work on the underground tunnel to the Temple Mount from the Gihon area, the excavator Eli Shukron, working for the IAA, uncovered access to a vast underground reservoir or cistern measuring 12m by 5m and 4.5m high. It is dated to the First Temple period (pre 586 BCE) because it has the same type of wall plaster used in nearby cisterns in the Gihon area, which have been dated by pottery. The special plaster used to waterproof the stone walls has been found in several earlier locations and is claimed to be an Israelite invention that made the storage of winter water a practical proposition. The reservoir would have been filled by rainwater seeping down from the Temple Mount and because of its size Eli Shukron believes it was a public facility used by the Temple priests as well as by pilgrims. This is the first time that evidence of stored water has been found so near to the site of the Temple. It is not yet clear how the water was brought to the surface, though it was probably by means of skins lowered through openings in the roof of the reservoir.

Recording of Heritage Sites in Israel

During the months of September and October 2012 Wikimedia has organized a photography competition that will record cultural sites throughout 32 countries, including Israel. The work is organized by “Wiki loves Monuments” and Wikimedia Israel and will enable the public to download all the photographs free of charge when completed. The images of Israel will include over 600 buildings and ancient monuments, many religious sites as well as listed buildings in the older Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods. The organizers will select the ten best photographs taken in Israel, which will be submitted to the world-wide committee, and the best images will win local cash prizes. But all accepted images will become available to the public at no charge, according to Wikimedia.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #44, 16th July 2012

Mount Carmel Caves on UNESCO World Heritage List

At its meeting on 29th June at St Petersburg, the World Heritage Committee agreed to place a set of four Carmel caves on its Heritage List. The document read, “The four caves are located in one of the best preserved fossilized reefs of the Mediterranean region, and contain artifacts covering 500,000 years of human evolution, from the Lower Paleolithic era till today”.

They are the Nahal Me’orot caves of Tabun, Jamal, El-Wad and Skhul. The Tabun and other caves were first investigated by Dorothy Garrod in 1929-34 and she found there a complete skeleton of a Neanderthal woman, which was dated from 60,000 to 50,000 BP (before Present). The Jamal cave is a single chamber cave, while El-Wad has an entrance chamber that leads to five others that contain stone house remains and a cemetery with skeleton fragments of a hundred individuals. The listing includes the terraces to the caves that display evidence of artistic activity and agriculture. The caves reflect man’s prehistoric culture and his transformation from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist that occurred over hundreds of years. The credit for bringing the caves to the attention of UNESCO must go to Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of Haifa University, who has been passionate in preserving the evidence of the caves over many years.

Bethlehem Church on UNESCO List

At the same meeting, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was also placed on the World Heritage List in the name of the Palestine Authority. The PA claimed that the Church was in danger, but in fact the Church is in fairly good condition, although repairs are needed to the roof. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Church Patriarchs had opposed the original listing application but the PA has provided written guarantees that it will not intervene in the internal affairs of the site, in particular the “status quo” agreement which defines the full autonomy of the three churches (including the Roman Catholics) in the management of the site.

Early Synagogue to North-West of Sea of Galilee

At Huqoq, a village mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, archaeologists Jodi Magness, with David Amit and Shua Kasilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), have found remains of a large synagogue of the late Roman period of the 4th century CE, a time which saw a great increase in synagogue building in the Galilee and the Golan.  The synagogue has a mosaic floor that includes an inscription alongside two faces, one of them destroyed, but the other is female, very graphic and most unusual for a synagogue. There is also a depiction of the story of Samson sending flaming torches tied to the tails of foxes into the fields of Philistine standing corn (Judges 15:4ff), which is again used as a mosaic subject in another recently discovered  synagogue at nearby Wadi Hamam. The richness of the mosaics and the fact that remains of the structure show impressive use of large ashlar stonework is surprising in a small village setting and indicates the affluence of the area, which was watered by a spring, near a trade route, a centre of fertile land and famous for its mustard plants. “I guess mustard was lucrative” said Jodi Magness.

Crusader Coin Trove Found at Apollonia

At Tel Arshaf, on the coast north of Herzliya, in the course of a three-year dig headed by Prof. Oren Tal of Tel Aviv University, a large cache of golden coins of the Crusader period has been uncovered. The coins had been placed in a sand-filled pottery vessel, now broken, under the floor tiles of the castle, and it looked like a deliberate act of concealment, probably made by the defenders during a prolonged siege by Muslim troops. The excavation has also uncovered arrowheads and catapult stones, evidence of the Arab siege. The Crusaders, who called their castle Apollonia, held the stronghold in the 13th century, when it was eventually conquered and razed to the ground by the Mamluks, who failed to check under the floor tiles. The hoard is of 108 gold coins minted around 1,000 CE in Egypt, and is today valued at over $100,000. After cleaning, the hoard will be put on exhibition.

Hellenistic Harbour at Akko (Acre)

During conservation work to the southern sea wall of the modern harbour at Akko, evidence appeared of large well laid and dressed stones as used in many other installations along the Phoenician coast, and may have indicated the base of a large building or the foundation of a port installation. The finding of a series of mooring stones along the quay makes it clear that it was the latter, and thus was evidence for a large port in the Hellenistic period of 300-200 BCE. The stone floor was littered with fragments of pottery vessels from across the Aegean, from ports such as Knidos (W.Turkey) and Rhodes, by which it could be dated. The flooring had a slight slope to the south and was flanked on two sides by walls built in the Phoenician style, which suggests that the floor was the base of a slipway used to haul ships onto the shore, according to Kobi Sharvit, director of the IAA Marine Archaeology Unit. The section of the harbour uncovered so far indicates that it was a military installation, probably the chief naval base of Coele-Syria (Palestine/Israel) that was deliberately attacked and destroyed by enemies of the Seleucid powers, who could have been Egyptian forces under the Ptolemies, or even the Hasmoneans many years later.

Tel Hatzor, Jars of Burnt Wheat

Excavations at Hatzor have been in progress for many years under Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of Hebrew University and  Dr. Tsvika Tzuk, of the Nature and Parks Authority, who administer the archaeological site. Recently fourteen large pithoi storage jars have been uncovered and found to contain stores of burnt wheat that are dated to the Middle Bronze Age of 2,200 BCE. They were found in the storage room of the monumental building, perhaps a palace, of the Canaanite period. When excavation is complete this season, the jars and contents will be transferred to the IAA laboratories for further investigation and conservation, before being exhibited and then replaced on site.

Commemoration of Petrie’s Death

On the 70th anniversary of the death of Flinders Petrie a special ceremony was held at his graveside in Jerusalem. This report is by Sam Wolff of the IAA, with an addition in brackets by Shimon Gibson.

“On 30 July 2012 an evening gathering was organized by the IAA to commemorate the 70th year of the passing of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, pioneer British archaeologist and Egyptologist. The well-attended event was held in the courtyard of the former Bishop Gorbat School, current Jerusalem University College, on Mt. Zion, metres away from Petrie’s grave, which is located in the Protestant Cemetery alongside other prominent archaeologists and architects like James Starkey, Clarence Fisher, Conrad Schick. After a brief tour of the cemetery and introductory remarks, Gabriel Barkay delivered an appreciation of Petrie’s achievements. This was followed by a brief lecture by Shimon Gibson which, among other items of interest, included a graphic description of his visit to the Royal College of Surgeons in London in order to confirm the identity of a human head preserved in a jar, reputed to be the head of Petrie (who was an advocate of the Eugenics movement and believed that a measure of human intelligence could be based on the measurement of skulls). The evening ended with a screening of a BBC documentary of Petrie’s life and contribution to archaeology, both in Egypt and in Palestine.”

Ancient Pool and Bust at Sussita

At the hilltop Hellenistic site of Sussita, overlooking the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, Prof. Arthur Segal has been leading a team from the University of Haifa for thirteen seasons and recent finds include a bust of an unknown worthy dated to the third century BCE, which the archaeologists think had come from a grave monument. In the last season they have also uncovered the well paved floor remains of an early local swimming pool, but no date has yet been given, This is a surprising find as water supply to the high level town must have been severely restricted.

Restoration to City Walls of Jerusalem Completed

The 4 km. of the ancient city walls of Jerusalem have undergone an eight year programme of repair and restoration under the supervision of Avi Mashiah of the IAA. The National Parks Authority and the Jerusalem Development Authority were also involved in the work and funding came from the Prime Minister’s Office. It is the first time since the British Mandate that the walls as a whole have been surveyed and repaired. The work included restoration of the seven gates of the City and at the Zion Gate nearly 300 bullet holes, dating from 1967, were filled but the evidence left showing for historical accuracy. The work at the Herod and Damascus Gates was carefully co-ordinated with the local Arab traders who have open stalls at these gates, and much of the work was carried out at night so as not to disrupt trade. At the Damascus Gate the original ornamental high-level carvings were restored, at first to the angry protests of the locals, but it was explained that the original stonework was likely to collapse and now local residents and traders are happy to see the new work, and realize that the bright colours of the restoration will soon fade and blend in with the old. The whole of the walls have now been restored except for the portion at the south east corner, which is under the control of the Waqf, the Islamic administrators of the Temple Mount, who are proceeding with their repairs more slowly.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Report from Jerusalem #43, 28th June 2012

Boundary Stone at Gezer

Another boundary stone has recently been found at Tel Gezer, 30 km. west of Jerusalem. So far 13 such markers have been found with the words “Tehum Gezer” inscribed in Hebrew, but this latest one has a line across the middle with Tehum Gezer on one side of the line and the name Archelaus, in Greek, on the other side. Presumably this was the name of the adjoining owner. The stone is dated to the Seleucid- Maccabean period of the late second century BCE and was uncovered during the survey of greater Gezer carried out by the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of the U.S.A. under the direction of Eric Mitchell. The water system is being excavated by a joint Israel Parks Authority (Tsvika Tsuk) and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Dan Warner, Jim Parker, Dennis Cole) team. Their work will include clearing the underground tunnel to the water source that was located by the original excavation under R.A.S. Macalister in 1902-1909. It is planned to open it to visitors when access to the source has been made secure.

Gold and Silver Hoard at Kiryat-Gath

A cache of 140 coins and jewellery, wrapped in a disintegrating cloth, has been found  in a pit within a villa courtyard in Kiryat-Gath, 50 km. south-west of Jerusalem, during an emergency rescue dig before proposed building extensions. The work exposed a small village of the Second Temple period and later Byzantine ruins.  Emil Aladjem, director of the dig for the IAA, thinks the treasure may have been hidden by a wealthy woman fleeing from the Romans during the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 CE. Besides the coins there was an earring in the form of a bunch of grapes, a ring with a precious stone inscribed with the seal of a goddess, and two silver sticks for applying cosmetics. The rare gold coins are connected to the reigns of the emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan and datable to between 54 and 117 CE. The hoard has been sent to the laboratories of the IAA for cleaning and preservation before being shown to the public.

Exhibition of Gold Artefacts at the Bible Lands Museum

In commemoration of its 20th anniversary, the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is showing a comprehensive display of ancient gold items from its own collection and those of one or two other collectors. The pieces are carefully presented in more than 50 glass showcases and are arranged in groups stemming from Egypt, the Levant, Greece and Rome, Mesopotamia and Iran, Etruria, the Black Sea region and also China and the Far East. Most of the items are fibulae, rings and earrings but there are also one or two small inscriptions on gold plate and a fine gold lion-headed rhyton. At its opening in 1992, the Bible Lands Museum was ostracized by scholars and archaeologists as nearly all the exhibits come from the market, having been bought by the founder Dr. Elie Borowski, and are of doubtful provenance.

However the collection is so important and comprehensive that the Museum has become recognized as a valuable resource, and the collection is now acknowledged by scholars and researchers. It hosts tours and workshops for school children who can appreciate its excellent models of ancient Jerusalem, the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, the city of Babylon and individual buildings like the Persian Apadana audience hall at Susa and the ziggurat of Ur. There is also a good section on the development of the alphabet. The exhibition entitled “Pure Gold” remains open until April 2013.

Headquarters of the IAA on Museum Boulevard, Jerusalem

On a site next to the Bible Lands Museum and opposite the Israel Museum, work has now started on the superstructure of an ambitious new headquarters for the IAA, whose departments are at present scattered among many different locations. The new building will house the IAA library, one of the best archaeological ones in the world, all of the IAA offices, workshops, stores and laboratories, spaces for the Dead Sea manuscripts and fragments, a major exhibition gallery and of course a coffee shop. Work on the deep foundations is already complete and the superstructure will house all the facilities under one enormous suspended roof, designed by architect Moshe Safdie. Funding has come from many different donors, the chief among them being the Schottenstein Foundation. When completed in several years time, many of the departments will move from their present location in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, and it is hoped that this splendid building of the British Mandate period, will then be carefully renovated (including its beautiful central courtyard with plaques by Eric Gill), and that its exhibits will be upgraded to a more user-friendly format.

Ancient Arabic Manuscripts to be made Available Online

The Euromed Heritage-4 Organisation is planning to put on line thousands of Arabic documents, manuscripts and books from five major Arabic libraries, the Khalidi, the Budeiri, the Al-Aksa, the Al-Ansari and the Waqf Restoration Centre libraries, all of Jerusalem. Recently ceremonies were held in Jerusalem and Ramallah to inaugurate the Arabic Manuscripts Digital Library of Jerusalem, with the aim of promoting the written heritage of East Jerusalem and to make it accessible to all via an internet connection. The project is scheduled to take three years and has a budget of $2 million funded by Euromed Heritage. Some of the books and documents have already been digitized and will be available shortly. The service will be presented in a multi-lingual format and will be free of charge to viewers.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg

W.F.Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem