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, #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