Report from Jerusalem #50, 14th May 2013

Early and Unusual Ritual Bath in Jerusalem

Last April a mikvah of the Second Temple period was uncovered in Jerusalem, in the western suburb of Kiryat Menahem, in a rescue dig conducted before the construction of a major roadway project. The ritual bath is unique in that it was located underground in a cave, and the natural water was supplied by rain onto three basins and channels carved into the roof of the cave, an unusual feature. The area of the bath was rendered in a type of waterproof plaster, according to excavator Benyamin Storchan of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). It is not clear how the mikvah was dated to the Second Temple period. After the bath went out of use, the basins and channels were filled with earth; a hole was cut in the roof and the cave acted as a local cistern. The local authority is interested to have it restored to the original mikvah structure with the three water basins and channels, and they believe it will serve as an attraction to local residents and visitors.

Battles in Syria Topple Ancient Minaret in Aleppo

The ongoing battles in Syria have claimed another ancient monument, this time the nine-storey tower Minaret of Aleppo’s Mosque, allegedly of the Umayyad (661-750 CE) period. The tower had an internal stair to a high level canopied viewing gallery surmounted by a miniature replica mosque and Islamic crescent moon finial. The mosque stands in the Old City of Aleppo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Both sides of the conflict have blamed the collapse on each other, the State saying that it was due to rebel fire, and the rebels blaming Government tank shelling. At present large areas of Aleppo are in rebel hands but State troops remain in control of many other sectors of the city. Much of the original Mosque has been destroyed as well as the medieval stone-vaulted Suk or market.

The Gabriel Revelation Stone

In conjunction with the present Herod the Great Exhibition (which is proving very popular) the Israel Museum is displaying an unusual artifact. It is a long and narrow slab of stone inscribed in ink in two columns and dated by its calligraphy to 1st century BCE. It was found in 2007 on the east side of the Dead Sea and is on loan to the museum by the Jesselsohn family of Zurich. It is in two pieces that together make up 87 lines in neat square Hebrew script of the Herodian period, but with many lines unclear. The text purports to be written by the angel Gabriel in the first person, in conversation with a human being whom he warns of the destruction of Jerusalem but with the hope that God will save the city for the sake of the angel Michael and God’s servant David. The final lines are unclear and may have referred to the destruction of the city or its survival.

The back of the stone is smooth but not inscribed and the lower section is soiled, so it appears as if the piece was mounted against a wall with its base set into the ground. The artifact is exhibited together with early manuscripts relating to the angel Gabriel, and part of the War Scroll from Qumran, which uses a similar script. The exhibit will remain open until mid February 2014.

Byzantine Mosaic Floor in Northern Negev

A mosaic floor was recently found in the grounds of Kibbutz Beit Kama, 20 km. north of Beersheba, where the area is being prepared for the extension of the Trans-Israel Highway (Motorway 6) to Beersheba and Eilat. The mosaic floor is virtually complete in size but some portions are badly damaged, though the colours are vivid and the portrayal of doves, peacocks, jars of wine and vine branches is clear. The large square area is bordered by a heavy guilloche frame in black, red and white tesserae, set around a circular centrepiece with the four corners, between round and square, portraying stylized amphorae. According to the excavator, Dr. Rina Avner of the IAA, the mosaic floor belonged to a public building that had evidence of a complex water supply. In view of the emphasis of the mosaic on drink, it was perhaps a hostelry, that was part of a large Byzantine settlement of the 4th to 6th centuries, spread over 6 hectares alongside the ancient roadway to Beersheba from the north.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg,

W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, 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