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, #21, March 2010

The Samaritans, Death and Birth

Eleazar ben Tzedaka ben Yitzhaq, the Spiritual leader of the Samaritan Community was laid to rest on February 4th 2010 in the small cemetery south of Nablus. He was 83 years old and it was claimed that he was the 131st holder of the position of High Priest since Aaron. The Samaritans claim to have lived near Nablus, formerly Shechem. since before the Babylonian Exile, and some would say even before the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 BCE. They have preserved their version of the Torah in an archaic script similar to Paleo-Hebrew.

The present community of 730 persons is concentrated at Kiryat Luza, a small hill town above Nablus, near to Mount Gerizim, which they view as the site of their former temple, which was destroyed by the Maccabean king John Hyrcanus. Both the Palestinian Governor of the Nablus Region and the Israeli officer heading the Civil Administration gave eulogies in Arabic in praise of the deceased High Priest and described his role, in providing a bridge between the Palestinian community and the Israeli Defence Forces, in glowing terms.

An offshoot of the Community lives in Neveh Pinchas, a neighbourhood of Holon, south of Tel Aviv and, at the beginning of March, a circumcision ceremony was held there for the latest male addition to the tiny community, Shahar Yehoshua. It was a rare event, attended by nearly half of the whole community and by six of their priests in long robes and red fezzes, marking the important addition of this new member to the small Samaritan community.

Byzantine Main Road into Jerusalem

Excavations at the west entry to the Old City, leading to David Street, the start of the Arab Shuk, have revealed the original pavings of the Byzantine period, far below the present surface. Thanks to work by the Jerusalem Development Authority in renewing the present underground infrastructure, the Israel Antiquities Authority was able, under director Dr. Ofer Sion, to excavate this very busy part of the Old City.
At a depth of 4.5 m below the present level, the IAA uncovered metre-long paving flagstones of a street that corresponded to a main thoroughfare from the west shown on the famous Byzantine mosaic map of the sixth century CE in St. George’s Church at Madaba, Jordan.

Arabic Inscription of 910 CE found in Jerusalem

During renovation work at a private house in the Jewish Quarter, a small stone fragment, about 10 x 10cm. was found inscribed in Arabic. It has been dated to the Abbasid period and the rule of the Caliph al-Muqtadir. It appears to express the thanks of an army veteran to the “Emir of the Faithful” for the gift of a tract of land in the area. It may signify the way the Caliph rewarded his troops and established a core of faithful supporters in Jerusalem while he ruled from faraway Baghdad. The find was made by Annette Nagar of the IAA and the fragment was read and dated by Prof. Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University.

Large Byzantine Wine Press found near Kibbutz Hafetz Haim

A massive industrial-size wine press has been found in the Nahal Sorek area, famous for its vineyards. The site is not far from Ashkelon and the wine may have been processed for export to Egypt, or even Italy, according to Uzi Ad of the IAA, in charge of the excavation.
The installation is a sophisticated one, including an octagonal mosaic-paved treading floor leading to two holding vats and then, via stone strainer grids, to two collection vats. The whole system covers an area of more than 15m. square. The region is designated as agricultural land for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and it is hoped to preserve the remains within the new farmland.

City Wall in Jerusalem of the Solomonic period?

A massive wall, 70m. long and 6m. high was recently uncovered in the area between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple precinct by Dr. Elath Mazar, working with the IAA and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The remains of the wall include an inner gatehouse, a corner tower and portions of another major structure. Mazar claims that the remains are of the 10th century BCE and testify to a ruling monarch who was able to organize such major construction, her reference to the elusive king Solomon. The gatehouse is of the standard four-chambered type. The adjacent structure is dated by pottery to the 10th century BCE and contained a number of large storage jars, one of them inscribed to a court official. There was also found a number of “lemelekh” jar handles, which suggests that some of the work may belong to the later period of the seventh or eighth century BCE. This is a most important discovery but confirmation of dating must await further excavation and evaluation.

National Heritage Plan 2010

At the end of February the Israeli Government issued a list of one hundred and fifty sites of national historical importance which will receive funding to help preserve and maintain their important status and facilitate public access without damage to the remains. The sites include the “trans-Israel footpath” that extends from Metulla to Elath, but is mainly concentrated on archaeological locations such as Masada and modern historical sites like Tel Hai. Although the Heritage Plan is largely non-controversial, and has been welcomed by all the usual site preservation agencies, as allocating Government funds to their upkeep, two sites have raised criticism from the Palestinian Authority. They are the Cave of the Patriarchs (Qever haMakhpelah) in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem. Both sites are in the area that may become part of the future Palestinian State and opposition to the designation has been strongly voiced by the Palestinian Authority, though the Plan is one for preservation only of the national heritage sites and there is no question of annexation.

Stephen Rosenberg,
W.F.Albright Institute, Jerusalem