Thursday, December 18, 2014

Monumental Entrance Discovered at Herodium

The more you learn, the more you discover how little you know. That seems to be the story at Herodium, as the uncovering of a monumental entrance suggests a more complicated building history than previously understood. From a press release of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:

Archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology have discovered a monumental entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace at the Herodium National Park. The unique complex was uncovered during excavations by The Herodium Expedition in Memory of Ehud Netzer over the past year, as part of a project to develop the site for tourism.

The main feature of the entryway is an impressive corridor with a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels. These arches buttressed the corridor’s massive side-walls, allowing the King and his entourage direct passage into the Palace Courtyard. Thanks to the supporting arches, the 20-meter long and 6-meter wide corridor has been preserved to a height of 20 meters.

The Hebrew University archaeologists — Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy — suggest that the corridor was built as part of Herod’s plan to turn Herodium into a massive artificial volcano-shaped hill, a vast and impressive monument designed to commemorate the architect-King.

Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use, as prior to its completion it became redundant. This appears to have happened when Herod, aware of his impending death, decided to convert the whole hilltop complex into a massive memorial mound, a royal burial monument on an epic scale.

Whatever the case, the corridor was back-filled during the construction of the massive artificial hill at the end of Herod’s reign. The upper section of a new monumental stairway stretching from the hill’s base to its peak, constructed during the course of this building phase, appears to have been built over it.

The excavators point out that not only was the arched corridor covered over in the course of the construction of the hill-monument, but also all the structures earlier built by Herod on the hill’s slopes, including the Royal Theater uncovered by the expedition in 2008, while still led by Prof. Ehud Netzer, since deceased.

The press release continues with more discussion of the site history as well as plans to allow visitors access to all of the new discoveries. Photos are available here.


Monumental entrance to Herodium
Photo credit: The Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Proof for David’s Kingdom from Khirbet Summeily?

Is this the the sort of press release you would expect out of Mississippi State University?

Six official clay seals found by a Mississippi State University archaeological team at a small site in Israel offer evidence that supports the existence of biblical kings David and Solomon.

Many modern scholars dismiss David and Solomon as mythological figures and believe no kingdom could have existed in the region at the time the Bible recounted their activities. The new finds provide evidence that some type of government activity was conducted there in that period.

Jimmy Hardin, associate professor in the MSU Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, said these clay bullae were used to seal official correspondence in much the same way wax seals were used on official documents in later periods.

Hardin, co-director of the Hesi Regional Project, has been excavating each summer at Khirbet Summeily, a site east of Gaza in southern Israel, since 2011. Hardin's findings were published in the December 2014 issue of Near Eastern Archaeology, a leading, peer-reviewed journal for this field.

"Our preliminary results indicated that this site is integrated into a political entity that is typified by elite activities, suggesting that a state was already being formed in the 10th century B.C.," Hardin said. "We are very positive that these bullae are associated with the Iron Age IIA, which we date to the 10th century B.C., and which lends general support to the historical veracity of David and Solomon as recorded in the Hebrew biblical texts.

Read on for more details, including the fact that none of the bullae has writing. Dating these to the Iron IIA doesn’t necessarily make them contemporaneous with the United Kingdom (Iron IIA = 1000-840 BC), but the co-director asserts that “our dates for the bullae are based on multiple types of evidence we combined to determine a general 10th century B.C. date.” I’m also curious to know if they’ve identified the site as Israelite and not Philistine during this period, since that alone would be a significant discovery, located in the heart of Philistine territory as is it.

Khirbet Summeily is located 3 miles (4 km) west of Tell el-Hesi and about 5 miles (8 km) southwest of Qiryat Gat.

The official excavation website does not appear to be updated regularly. We mentioned some discoveries at the site back in 2011.

HT: David Coppedge

Photos by Megan Bean (top) and the University of Wisconsin/Nathaniel Greene (bottom)

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Video: The Modern Ascent to Jerusalem

Bill Schlegel, author of the Satellite Bible Atlas, has just posted a video showing the ascent to Jerusalem from the Shephelah. The 6-minute video uses drone footage to show the modern highway’s route and the new construction. In antiquity, travelers followed the natural routes along the ridges. Today when we deviate from those ridges, we spend billions to destroy the landscape in the construction of passes, bridges, and tunnels.

For best viewing, change the settings to HD, Full Screen.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

8th Century BC Farmhouse Excavated Near Aphek

From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

An impressive farm house, 2,800 years old, which comprised twenty-three rooms, was exposed in recent weeks during archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in Rosh Ha-‘Ayin before the city is enlarged in an initiative by the Ministry of Construction. According to Amit Shadman, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The farm, which is extraordinarily well-preserved, extends across an area of 30 × 40 m and was built in the eighth century BCE, the time of the Assyrian conquest. Farm houses during this period served as small settlements of sorts whose inhabitants participated in processing agricultural produce. The numerous wine presses discovered in the vicinity of the settlement indicate the wine industry was the most important branch of agriculture in the region. A large silo, which was used to store grain, shows that the ancient residents were also engaged in growing cereal.”

According to Shadman the building continued to be used during the Persian period (also known as the Time of the Return to Zion) in the sixth century BCE, and in the Hellenistic period as well which began in the country with the arrival of Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military leaders of antiquity. With Alexander’s victory over the Persian army in 333 BCE he embarked upon numerous successful military campaigns. His campaign in Israel did not encounter any special difficulties and the country opened its gates to the great warrior.


In light of this impressive building’s excellent state of preservation, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ministry of Construction decided to conserve the structure in situ for the benefit of the city’s residents and the visiting public.

The full press release is here. The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post. Rosh HaAyin is near the biblical city of Aphek mentioned in 1 Samuel 4:1.

An aerial photograph of the farm house. Photographic credit: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

An aerial photograph of the farm house. Photographic credit: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekend Roundup

The largest stone block known from antiquity has been uncovered in Baalbek. Its weight is estimated at 1,650 tons.

AirCamz’s new video provides the best views of Tel Burna I’ve ever seen.

Lawrence Mykytiuk provides evidence for Jesus’ existence outside the Bible in a new Biblical Archaeology Review article now online in its entirety.

If you’re interested in the various kinds of nets used in fishing on the Sea of Galilee, Ferrell Jenkins shares many photos.

Scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum recently opened the lid of the coffin of a 14-year-old boy.

Osiris statues have been discovered in the temple of Karnak.

The Book and the Spade looks at Shishak’s scarab.

Most of Syria’s World Heritage sites have been damaged by bombing or looting.

Travelujah describes some of the different tastes of Bethlehem.

Lamb & Lion Ministries is offering its new 2015 Holy Land Calendar for $5. I contributed several of the photos.

HT: Ted Weis, Agade

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Dead Sea Scroll Thieves Caught Red-Handed

Antiquities thieves plunder sites all over the biblical world year after year, but rarely are they caught, especially in the act. The Israel Antiquities Authority nabbed a group of illegal diggers working near the Dead Sea. This press release has all of the fascinating details.

Today (Sunday) an indictment was handed up against antiquities robbers who tried to loot Dead Sea scrolls from the Judean Desert. This comes in the wake of a dramatic capture carried out last weekend by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the assistance of the Arad Rescue Unit. The apprehension of the robbers was part of a complex operation to locate the Dead Sea scroll robbers, which lasted more than a year.

Early in the morning hours members of the Arad Rescue Unit, which were undergoing routine training at the time, identified suspicious movement in a cave in the northern cliff of Nahal Ze’elim, in the region of the Leopard’s Ascent.

Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority were called to the scene and they placed the cave under surveillance utilizing observation and photographic equipment. The suspects were observed in the cave carrying out an illicit excavation while using a metal detector and a large amount of excavating equipment.

The suspects dug in an ancient cave which is known in archaeological circles as “The Cave of the Skulls”. They caused tremendous damage in the cave by digging through layers of earth while destroying archaeological strata and historical evidence from the Roman period c. 2,000 years ago and the Chalcolithic period c. 5,000 years ago.

The cave is located in the side of the cliff, 150 meters above the bottom of Nahal Ze’elim and some 70 meters below the top of the cliff. It can only be reached on foot via a narrow goat’s path on top of rock fall, that passes upright bedrock walls and is extremely dangerous.

The suspects – all young men from the village of Seir in the vicinity of Hebron – demonstrated considerable expertise in reaching the cave by climbing and rappelling from the cliff while using special equipment they possessed.

After observing and documenting the suspects in action, the suspects began climbing to the top of the cliff during the evening while carrying on their back ancient finds (such as a 2,000 year old lice comb from the Roman period) and all of the digging equipment that included excavation tools, break-in equipment, two sophisticated metal detectors, lighting equipment and ropes, as well as large amounts of food and water, which indicate their intention to remain in the cave for many days. Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery awaited the suspects at the top of the cliff. Upon arrival the suspects were immediately caught by the Israel Antiquities Authority personnel. They were detained and taken for questioning to the Arad police station where, with the assistance of the Arad police and investigators, they were interrogated for many hours and gave their version of events.

The press release continues here. The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, the Associated Press, and the BBC. Nahal Ze’elim is located south of En Gedi and a few miles north of Masada.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle



Looted cave in Nahal Ze’elim
Photos courtesy of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Weekend Roundup

As a dedication to Sharon Zuckerman, Biblical Archaeology Review has made her two articles available to the public.

Now online: G. M. Grena’s recent NEAS lecture on LMLK seals: Judahite Tithes vs. Assyrian Taxes.

Charlie Dyer explains why Israel is safe.

This week’s edition of The Book and the Spade looks at temples (Megiddo) and tombs (Amphipolis).

Where Are They Now? BAR goes back to check in with individuals featured on former covers of the January/February dig issue.

Seth Rodriquez provides a short introduction to the archaeology of Joshua’s conquest.

It’s December, and that means people are interested in Bethlehem then and now. Begin with Wayne Stiles’ introduction to the Church of the Nativity. Then see what else is of interest in the city and environs in this Jerusalem Post article.

Rear Vision looks at the history of the contested Temple Mount.

This is a good week to get some fresh illustrations of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Ferrell Jenkins shares a couple of great images of Tabgha, followed up with a post on fish of the Sea of Galilee with five photos. Leen Ritmeyer shares illustrations on the harbors of the Sea of Galilee.

Three movies being released this month are about ancient Egypt.

A new work from Carta: Understanding the Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Ada Yardeni.

HT: Agade

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

A Roman game board from the first or second century AD has been discovered in southern Turkey.

Some extremely well-preserved mosaics have been discovered near the Syria-Turkey border.

France is returning 300 artifacts stolen from Egypt.

Why did the Egyptians use scarabs? Michael Wall’s recent lecture on the role of insects in religion explains.

“What can we learn about the time of Abraham from simple stone beads?” Geoffrey Ludvik explains on this week’s interview on The Book and the Spade.

The Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Resource (PBMR) is “working to map the landscape of publications about Pompeii onto the space of the ancient city itself, creating a unified, bi-directional interface to both resources.”

A “small underwater Pompeii” has been discovered off the shore of the Greek island of Delos.

Climate change apparently did not cause the end of the Bronze Age.

James Cuno, the President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, makes the case against repatriating museum artifacts in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

The Biblical Archaeology Society is running a Thanksgiving sale through Thursday.

Sharon Zuckerman, co-director of the Tel Hazor Excavations and senior lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, died on Friday. She was 49.

HT: Agade, Charles Savelle, Chris McKinny

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Weekend Roundup, Part 1

A reporter visited the Kishle in Jerusalem on its recent opening. The article includes a nice photo and an audio version.

Portions of Jerusalem’s Decumanus have been uncovered near Jaffa Gate.

Leen Ritmeyer notes new building violations on the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project is seeking volunteers who can assist them in raising money through crowd-funding.

Why should Jews and Christians be denied from praying on the Temple Mount while Muslims are allowed?

“There is a little corner of Jerusalem that is forever India. At least, it has been for more than 800 years…”

The latest SourceFlix video short: Biblical Cities – From the Air.

A Palestinian archaeologist is claiming to have discovered the church where the martyr Stephen’s bones were buried. The site is near Ramallah (10 miles north of Jerusalem), and the claim is based on an inscription not shown in the article. Perhaps some Byzantines were trying to capitalize on the tourist trade, just as they plan to do to the site in the future.

A fortified site from the time of Persia’s conquest by Alexander the Great has been excavated near Israel’s border with Gaza.

The laborers at the copper mines in the Timna Valley ate well, according to an analysis of bones from Slaves’ Hill.

Luke Chandler has a report on Yosi Garfinkel’s recent lecture on Khirbet Qeiyafa, including word on two more inscriptions.

Tourism in Israel was down 33% in October from the previous year.

If you can use financial help to excavate next summer at Tel Burna, check out this scholarship opportunity.

Ferrell Jenkins shares a beautiful photo of Mount Arbel and the Sea of Galilee.

HT: Ted Weis, Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Keith Keyser

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Artifacts of the Month: Nebuchadnezzar II

(Posted by Michael J. Caba)

The ceramic brick to the left is inscribed in cuneiform with the name of Nebuchadnezzar II. Ancient kings often used inscribed bricks in their building projects. This one was originally made in c. 604-562 BC and was found in the ruins of ancient Babylon during excavations in 1927. It reads, "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Guardian of the temples of Esagila and Ezida, Firstborn son of Nabopolasser, king of Babylon." It is shown here in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York while on loan from Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin.

The cylinder to the 
right reads, in part, "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the restorer of the temples: Esogil and Ezida, the first-born of Nabopolasser, King of Babylon, am I."  It was inscribed using cuneiform lettering in 604 BC and was discovered in a temple wall in Babylonia at the location of its original burial. It is made of terracotta and is currently located in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, San Jose, CA.

The photo to the left shows the Ishtar gate as it now sits in the Museum of the Ancient Near East, Pergamum Museum, Berlin. Originally constructed in ancient Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, it is covered with colorful glazed titles that depict bulls and dragons. It was uncovered by German archaeologists, along with other spectacular finds, during a 14-year period beginning in 1899. The reconstructed gate is approximately 48 feet in height and 51 feet in width. 

For those interested in Biblical Studies, Nebuchadnezzar II is mentioned some 90 times in the Bible in a variety of different contexts (e.g., Ezra 1:7).

For information on similar artifacts related to the Bible, see Bible and Archaeology - Online Museum.

(Photos: Michael J. Caba and Significant resources for further study: The Context of Scripture, volume 2, page 308-10; Lost Treasures of the Bible, by Fant and Reddish, pages 199-205.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New App: Dig Quest Israel

The Israel Antiquities Authority has released a free iPad app for kids ages 7-11 called Dig Quest: Israel. From the IAA:

The App transforms a kid’s iPhone or iPad into an archaeological tool and lets them play games to hone their skills, discover secret meanings, solve puzzles, and piece the past together like true archaeologists. Along the way they unlock ancient artifacts and create their own personal collection. Dig Quest Israel App Icon

The games were developed in collaboration with the IAA’s team of pre-eminent archaeologists and researchers. As they play, kids get a feel for what archaeologists do as they experience the excitement of discovery and the creativity and skills involved in solving mysteries from the distant past.

Players select between two dig sites – each has a unique game that puts the player in the driver’s seat and requires using different archaeological skills. At Lod, you clear the dirt to uncover an ancient Roman period mosaic and then play a fast-paced quiz-style game using your smarts and powers of observation to identify and classify the animals and objects on the mosaic.

In the Qumran caves, you discover fragments of the 2,000 year-old Dead Sea Scrolls that you piece together in a puzzle game. Then you scan the scrolls to reveal their text more clearly, mirroring the advanced spectral imaging process performed by the IAA team in the laboratories.

Each site features Discoveries for you to uncover that tell you more about the story of the excavation and the artifacts you find. You can collect the artifacts and discoveries in your own Collection box.

Dig Quest Israel Logo Screen iPad

The game features:

  • 30+ levels in two unique games based on two world famous archaeological discoveries
  • 50+ images of stunning historical treasures
  • Amazing historical and archaeological facts and artifacts
  • Translated and spoken excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • A Collection box where players store artifacts and discoveries
  • An archaeologist character host, Gabe, inspired by real IAA archaeologists

The app is now available from the iTunes store. A 1-minute YouTube video provides a preview of the fun to be had. An Android version is planned for the future.

Dig Quest Israel Lod Mosaic iPad


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Roundup

I’m traveling this month, and this will be the last roundup before Thanksgiving. If you’re at SBL, come find us in the exhibition hall (booth #411).

Corinth’s Lechaion port has been discovered and it is impressively large.

The British Museum plans to allow you to print 3D artifacts at home.

Elad is appealing a ruling that prevents it from running the Jerusalem Archaeological Park along the southern end of the Temple Mount.

Brian M. Howell reviews Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage for Christianity Today.

With the resident of the Amphipolis Tomb now being studied, the excavation has been concluded.

Robert Cargill critiques Simcha Jacobovici’s claim that he discovered the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion. He concludes that it is “nothing but religious profiteering.” Another reviewer calls it a “sensationalist money-making scheme.”

Volume 2 of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Excavation Report is now available.

Leen Ritmeyer continues his series showing the Temple Mount through the ages, including during the times of Hezekiah and the Hasmoneans.

Ferrell Jenkins links to a video showing flash flooding in the Qumran area. He also notes some restoration work in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion.

Mari is being looted while under ISIS control.

The Wall Street Journal has a video about plans to open Carchemish to tourists in the spring. The site is only 60 feet away from the control of ISIS. (See here for the transcript.)

HT: Explorator, Ted Weis, Agade, Charles Savelle

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Citadel Moat and Kishle Opens Tonight

The Tower of David Museum is hosting an opening event this evening of the Citadel moat and the Kishle. The Kishle has served as a police station for the Israelis, Jordanians, British, Ottomans, and Romans. Some remains have been uncovered from the palace of King Herod. From the official website:

After many years that the Citadel moat was closed to the public, the southern part of Jerusalem's historic moat has been revived.  The ancient builders of the Citadel surrounded the fortress with a dry moat, the first line of defense against enemies.  As years passed, the moat served other purposes. It was a market place, a passage way and even a makeshift garbage dump. Excavations in the moat have exposed archaeological remains including an ancient quarry, a ritual bath from the Second Temple, a hewn water channel, secret passageways and a giant stone staircase and pools from the Hasmonean and Herodian eras.

The renewed moat also includes passage to a building that was closed for many years – The Kishla, the Ottoman Prison which was excavated over the last decade and contains remains detailing the history of Jerusalem, from the First Temple period to the establishment of the State.  The site is now being opened for group visits.  The domed building served as a prison for members of the pre-State underground and evidence of the period remains in a scratched inscription on the walls. Tours and cultural events will take place in the moat and the Kishle.

The public is invited to the opening of the Moat and the Kishle, enjoy music and refreshments. Entrance is free.

This posting indicates that the excavation director, Amit Reem, will be at the event. Guided tours in Hebrew will be available on upcoming Fridays in November for a reasonable charge. An article about the site was published in the Hebrew edition of Israel Hayom last week (page 29).

HT: Joseph Lauer

New City from Citadel of David, tb051908300

Citadel of David
Photo from Jerusalem

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Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 Batchelder Conference for Biblical Archaeology

The annual conference at the University of Nebraska Omaha has a number of interesting speakers and subjects. The conference runs from Thursday to Saturday and has a fee of only $10. Lectures include:

Jon Seligman, Villages and Monasteries in Jerusalem’s Hinterland during the Byzantine Period

Richard Freund, What Was Magdala in the Roman Period? An Archaeological Evaluation of the Evidence

James Tabor, From Qumran to Waco: The Dynamics of Messianism Ancient and Modern

J. Harold Ellens, Mari and the Bible

Mark Appold, Bethsaida Messianic Jews and Jerusalem Hellenists: Origins of the Earliest Christian Kerygma

David Jacobson, Hasmonean Coinage: Some Issues and Fresh Insights

Jerome Hall, Who Built the Kinneret Boat?

Harry Jol and others, Preliminary Ground-penetrating Radar Results from Explorations near the Ancient Anchorage of Kursi, Sea of Galilee, Israel

Phil Reeder, Using Maps as Research and Teaching Tools: Examples from Projects in Israel, Spain, and Poland

Rami Arav, The Origin of the Israelites and the Liminality Model

The full schedule is given here and the conference flyer is online here.

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