Sunday, July 31, 2011

Metropolitan Museum Returns 19 Objects to Egypt

On Tuesday, August 2, nineteen small objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will arrive in Egypt. The agreement to return the objects was negotiated in November 2010 when Zahi Hawass was Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, a post now held by Mohamed Abdel Maksoud. The objects come from the tomb of Tutankhamun and were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 20th century from the estate of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb.

The story is being reported in several outlets, including here and here and here.

HT: Jack Sasson

Lion Statue Found at Tell Tayinat, Turkey

Unreported Heritage News reports on a lion statue discovered at Tell Tayinat. The excavation season began June 21 and will continue through August. The basalt statue is 1.5 meters tall and weighs 2 tons and depicts a seated, roaring lion. So far, it seems only to have been reported in the Turkish media, and so we rely on images and Google Translate to sketch out some of the story.

The Tayinat Archaeological Project official website has some small photos at the bottom of their homepage. The dating of the statue is 9th-8th century B.C.

Turkish Journal has a still photograph of the statue being moved. (The Google translation is kind of dicey.)

Heberler has a five minute video of the lion being moved to the Antakya museum. At about 3:28 in the video, Timothy Harrison, the director of the Tayinat Archaeological Project, talks about the find to Turkish reporters via an interpreter. He states that they are excavating beneath the new temple which was discovered in 2008 (where the Esarhaddon treaty tablet was found). The lion apparently came from these earlier levels beneath the temple.

HT: Jack Sasson

UPDATE (Aug 9): The University of Toronto has now issued a press release on the lion statue.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Carchemish Outer Town Project, 2009-2010

In earlier posts (here and here), we noted plans to renew excavations at the site of Carchemish, perhaps even as early as this year. The ancient city straddles the modern Turkey-Syria border with the citadel and inner town in Turkey and most of the outer town in Syria.

A recent article at Antiquity's Project Gallery describes ongoing work on the Syrian side of Carchemish. Since 2006, Tony Wilkinson, a specialist in landscape archaeology, along with Edgar Peltenburg, has been conducting surveys of the Carchemish region as part of the Land of Carchemish (Syria) Project. In 2009, that project has expanded to include the site of Carchemish itself with the initiation of the Carchemish Outer Town Project. The Antiquity article provides a description and preliminary report on the 2009 and 2010 seasons of the Carchemish Outer Town Project. The project has been conducting surface surveys, photographing features, and utilizing remote sensing data to map out the site.

We determined that the outer town ramparts were much more substantial than Woolley had surmised....Artefacts collected during 2009 and 2010 indicate a dominance of ceramics contemporaneous with Iron Age 2 levels at other sites in the region...Most parallel types appear in later eighth- and seventh-century contexts on these sites...The main phase of occupation was later than that suggested in the original excavation reports; our material suggests that it derives mainly from the time when the city was under Assyrian control, namely after their installation of a governor in 717 BC until the conquest of the city by the Babylonians in 605 BC. The surface ceramics imply that the Assyrians were responsible for the enlargement of the city, and that Carchemish was more significant in that period than has been previously assumed. Evidence of occupation in the periods preceding the Iron Age consists of a handful of sherds of possibly Middle Bronze Age date. The post-Iron Age ceramics are represented by small amounts of Hellenistic and Roman wares, making it difficult to determine the scale of the settlement in these periods.

See the Antiquity article for photographs, maps and more details about the project.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Updates on the Horned Altar of Gath

In the cleaning of pottery found in the vicinity of the horned altar of Gath, archaeologists have discovered an inscription. Aren Maeir reports that several letters written in ink have been identified, including a mem (“m”).

Maeir has also posted a three-minute video about the two-horned altar in which he describes the context of the find, the date of its destruction, and the significance of the object.

The altar has now been removed from the site and is in the lab at Bar-Ilan University.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Youths Learn To Preserve Cultural Heritage

From the Jerusalem Post:

Alongside their photographs of the standard red rock scenery, the youngsters are also busy snapping close-ups of antique stones eroded by a mix of ecological elements, plant growth, air pollution, human hands and numerous other factors over thousands of years.

“It’s important that we see these places with our own eyes and take photos before it’s too late,” comments 17- year-old Lorna Cassar, who says she is most impressed with the intricate hand carvings on the outside of the instantly recognizable Petra treasury. “All these sites will eventually vanish because they are all under threat either from humans or biological factors; we must do our best to preserve them.”

While Cassar and the other nine Maltese students are only at the start of their journey to understanding how to preserve, conserve and protect such sites for future generations to enjoy, this growing appreciation for cultural heritage is exactly the premise of ELAICH (Educational Linkage Approach in Cultural Heritage), a regional project focused on the Mediterranean basin and funded primarily by the European Union’s Euromed Heritage 4 Program. The project’s central goal is to instill in young people an awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation.

“We do not expect them to become professionals in the fields of preservation, conservation, archeology or architecture, but we hope this course will give them basic theoretical knowledge so they can understand and appreciate what exactly cultural heritage is,” explains Dr. Anna Lobovikov-Katz, a senior lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at Haifa’s Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, and the brain behind ELAICH.

Lobovikov-Katz, who now coordinates the far-reaching, multifaceted project, has pulled together some of the region’s most renowned conservationists, archeologists, historical architects and other experts to share their detailed knowledge with young people from Israel, Turkey and Greece, as well as Malta and Jordan.

She notes that while the knowledge and tools used to preserve cultural heritage have greatly improved in recent years, public awareness of the importance of historical sites is still very low.

In a region rich with historic monuments that shed light on the secrets of past civilizations, failure to address this ignorance, especially in the next generation, could lead to cultural heritage sites disappearing along with the communities that originally built them.

“History is very fragile,” observes Roberta De Angelis, a trained conservationist based at the University of Malta, who worked with the Maltese students earlier this year to study a local parish church in Valletta as part of the ELAICH course there.

“As conservationists, we are very frustrated,” she says, as we make our way through the shaded gorge that leads visitors to and from Petra’s ruins. “People do not understand that we need to preserve these sites for future generations, and they think that because they cannot always see the erosion, there is nothing to worry about.”

The full story is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recording Released of Golden Bell of Jerusalem

A commenter on the previous post about the discovery of the golden bell in Jerusalem alleged that the archaeologists’ interpretation of the find was influenced by ideological concerns and that the object was not a bell at all.

Independent Media Review Analysis (IMRA) has now released a recording of the bell.


This is the tiny golden bell which was lost in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago during the Second Temple period found among ruins near the Old City. The bell, which is thought to have been an adornment which was sewn onto the garments of a senior official, was uncovered during excavation work on a drainage channel in the City of David, just south of the Old City walls. "It seems the bell was sewn on the garment worn by a high official in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period," an IAA statement said.

The recording of the bell provided by Udi Ragones, Ir David Foundation Spokesman.

[IMRA: IMRA has requested a sound file of the bell. If one takes the sound of the single bell and prepares a series of staggered overlays of the sound of the bell it will be possible to recreate what was heard over two thousand years ago when the high official walked in Jerusalem.]

HT: Joseph Lauer

Labels: ,

Israeli Returns Ossuary to IAA

From Haaretz:

A Tel Aviv resident returned a Second Temple period artifact to the Antiquities Authority after realizing the item was an ossuary.

The man, who works in the field of art and design, contacted the authority inspectors at his own initiative, saying he purchased the ossuary from an antiquities dealer some time ago. He told them he kept the ancient artifact in his bedroom, until one of his friends told him this was a small coffin used to store bones a year after the burial. He said he was repelled by the thought that he slept with a coffin in his room.

The full story is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Sea of Galilee and Lake Michigan Become “Sister Lakes”

From the Jerusalem Post:

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and National Infrastructures Minister Dr. Uzi Landau signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Jerusalem on Sunday establishing a “Sister Lakes” relationship between Lake Michigan and the Kinneret, to foster an educational exchange for research toward maintaining the two very critical bodies of water.

Some issues of common interest between the two leaders include maintaining water quality, preserving fisheries, eliminating harmful invasive species, curbing algal proliferation and keeping water levels high – all of which are crucial to supplying ample water to the respective populations, the officials said.

The full story is here.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Philistine Two-Horned Altar from Tell es-Safi

Aren Maeir reports today on the Tell es-Safi/Gath blog that a two-horned altar was discovered about one-and-a-half weeks ago at Tell es-Safi. It was found in a destruction level dated to the 9th century and attributed to Hazael, the king of Damascus.
1) It is the earliest stone altar from Philistia, a precursor of the many stone altars that are known from 7th century Tel Miqne-Ekron.

2) It is one of the largest altars known (save for the Tel Sheva altar [which though is made of many stones] and an altar from Ekron which was found out of context).

3) It is one of the earliest such altars from the Iron Age, save for those from Megiddo which are late 10th-9th cent. BCE.

4) It has TWO and not four horns – quite unusual for such altars. This is VERY interesting, since this may very well confirm a theory put forward by our team member Louise Hitchcock that there is a connection between the Minoan/Cypriote “Horns of Consecration” and the horned altars – perhaps brought by the Philistines.

5) Its dimensions are virtually identical to the dimensions of the incense altar in the biblical tabernacle (1X1X2 cubit) in Exodus 30!

6) Quite surprisingly, the back part of the altar, and part of the top is unfinished! While the back part might have been “built-in” to a niche behind it (and this could explain the unfinished parts) the top is hard to explain.

7) No evidence of burning or residues were found on top of the altar, although a very nice Cypriote “Black on Red” flask was found right near it. Perhaps it originally stood on top of the altar!

8) Surrounding the altar we found large concentrations of various types of vessels and several concentrations of astragali.

For more details and several photos of the altar's discovery, read Aren's full announcement.

UPDATE: Joe Lauer sends along notice that the Foundation Stone website has a photo showing the newly discovered altar from another angle. There is also information about a radio interview with Aren Maeir on the LandMinds show, set to broadcast on Wednesday.

Recent Excavations at Shechem


Working on an urban lot that long served residents of Nablus as an unofficial dump for garbage and old car parts, Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists are learning more about the ancient city of Shekhem -- and preparing to open the site to the public as an archaeological park next year.

The project, carried out under the auspices of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, also aims to introduce the Palestinians of Nablus, who have been beset for much of the past decade by bloodshed and isolation, to the wealth of antiquities in the middle of their city.

"The local population has started very well to understand the value of the site, not only the historical value, but also the value for their own identity," said Gerrit van der Kooij of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who co-directs the dig team.

"The local people have to feel responsible for the archaeological heritage in their neighborhood," he said.

The digging season wrapped up this week at the site, known locally as Tel Balata.

The full story is here. I’m less optimistic than the archaeologists that the local people will care for the archaeological heritage or take the steps necessary to encourage tourism.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Golden Bell Discovered in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post:

A golden bell ornament that archeologists believed belonged to a priest or important leader from the Second Temple period, was found in an ancient drainage channel in ruins next to the Western Wall on Thursday, the Antiquities Authority announced.

The small bell, which has a loop for attaching to clothing or jewelry, was found underneath Robinson’s Arch. The area underneath the arch was formerly the central road of Jerusalem, which led from the Shiloah Pools in the City of David to the Old City and the Temple Mount.

The excavations were led by the Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and financed by the City of David Foundation, which runs the archeological park across the street.

“It seems the bell was sewn on the garment worn by a high official in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period (first century CE),” the excavation’s lead archeologists, the Antiquities Authority’s Eli Shukron and Prof. Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, said in a statement. “The bell was exposed inside Jerusalem’s main drainage channel at that time, among the layers of earth that had accumulated along the bottom of it.”

They believed that the bell fell off the official’s clothing while he was walking along the road and rolled into the drainage channel, where it has sat for nearly 2,000 years.

The story continues with the biblical verse that is the basis for the archaeologists’ claim that this was part of the high priest’s garments. James Davila questions the priestly connection. A large photograph of the object is posted at Leen Ritmeyer has posted an illustration of the high priest’s garments.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Khirbet el-Maqatir 2011 Report

With the absence of Bryant Wood from this year’s excavation, Gary Byers directed the team working at Khirbet el-Maqatir, a site proposed to be biblical Ai of Joshua’s time. Byers has summarized the findings of the season:

This year’s focus was three different time periods in three different parts of the site.

1.) The 4th-6th century AD Byzantine monastery on the rise to the northwest

2.) The 2nd century BC through 2nd century AD Hellenistic/Roman settlement on the low rise to the northeast

3.) Our major focus and the reason for choosing Khirbet el-Maqatir in the first place, the 15th century BC fortress of Ai from Joshua’s time in the saddle between these other two sets of ruins

To our disappointment, three squares which we hoped would identify remains of city walls or interior structures from Joshua’s time went to bedrock without finding any architecture of significance. But in the other nine squares, we found interesting material related to our other two focus periods.

Unfortunately, for the first time since we began excavating at Khirbet el-Maqatir, Dr. Bryant Wood was not in the field with us. He was home recouping from a recent stem cell transplant procedure and chemotherapy. His health continues to improve and his spirits are good. (Please continue to lift him up in prayer). But this year he is getting his information from square supervisor reports and analysis, back home, of the objects and pottery we found.

This writer was with Dr. Wood when he first stepped on the site in 1994, and has participated with him in every dig season since. Consequently, it was my responsibility to lead the team in his absence. Every digger understood the situation and did their part to make things run smoothly. Of course, without Dr. Wood, it didn’t (!), but excavation results were still quite meaningful – no doubt empowered by the prayer support of folks back home.

Our major interest in Khirbet el-Maqatir is the fortress of Ai from Joshua’s time. That period is also my special area of interest, so no one was any more disappointed than I when we did not find any architecture associated with Joshua’s Ai. I have been known to suggest that the Hasmonean, Roman and Byzantine periods are just modern history and not that interesting! But this year’s finds from these periods actually turned out to be pretty interesting, even to me.

The report continues with descriptions of the discoveries related to the Byzantine church, the Hellenistic-Roman settlement, and the 15th century BC fortress.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zahi Hawass Fired as Egypt's Antiquities Minister

From the Associated Press:

Egypt’s antiquities minister, whose trademark Indiana Jones hat made him one the country’s best known figures around the world, was fired Sunday after months of pressure from critics who attacked his credibility and accused him of having been too close to the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Zahi Hawass, long chided as publicity loving and short on scientific knowledge, lost his job along with about a dozen other ministers in a Cabinet reshuffle meant to ease pressure from protesters seeking to purge remnants of Mubarak’s regime.

“He was the Mubarak of antiquities,” said Nora Shalaby, an activist and archaeologist. “He acted as if he owned Egypt’s antiquities, and not that they belonged to the people of Egypt.”

The story reviews why the media loves him and why some others do not.

If this sounds all too familiar, see this March report. Be watching for word of a book deal.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Archaeological Exhibit Opens at Hebrew U, 63 Years Later

From Haaretz:

Painted tiles from an impressive ancient synagogue in Syria, along with other archaeological artifacts, went on display on Mount Scopus last month - after a 63-year delay.

The exhibits were originally intended to be shown to the public on Mount Scopus in 1948, but the outbreak of the War of Independence froze plans to open the nearly-completed museum built there. The exhibits were placed in drawers for decades and became accessible to the public only last month.

Among the artifacts are tiles from the ancient synagogue discovered in the city of Dura Europos, which is located in the Syrian desert above the banks of the Euphrates. To this day - about 80 years after its discovery - this 3rd century synagogue is considered one of the most complete and impressive examples of Jewish religious structures from that period.

The article gives more of the story behind the long delay in opening the exhibit.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Egyptian mummies are cool again.

Eretz magazine recalls the magnificent discovery fifty years ago of the Cave of the Treasure with its 429 copper objects from the 4th millennium BC.

Leon Mauldin has been circling the Old City of Jerusalem, posting photos and descriptions about each of Jerusalem’s gates: Golden Gate, Herod’s Gate/Flower Gate, St. Stephen’s Gate/Lion Gate, Zion Gate, and most recently, the Huldah Gate.

Al-Ahram Weekly reviews the major finds of the season in Aswan, Luxor, and Alexandria.

U.S. officials have broken up a ring of smugglers that was bringing Egyptian antiquities into the U.S.

The ASOR Blog has its weekly review of major archaeological stories around the world.

All journals published by the University of Cambridge are open for free access to the public for the next six weeks.

Israel is opening its baptismal site on the Jordan River. Again. I’m sure we’ve had this story at least twice before. Maybe this is a brilliant marketing strategy: keep faking the grand opening.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Alleged Destruction of Antiquities at Ein Kerem

From Haaretz:

Have the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality buried treasures from the Second Temple under a giant lavatory? That possibility is just one of the problems cited by opponents of a plan to improve a spring in the city's Ein Karem neighborhood, at one of Israel's most important Christian tourism sites.

The spring is the fourth most important site in the Holy Land to Christian pilgrims, after Jerusalem's Old City, Bethlehem and Nazareth, and about one million people visit it each year. According to Christian tradition, this is the place where Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother, and Mary, Jesus' mother, met when both women were pregnant. But for the last two years, these visitors have been greeted by the adjacent sight of a huge, sealed building that, according to the approved plan, is supposed to serve as a public lavatory and a municipal warehouse for gardening tools.


But perhaps worst of all was the handling of the site's archaeological relics. A salvage dig conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered ancient water systems that carried water from the spring to terraces on the wadi. This led the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Naomi Tsur, to call a meeting in November 2009 to discuss how these relics could be preserved. The meeting, attended by Tourism Ministry and Antiquities Authority representatives, decided to freeze construction of the building and look into building an archaeological park there instead.

But on the very day the meeting was held, the tourist corporation's vice president, David Mingelgreen, sent the municipality a letter saying that, for reasons unknown, all the archaeological findings had been buried under tons of earth the day before. Thus, by the time the meeting occurred, there was nothing left to salvage.

From his letter, Mingelgreen appeared to view the findings as a nuisance. "The goal is to refrain as far as possible from work that will require archaeological digs," he wrote.

There is more here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Philistines of Gath and Their Temple

From the Jerusalem Post:

The word Philistine has come to denote boorishness, an underdeveloped sense of beauty and sophistication, and vulgar materialism.

But remnants of an ancient Philistine hub now being excavated in the ancient city of Gath tell a different story: one of an advanced society boasting sophisticated architecture and an advanced political life.

Excavators of Tell es-Safi/Gath, one of Israel’s largest archeological sites, resume work this week in search of further remnants of a Philistine temple believed to have been toppled by an earthquake in 8th century BCE – an event familiar to millions the world over through the biblical story of Samson.

The temple was discovered a year ago by a team led by Prof.
Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan’s University’s Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. Dating back to the Iron Age (10th century BCE), it features two central pillars in accordance with the image described in the story of Samson in the Book of Judges: “He pulled the two pillars together, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.”

The team has also uncovered collapsed walls that appear to date from an earthquake in the 8th century BCE – an event that could be identical to the earthquake prophesized by the prophet Amos.

The full story is here. On his blog, Aren Maeir is posting daily updates of the excavations.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

Archaeologist Aren Maeir is interviewed on Fox News about the significance of his excavations of Philistine Gath.

Eilat Mazar is interviewed on the Book and the Spade about her discovery of the “walls of Solomon.”

Joe Zias has responded to Simcha Jacobovici’s 46-page defense of his “nails of the cross” “documentary.”

Leen Ritmeyer explains why he finds implausible the recent proposal by Finkelstein, Koch, and Lipschits that ancient Jerusalem was centered on the Temple Mount.

Some people are unhappy over an amendment to the Antiquities Authority Law which will allow the government minister to appoint the board members.

The famous city of Capernaum is explored in the most recent column by Wayne Stiles at the Jerusalem Post.

The excavations of Sidon are profiled in the Daily Star.

According to the New York Times, Egyptian antiquities minister requires $15,000 per speaking engagement and makes up to $200,000 a year as an “explorer-in-residence” for National Geographic. I don’t know what workers under Hawass earn, but he probably makes more than the collective salaries of hundreds of them.

A Polish visitor to Israel has successfully “walked on water” after four days of practice and fifty failed attempts using a kite and surfboard.

HT: Jack Sasson

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lecture Series in OKC

The “Passages” exhibit in Oklahoma City (noted here in May) has announced a series of free lectures weekly on Tuesday evenings, to be held in the Noble Theater at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. on the days listed.

• July 19: David Lyle Jeffrey, Ph.D., Baylor University, “Beyond the Renaissance: Critical Texts and Bible Translation.

• July 26: Peter Flint, Ph.D., Canada research chair in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, “The Contents and Challenges of the Dead Sea Biblical Scrolls.”

• Aug. 9: Gordon Campbell, Ph.D., University of Leicester, United Kingdom, “The Making of a Bible Classic: The Translation of the King James Bible.

• Aug. 16: Edwin Yamauchi, Ph.D., Miami (Fla.) University, “The Greatest Archaeological Discoveries and the Old Testament.

• Aug. 23: Scott Carroll, Ph.D., director of the Green Collection, “The Green Collection: Scientific Breakthroughs and Bible Translation.

• Sept. 6: Scot McKendrick, Ph.D., British Library, “Manuscript Discoveries and Bible Translation.

• Sept. 13: Dirk Obbink, Ph.D., Oxford University, “Papyri Discoveries and Bible Translation.

• Sept. 20: Alister McGrath, Ph.D., King's College, United Kingdom, “What Do William Tyndale and C.S. Lewis Have in Common.

• Sept. 27: Ralph Hanna, Ph.D., Oxford University, “Richard Rolle's Impact on the English Bible.

• Oct. 4: Jerry Pattengale, Ph.D., director of the Green Scholars Initiative, “Answers to New Theories Regarding How We Got the Bible.

• Oct. 11: Robert Cooley, Ph.D., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “The Greatest Archaeological Discoveries and the New Testament.

More details are available in this article at NewsOK as well as at the official website.

HT: Jack Sasson


Monday, July 11, 2011

Discovery: Ancient Sabbath Boundary Inscription in Galilee

From the Jerusalem Post:

An ancient rock inscription of the word “Shabbat” was uncovered near Lake Kinneret this week – the first and only discovery of a stone Shabbat boundary in Hebrew.

The etching in the Lower Galilee community of Timrat appears to date from the Roman or Byzantine period.

News of the inscription, discovered by chance Sunday by a visitor strolling the community grounds, quickly reached Mordechai Aviam, head of the Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret College.

“This is the first time we’ve found a Shabbat boundary inscription in Hebrew,” he said. “The letters are so clear that there is no doubt that the word is ‘Shabbat.’”

Aviam said Jews living in the area in the Roman or Byzantine era (1st-7th centuries CE) likely used the stone to denote bounds within which Jews could travel on Shabbat. The Lower Galilee of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages had a Jewish majority – many of the Talmudic sages bore toponyms indicative of Galilee communities.

The Jerusalem Post report continues here and includes a photograph of the inscription. Timrat is located about 4 miles (6 km) west of Nazareth.

The BibleWalks Blog has the story of the discovery, more photographs, and directions to the inscription.

Labels: ,

Proposal: City of David (Almost) Never in Jerusalem

In a new article in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (11/12), Israel Finkelstein, Ido Koch, and Oded Lipschits propose that the city of Jerusalem only rarely included the “City of David” ridge south of the Temple Mount. The article, available in pdf format, begins with these paragraphs:

The conventional wisdom regards the City of David ridge as the original mound of Jerusalem. Yet, intensive archaeological research in the last century—with excavations in many parts of the ca. six hectares ridge (see Fig. 1), has proven that between the Middle Bronze Age and Roman times, this site was fully occupied only in two relatively short periods: in the Iron Age IIB-C (between ca. the mid-eighth century and 586 B.C.E.) and in the late Hellenistic period (starting in the second half of the second century B.C.E.). Occupation in other periods was partial and sparse—and concentrated mainly in the central sector of the ridge, near and above the Gihon spring. This presented scholars with a problem regarding periods for which there is either textual documentation or circumstantial evidence for significant occupation in Jerusalem; we refer mainly to the Late Bronze Age, the Iron IIA and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods.

Scholars attempted to address this problem in regard to a specific period. Na'aman (2010a) argued that the Late Bronze city-states are underrepresented in the archaeological record also in other places; A. Mazar (2006; 2010) advocated the “glass half full” approach, according to which with all difficulties, the fragmentary evidence in the City of David is enough to attest to a meaningful settlement even in periods of weak activity; one of us (Lipschits 2009) argued for enough spots with Persian Period finds on the ridge; another author of this paper (Finkelstein 2008) maintained that the weak archaeological signal from the late Iron I—early Iron IIA (the tenth century B.C.E.) and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods reflects the actual situation in Jerusalem—which was only sparsely populated in these periods. Still one must admit that the bigger problem—of many centuries in the history of Jerusalem with only meager finds—has not been resolved.

In what follows we wish to put forward a solution to this riddle. Following the suggestion of Knauf (2000) regarding the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I, we raise the possibility that similar to other hilly sites, the mound of Jerusalem was located on the summit of the ridge, in the center of the area that was boxed-in under the Herodian platform in the late first century B.C.E. Accordingly, in most periods until the second century B.C.E. the City of David ridge was outside the city. Remains representing the Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron IIA, and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods were found mainly in the central part of this ridge. They include scatters of sherds but seldom the remains of buildings, and hence seem to represent no more than (usually ephemeral) activity near the spring. In two periods—in the second half of the eighth century and in the second half of the second century B.C.E.—the settlement rapidly (and simultaneously) expanded from the mound on the Temple Mount to both the southeastern ridge (the City of David) and the southwestern hill (today’s Jewish and Armenian quarters).

The theory of “the mound on the Mount” cannot be proven without excavations on the Temple Mount or its eastern slope—something that is not feasible in the foreseen future....In other words, for clear reasons—the inability to check our hypothesis in the field—we cannot present a well-based solution for the “problem with Jerusalem.” Rather, our goal in this paper is to put this theory on the table of scholarly discussion.

Three objections come immediately to mind: (1) the biblical problem is that 2 Samuel and 1 Kings indicate that the city was near the Gihon spring and later expanded to include the Temple Mount (2 Sam 5:8; 24:18-25; 1 Kgs 1:33-45); (2) the logical problem is that such a proposed city would not have included a water source; (3) the archaeological problem is that the Gihon Spring is surrounded by massive fortifications. The authors dismiss these finds as a “riddle,” but in fact they are compelling evidence against the thesis of this article. The traditional view that the City of David was the original core of Jerusalem explains all of the evidence in a more satisfactory way.

Pool Tower from east, tb110705606

The Pool Tower, near the Gihon Spring, built in the Middle Bronze period.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weekend Roundup #2

X-ray analysis may help scholars to determine where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written.

Christopher Rollston has posted his detailed observations about the Mariam-Yeshua-Caiaphas ossuary. Among other things, he suggests that Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah preserves the name of Caiaphas.

Israel has 6,000 miles of trails. A new article at Israel’s MFA describes some of Israel’s favorite hikes, including the Israel Trail, the Burma Road, Nahal Ammud, Nahal Darga, Nahal Yehudiya, Wadi Qilt, and Mount Zephahot. Some courageous tour guide should offer a two-week tour of these fabulous trails.

The Jewish Magazine has a post about Khirbet Karta, the ruins of a Crusader castle near Atlit.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is offering “Dig Into History: An Archaeology Experience Camp for Adults” in July and August.

Israel’s History – a Picture a Day: This new blog presents images taken in the late 1800s or early 1900s, primarily from the collections of the Library of Congress. (Some of these photographs will be familiar to users of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.)

Jerusalem Post: “A leader of Egypt’s most influential secular party…said American soldiers ‘with double Israeli nationality and Jewish religion’ stole Jewish antiquities from the Babylonian exile period and reburied them in Jerusalem to cement their historical claim on the city.” At least he’s not denying that Jewish antiquities have been discovered in Jerusalem.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Weekend Roundup #1

Archaeologists are saying that they found the best-preserved Israelite building in excavations at Tel Shikmona near Haifa. In addition to the 9th-8th century BC four-room house, excavators also found a seal with an inscription in Hebrew or Phoenician. The University of Haifa press release has more photos.

That oil spill in Nahal Zin has become Israel’s worst-ever environmental disaster. This week the government ordered the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company to halt clean-up because they were only making the problem worse.

Tel Burna Archaeological Project has some post-season balloon photos of the site and excavations. Click on the images for high-resolution. It’s amazing what lies just below the surface.

Several significant discoveries were made in Egypt in recent days, including the first Roman basilica in Alexandria, a gate from 700 BC near the Karnak Temple, and a depiction of the king from Dynasty 0.

The PEF has posted several dozen photos of Qumran from the excavations in the 1950s. The collection posted at Flickr combines old views with their modern counterparts. More details about the images are posted at the PEF site.

HT: Paleojudaica

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 08, 2011

AP Profile of Excavations of Philistine Gath

Excavations of the Philistine city of Gath (Tell es-Safi) began this week, and Associated Press writer Matti Friedman visited the site with photographer Ariel Schalit. Their profile of the site’s importance and its connection to the Philistines in history is well-written. From the article’s conclusion:

One intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars. Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath have also found shards preserving names similar to Goliath — an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites. These finds show the Philistines indeed used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.

The findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period, Maeir said — the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him, but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time,” Maeir said.

The full story is here. Larger versions of the seven photographs may be found here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Gath, Tell es-Safi, from north, tb022807582

Gath from the north

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 07, 2011

CNN on Archaeology’s 10th-Century Debate

CNN has a four-minute report on Khirbet Qeiyafa’s contribution to the 10th-century debate. As with most of these matters prepared for public consumption, it is assumed that no one will pay attention to the piece unless the subject is sensationalized, the reporter interrupts the archaeologist, and it begins with a silly unrelated introduction that made me wonder if this is the effect of affirmative action in the TV world. (But does using an Egyptian female for the unintelligent parts help or hurt the cause?)

Garfinkel is on camera claiming that his site is one of only three main cities in the kingdom of David: Jerusalem, Hebron, and Qeiyafa. Don’t believe it for a second.

The CNN title of the video, “Finding the City of David,” and the tagline is inaccurate: “Archaeologists in Israel believe they have found the remains of the legendary City of David.” The story has nothing to do with the “city of David” (Jerusalem), but is all about one border site which appears to date from David’s lifetime. It is hardly legendary. Since the mistake will increase viewers, I wonder if it was unintentional and I doubt it will be corrected.

There seems to be no way to embed the video, so you’ll need to click through to watch it.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Archaeological Articles on Jerusalem

The Bible and Interpretation has posted a new section that collects articles written in the last several years related to the archaeology of Jerusalem. If you missed any of them, this might be a good chance to catch up.

Jerusalem Syndrome in Archaeology By Yuval Goren

Jerusalem in the 10th / 9th centuries BC By Margreet Steiner

The Final Days of Jesus: What Can Archaeology Tell Us? By Shimon Gibson

Was Jerusalem a Trade Center in the Late Iron Age? By Juan Manuel Tebes

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem During the First Temple Period: An Archaeologist's View By David Ussishkin

Identifying King David's Palace: Mazar's Flawed Reading of the Biblical Text By Todd Bolen

The Persian conquest of Jerusalem (614 CE) - An Archaeological Assessment By Gideon Avni


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Special Offer for Archaeology Magazines (Electronic)

I hesitate to mention a special of the Biblical Archaeology Society here because if you have ever taken advantage of one of their offers (such as the recent free download of the book of interviews with Frank Moore Cross), then you have likely been added to their email list with its frequent mailings. But in case you have not, or if those emails end up in a folder that you do not read, this seems to be a very good offer for past issues of their three magazines, plus a fourth archaeology magazine published by ASOR.

Biblical Archaeology Review: The Archive (1975-2005)
Now $80.97 with 40% off. (Reg. $134.95) [186 issues; $.43/issue]

Bible Review: The Complete Archive (1985-2005)
Now $59.97 with 40% off. (Reg. $99.95) [126 issues; $.48/issue]

Archaeology Odyssey: The Complete Archive (1998-2005)
Now $35.97 with 40% off. (Reg. $59.95) Complete contents listed here. [64 issues; $.56/issue]

Biblical Archaeologist: The Complete Archive (1938-1998)
Now $89.97 with 40% off. (Reg. $149.95) [240 issues; $.37/issue]

These collections all run in the Logos software program (included), and the BAR set is also on sale in Accordance format ($75). Shipping is $7 in the US.

These discounted prices end on Thursday, July 7, at 5 p.m. Eastern time.


Excavation Report of Possible Tomb of Maccabees

Has the family tomb of the Maccabees been discovered? An Israeli archaeologist who studied a site near Modi'in answers positively. The report in Hadashot Arkheologiyot is rather long and somewhat technical. I have selected some of the more interesting sections.

Horbat Ha-Gardi – one of the sites identified with the Tomb of the Maccabees – is located c. 3 km northwest of the town of Modi‘in (Fig. 1), next to the settlement of Mevo Modi‘in and alongside a dirt track (the patrol road) leading north. The site looks out to the west toward the Shephelah and the Mediterranean Sea; to the east is Nahal Modi‘in, on whose eastern bank, opposite the ruin, the village of El-Midya is located.


The ruin consists of two sites (Fig. 2): the tomb of Sheikh Gharbawi (Fig. 3) and 18 m to the north, the remains of a magnificent structure (below), which the local villagers refer to as al-Qala‘a (the fortress). Horbat Ha-Gardi is the northern of three ruins; the other two being Khirbat Hammam and Kabur el-Yahud (Tombs of the Jews), which extend across the ridge that borders Nahal Modi‘in on the west (see Fig. 1).


The myth of the Maccabees, identifying ancient Modi‘in – the seat of the Maccabees, the place where the revolt against the Greeks broke out in 167 BCE and especially the family tomb where they were interred – attracted the first scholars of the Land of Israel to the region in the nineteenth century. What they had in mind was the tomb, described in detail in I Maccabees (13:27–30) and in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus of the first century CE, in Antiquities of the Jews (XIII, 211–213). The church fathers Eusebius and Hieronymus also describe Modi‘in and the tomb monument. The tomb also appears on the Madaba Map of the sixth century CE. We know from historical sources that Modi‘in was situated close to Lod (Diospolis), on the main road leading from the Shephelah up to Jerusalem.


Clermont-Ganneau did not rule out the possibly that unequivocal evidence will be found in the future, indicating that the site is the burial place of the Maccabees. He also added that “this structure was probably built by the Christians to commemorate the burial place of the holy Maccabees.”

Lieutenant Claude Reignier Conder visited the site in 1873 on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Society. He was impressed with the structure and declared that he had never seen a building identical to this in his explorations around the country (C.R. Conder 1873. Jerusalem and El Midyeh. PEQ 5:94). He returned to the site in 1874, accompanied by Charles Tyrwhitt Drake, an English scholar who was also a member of the British research expedition. Drake, who sketched a reconstruction of the tombs, stated decisively, “In my opinion there is no doubt that these are the tombs of the Maccabees” (T. Drake 1874. Mr. Tyrwhitt Drake’s Report. PEQ 6:78).


It should be noted that modern scholars tend to identify Horbat Ha-Gardi with the family burial compound of the Maccabees, or at least with the spot where the grave was marked in the Byzantine period; however, this determination is a wishful thinking, based on circumstantial evidence rather than on clear archaeological findings.


The task of the current expedition was to relocate the structure, which was exposed by the nineteenth-century scholars and inspect its remains. The illustrations and maps prepared by Guérin and Clermont-Ganneau aided in locating the magnificent structure relative to the sheikh’s tomb and the eastern burial chamber inside it (No. 1).


The nature of the structure and its dating are still unclear. Although the test was superficial and limited and did not include a proper archaeological excavation, methodological assumptions, some of which had already been raised in the past, can be introduced, based on the test and an analysis of the findings. 
1. The dimensions of the structure are much larger than those revealed by the nineteenth-century scholars; they include additional sections that extend across an area of 6 dunams, although it is not yet clear if these sections belong to one complex or to a single period.
2. The quality of the construction and the size of the funerary structure are uncommon in ancient architecture and are unparalleled in the tombs known at Modi‘in and its vicinity, testifying to its importance....The remains can evince a tomb of magnificent splendor, built according to the best Jewish tradition, i.e., a rock-hewn tomb, a patrimony in which changes were made over the course of generations.


8. The size of the site, its plan, location, the nature of its construction and the architectural elements incorporated in it, are consistent with the descriptions of the tomb that appear in the Book of Maccabees and in Josephus.

The circumstantial archaeological evidence underlines the possibility of identifying Horbat Ha-Gardi with the family tomb of the Maccabees, or at least with the marking of the tomb in the Byzantine period. A proper and systematic archaeological excavation of the site will provide answers that either confirm or refute the identification of the site.

The report includes 20 illustrations including a location map, a site plan, and the author’s reconstruction of the structure.

HT: Roi Brit


Monday, July 04, 2011

Prison on Ruins of Herod’s Palace Opened Briefly

Those in Jerusalem this month have a rare opportunity to visit the Kishle prison inside Jerusalem’s Old City. For two thousand years, this site atop Jerusalem’s Western Hill has served the city’s rulers as a fortress and police station. King Herod’s palace was constructed on the site and guarded by three towers. After the Romans destroyed the palace, the Tenth Roman Legion placed their encampment on the site. The Ottoman rulers constructed the present prison in the 1800s, and the British occupiers continued its use. From 1948 to 1967 the Jordanians used the site as a police station, and the Israelis have followed suit. According to the AP article, the jail has never been open to visitors.

An old Turkish prison in Jerusalem is briefly opening to the public this weekend, allowing visitors a rare glimpse inside an infamous local landmark.


Israeli archaeologists dug underneath the Kishle a decade ago and found important remains dating back nearly three millennia, including walls built by King Herod and medieval facilities for dyeing fabric.

"On this tiny spot we have the whole story of Jerusalem, from the Judean kings to the British mandate," said Amit Re'em, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who excavated the Kishle.

The prison sits next to the Tower of David, an ancient fortress on the western flank of Jerusalem's Old City. The tower complex, used as a stronghold and palace by Herod, early Muslim rulers, Crusaders and the Jordanian army, among others, is now a museum dedicated to Jerusalem's history.

The full story is here.

If I was in Jerusalem this month, I’d get a group together and hire an expert like Gabriel Barkay or Shimon Gibson to give an archaeological tour.

HT: The Bible and Interpretation

Police station Kishleh in Armenian Quarter, tb042403893

Kishle police station from north

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Weekend Roundup #2

The outgoing chairman of UNESCO's Israel World Heritage Committee discusses the value and potential problems of adding historic sites to the World Heritage list.

The Jerusalem Post has updated their article on the Miriam-Yeshua-Caiaphas ossuary with a 2.5 minute video, including an interview with the archaeologist. They expect to put the ossuary on display in a museum in the near future.

Hundreds of decorated blocks were found recently at Tanis, Egypt, the site where Indiana Jones found the ark of the covenant.

After five years of restoration work, the 1.6-mile (2.7-km) long Avenue of the Sphinxes connecting the Luxor Temple with the Karnak Temple will be opened in October.

In his May/June edition of the Archaeology in Israel Update, Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg reviews the excavations of 10th century “Bethsaida,” the 70th anniversary of the Hebrew University Museum, the discovery of a Byzantine building in Acco, a salvage excavation at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem’s Old City, and the arrest of an American professor for selling antiquities in Israel.

Eisenbrauns has posted notice of publication of Unearthing Jerusalem: 150 Years of Archaeological Research in the Holy City. Edited by Gideon Avni and Katharina Galor. 520 pages! Due out in November.

Also listed but without an expected publication date is a new work by Eilat Mazar, Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem. Like most of this archaeologist’s books on Jerusalem, it is self-published.

The IAA continues to post back issues of ‘Atiqot online.

The winery of Psagot north of Jerusalem stores its barrels in a cave used for wine-making in the first century.

Ray Vander Laan has a new website featuring clips from his most recent Faith Lessons videos.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Weekend Roundup #1

The Tel Burna Excavation has a season wrap-up, noting discoveries especially from the 13th, 8th, and 7th centuries. The previous post features many photos.

Robert Cargill explains what the “Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas” inscription means as well as what it does not mean.

The first piece of oil shale was extracted this week from a drilling site in the Elah Valley. The site of David’s victory over Goliath could become the place where Israel achieves oil independence.

Wayne Stiles explains the pagan and biblical significance of Caesarea Philippi.

Danny Herman leads viewers on a video tour of the Hasmonean channel in the Western Wall Tunnels.

Google Earth, circa 1570” is an article at Haaretz about the reprint of a 16th century book with 363 colored historical maps.

ASOR has a roundup of news throughout the world of archaeology. If there’s not enough there to satisfy you, see also the lengthy list published last week.

The Biblical Archaeology Society can tell you what’s brand new and most popular this week.

Tomorrow we’ll have links to more stories from this past week.

Labels: , , ,