Saturday, September 26, 2015

Weekend Roundup

In Pompeii, a pre-Roman tomb dating to 4 B.C. has been found in perfect condition by French archaeologists.

A newly discovered tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh preserves nearly twenty lines previously unknown.

The UNC Charlotte magazine features a story on the Mount Zion excavation.

Eldad Keynan examines a unique mikveh in Upper Galilee—one with a cross inscribed on the wall.

Dr. Ben Witherington paid a visit to the Greco-Roman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago and demonstrates how artifacts illuminate our understanding of the New Testament.

Why study biblical geography? Barry Britnell suggests one, two, and three reasons.

Bryant Wood reexamines the blockage of the Jordan River.

Ferrell Jenkins explains the significance of Adullam and shares several photos of the cave.

The Virtual World Project presents interactive virtual tours of archaeological sites in Israel and Jordan. The project is designed to aid in the teaching and study of antiquity.” There’s some background here.

“Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC) in Istanbul has begun an exhibition celebrating the immense contribution of John Garstang, a British scholar, on archaeology in Turkey.”

With only 2,000 gazelle remaining in Israel, the species will probably be classified as endangered.

Logos has pre-publication pricing on a new video course, AR101 Archaeology in Action: Biblical Archaeology in the Field ($50).

The early bird discount for Wayne Stiles’s Holy Land Tour ends on Monday.

HT: Agade, Ted Weis, Chris McKinny, David Bivin

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Seal from Time of David Discovered in Temple Mount Debris

Archaeologists have been sifting debris discarded from illegal excavations on the Temple Mount for more than a decade now. Yesterday they announced the discovery of a seal dating to the 10th century BC. From a press release from the Temple Mount Sifting Project:

“The seal is the first of its kind to be found in Jerusalem,” stated Dr. Gabriel Barkay, the co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. “The dating of the seal corresponds to the historical period of the Jebusites and the conquest of Jerusalem by King David, as well as the construction of the Temple and the royal official compound by his son, King Solomon… What makes this discovery particularly significant is that it originated from upon the Temple Mount itself.”

The seal was discovered by Matvei Tcepliaev, a ten year old boy, visiting the Temple Mount Sifting Project from Russia, and was only recently deciphered by archeologists. Since the project’s inception in 2004, more than 170,000 volunteers from Israel and around the world have taken part in the sifting, representing an unprecedented phenomenon in the realm of archaeological research.


“The discovery of the seal testifies to the administrative activity which took place upon the Temple Mount during those times,” said Barkay. “All the parallel seals with similar stylistic designs have been found at sites in Israel, among them Tel Beit Shemesh, Tel Gezer, and Tel Rehov, and were dated to the 11th – 10th centuries BCE,” asserted Barkay.

“Upon the base of the seal appear the images of two animals, one on top of the other, perhaps representing a predator and its prey. Additionally, the seal is perforated, thus enabling one to hang it from a string,” said Barkay.

Aside from the seal, which was likely used to seal documents, hundreds of pottery sherds dating to the 10th century BCE have been discovered within the soil removed from the Temple Mount. Additionally, a rare arrowhead made of bronze and ascribed to the same period by its features, has been discovered.

The press release includes photos of the seal and other finds from the same period. The organization recently released a video which documents the success of the project in a bid to raise additional funds.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Sifting Temple Mount debris, tb110906723

The Temple Mount Sifting Project in 2006

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Using a GPS in the Middle East (with an iPhone)

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

As a follow-up to Todd's post on using GPS in Jordan, here are the steps my brother used to turn his iPhone into a navigation system. On a trip to Lebanon two years ago, we were able to use my brother's iPhone as a GPS. His iPhone is an unlocked GSM (meaning that he could swap out SIM cards—this is important!).

1.    At the airport in Beirut, my brother purchased a SIM card and a T-Mobile 3G+ data plan in Lebanon. For our two-week trip, 2GB of data was sufficient, as long as we avoided using apps such as Google Earth which load image tiles every time you swipe or zoom. This near-constant loading of raster images really gobbles up data.

2a.    While within the city of Beirut, my brother discovered that Apple Maps worked better. (Location Services has to be enabled.) It updated our present location faster and with greater precision than other apps, which was quite important in the city so that we did not miss any turns. The street maps in Apple Maps are vector data, so they loaded quickly. The problem with Apple Maps was that road names were in Arabic, so not easy to read. But, since we knew our destination, and we could see where we were at that moment, we could figure out which roads to take.

2b.    Outside Beirut on the way to the next city, Google Maps worked better. Google Maps did not update our position as quickly, but it did show more of the smaller roads (very helpful!) and was pretty accurate. The street maps in Google Maps are also vector data, so the maps loaded quickly.

2c.    Once we were within a mile or so of whatever obscure site that we were trying to find, my brother used OpenStreetMap within the app GaiaGPS. (GaiaGPS is $20 in the App Store; it works on both iOS and Android phones.)

As Todd did, before leaving on our trip, we located all sites in Google Earth. The Google Earth kml file was converted to a gpx file using the free kml2gpx website. My brother then loaded the gpx file into GaiaGPS. As with Google Maps, OpenStreetMap also showed more of the smaller roads and showed where our Google Earth site was located in relation to our position. Because OpenStreetMap is tile-based, sometimes it took the maps a little longer to load. To get around this, we could cache our route the night before, though sometimes we did not always know exactly which roads we would be using, or we did not cache all the zoom levels that we needed. GaiaGPS was not quite as fast at updating our position as Google Maps, but my brother could force GaiaGPS to update simply by snapping a photo within GaiaGPS. (Since GaiaGPS geotags photos, taking a photo forced GaiaGPS to update our location in order to write the coordinates to the jpg image file.)

3.    We also used GaiaGPS to store waypoints. In essence, this feature kept track of the path we travelled by recording GPS coordinates every few seconds. Once we returned home, we were able to use the waypoints (a gpx file) from GaiaGPS to geotag all my photos using the free COPIKS PhotoMapper. The COPIKS app marries waypoint coordinates with a photograph based on matching timestamps. (It is important beforehand to sync up the date-time on your camera with the date-time on the iPhone.) COPIKS then writes the coordinate data to the jpg image file.

4.    As Todd did in Jordan, we found screen captures from Google Earth to be helpful on several occasions. Rather than printing them, we loaded the images onto an iPad for reference.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Latest Efforts To Find the Tomb of the Maccabees

Where is the famous tomb of the Maccabees? Archaeologists working in the vicinity of Modiin in recent weeks found something, but not enough to positively identify the long-lost mausoleum. From the Times of Israel:

Israeli archaeologists had hoped to finally uncover the mystery of the ancient tomb of the Maccabees — but they have been thwarted once again.

Archaeological authorities said Monday they had carried out another excavation at a site near Modiin northwest of Jerusalem to determine “once and for all” whether the tomb was indeed there.

The tomb of the family that led the Jewish revolt against the Greek dynasty of the Seleucids in the 2nd century BCE is believed to have been among ancient Judea’s most impressive structures.

“We exposed again the base of what survived from this magnificent building — this is a rare and unique building — but yet we didn’t find the smoking gun, the hard evidence which would enable us to tell you that this is for sure the tomb of the Maccabees,” said Amit Reem, an official with the project.

So how do you spin this one? Some headlines are more optimistic, and others more pessimistic:

CBS News: Fabled Maccabees tomb may have been unearthed

Arutz-7: Is This the Real Tomb of the Maccabees?

Portland Press Herald: Archaeologists say site holds promise as long-sought tomb of biblical Maccabees

i24News: Tomb of the Maccabees keeps its secrets despite new dig

Times of Israel: New dig fails to shed light on ancient Maccabee tombs

To volunteer or donate to the excavation, see the IAA press release.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Using a GPS in the Middle East

Earlier this year I made a seven-day trip to Jordan to take photos. For the first time in my travels in the Middle East, I used a GPS. It worked well. If you’re planning to rent a car and travel around on your own, you might consider it as an option. Here is what I did.

1. I bought a GPS. The one I purchased was not the cheapest, but I was very happy with it.

2. I bought a map set for Jordan (for Garmin). This set actually includes all of the Middle East except Israel. If you need Israel, there’s one here. (Beware the very cheap ones; they are illegal copies.)

3. The most important part of the process is to identify the sites you plan to visit ahead of time. This is particularly important if you are planning to see lots of random tells that aren’t on the maps and that the locals may not be able to help you with.

3a. First, locate the sites of interest on Google Earth. This can be challenging, depending upon how obscure your sites are. If you have a reference source with coordinates, see A.D.’s post on how to convert them to GE points. You may find the Site Index for the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands helpful for its list of coordinates as well. If you are looking for a GE file (kml) of lots of biblical sites in Israel and/or Jordan, search on the web (though reliability varies).

3b. Then, export your chosen sites to a kml file (simple instructions here). Convert that to a format your GPS can read. You can do this at or similar sites. Then copy the converted file to your GPS (video instructions here).

That’s it. I would recommend you bring a map or two, just in case your GPS fails on the trip. (I packed my GPS in my carry-on luggage so it wouldn’t be “borrowed” by luggage handlers.) You might even consider bringing a backup GPS if funds allow. (And part of that question is also, how much would it be worth to you in the middle of your trip if your other failed?)

One other step I took, not knowing how the GPS would work, was to use the (now free) Google Earth Pro to print off high-quality images of the sites and their surroundings. I figured this might help me when the GPS map data was wrong or incomplete. Several times these print-outs came in handy.


I didn’t find every site I was looking for, but that wasn’t the fault of the GPS. Sometimes I had limited information in originally locating the site in GE. At other times, the site just seemed to disappear (as did Beth-jesimoth, in the midst of a quarrying operation). I missed a few sites because of rental car troubles, but I saw far more than if I had been at the mercy of a bus schedule or even a taxi driver. I also preferred this method to using a guide because most guides don’t like to pull out at 6 am and return after dark.

A few additional notes:

1. There are no good detailed maps for Jordan.

2. Don’t trust the time estimates your GPS gives you. The program data may be limited and it may assume that you can drive 90 km/h down that narrow alleyway.

3. Sometimes the GPS gets it wrong. Sometimes you think you know better and you get it wrong. You learn as you go, and it helps to have a flexible schedule.

4. Walking and taking a cab in downtown Amman (or Jerusalem or other major cities) beats driving.

5. Don’t be in such a rush that you don’t get to know the people. (Or, make sure the car breaks down in the right place.)

6. A newer book that is quite helpful in Jordan is Burton MacDonald’s Pilgrimage in Early Christian Jordan: A Literary and Archaeological Guide (Oxford: Oxbow, 2010).

7. Jordan is beautiful in March.

Macherus Roman siege ramp and camp from east, tb031415756

The Dead Sea from Macherus

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Just posted: Preliminary Report of the 2015 Jezreel Expedition Field Season

A full schedule of speakers and topics for the Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest is now online. Eric Cline is the plenary speaker.

After the heat wave and brutal sandstorm, Israel this past week experienced lightning, hail, and flash floods. This is not typical September weather.

Near Eastern Archaeology's latest issue is devoted to “The Cultural Heritage Crisis in the Middle East.” It is available online for free to all.

Eisenbrauns has just released its fall catalog.

A new book: Distant Views of the Holy Land, by Felicity Cobbing and David Jacobson. 330 pages, 350 illustrations, $200. A free sample is available here.

Here’s more about Penn Museum’s new exhibit, “Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World.”

This Wednesday, Sept 23, Brent Strawn of Emory University will give a lecture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School entitled “The Historical Psalms, Iconographically Considered.” The event will take place at 7:00 pm on Trinity’s campus, Hinkson Hall in Rodine Building. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Clashes on the Temple Mount have caused damage to Al Aqsa Mosque.

Aren Maeir is on the Book and the Spade talking about his excavations of Gath and the discovery of a large gate this season (part 1, part 2).

Egyptian security officials have ordered the shutdown of St. Catherine’s Monastery.

From ASOR: Can you pass this Sea of Galilee quiz?

The latest issue of Popular Archaeology includes articles on Gath and Magdala.

Ferrell Jenkins explains the significance of Mahanaim (mentioned 13x in the OT) and shares some photos.

HT: Agade, Charles Savelle, A.D. Riddle, Paleojudaica

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

New Resource: The Regnal Chronology of the Kings of Judah and Israel

For many years I have enjoyed taking students deep into the world of ancient Israel, exploring its land, its people, and its stories. One place that is always most rewarding is the era of Israel’s kings, for this terrain is little known and yet abounding with riches.

The chronology, however, can get people tied up real fast. That’s why I’m excited about a new resource that maps everything out with clarity. The Regnal Chronology of the Kings of Judah and Israel: An Illustrated Guide puts every detail in its place, so with one glance you can figure out in any given year who is ruling, the king’s age and regnal year, and every extrabiblical synchronism. It truly puts everything at your fingertips.


Chris McKinny has been developing this resource for many years while living, studying, and teaching in the Jerusalem area. Both the digital book and the e-poster reflect his passion for the subject, and they’re now available at an introductory price of $9.99 for the e-poster, $19.99 for the digital book (pdf), or $24.99 for both.

I encourage you to take a look. You can order it quickly and easily here. And we would appreciate it if you would tell friends, pastors, students, and teachers about it. This sort of resource is unique, and we believe there are many who will absolutely love it, if they know about it.


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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Weekend Roundup

This week’s sandstorm in Israel is the worst it has experienced since the nation was founded in 1948. Air pollution in Jerusalem was 173 times higher than average. Carl Rasmussen shares a video showing how bad it was on the Mount of Olives.

What exactly is a 100-foot-deep shaft doing next to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem?

Andrew Bernhard posts on the End of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Forgery Debate.

Thieves in Galilee were caught removing a sixth century mosaic church floor in Gush Tefen.

The cisterns at Arad are now open to visitors.

Muslim “sentinels” protecting the Temple Mount from “sacrilege” have now been outlawed by Israeli police.

If your interest is in exotic shofars and what Jewish halakah has to say about it, Zoo Torah has a free pdf on the subject.

The BBC reports on six “lesser-known wonders of the ancient world,” including the site of Baalbek in Lebanon.

The Jerusalem Post Magazine reports on sinkholes around the Dead Sea. (At the moment of posting this, the link is not working. Perhaps it will return.)

ISIS is destroying ancient buildings in order to conceal evidence that they are looting for profit.

The Institute for Digital Archaeology plans to distribute 10,000 3-D cameras in the coming year in order to document archaeological sites and objects in West Asia before they are destroyed.

A luncheon will honor James F. Strange at this ASOR meeting in Atlanta.

Ferrell Jenkins illustrates what David meant when he wrote about “a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Did you know that the Upper Room is located directly above David’s Tomb?

The Dead Sea Scrolls scam at the California Science Center closed this week.

“The Manar al-Athar open-access photo-archive (based at the University of Oxford) aims to provide high resolution, searchable images, freely-downloadable for teaching, research, heritage projects, and publication. It covers buildings and art in the areas of the former Roman empire which later came under Islamic rule (e.g. Syro-Palestine/the Levant, Arabia, Egypt, and North Africa), from ca. 300 BC to the present, but especially Roman, late antique, and early Islamic art, architecture, and sacred sites.”

HT: Charles Savelle, Ted Weis, Agade, Joseph Lauer, Jared Clark

Our Facebook photo with the most clicks in the past week was the final one in our “holy rocks” series.

Gezer standing stones, bowing down, tb091405098

Standing stones at Gezer

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

"Patterns of Evidence" Screening and Panel Discussion

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

On Thursday, October 1, at 7:15 pm, the Biblical and Theological Studies Department at Wheaton College will host a screening of the film Patterns of Evidence. After the film Daniel Block will moderate a panel discussion including Daniel Master and James Hoffmeier. The event will take place in Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center 105, Barrows Auditorium. It is free and open to the public. Information about the event can be found here.

Monday, September 07, 2015

More on Neo-Assyrian Inscriptions

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

About five months ago, we wrote about (1) the series Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period (RINAP) and (2) the importance of the Neo-Assyrian period for biblical history.

At that time we mentioned a few advantages to having the physical volumes over the digital versions at ORACC (The Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus), namely, the introductions to the texts and bibliography.

Since then, ORACC has been expanding the RINAP Online to include more resources. Now, you can find the following:

RINAP 1 = Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V

The same resources are made available for:

The following resources are provided for all three RINAP volumes:

The following volumes are in the pipeline:
RINAP 2 = The Royal Inscriptions of Sargon II
RINAP 5 = The Royal Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal, Aššur-etel-ilāni, and Sîn-šarra-iškun

In our piece, we listed all the RIM and RINAP volumes. They are also listed on this page.

HT: Grant Frame via Agade List

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The excavation season at Magdala has concluded, and the wrap-up describes the major findings, including a fourth mikveh that was fed by spring water.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has just released a video about their work, its importance, and the need to keep it going.

Leen Ritmeyer offers his thoughts and diagrams on the recent discovery of the stepped podium in the City of David.

The cross-border environmental organization EcoPeace has opened two hiking tours, a bike route, and a walking path in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. The two hiking tours each take eight days.

Arutz-7 reports briefly on the Studies of Ancient Jerusalem’s 16th Annual Conference in the City of David.

A study of 15 Roman-era Egyptian mummy portraits and panel paintings reveals that the artists used Egyptian blue, contrary to what has been long believed.

British conservation specialists have restored some Hellenistic-era paintings from Petra.

‘Atiqot 82 is now online.

Attempts by ISIS to blow up the Temple of Bel at Palmyra have apparently failed.

The Codex Sinaiticus will leave the walls of the British Library for only the second time since 1933, this time headed down the street for display in an Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum.

The Philistines introduced new plants to the coastal plain when they migrated from the Aegean.

HT: Ted Weis, Joseph Lauer, Agade

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Friday, September 04, 2015

List of Sites ISIS Has Destroyed or Damaged

Andrew Curry at National Geographic has posted a review of sites in Syria and Iraq that have been attacked with bulldozers, explosives, sledgehammers, or is being extensively looted. The list includes:

Syria: Palmyra, Mar Elian Monastery, Apamea, Dura-Europos, and Mari

Iraq: Hatra, Nineveh, Mosul Museum and Libraries, Nimrud, Khorsabad, Mar Benham Monastery, Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, and Imam Dur Mausoleum

The article includes details about the significance of each site and its destruction along with several photos and a map.

HT: Agade

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More Free Lectures in the Chicago Area

In addition to the free lectures that we mentioned last week, here are two more for this month.

On Saturday, September 12, at 5:00 pm, Khadiga Adam and JJ Shirley will be speaking on "ARCE Conservation Field Schools and Theban Tomb 110" at the Chicago Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt. The lecture will take place at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, LaSalle Banks Room (on the lower level). More information can be found here.
Of the more than 900 non-royal tombs located in what is today called the “Theban Necropolis” on the west side of the Nile in Luxor, few are as intriguing as “Theban Tomb 110.” Tomb 110 belonged to a man named Djehuty, who served as a royal butler and herald for two 18th Dynasty kings: the powerful queen-turned-king Hatshepsut, and her stepson and successor Thutmose III. Djehuty’s tomb was discovered and superficially published in the 1930s by one of the great early Egyptologists, Sir Norman de Garis Davies. But, the tomb was lived in during modern times, and completely blackened by fires, so Davies could not discern many of the inscriptions and scenes. Since 2012 the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) has run field schools to excavate and conserve this tomb, making it possible to conduct a new and more thorough study of the tomb by re-recording its tomb scenes and inscriptions, a process known as “epigraphy.”
          This talk will present the results of the current epigraphy project in Theban Tomb 110, funded by ARCE through an AEF grant and run as field school to train Egyptian Inspectors in this specialized skill. The students’ work has already brought to light new information about the tomb’s construction, the tomb owner, and the kings whom he served.
          Khadiga Adam will open the evening with an overview of the trainees' progress during the ARCE conservation programs that started in 2007 and have trained over 300 Ministry of Antiquities conservators and technicians from Upper Egypt. The resulting impact will be illustrated by past and present projects, including the current work of ARCE Luxor archaeologists.
          JJ Shirley will discuss the ARCE's Conservation Field School at Theban Tomb 110 (TT110) that started in February 2013. The badly damaged tomb gives the trainees a wonderful opportunity to learn about the treatment and conservation of the many types of decay and damage that they will encounter during their careers. To date, ARCE has trained 24 Ministry of Antiquities (MOA) supervisors, conservators and technicians in this tomb. Each season, ARCE introduces new advanced techniques in a step by step learning process with special emphasis on building the MOA's knowledge and use of conservation methods and materials.

On Thursday, September 24, 7:00-9:00 pm, Jeffrey H. Tigay (U. Pennsylvania) will speak on the topic “Jewish Interpretation of Deuteronomy’s Command to Annihilate the Canaanites.” The lecture will take place at Barrows Auditorium, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College. The lecture is free and open to the public.
UPDATE: More information can be found on this webpage.


Thursday, September 03, 2015

Large Roman-era Sarcophagus Unearthed in Ashkelon

Building contractors unearthed and then concealed a unique sarcophagus dating to the Roman period in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. From a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A unique and extremely impressive stone sarcophagus, about 1,800 years old, was exposed at a building site in the new neighborhood of villas currently going up in Ashkelon. This occurred during an operation carried out on Tuesday night (September 1) by inspectors of the IAA's Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and patrol officers and detectives from the Ashkelon police station.

This is one of the rarest sarcophagi ever discovered in Israel. The coffin, which is made of hard limestone, weighing about 2 tons and 2.5 meters long, is sculpted on all sides. A life-size figure of a person is carved on the sarcophagus' lid. The sarcophagus was repeatedly struck by a tractor in different places, scarring the stone and damaging the decorations sculpted by an artist on its sides.

Dr. Gabi Mazor, a retired IAA archaeologist and an expert on classical periods, described the scene on the sarcophagus: "One side of the sarcophagus lid is adorned with the carved image of a man leaning on his left arm. He is wearing a short-sleeved shirt decorated with embroidery on the front. A tunic is wrapped around his waist. The figure's eyes were apparently inlaid with precious stones that have disappeared and the hair is arranged in curls, in a typical Roman hairstyle. On the other side of the lid is a carved relief of a metal amphora (a vessel used for transporting liquids such as wine) from which there are intertwining tendrils bearing grape clusters and grape leaves.

The sarcophagus itself, which was more severely damaged by the tractor, is decorated with, among other things, wreaths and images of bulls' heads, naked Cupids, and the head of the monstrous female figure Medusa which includes remains of hair together with snakes, part of a commonly held belief in the Roman period that she protects the deceased." According to Mazor, "Such sarcophagi were usually placed in or next to a family mausoleum. The high level of decoration attested to the family's affluence, which judging by the depicted motifs was probably not Jewish."

The press release continues to describe the culpability of the construction workers. The Jerusalem Post has a 2-minute video showing the artifacts. The Times of Israel article includes several photographs.

The sarcophagus and lid during the initial cleaning

Sarcophagus lid
Photo by Yoli Shwartz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

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