Saturday, August 29, 2009

Drawing Israel’s Borders

The Jerusalem Post has an interesting article on the modern map of Israel and the man in charge.

Most Israelis and Jordanians are probably unaware that the border between their countries isn't really fixed. The boundary runs directly through the center of the Jordan River, but should the river naturally change its course, so too will the border.

It is one of many secrets held by Dr. Haim Srebro, director-general of the Survey of Israel center. For decades, Srebro has been working to give the State of Israel its final borders.

When the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan were signed, Srebro and his Arab counterparts worked behind the scenes, away from the limelight and photo-ops of leaders shaking hands, to draw up some of the Middle East's best-known frontiers.

"The Jordan River is constantly changing. If it alters its route naturally, according to our agreement with the Jordanians, we recognize the change. But if the river is redirected artificially and suddenly, the border remains fixed," he said this week, speaking from his spacious office at the Survey of Israel's Tel Aviv headquarters....

Jordan is now working to develop a $27 million complex in Aqaba, complete with hotels and lagoons, funded largely by investment from the Gulf states. The proximity of the development to the Israeli border means that Srebro and Sagarat have had to be called in for advice.

"The border fence isn't actually on the border. It's on Israel's side, meaning that the Jordanians could have crossed into Israel without knowing it. That's why they are now building a border fence on their side, too," Srebro explained.

During the 1979 peace negotiations with Egypt, Srebro employed the cutting edge technique of using bridged straight aerial photographs (known as orthophotos) to draw up a new border between the countries following Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.

"I told the Egyptians, we'll do something together. Let's set up a committee, so that you can check on us and we'll check on you," Srebro recalled.

At first, the Americans, who were brokering the talks, handed both sides an abstract map of the new proposed border, but Srebro said the map, which lacked any physical features, was useless.

"For the first time in a peace treaty, aerial photographs were used to plan a border," he said. The Egyptians were so pleased with the result that they sent Srebro a statue of Nefertiti to thank him.

The complete article is here.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hyksos Palace Excavated at Tell el-Dab'a

Discoveries from excavations at Tell el-Dab'a, the Hyksos capital in Egypt, were announced recently in a press release from the University of Vienna, but the article was only available in German.  Joe Lauer has received and passed along a statement from the press office in English, which is given below.  Photos of the cuneiform tablet, horse burial, and archaeologist are linked at the bottom of this page.

   A team of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo and of the University of Vienna under Prof. Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Mueller excavated recently a palace of the Hyksos king Khayan (c. 1600-1585 BC). The site is called Tell el-Dab‘a and it was the capital of the Hyksos kings, who ruled the northern part of Egypt between 1640 and 1530 BC. The antiquities were revealed just under the agricultural crust in a rescue operation. It became clear that this palace in the size of over 10,000 sqm is of northern Syrian type and ranges very well among the biggest palaces found thus far in northern Syria. 
    Two finds this season were particularly remarkable. First a fragment of a cuneiform letter written in southern Mesopotamian style and originating most probably in Babylon. As Karen Radner and Frans van Koppen from the University College London – two eminent scholars in this field – found out, this fragment was a letter and can be dated according to its orthography to the last 50 years of the Old Babylonian Kingdom of Hammurabi. The find shows the far reaching international ties of the Hyksos and at the same time connects Egyptian chronology with the Mesopotamian chronology – thus far the synchronisation with Egypt was a controversy of scholars. Now this matter seems to be settled in favour of a low Mesopotamian chronology with the conquest of Babylon around 1550 BC.
    The second important discovery was the burial of a horse, which is situated and stratigraphically well connected within the palace. It was a mare between 5 and 10 years. It was obviously not a chariot horse but more likely used for breeding. It was the Hyksos who introduced the horse to Egypt and it is the oldest undisputed horse burial found in this country. Its position in the palace suggests that this mare was a pet of the Hyksos, most likely king Khayan.
    The third important discovery was a courtyard used for ritual feasts. Numerous pits with over 5000 vessels, buried ritually with remains of meals such as animal bones, were found. Such institutions as this courtyard, secured behind enormous walls, are known from texts in Mesopotamia and the Levant since the third millennium BC. The feasts were in honour of deceased kings or at the occasion of birthdays of gods. It is the first time that such rituals are attested in Egypt by a population originating from the northern Levant.
    The Hyksos period is still very obscure from historical point of view, but the long going excavation of the Austrian team has contributed to a series of corrections in its historiography. The population originated most probably from Lebanon and northern Syria, as the newly discovered palace and the pottery shows. They were people with an urban background and came originally in the late 12th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) as shipbuilders, sailors, soldiers and craftsmen to the country where the pharaohs settled them in a harbour town in the north-eastern Delta, the later city of Avaris. In a time of political weakness they were able to establish a small kingdom there and soon afterwards were able to control the Delta and Middle Egypt until their former vassals in Upper Egypt, particularly king Ahmose defeated them and founded the New Kingdom.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jerusalem, Rome, and Alexandria

Zachi Zweig recently produced photographs of a Byzantine mosaic floor discovered under Al Aqsa Mosque between 1938 and 1942. Zweig is certain that this was part of a Byzantine church on the Temple Mount. To this point, it has generally been held that the Byzantines left the Temple Mount in ruins. The 6th century Medeba Map does not show any buildings in this area. Underneath the mosaic floor was a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh). The story is in the Jerusalem Post, and Leen Ritmeyer comments at his blog.

Google Earth has added a layer for Ancient Rome as it stood in A.D. 320. Judging from a 2-minute video preview, this is an extraordinary resource. As with the rest of Google Earth, it is free. It probably would not be difficult to remove a few buildings and create a layer for Rome in the 1st century. Perhaps someone will be so motivated.

Leen Ritmeyer has created a less detailed Jerusalem layer that shows the city in the 1st century. (UPDATE 11/20: This layer is no longer available.)

This story has been around before, but perhaps its re-circulation indicates that progress is being made. The JPost reports that plans are underway for the world’s first underwater archaeology museum in Alexandria.

"The whole Bay of Alexandria actually still houses the remains of very important archeological sites. You have the place of the Pharaohs - the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria - which is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. You have the Polonike Palace, which was the palace of Cleopatra, and there might also be the grave of Alexander the Great," she said.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

“Christ” Inscription in Egypt

Here’s a strange one: An archaeologist in Alexandria, Egypt claims to have found a cup with a Greek inscription, “Dia Chrestou Ogoistais” (“through Christ the Magi”).  What’s stranger is that he’s claiming that he found it in a stratified context dating to A.D. 50. 

You can read the article (in Spanish) here.  Some comments and nice photos are here.  More comments are here.

HT: Gene Brooks

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pyramid Pests Prohibited

If you've ever been harassed, cheated, bullied, pestered, deceived, or nagged and declared that even one of the wonders of the world was not worth the incessant and undesired attention of the locals, you may now have cause to consider a return visit to the Pyramids of Giza.

The monuments may be glorious, but visiting Egypt's famed Giza Pyramids has long been a nightmare, with hawkers peddling camel rides and pharaonic trinkets hustling tourists relentlessly at every turn.

But now the hustlers are gone, as Egypt unveiled on Monday the first stage of an elaborate project to modernize the site and make it more tourist-friendly, complete with security cameras and a 12-mile fence with infrared sensors surrounding the site.

"It was a zoo," Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, said of the usual free-for-all at the pyramids. "Now we are protecting both the tourists and the ancient monuments."

The three Giza Pyramids have long been unusually open for a 5,000-year-old Wonder of the World, especially compared to other world-renowned sites like Greece's Acropolis, Jerusalem's Western Wall or Rome's Colosseum, where security is tight and the movement of visitors is controlled.

The ABC News story continues here.

Three great pyramids from horseback, 89-26tb 
Pyramids of Giza

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