Friday, September 18, 2009

Tiberias Theater Exposed

Two years ago I noted the anticipated excavation of the Roman theater of Tiberias (with photo).  The Israel Antiquities Authority has publicized some of its work and today Haaretz carries a report on it, albeit with a misleading headline. 

A 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatre was finally revealed after 19 years of excavation work since its first discovery.

15 meters bellow [sic] ground remnants of a Roman amphitheatre peak through the sand in a place which was "a central meeting point" according to Archeologist, Doctor Valid Atrash, from the Israel Antiquities Authority....

Only at the beginning of 2009, 19-years after the primary discovery, did the uncovering of the theatre in its entirety begin.

The late Professor Izhar Hirshfeld and Yossi Stefanski, the archeologists heading the excavation, initially assessed the remains to belong to the 2nd or 3rd century CE, but quickly realized that they go all the way back to the beginning of the 1st century CE, closer to the founding of Tiberias.

"The most interesting thing about the amphitheatre," said Hirshfeld upon the discovery, "is its Jewish context. Unlike Tzipori, which was a multi-cultural city, Tiberias was a Jewish city under Roman rule. The findings demonstrate the city's pluralistic nature and cultural openness, a fact uncommon in those days."

A theater is a semi-circular structure used for performance of the dramatic arts.  An amphitheater (amphi means “both” or “around”) is a circular building used for athletic and gladiatorial contests.  (For more explanation, see this page at the U of Chicago.)

The Hebrew version of the Haaretz article has a small photo.  The IAA report has two medium-sized photos, but I’m having trouble figuring out how they relate to each other.

In any case, this excavation is a welcome development in revealing the city of Tiberias from its earliest periods.  Founded in A.D. 20 by Herod Antipas, Tiberias was the young capital of Galilee during Jesus’ ministry.  Though there is no report that Jesus visited the city, its location on the western shore would have made it difficult to completely avoid.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Siloam Street Excavations Extended

Excavations continue to reveal more of the large 1st century city street that ran from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has issued a press release and made available two high-resolution photographs of the street and drainage channel.

The street is beautifully paved and though only 6 feet (2 m) in width have been exposed, the full width of the street is estimated to be 25 feet (8 m).

As far as I can tell, this story is not relating a new discovery but indicates that excavation work (once halted) has continued with success. It was mentioned on this blog before in December 2005, December 2006, and September 2007. In the 2005 post, I wrote:

The archaeologist told me that he would like to reveal the entire length of the road from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. I told him he was crazy. Unless he is thinking of digging a tunnel underneath all of those houses. Then he's still crazy :-).

Leen Ritmeyer believes that the report concerns a different street, namely a side street on the east side of the Byzantine/upper pool. He has a helpful drawing that illustrates that. In the articles I have read, it has not been clear to me that a separate street has been found, but Ritmeyer may have first-hand knowledge. (See update below.)

You can ignore any reports which describe these excavations as undermining Al Aqsa Mosque. The mosque is 1600 feet (500 m) distant. You should also ignore the ubiquitous comment in the news stories that the dig is funded by Elad. Such a note insinuates that the archaeologists distort their results, and anyone who knows Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun knows that that is a falsehood.

Joe Lauer has sent along links to the story in various sources, including Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Arutz-7. A previously mentioned IAA video of a tour of the City of David includes this street.

UPDATE (9/16): Ritmeyer has posted a correction.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

1st Century Synagogue Found at Magdala

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced, with a rather mild headline, the discovery of a synagogue at Magdala (Migdal) dating from 50 B.C. to A.D. 100. I would consider this big news, even though, as far as I can tell, no one is reporting it yet (except Joe Lauer, who always seems to know everything first).

Magdala was the home of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples. That, together with the fact that its location was near the center of Jesus’ ministry (Capernaum, Chorazin, Gennesaret, etc.), makes it quite likely that Jesus visited Magdala. Matthew records that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues,” and I see no reason that Magdala would be excluded (Matt 9:35; cf. 4:23). Thus it is likely, in my opinion, that Jesus visited this synagogue.

Magdala from above, tb052000203 Magdala from above

This is not the same thing as saying, as they did last year, that “archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.” This is not the first synagogue excavated that Jesus visited. He almost certainly was in (an earlier version) of the Capernaum synagogue, may have been in the Chorazin synagogue (though there is a dating problem), and could have been in the Gamla synagogue. We know of other 1st century synagogues, but it is most unlikely that Jesus visited those at Herodium and Masada, particularly since they were constructed after his death.

The discovery is most significant to me because it puts Magdala “on the map,” so to speak. Before this synagogue was found, visitors would only zip by the site on the highway while a rushed tour guide cried out, “there is Magda...well, too late. It was behind those trees and next to the ferris wheel.” More intrepid explorers could do no better than stand at a fence and look at a few old walls. Hopefully these new excavations will give the world a chance to see a portion of this ancient town.

The IAA has three high-res photos you can download (zip file), and the press release begins as follows:

A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos). A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars).

According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find. This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the Second Temple was still standing. This is the first menorah to be discovered in a Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning of the Early Roman period. We can assume that the engraving that appears on the stone, which the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered, was done by an artist who saw the seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue that was uncovered joins just six other synagogues in the world that are known to date to the Second Temple period”.

The full release is here. I don’t know enough yet to comment on the relationship of this newly excavated building to another previously excavated at Magdala which was identified (with controversy) as a synagogue. From the photos and the decoration, there should be little debate as to the function of this building.

Magdala from north, mat07447 Magdala from the north, early 1900s

This photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the newly released Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07447 (but currently misidentified there).

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Mt Zion Inscription is Cryptic

The previously-reported discovery of a stone cup with an inscription dating from the 1st century A.D. is covered by National Geographic.  The inscription is proving quite difficult to decipher.

"These were common stone mugs that appear in all Jewish households" of the time, said lead excavator Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina.

"But this is the first time an inscription has been found on a stone vessel" of this type.

Deciphering the writing could provide a window into daily life or religious ritual in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus Christ.

Working on historic Mount Zion—site of King David's tomb and the Last Supper—the archaeologists found the cup near a ritual pool this summer. The dig site is in what had been an elite residential area near the palace of King Herod the Great, who ruled Israel shortly before the birth of Jesus.


What sets the newfound cup apart is its inscription, which is still sharply etched but so far impossible to understand.

Similar to intentionally enigmatic writing in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the cup's script appears to be a secret code, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, the two written languages used in Jerusalem at the time.

"They wrote it intending it to be cryptic," Gibson said.

In hopes the script can be deciphered, Gibson's team is sharing pictures of the cup with experts on the writing of the period. The researchers also plan to post detailed photos of the cup and its inscriptions online soon.

One thing the team is sure of, though, is that whoever inscribed the cup had something big in mind—and didn't want just anyone to know.

"They could be instructions on how to use [the cup], could have incantations or curses. But it's not going to be something mundane like a shopping list."

The complete article is here and it includes a nice photograph (enlarged here).  A friend of mine dug this cup out of the dirt, but as with all excavations, the credit goes to the archaeologists, not to the laborers, and you’ll never see his name in print.  The official excavation website is here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Bar Kochba Coin Cache Discovered

A press conference by Hebrew University is being reported at GNews, with beautiful photographs of the finds.

The largest cache of rare coins ever found in a scientific excavation from the period of the Bar-Kokhba revolt of the Jews against the Romans has been discovered in a cave by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University.

The coins were discovered in three batches in a deep cavern located in a nature reserve in the Judean hills. The treasure includes gold, silver and bronze coins, as well as some pottery and weapons.

The discovery was made in the framework of a comprehensive cave research and mapping project being carried out by Boaz Langford and Prof. Amos Frumkin of the Cave Research Unit in the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University.

The discovery included 120 gold, silver, and bronze coins, many in excellent condition. You can read the rest of the article here. As other news sites prepare stories, you can find them via this Google News link.

As for the “Cave Research Unit,” when word gets out about that, I bet they get lots of applicants!

UPDATE: The story is now covered by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Arutz-7.

UPDATE (9/16): Joe Lauer notes a link with interviews (mp3) of the archaeologists who discovered the coins.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Massive Canaanite Wall Found in City of David

The discovery of a massive fortified walkway leading to Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring has been announced by archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun. Excavations so far have uncovered a portion of a Middle Bronze wall that is 26 feet (8 m) high and 75 feet (24 m) long. The wall apparently protected a passageway that led from the fortified city of Jerusalem down the eastern slope of the City of David to the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley.

The discovery is reported in a press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority and a story in Arutz-7, soon to be followed by all the major news outlets. There are some parts of the story that don’t make sense or are inaccurate.

“This is the most massive wall ever discovered in the City of David,” Reich said. “It is tremendously large in terms of its dimensions, thickness, and size of the rocks used. It appears that they protect a walk-way used to walk down from some tower atop the hill towards the spring.”

That statement is fine, but then Reich is quoted as saying,

This is the first time we have found such massive building in Jerusalem from before the period of King Herod.

But he said the same thing years ago, for his excavations of the Pool and Spring Towers reveal monumental construction from the Middle Bronze Age. Perhaps he means that collectively all of his excavations in the past decade have found such construction “for the first time.”

The new double wall/passageway is apparently related to the Pool and Spring Towers which protected Jerusalem’s water supply at this same period. When discovered, there was a mystery as to whether these were free-standing towers outside of Jerusalem’s wall. My guess is that this new wall “connects the dots” and explains how Jerusalemites accessed these towers without exposing themselves to enemy attack.

Connecting discoveries to biblical figures increases interest, but few people would agree with the article’s assertion that this was the time period of Abraham. The wall dates to 1800-1700 BC, while the biblical chronology puts Abraham’s death closer to 2000 BC.

My favorite quote of the article is a statement I’ve often heard archaeologists make, but which rarely seems to make it into print.

The new discovery shows that the picture regarding Jerusalem’s eastern defenses and the ancient water system in the Middle Bronze Age 2 is still far from clear.

And then this:

Despite the fact that so many have excavated on this hill, there is a very good chance that extremely large and well-preserved architectural elements are still hidden in it and waiting to be uncovered.

The IAA release invites you to see the discoveries in person.

The fortification will be revealed to the public for the first time tomorrow (Thursday, September 3), within the framework of the 10th Annual Archaeological Conference on the discoveries in the City of David. Admission to the conference is free and the public is invited. Unique artifacts from all of the excavations at the site, such as the gold earring that was found in the excavation at the Givati Car Park, will be presented in the conference. In addition, before the conference, visitors can participate in any of 17 different tours that will be guided by scholars there.

Two high-resolution photographs of the wall are available here or here (direct link to zip file).

The official (and beautiful) website of the City of David is here.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Roman Building Excavated in City of David

A third-century A.D. Roman building has been excavated in the City of David in Jerusalem.  Excavations in this past and future parking lot located in the Central (Tyropean) Valley have formerly revealed a first-century A.D. palace believed to have belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene.

From the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A spacious edifice from the Roman period (third century CE) – apparently a mansion that belonged to a wealthy individual – was recently exposed in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the 'Givati Car Park' at the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The excavations are being conducted at the site on behalf of the IAA and in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, and are underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, the excavation director on behalf of the IAA, together with Yana Tchekhanovets, “Although we do not have the complete dimensions of the structure, we can cautiously estimate that the building covered an area of approximately 1,000 square meters. In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns. Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs”.

A large quantity of fresco fragments was discovered in the collapsed ruins from which the excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings. The painted designs that adorned the plastered walls consisted mostly of geometric and floral motifs. Its architectural richness, plan and particularly the artifacts that were discovered among its ruins bear witness to the unequivocal Roman character of the building. The most outstanding of these finds are a marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a gold earring inlaid with precious stones.

The full release can be found here (temporary link).

Three high-resolution photos can be downloaded from the IAA website, including photos of the earring and statue and an aerial photograph of the building.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Assyrian Tablets Found in Tayinat Temple

The tablets may be “part of a possible archive.”  From a press release from the University of Toronto:

Excavations led by a University of Toronto archaeologist at the site of a recently discovered temple in southeastern Turkey have uncovered a cache of cuneiform tablets dating back to the Iron Age period between 1200 and 600 BCE. Found in the temple's cella, or 'holy of holies', the tablets are part of a possible archive. The cella also contained gold, bronze and iron implements, libation vessels and ornately decorated ritual objects.

"The assemblage appears to represent a Neo-Assyrian renovation of an older Neo-Hittite temple complex, providing a rare glimpse into the religious dimension of Assyrian imperial ideology," said Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archeology in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T's Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). "The tablets, and the information they contain, may possibly highlight the imperial ambitions of one of the great powers of the ancient world, and its lasting influence on the political culture of the Middle East."

Partially uncovered in 2008 at Tell Tayinat, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Palastin, the structure of the building where the tablets were found preserves the classic plan of a Neo-Hittite temple. It formed part of a sacred precinct that once included monumental stelae carved in Luwian (an extinct Anatolian language once spoken in Turkey) hieroglyphic script, but which were found by the expedition smashed into tiny shard-like fragments.

The press release continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tel Kabri 2009 Excavation Results

Eric Cline writes on the ANE-2 list:

The co-directors of the Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP) would like to announce that a pdf of the preliminary results from the 2009 excavation season is now available at:

If the direct link does not work for some reason, please go to, click on "2009 Season," and then click on the link there to download the pdf.

Links to the results of previous seasons (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) are also listed at, under the "Previous Results" link
KAP Publications which have already appeared are:

E.H. Cline and A. Yasur-Landau, "Poetry in Motion: Canaanite Rulership and Aegean Narrative at Kabri," in EPOS: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology: 157-165, S.P. Morris and R. Laffineur, eds. Aegaeum 28. Liège: Université de Liège. 2007.

A. Yasur-Landau, E.H. Cline, and G.A. Pierce, "Middle Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the Western Galilee, Israel," Journal of Field Archaeology 33/1 (2008) 59-83.

The report’s abstract reads:

The 2009 excavations at Tel Kabri, the capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite kingdom located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, lasted from 21 June to 30 July 2009. A highlight of the season was the discovery of numerous fragments of painted plaster, from both a previously-unknown Minoan-style wall fresco with figural representations and a second Aegean-style painted floor.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Video: Search for Sodom and Gomorrah

Ferrell Jenkins links to a new video on the excavations of Tall el-Hammam, believed by Steven Collins to be biblical Sodom.  The 10-minute video is well-produced and the excavator’s arguments are easy to understand.  I don’t need to make every mention of this excavation on this blog an occasion to disagree, but it is difficult to let certain statements slide by. Besides that, conservative Bible believers like myself are used to hearing critical dismissals from those who don’t trust the Bible.  But just because something is opposed by critics does not mean that it is automatically right!

The problem, I believe, is that Collins’ statement “right place, right time” dooms his identification.  Finding ancient sites that have Middle Bronze occupation and then a gap until Iron Age is not difficult.  That’s what Collins has found.  This and the others in the area are no doubt important sites, but it does not fit the biblical data about Sodom.  Collins concludes with the presentation with this statement:

Every turn of the spade at Tall el-Hammam reinforces the occupational profile predicted for Sodom from the Bible.

If this statement was negative, it would be accurate.  That is, Tall el-Hammam does not match the occupational profile for Sodom given in the Bible. 

Sodom, according to the Bible:

  • Intermediate Bronze (aka EB IV/MB I; 2300-2000 BC): occupied and destroyed
  • Middle Bronze (2000-1500 BC): not occupied
  • Late Bronze (1500-1200 BC): not occupied
  • Iron Age (1200-600 BC): not occupied

Tall el-Hammam, according to the excavations:

  • Intermediate Bronze (aka EB IV/MB I; 2300-2000 BC): occupied
  • Middle Bronze (2000-1500 BC): occupied [Sodom was not]
  • Late Bronze (1500-1200 BC): not occupied
  • Iron Age (1200-600 BC): occupied [Sodom was not]

With regard to the Middle Bronze occupation, understand this: you must revise the biblical dates in order for Collins’ identification to match the archaeology.  He lowers the date of Abraham in order to create a match with his excavation results.  The traditional biblical dating of the destruction of Sodom is approximately 2100 BC, but the Middle Bronze Age ends about 500 years later.   (The key references that establish the biblical dating are Exodus 12:40 and 1 Kings 6:1.)

With regard to the Iron Age occupation, there is not one reference in the Bible to Sodom being occupied during this time.  There are many references from the end of the Iron Age that indicate that its destruction testified to God’s judgment (Isa 1:9; 13:19-20; Jer 50:40; Amos 4:11; Zeph 2:9).  This would hardly be the case for a city that was rebuilt and thriving as Tall el-Hammam was.

Understand, I want to believe.  The data just gets in the way.

My previous posts on this site may be found here and here.  Steven Collins has written a number of articles about Tall el-Hammam which may be found in his school’s journal here.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Jerusalem Excavation Photos

Years ago I would say that no city had been excavated more than Jerusalem.  Today I think it’s also true to say that no city is currently being excavated more than Jerusalem.  Peter Wong has shared a few photos that he took last week.

Mount Zion excavations, by Peter Wong 7014

Excavations on Mount Zion. See here for more information about the summer’s discoveries.

Tyropoean Valley excavations, by Peter Wong 6524Excavations in the Central (Tyropoean) Valley. See here for the report of the discovery of Queen Helene's palace in this area.

Western Wall excavations, by Peter Wong 6097

Excavations in the Western Wall plaza.  See here and here for earlier photos.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

New Technology Gives 3-D Positions of Archaeological Finds

New Scientist has a popular version of an article in the Journal of Archaeological Science about recording the locations of archaeological artifacts using acoustic signals.

Every object unearthed by an archaeological dig must have its exact position recorded. This is normally a painstaking process involving measuring rods and string, but a device that uses technology originally developed to guide robots could speed up the process.

Gran Dolina in central Spain is a Palaeolithic site that contains important hominin remains which date from between 780,000 and 300,000 years ago. Thousands of fossils are discovered there every year, but registering them all by hand makes progress frustratingly slow. So archaeologists working on the site contacted Angélica de Antonio Jiménez and Fernando Seco at the Institute of Industrial Automation in Madrid, to see if they could come up with a better way.

Antonio Jiménez and Seco were working on an ultrasound system to help blind people and robots navigate, in which a mobile transmitter sends signals to a network of fixed nodes. The time taken for the signal to arrive at each node determines the precise location of the transmitter. To adapt the system for archaeological sites, Antonio Jiménez developed a 2-metre-long pointer, like a big pencil, to act as the transmitter. To prevent the user's body blocking the signals, it has two transmitters, one at the top and one 70 centimetres below it.

When a researcher finds an object, they trace its outline with the pointer, transmitting ultrasound data to a network of nodes above the site.

Software then reconstructs not only the position of the object, but also its size, shape and orientation, to an accuracy of about 5 millimetres (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.06.027).

The New Scientist article continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer


Friday, July 17, 2009

Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) Highlights

Bryant Wood has posted some highlights of this season’s results at Khirbet el-Maqatir. The review includes a map, photos, and summaries of geographical and archaeological correspondences between Maqatir and biblical Ai.  You can read the whole; I’ll just quote here a portion of the introduction and a portion of the conclusion.

From the introduction:

After a hiatus of nine years, ABR has resumed work at Kh. el-Maqatir, a promising candidate for Joshua’s Ai (Joshua 7–8). The site is located approximately 9 mi north of Jerusalem and 0.6 mi west of et-Tell, the site most scholars identify as Joshua’s Ai. There is a major problem identifying et-Tell as Joshua’s Ai, however, as the site was unoccupied at the time of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. ABR was founded 40 years ago to examine this problem and field work has been conducted both at Kh. Nisya (1979–2000; Livingston 2003) and Kh. el-Maqatir (1995–2000 [Wood 1999b, 1999c, 2000, 2008] and 2009) as part of the investigation. At Kh. el-Maqatir evidence has been found for five major periods of occupation:

Middle Bronze Age, ca. 1800–1500 B.C.—pottery only on the southeast slope of the site
Late Bronze Age I, ca. 1500–1400 B.C.—fortress on the southeast slope, the focus of the ABR expedition
Iron Age I, ca. 1100 B.C.—squatter occupation on the southeast slope
Hasmonean, ca. 167–37 B.C.—fortress on the southeast slope
Byzantine, ca. A.D. 500–600—church and monastery on the summit of the site.

From the conclusion:

Excavations in the gate passageway revealed apparent evidence of severe burning in the form of reddened and fragmented bedrock, and burned and calcined building stones. On the west side, a 5 m length of the fortress wall was exposed and a 4 ft wide trench cut through it to provide a cross-section of its construction. At this point the wall is 12 ft wide at its base and preserved to a height of 4 ft. Several exploratory squares excavated on the south and east sides of the fortress in an effort to locate the fortification wall in these areas proved unsuccessful.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Excavation Blogs

The slow pace of recent blogging here is going to be reduced further in the next few weeks.  This morning I finished a project I’ve been working on for years, and that puts me in a good position ahead of summer travels.  I’ll have more later on the project (whose intended audience is you if you read this blog), but for now I’ll suggest some excavation blogs that might be of interest this summer.  If something exciting comes up, I may miss it but you won’t.

At the top of the list is the Tell es-Safi/Gath weblog.  Aren Maeir is not only running the show, but he posts very regularly on the latest discoveries and progress at the dig.  For instance, his entry today is entitled “Update for 16/7/09 – another temple????” and he writes:

Cynthia’s team is also on top of the 9th cent. destruction level, but more importantly, they appear to have began to uncover a large building that is situated just below the 9th cent. building in which we found the interesting collection of cultic items two years ago. This building has so far revealed to very large pillar bases and some very nice brick work. Although it is a bit early to say, this might very well be a large public building, and perhaps, who knows, a temple. Time will tell....

Elsewhere, you can read daily updates excavations along the coast of Israel (somebody got smart and figured that you’re going to recruit more volunteers if you’re near the beach!): in the south, the Ashkelon excavations and in the north, the Tel Kabri dig.

A couple of volunteers at the Gezer excavation discuss their travels more than the excavation, especially since they’ve been sworn to secrecy.  Apparently a four-room house was among the discoveries.

A personal account of excavation at Tall Dhiban is coming to a close.

Blogs that may be resurrected in the future include the Elah Fortress (Khirbet Qeiyafa/Shaaraim) blog and the Tel Dan blog.

If I missed an interesting one, let us know in the comments.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Mount Zion Excavations, 2009

Dr. James Tabor gives an illustrated report of the first three weeks of the current excavation on Mount Zion.  Here is an extract:

The results have been simply astounding, the finds quite spectacular, and the whole area has been transformed....

Our major goals this season have been to remove much of the garden fill and rubble that has accumulated over the past decades so as to get down to the archaeological layers that lie below, with particular emphasis on the 2nd Temple period levels that are preserved to an extraordinary height of 10-12 meters....

We will, of course, publish full reports on our Web site later this year but in terms of an overview here are some of our more spectacular finds so far:

1. A stone vessel with an ancient inscription of ten lines written in an archaic Jewish script.... We have found a dozen or more on our site over the past three years. However, to have ten lines of text is unprecedented.

2. Murex snail shells with holes drilled through them....

3. A fire pit that can be precisely dated to just after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE and the rebuilding of the city by Hadrian following the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135 CE....

4. The threshold of a magnificent Fatimid period double gate....

5. An arched doorway with mosaic floor and plastered wall....

6. Exposure of several well preserved 2nd Temple period vaulted chambers likely containing mikvot (ritual baths) and storage areas....

The report concludes with an urgent appeal for funds:

Funding has been extraordinarily tight this season with North Carolina state funds frozen entirely and many donors feeling the pinch of the recession. In order to complete our season, plus a minimum of conservation and post-excavation work, we have inaugurated a Web fund drive ( to raise $50,000 by July 15th and we are about 1/3 there. Gifts have ranged from $25 to $3000, with the average around $100. I hope you will join this fund drive and pass on the word to others. I think by pulling together a few hundred of us can easily meet our goal.

You can read the whole report here (also in pdf format).

HT: Jim West via Joe Lauer

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Quarry of Herod Discovered in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post:

An ancient quarry covering approximately one dunam and dating back to the end of the Second Temple period was uncovered during excavations on Shmuel Hanavi Street in Jerusalem ahead of the construction of residential buildings, Israel Antiquities Authority said on Monday.

According to Dr. Ofer Sion of the Authority, who directed the dig along with Yehuda Rapuano, the 2,300 year-old site was probably the source of the stones used to build the Second Temple walls.

"The immense size of the stones indicates it was highly likely that the large stones that were quarried at the site were destined for use in the construction of [legendary builder of ancient Jerusalem King] Herod's magnificent projects in Jerusalem, including the Temple walls," Sion said.

The article continues here.

The article gives conflicting dates for the quarry.  It is dated to the “end of the Second Temple period,” which is the years before A.D. 70.  But it was used for Herod’s projects, and he ruled in Jerusalem from 37-4 B.C.  But the site is 2,300 years old.  Given the monumental construction of Herod’s rule, I would guess that it dates from this period.

The location of the site is Shmuel Hanavi Street, which is a major thoroughfare about one mile north-northwest of Damascus Gate, running between Sanhedria and Mea Shearim.

Other major quarries from roughly the same time period have been discovered in Ramat Shlomo (location, photos), Sanhedria, and “Solomon’s Quarries” near Damascus Gate.  The quarry at Ketef Hinnom (now covered by the Menahem Begin Heritage Center) may date to the same period.

Ketef Hinnom new excavations, tb090299803

Ketef Hinnom quarry, September 1999

UPDATE: Joe Lauer notes that a couple of high-resolution images are available from the Israel Antiquities Authority here (zip).  The press release is posted here, and Arutz-7 also has an article.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bones and Face of the Apostle Paul

According to the Vatican, the traditional “tomb of Paul” has been authenticated.  Pope Benedict XVI announced that “tiny fragments of bone . . . belong to someone who lived in the first or second century.”  “This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle St. Paul.” 

The skeptical would note that a lot of people lived in the first and second centuries.  However, these bones were within a tomb traditionally identified with Paul.  I wouldn’t call that proof, but it seems to point in the direction of authenticity.  At least, it is unlikely that somebody in the Middle Ages set this all up.  CNN has a report.

Additionally, what is believed to be the earliest portrait of Paul was unveiled.  The painting dates to the 4th century and shows the apostle with a thin face and a dark pointy beard.  You can see for yourself here.

Previous coverage of the excavation of Paul’s tomb was mentioned here and here.

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New DVD: Jericho Unearthed

Expedition Bible has just released a new DVD entitled “Jericho Unearthed.”  Filmed on location, the video features interviews with archaeologists who argue for and against the site’s destruction by the Israelites as described in the book of Joshua.  From the website:jericho_unearthed

The battle of Jericho is one of the most enduring biblical stories.  The description of the “walls falling down” is among its most well-known accounts.   Yet, the most famous excavation of this ancient site, carried out in the 1950's under the direction of Kathleen Kenyon, claims that there wasn’t even a city at Jericho—much less city walls—at the time when Joshua supposedly conquered it. 

What are the implications of the battle of Jericho being disproven?  Wouldn’t the Bible be demonstrated untrustworthy? Couldn’t it be argued that the Jewish people have no more right to the land of Israel than anyone else? The implications really are staggering!

For more than fifty years scholars have built a wall of doubt against the historical accuracy of the Bible using Jericho as one of its cornerstones. It’s time to face those challenges head on!  It’s time to determine whether or not the conclusions of modern scholarship stand in light of the evidence or if those arguments don’t in fact collapse like Jericho’s walls. 

You can view the trailer here, or order the DVD from Amazon for $7.  I haven’t seen the video itself, but based upon the previous work of Expedition Bible, I would expect that this is the best resource available on the subject.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roman Quarry = Ancient Gilgal?

Does the newly discovered Roman quarry mark biblical Gilgal?  The excavator thinks this is possible.  From Haaretz:

Zertal says their working theory is that the site is Galgala, biblical Gilgal, mentioned on the sixth-century Madaba mosaic map. The cave, buried 10 meters underground, is about 100 meters long, 40 meters wide and 4 meters high, is the largest artificial cave so far discovered in Israel.

Potsherds found in the cave and the carvings on the columns led Zertal to date the first quarrying of the cave to around the beginning of the Common Era. It was used mainly as a quarry for 400 to 500 years," but other finds give the impression it was used for other purposes, perhaps a monastery or even a hiding place," Zertal said.

Zertal said scholars wondered why people would dig a quarry underground considering the effort needed to just to pull the stones out of the ground.

A possible answer may be in the famous Madaba Map of ancient Palestine, found in Jordan. In it, a place named Galgala is marked and an accompanying Greek word meaning "12 stones." The map also depicts a church near the site. Archaeologists say they have found two ancient churches near the cave.

According to Zertal, scholars had always assumed that "12 stones" refered to the biblical story of the 12 stones the Israelites set up at Gilgal after they crossed the Jordan.

However, the discovery of the quarried cave may mean the reference was to a quarry established where the Byzantines identified Gilgal. Zertal explains that in antiquity sanctuaries were built out of stones from sacred places.

The rest of the article is here

I would note that there is sometimes a big difference between a biblical site and what Byzantines thought was a biblical site.  In any case, the quarry’s location, 3 miles north of Jericho, is approximately where biblical scholars have supposed ancient Gilgal may have been located.  What has always been lacking is any archaeological evidence for a site from the time of Joshua.  A Roman quarry does not provide that evidence, but it may be a step in the right direction.

References to Gilgal in the Bible include Josh 4:19-20, Josh 10:6-7, 1 Sam 11:14-15, 1 Sam 13:4-15, 2 Sam 19:15; 2 Kings 2:1, Hos 4:15, and Amos 4:4.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (6/22): Thanks to Joe Lauer for sending along links to articles with photos.  The University of Haifa has issued a press release which includes four high-resolution photos.  Ynet includes a slideshow with six images, including one of the cave’s entrance.

UPDATE (6/25): National Geographic has an article about the discovery, including some quotations from Jodi Magness.

Medeba map Jericho and Gilgal area, tb053108977Jericho and Gilgal on the Medeba Map
Outlined in red is “Gilgal, also the Twelve Stones”
Below and to the right is the city of “Jericho,” surrounded by palm trees
The Jordan River is at the top, with the fish on the right swimming away from the Dead Sea

For more about the Medeba Map, see this BiblePlaces page.

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Roman Quarry Found near Jericho

The largest manmade cave in Israel was found 3 miles north of Jericho, and may have been used as a monastery in later years.  From the Jerusalem Post:

An artificial underground cave, the largest of its kind in Israel, was discovered in the Jordan Valley during excavations by the Haifa University's Department of Archaeology.

Prof. Adam Zertal, who headed the dig, assessed that the cave was used as a quarry in the Roman era. Various carvings were found on the cave's walls, including some of crosses, leading to the notion that the cave might have also hosted an ancient monastery.

The cave, sprawling over four dunams [1 acre] ten meters [32 feet] under the face of earth, is located some four kilometers [2.5 miles] north of Jericho. It was discovered at the end of March 2009 as part of a Haifa University dig which began in 1978, and is the largest man-made cave ever uncovered in Israel. The cave's main hall is supported by 22 pillars, on which are engraved 31 crosses, a zodiac-like symbol, roman numerals and a Roman legion's pennant. Judging by the findings, Prof. Zertal dated the cavern to around 1 CE.

"Initially, the place was utilized as a quarry, which was active for 400-500 years. But the other findings definitely give the impression that the cave was used for other purposes, such as a monastery, and perhaps even a hideaway," said Zertal.

The story is also covered by Haaretz and Reuters.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hazor and the James Ossuary

Gordon Franz has just posted three transcribed interviews with staff members of the Hazor excavations, including Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and Orna Cohen.  

“Hazor is Number One...”: An interview with Amnon Ben-Tor

“Where is the Archive at Hazor?”: An interview with Sharon Zuckerman

“It is the Best Job in the World”: An interview with Orna Cohen

Cohen is a conservator, and she comments on the controversy of the James Ossuary.  She believes that the second half of the inscription is original, but the first part is forged.

I had the pleasure of looking at and checking the James Ossuary and I gave my comments on it.  I think the ossuary is authentic and a real one, but the inscription on it, I am convinced there are two hands that wrote the inscription.  To my opinion, part of the inscription is faked, part is original.  Of course, there are things that go on in trial now.  They are still trying to figure out what is faked and by whom it was made.  To my opinion, the name Joshua [on the ossuary] is real.  The inscription reads: “Ya’acov bar Yosef achi Yehoshua.”  [Translation: Jacob, or James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus].  So the first part, I think is added.  My professional opinion is almost against all the others that think the last name [on the inscription]; “bother of Jesus” (Joshua) is a fake.  So my opinion was against the others [at the trial].  I checked and it’s according to the patina in the letters.  There was a fake patina of just dirt that was put in these letters on purpose so I cleaned part of it and underneath there was the original, yellowish patina that based on my experience, was the original one.  It was not on the first part of the inscription but it was on the last part of the inscription.  That is what I gave as my opinion.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ancient Mosaic from Lod to be Conserved

A beautiful and well preserved mosaic from about A.D. 300 from Lod will be fully excavated and preserved in the next few years following a large grant from the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White - Chairman of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority.  The mosaic will become the centerpiece of the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center.  The Israel Antiquities Authority press release gives some of the background and a link to two high-resolution images (zip). 

HT: Joe Lauer


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Low-Level Aqueduct and Sultan’s Pool

One of the most impressive building projects of King Herod and others of his period is the aqueduct system that brought water to Jerusalem from the area south of Bethlehem.  Most people aren’t familiar with this project, or if they are, they really can’t fathom how remarkable the system is.  This is because unless you get out and hike around for at least a few hours, it is difficult to get a sense for the obstacles that were overcome.

Several aqueducts brought water to a series of three massive pools known today as “Solomon’s Pools.”  Two aqueducts then transported the water to Jerusalem.  The upper-level aqueduct led to the area of Herod’s Palace on the Western Hill and the lower-level aqueduct fed the pools and cisterns around the Temple Mount.

The relationship and date of Sultan’s Pool (photo below) to the low-level aqueduct has never been clear.  The pool is located in the Hinnom Valley on the western side of Jerusalem, and recent excavations suggest that it was only constructed in the Byzantine period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that they have discovered a channel that diverted water from the low-level aqueduct into Sultan’s Pool.  Built in the Byzantine period (330-640), the channel was repaired multiple times in the Ottoman period (1517-1917).

The IAA has issued a press release and two high-resolution aerial photos (zip).  Arutz-7 has the story (“Jerusalem’s Secret Revealed”) and includes low-res photos in the article.

From the press release:

The Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered the main aqueduct that conveyed water to the Sultan’s Pool during an excavation prior to the construction of the Montefiore Museum in Mishkenot Sha’ananim by the Jerusalem Foundation. The ancient aqueduct supplied pilgrims and residents with water for drinking and purification.

Most Jerusalemites identify the Sultan’s Pool as a venue where large cultural events are held; however, for hundreds of years it was one of the city’s most important water reservoirs.

In an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority recently conducted prior to the construction of the Montefiore Museum, which the Jerusalem Foundation plans to build in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, an aqueduct was uncovered that conveyed water to the Temple Mount and also served as the principal water supply to the Sultan’s Pool. The excavation, directed by Gideon Solimany and Dr. Ron Beeri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, focused on a section along the course of the Low-level Aqueduct, on the western side of Ben Hinnoam Valley above the Derekh Hebron bridge.

According to Dr. Ron Beeri, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with a very impressive aqueduct that reached a height of three meters. Naturally, one of the first things Sultan Suleiman I hastened to do in Jerusalem (along with the construction of the city wall as we know it today) was to repair the aqueduct that was already there which supplied the large numbers of pilgrims who arrived in Jerusalem with water for drinking and purification. Suleiman attached a small tower to the aqueduct, inside of which a ceramic pipe was inserted. The pipe diverted the aqueduct’s water to the Sultan’s Pool and the impressive sabil (a Muslim public fountain for drinking water), which he built for the pilgrims who crossed the Derekh Hebron bridge and is still preserved there today”. Dr. Beeri said, “It is evident that the location of the aqueduct was extremely successful and efficient: we found four phases of different aqueducts that were constructed in exactly the same spot, one, Byzantine, from the sixth-seventh centuries CE and three that are Ottoman which were built beginning in the sixteenth century CE. The last three encircle a large subterranean water reservoir that was apparently built before the Ottoman period”.

Sultan's Pool with St Andrew's Church, mat12447 Sultan’s Pool in the Hinnom Valley, September 1943
Library of Congress, matpc-12447
From the forthcoming photo CD: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Jerusalem

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

ASOR 2008 and Biblical Archaeology

The annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) was held last November, but with 287 papers being presented, it is likely that you didn’t catch everything that went on, whether you were present or not. 

Brian Janeway has posted a summary of some key presentations related to biblical archaeology.  He notes:

Though the term ‘biblical archaeology’ has gone out of fashion, scholars are still preoccupied with correlating their finds with the biblical text. The fact that the vast majority of the sponsoring institutions are secular should encourage Christian believers of all stripes.

He reviews presentations about Jericho, Gath, the Philistines, Khirbet en-Nahas, LMLK seals, Qumran, and the “cave of John the Baptist.”  Janeway concludes:

This review of biblical papers delivered at the 2008 ASOR meetings clearly shows that biblical archaeology is anything but dead, even if scholars are uncomfortable with the term itself. Indeed, it illustrates the central role that the Bible continues to play in the history and archaeology of the region; a source unmatched and unrivaled in its rich detail and description of life in antiquity.

Information about the 2009 annual meeting is given at the ASOR website.  A schedule of the presentations may be downloaded here.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Update from Khirbet el-Maqatir, Week 2

The excavations of the site proposed to be biblical Ai continued for a second week, with a brief description and photos posted on the website of the Associates for Biblical Research.

Significant discoveries continued to be made during the second and final week of the ABR excavation at Kh. el-Maqatir, June 1-5, 2009.  During the first week ABR Board President Gary Byers cleared the gate entry way and found considerable evidence for an intense fire, evidenced by the limestone bedrock turning red.  Oral Collins of the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies continued the excavation of a section of the western wall of the fortress discovered in 2000.  The wall at this point proved to be 3.3 meters wide and is preserved to a height of 1.2 meters.  Just inside the gateway of the fortress ABR Director of Research Bryant Wood uncovered a portion of a building, perhaps an administrative center.  In the northeast corner of the 6 x 6 meter excavation square a deposit of four vessels from the time of Joshua were found: a storage jar, a small cooking pot, a trumpet-base bowl and a dipper juglet.  The four restorable vessels will provide important evidence for dating the fortress.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Update from Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) Excavations

After nine years of being unable to excavate Khirbet el-Maqatir because of its location near Palestinian cities in Israel, the Associates of Biblical Research has resumed work on the site under the direction of Bryant Wood.  Wood believes that the site may be the city of Ai destroyed by Joshua in the Israelite conquest of the land (Joshua 7-8).  A brief report of the first week’s excavations is now online, along with some photos.

Efforts this season are focused on the west, south and east walls, and several structures inside the fortress.  On the east, Eugene Merrill (Dallas Theological Seminary) discovered a pavement which may be a section of a ring road which circled the site inside the fortress wall.  On the west, Pastor James Luther (Florida) uncovered a 5 meter long section of a one meter wide wall that is part of a substantial structure inside the fortress.  Dig director Bryant Wood exposed several walls that were part of a building complex just inside the main gate on the north side of the fortress.  One of the guest volunteers working in Dr. Wood’s square found a large section of a pithos rim and neck which can be accurately dated to the 15th century BC, the time of the Conquest.

Wood’s latest article explaining the rationale for identifying Kh. el-Maqatir as Ai is given in an article in Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Eisenbrauns, 2008), available online in pdf format 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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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Volunteer Opportunity at Philistine Gath

Prof. Aren Maeir, archaeologist directing the excavations of Philistine Gath, mentions that there are still openings for this summer’s excavation.  He adds, “Remember - talking about the ANE, archaeology and the Bible, without actually experiencing excavations - is like a Bedouin who lives in the Sahara learning to swim thru a correspondence course...”  He writes:


JULY 5 – 31, 2009

Tell es-Safi/Gath (Hebrew Tel Tsafit), Israel, is a commanding mound located on the border between the Judean foothills (the Shephelah) and the coastal plain (Philistia), approximately halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon. At about 100 acres in size, it is one of the largest and most important pre-Classical period archaeological sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi is identified as Canaanite and Philistine Gath (known from the Bible as the home of Goliath and Achish) and Crusader Blanche Garde. The site was inhabited continuously from the Chalcolithic period (5th millennium BCE) until 1948 CE.

All able and willing people between 16 and 80 are invited to join us for a unique and exciting experience uncovering the history and culture of the Holy Land. In addition to participating in all facets of the excavation process, participants will be provided with an opportunity to learn cutting-edge techniques of field archaeology, gain experience in archaeological science applications (with a unique program in inter-disciplinary archaeological science in the field), hear lectures about the archaeology and history of the region and related issues, and go on field trips to nearby sites of historical/archaeological and/or contemporary interest. Participants will join a young, vivacious team comprised of staff, students and volunteers from Israel and the world-over. Students can earn either 3 or 6 university credits through Bar-Ilan University, the second largest university in Israel. Accommodations (including kosher food) will be provided at idyllic Kibbutz Revadim, a short drive from the site. Rooms (4-6 per room; single and double rooms available at extra charge) are air-conditioned and there will is to the Kibbutz pool. And don't forget the weekly, Thursday evening, Bar-B-Q!

WORKDAY (more or less)
6am to 1 pm excavation; Afternoon: various excavation related processes (such as pottery reading) and occasional tours; Evenings: occasional lectures. We work Sunday afternoon to Friday mid-day.

You can get more details here, and the registration form here (pdf).

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

New Excavation Blog: Tall Jalul

In my opinion, one of the sites in Jordan with the most potential is Tall Jalul.  The largest tell south of Amman, Jalul has not yet been identified with a biblical site (and there are plenty of names to choose from).  Five seasons of excavations have been conducted since 1992, and the site was occupied from the Late Bronze Age to the Persian period.  Discoveries include a paved approach ramp, two gatehouses, large tripartite building, clay figurines, and engraved seals.  You can read a longer summary here.

Excavations for the 2009 season will commence on May 25 and you can follow along on the new Tall Jalul Dig Blog.  They have already made several interesting posts, including a couple of (large) PowerPoints about the previous excavation seasons.  Among the interesting slides, there is a good aerial photograph of the tell on slide 27 of part 2.

Tell Jalul approach ramps, tb061204372-1 Tall Jalul paved approach ramp to city gate, June 2004

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Foot-Shaped Stone Enclosures Discovered in Israel

This discovery announced by the University of Haifa today could be very interesting.  There’s not enough information here for me to be bold enough to offer my thoughts, but I look forward to learning more about it. 

The article is entitled “Exceptional Archaeological ‘Foot’ Discovery in Jordan Valley”, and a summary is given:

Researchers at the University of Haifa reveal an exceptional archaeological discovery in the Jordan valley: Enormous "foot-shaped" enclosures identified with the biblical "gilgal" stone structures. "The 'foot' structures that we found in the Jordan valley are the first sites that the People of Israel built upon entering Canaan and they testify to the biblical concept of ownership of the land with the foot."

You can click on over to read the entire article and view the two photographs (large size: 1, 2).  Among the things I would like to know more about are the locations of the five structures, including how many are in the Jordan Valley.  The skeptic in me wonders how much imagination is required to see a “foot” in each one.  Regardless of the shape, they could be quite helpful in our understanding of ancient Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE: A.D. Riddle sends along the coordinates for a couple of sites that may be among the five.  You can download them in Google Earth format here.  Both are on the south side of the Wadi Farah (aka Faria), about 3 miles (5 km) north of Alexandrium/Sartaba.

UPDATE (4/9): Joe Lauer sends along notice of a couple of articles on the discovery: Haaretz and Science Daily.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Pier Discovered from Ancient Acco

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of a pier in the harbor of the city known as Acco/Akko, Ptolemais, and Acre.

Remains of a unique and impressive floor were discovered at a depth of one meter underwater in Akko harbor. The remains constitute the first evidence of a low sea level during the Hellenistic period in Akko. The floor remains were discovered during archaeological excavations and inspections that the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Archaeology Unit is carrying out within the framework of rehabilitating Akko’s southern seawall. The project is being implemented by conservators on behalf of the Old Acre Development Company, Ltd., and is underwritten by the Israel Lands Administration. The scope of the funding that the latter is providing totals several million shekels. As part of the project, a temporary rampart that serves as both a road and dam was built in the sea. The pool of water that formed between the rampart and the seawall was pumped out so as to create dry conditions for rehabilitating the seawall.

The part of the floor that has been revealed so far extends for a distance of 15 meters and is 4 meters wide (the full dimensions of the floor have not yet been exposed). The floor was built of rectangular, smoothly dressed kurkar stones that were placed atop a foundation course of roughly hewn kurkar stones arranged next to each other as “headers”. In probes that were conducted beneath the floor, numerous fragments of ceramic jars of Aegean provenance (from Rhodes, Kos and elsewhere) were found that were used to transport wine, as well as tableware and cooking vessels. Among the other artifacts recovered were a Greek style bronze arrowhead and bronze coins that are covered with marine encrustations. A preliminary identification of the finds shows that the floor was constructed in the Hellenistic period (end of the third century until the middle of the second century BCE) as part of a national project.

This press release continues here.  High-resolution photos of the discovery and its vicinity are available here (zip).  For more photos and information about the ancient Acco, see this BiblePlaces page.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Aren Maeir on the 35th Annual Archaeological Conference

Today the 35th Annual Archaeological Conference was held in Jerusalem, and fortunately for us, Aren Maeir was there and has commented on some of the interesting presentations that were given.  You can read his blog for the full report, but here are the three of most interest to this blog author:

1) Haggai Misgav spoke about the Kh. Qeiyafa inscription, which still is for the most part undeciphered, but he showed some good slides of the 5 lines, 50 letters, and showed nicely the reading of, e.g., eved (slave), melek (king), al t’as (don’t do in biblical hebrew), etc. Inter alia, the so-called “Goliath inscription” from Tell es-Safi/Gath was mentioned....

4) Erez Ben-Yosef et al, who discussed some interesting results of Tom Levi’s project in the Edom lowlands, including details on some new sites at which there is evidence for early Iron Age and Iron IIA smelting activities.

5) Norma Franklin who discussed the so-called “Proto-Aeolic capitals” of the Iron Age, claiming, very logically, that none of them were actually capitals!”

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Byzantine Bathhouse Excavated Near Sderot

The Israel Antiquities Authority reports in a press release:

A bathhouse that dates to the Byzantine period was exposed in an archaeological excavation undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Kibbutz Gevim (at the site of Horvat Lasan) and underwritten by the Israel Railways, prior to laying a railroad track from Ashkelon to Netivot.

According to archaeologist Gregory Serai, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The bathhouse, which covers an area of 20 x 20 m, was apparently destroyed in a cave-in and was later used as a rubbish dump that was filled with household refuse. It was ascertained in the excavation that the furnace (hypocaust) was dug into the natural soil and its ceiling was built of a cement-like material that was lined with ceramic tiles. The ceiling was supported by means of one meter high colonnades built of mudbricks. The bathers entered the changing room (apodyterium) and passed from there into a room with cold water (frigidarium) where there were probably stepped tubs. From there they continued into the room with warm water (tepidarium) and on to the room with hot water (caldarium – comparable to today’s sauna). The floor of the caldarium was paved with marble flagstones, some of which were as big 1 x 1 m. Evidence of the ceiling’s destruction is attested to by the manner in which the hypocaust columns were toppled in different directions”.

Following its destruction, the structure served as a source of building material as evidenced by the stone walls that were robbed. Secondary use of the stones was noted in the center area of the excavation. A number of residential buildings were discovered in this part of the site and they contained storage jars that were still in situ.

The village’s buildings and bathhouse join the finds that were revealed in a previous excavation that was conducted on the other side of the road. In the opinion of Gregory Serai, “We are dealing with a village whose economy was based on the production of wine and the manufacture of pottery vessels. The site was situated on a road that linked Beer Sheva with Gaza and probably began as a road station in the Roman period.

There’s a brief article about Kibbutz Gevim, including its location, at Wikipedia.  Eight photos of the excavations can be found with the article at this temporary link, or directly here (zip).

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Byzantine Church Discovered in Nes-Harim

This discovery is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and CNN.  The following is the beginning of the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A church that dates to the Byzantine period which is paved with breathtakingly beautiful mosaics and a dedicatory inscription was exposed in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting near Moshav Nes-Harim, 5 kilometers east of Bet Shemesh (at the site of Horvat A-Diri), in the wake of plans to enlarge the moshav.

According to archaeologist Daniel Ein Mor, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The site was surrounded by a small forest of oak trees and is covered with farming terraces that were cultivated by the residents of Nes-Harim. Prior to the excavation we discerned unusually large quantities of pottery sherds from the Byzantine period and thousands of mosaic tesserae that were scattered across the surface level”.

The excavation seems to have revealed the very center of the site, which extends across an area of approximately 15 dunams, along the slope of a spur that descends toward Nahal Dolev.

During the first season of excavation (November 2008) the church’s narthex (the broad entrance at the front of the church’s nave) was exposed in which there was a carpet of polychrome mosaics that was adorned with geometric patterns of intertwined rhomboids separated by flower bud motifs. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the excavation this mosaic was defaced and almost completely destroyed by unknown vandals. During that excavation season a complex wine press was partly exposed that consists of at least two upper treading floors and elongated, well-plastered arched cells below them that were probably meant to facilitate the preliminary fermentation there of the must. Part of the main work surface, which was paved with large coarse tesserae, was exposed at the foot of these cells. A complex wine press of this kind is indicative of a wine making industry at the site; this find is in keeping with the presence here of a church and is consistent with our knowledge about Byzantine monasteries in the region during this period (sixth-seventh centuries CE).

The press release continues here.  The IAA has posted (temporary link) three high-resolution images: 1) an aerial view of the site; 2) workers cleaning the church floor; 3) a close-up of the church’s dedicatory inscription.  A direct link to the images is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Excavations on Mount Zion, 2009

Shimon Gibson and James Tabor have posted a week-by-week summary of their 2009 season of excavations on Mount Zion at The Bible and Interpretation.  In the six weeks of work, they made numerous small finds from the 1st century A.D. to the modern period.  The description is accompanied by several beautiful photographs.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

1967 Archaeology Movie with Pritchard

In 1967 the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania filmed a 27-minute movie about archaeological work in Jordan and the West Bank.  “The Book and the Spade” gives a general introduction to the value and discipline of archaeology, which includes footage of important biblical sites that are not usually on the itinerary of visitors today, including Hebron, Shechem, and Samaria.  The film naturally focuses more on the excavations sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, Gibeon and Tell es-Saidiyeh.  The latter site is the subject of the second half, and the one who is patient is rewarded with shots of the on-going excavations and an interview with the archaeologist James B. Pritchard.  Pritchard is probably best known today for his three editions of Ancient Near Eastern Texts, but he made significant contributions in his excavations of Gibeon (1956-62) and Tell es-Saidiyeh (1964-67). The film also documents the construction of a mudbrick house.  Though the movie was slow-moving by today’s standards, I enjoyed seeing many sites the way they were 40 years ago.  You can see the contrast of the excavations in the film with a recent photo below.

Tell es Saidiyeh view of Rift Valley to nw, tb110503948Excavation area of Tell es-Saidiyeh, 2003

Other University of Pennsylvania films that may be of interest to readers of this blog include:

Athens (1939)

Ancient Earth: Making History Everlasting (1940)

Iran (1963)

Windows on the Past (1967)

Turkey (1967)

Jordan (1969)

Cyprus (1969)

And more...

HT: Ferrell Jenkins and Gordon Govier

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Excavations to Resume at Kh. el-Maqatir (Ai?)

Excavations are set to resume at Khirbet el-Maqatir, a small site about half a mile (1 km) west of et-Tell, the scholarly choice for biblical Ai.  Bryant Wood led excavations at Maqatir from 1995 to 2000, when the second Intifada interrupted the work.  Wood has published in Israel Exploration Journal his view that Maqatir is the best candidate for the Late Bronze city of Ai.  More information about the excavation, including a solicitation for volunteers, is online at the website of the Associates for Biblical Research.

I wrote an article about ten years ago (Bible and Spade 12/3 [1999], p. 91ff) in which I showed that local tradition located Ai at Maqatir, not et-Tell.  Unfortunately Calloway (and every other scholar I’ve read) ignored this rather important piece of data reported by Edward Robinson (1841).  No kidding.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Heliodoros Stele Discovered

For $30, tourists can excavate the ancient ruins of Maresha/Beit Guvrin for three hours.  The area is full of caves rich with ancient artifacts, and it is not uncommon for excavators to find many “treasures” in the exposure.  Usually these discoveries include Hasmonean oil lamps or pottery vessels, for recently volunteers uncovered a nearly intact inscription from the 2nd century B.C.  Haaretz reports:

Three fragments of a Greek inscription, believed to be part of the "Heliodoros stele" were recently found at an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at the National Park of Beit Guvrin.

The Heliodoros stele, dating back to 178 B.C.E. and consisting of 23 lines inscribed in limestone, is considered one of the most important ancient inscriptions found in Israel.

Dr. Dov Gera, who studied the inscriptions, determined that the fragments were actually the lower portion of "The Heliodoros stele". This discovery confirmed the assumption that the stele originally stood in one of the temples located where Maresha-Beit Guvrin National Park stands today.

The new fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute's "Dig for a Day" program.

As published by Professors Cotton and Wörrle in 2007, this royal stone stele bears a proclamation by the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (father of Antiochus IV). The contents of the stele shed light on the Seleucid government's involvement in local temples, mentioning an individual named Olympiodoros, the appointed "overseer" of the temples in Coele Syria - Phoenicia, including Judea.

The order of the king was sent to Heliodorus, who was probably the same person mentioned in the book of II Maccabees. According to the story in Maccabees, Heliodorus, as the representative of King Seleucus IV, tried to steal money from the Temple in Jerusalem but instead was severely beaten as a result of divine intervention.

The rest of the story is here.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has a press release and two high-resolution photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

Maresha from west aerial, tb011606749ddd Maresha from west

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Qeiyafa video and Gath website

Archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel discusses his discovery of the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostraca in a 2.5 minute video posted on youtube.  There is a transcript in the right sidebar. 

The website of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project has been thoroughly revised and updated.  You can read about what has been discovered in previous seasons, as well as learn more about how to volunteer for the coming season.  The website also includes a photo gallery and a virtual tour of the tell.  Many of the images link to high-resolution versions.

HT: Paleojudaica and Aren Maeir

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tall el-Hammam: Sodom, Abel Shittim, Abila, or Livias?

Gary Byers of the Associates for Biblical Research has written a new article on the excavations of Tall el-Hammam, a site that has been identified as Sodom by its excavator, Steven Collins.  The essay is a sensible review of the site’s history based on archaeological work and biblical data.  I don’t find the Sodom identification compelling based on the present state of the evidence, but this does not detract from the value of the article.  There is no doubt that Tall el-Hammam was an important site in the ancient world, and continued excavations there will no doubt be useful in revealing more of the region’s history.  The article concludes:

In review, our site was a major city from earliest times. It may be one of the Tell el-Hammam excavations, tb060108194dxo oldest cities mentioned in the Bible, in the Table of Nations (Gn 10). Maybe it was Sodom from those earliest days up to the time of Abraham, well over 2,500 years. Then, after its destruction in the Middle Bronze Age, and with no evidence of occupation for over 500 years, it may have been known as Abel Shittim (“meadow of the acacia trees”) at the time of Moses. During the Iron Age, a city was built on the upper tall, and it is a reasonable candidate to be the capital of Solomon’s twelfth administrative district, in sight of the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem, Solomon’s capital. In New Testament times, a new city arose around the base of the talls and may have been Abila or even Livias (Julias), the capital of Perea. Finally, our site may be one of the unnamed sites on the Madaba Map.

Whatever our excavations and research may eventually tell us, there is no question that Tall el-Hammam was an important site throughout the Biblical period. During each period of history, it stood as a quiet witness to some of the Bible’s greatest people and events.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 8 of 2008: Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible

2008 was a good year for archaeology.  You can read about the top ten archaeological discoveries in the world this year, but my goal here is simply to suggest what I perceive to be the most significant discoveries for understanding the Bible and its world.  Both the selection and the ranking is purely subjective; there were no polls, editorial committees, or coin tosses.  For another opinion, take a look at the list of Dr. Claude Mariottini

1. Khirbet Qeiyafa (and inscription).  The new excavations of this fortified site in the Shephelah ranks as #1 for the following reasons: 1) The site was occupied for only a limited time during the reign of King David. 2) The site is located near the battle location of David and Goliath. 3) A strongly fortified site is indicative of a strong central government, at a time when scholars question the existence of such.  4) A early Hebrew inscription discovered this summer points to the site’s owners (Judeans) and the state of literacy in this period.  5) These discoveries will certainly shed light on what is currently the most debated issue in biblical archaeology: the nature of Israel/Judah during the 10th century.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606779 marked Elah Valley from the west

2. Gath excavations.  It’s not a single discovery that puts the excavations of this Philistine city in the number two spot, but rather the cumulative results of a very profitable season.  This includes possible early Iron IIA material (see above debate), a 10th century seal impression, two Assyrian destruction layers, methodological advances, as well as other significant remains from the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Ages.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, Area E excavations from east, tb060906085dddGath excavations, Area E, Summer 2006

3. New discoveries at Herod the Great’s tomb.  The tomb was discovered and identified in 2007, but on-going excavation in 2008 revealed additional coffins, including one that may belong to one of Herod’s wives and another to one of his sons.  They also found a theater that sat 750 people and included a VIP room with beautiful wall paintings.  All of this further confirms the previous identification that Herod’s tomb was located on the slope of the Herodium.

4. The “First Wall” of Jerusalem.  A well-preserved portion of the Hasmonean wall (2nd century B.C.) was uncovered on the south side of Jerusalem.  While parts of this wall have been excavated previously, there are two advantages to the current excavation: 1) It is being carried out with the latest in archaeological knowledge. 2) The remains will be preserved and visible to visitors.

5. Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli. The Kuttamuwa Stele is a large well-preserved funerary inscription from the 8th century B.C. city of Sam'al (modern Zincirli) that sheds light on the beliefs of the afterlife of one of Israel’s northern neighbors.  For more on the content of the inscription, see this.  This is the only discovery on this list which is also on Archaeology Magazine’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2008.

6. Iron Age Seals from Jerusalem.  Many inscriptions were found in Jerusalem at different times this year, including the Seal of Shlomit (aka Temah), the Seal of Gedaliah, the Seal of Netanyahu, and the Seal of Rephaihu.  The first two were discovered in Eilat Mazar’s excavation of the potential area of “David’s palace,” and the other two were found relatively close by (Western Wall and Gihon Spring).  Gedaliah is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38:1, and Shlomit may be mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19.  Some might rank these discoveries higher in the list, but I have not because so many have already been found, including many in this area and many that mention other biblical figures.

7. Pre-8th century B.C. neighborhood in the City of David.  This report received little notice, as far as I could tell, but could be quite significant in our understanding of the growth of Jerusalem in the earliest centuries of Judean rule.  While these discoveries were made in 2007, they were only publicized in 2008 (thus qualifying them for this list).  In short, the archaeologists found five Iron Age strata which included a group of houses that dated “earlier than the 8th century.”  Excavators rarely uncover houses in Jerusalem, and these would be the earliest I know of from the Iron Age.

8. Philistine temple near Gerar.  I heard very little of this discovery, but it makes the list because Philistine temples are both rare and of biblical interest (see Judges 16:23-30 and 1 Samuel 5:2-5).  Other Philistine temples have been excavated at Tel Qasile and Ekron (and Aren Maier has teased that he may have another at Gath).

Other discoveries that did not make the top 8 include the sarcophagus fragment of the son of the High Priest in Jerusalem, the “Christ Inscription” in Egypt, and a Jerusalem quarry found in Sanhedria.  The on-going Temple Mount sifting project deserves mention (and support).

Other finds that did not make the list are the perfume bottle that Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus’ feet and the water tunnel that David used to conquer Jerusalem.  Perhaps more information or discoveries will convince me that these are more than attempts to gain publicity.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

264 Gold Coins Found in City of David

The excavations south of the Dung Gate, where previously an announcement was made of the discovery of the palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene, is the site of a cache of Byzantine coins.  A Byzantine tourist volunteering at the dig made the find yesterday.  CNN reports:

Some Israeli archaeologists are having a particularly happy Hanukkah.

The Israel Antiquities Authority reported a thrilling find Sunday -- the discovery of 264 ancient gold coins in Jerusalem National Park.

The coins were minted during the early 7th century.

"This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem -- certainly the largest and most important of its period," said Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Researchers discovered the coins at the beginning of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which started at sunset on Sunday.

One of the customs of the holiday is to give "gelt," or coins, to children, and the archaeologists are referring to the find as "Hanukkah money."

The 1,400-year-old coins were found in the Giv'ati car park in the City of David in the walls around Jerusalem National Park, a site that has yielded other finds, including a well-preserved gold earring with pearls and precious stones.

They were in a collapsed building that dates back to the 7th century, the end of the Byzantine period. The coins bear a likeness of Heraclius, who was the Byzantine emperor from 610 to 641.

Usually archaeologists do not want to publicize the discovery of gold during an ongoing excavation, as it can lead to unwanted attention.  Perhaps word got out before they could swear everyone to secrecy.

The rest of the story is here.  You can also read about it at Arutz-7, Jerusalem Post, and the government press release.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Perfume Bottles Found at Magdala

There is something important to this story, but it’s not what you might think.  What is exciting is that ancient Magdala is being excavated.  Perhaps that will increase our knowledge of this ancient city that was home to Mary Magdalene.  Perhaps it will result in the site being opened to visits by tourists.  Perhaps there will be silly sensational claims made before analysis is done – oh wait, that wish has already come true.  From the Telegraph, written by Nick Pisa in Rome:

Archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.

This sentence should immediately clue you into the fact that this is a “made-for-TV” story, fashioned for maximum publicity without regard to truth.  You know this because:

1. It is quite incredible that of all the vases in the ancient world, the first ones the archaeologists find at this city are related to this biblical event.

2. Mary was from Magdala, but since there is no record that Jesus was ever in Magdala, his feet were not anointed there.  Perhaps, though, Mary carried the bottles back to her hometown.

3. Except that it’s hard to believe that Mary only poured some of the contents out and left the rest for archaeologists to find.

4. Most important to ignore in order to make this story fly is the fact that the Bible nowhere says that Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet.  A different Mary anointed him the week before his crucifixion (John 12:1-8).  And a sinful woman anointed him at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).  She is never named and Mary Magdalene is introduced by Luke two verses later (Luke 8:2) with no indication that this was the same woman.  Furthermore, the unnamed woman used an alabaster jar.  Did the excavators find an alabaster jar?  Mary Magdalene did plan to anoint Jesus’ body one Sunday morning, but she failed in her attempt (Mark 16:1-8).

The Italian team have been digging for several months at the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala – from where Mary gets her name.

In Mary’s day, Magdala was in the district of Galilee.  Today, its ruins are in the state of Israel.  It was not then, and is not now, a Palestinian town, except for those who wish to see the Jewish nation replaced by an Arab one.

The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex....

Speaking of the discovery Father Stefano De Luca who is leading the dig, said: "The mud-filled condition of the site allowed us to find these truly extraordinary objects, which were intact and sealed and still contain greasy substances.

"We think these are balms and perfumes and if chemical analysis confirms this, they could be similar to those used by Mary Magdalene in the Gospels to anoint the feet of Christ.

I have a revolutionary idea.  Analyze the contents, and then tell us what they are.

"The discovery of these vases is very important. We have in our hands the cosmetic products from the time of Jesus. It's very likely that the woman who anointed Christ's feet used these products, or ones similar in organic composition and quality."

Frankly, this story could have been written long before the excavations.  They already knew the site was inhabited in the 1st century A.D.  All they needed was to find some vases, any vases, and they could say that these were related to Mary.  And the reporters would come, and the donations would flow.

HT: Joe Lauer

Magdala from above, tb102702020 Magdala from west

UPDATE (12/12): An article in Italian is longer and includes a photograph.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Discoveries at Herod’s Tomb

In advance of the upcoming National Geographic special on Herod’s tomb, as well as the cover story of the same on the December issue of NG, archaeologist Ehud Netzer held a press conference today announcing the most recent discoveries.  You can read the Hebrew University press release (with photos) and articles in Arutz-7, Haaretz, and National Geographic.  Below are selected portions of the articles.


The findings include coffins of Herod’s family, a theater with a VIP room, and two coffins containing the remains of most likely Herod’s wife and the wife of Archelaus, Herod’s son. The new findings further support the idea that the grave discovered last year belongs to Herod the Great. (Arutz-7)

Netzer described the winter palace, built on a largely man-made hill 680 meters high, as a kind of country club, with a pool, baths, gardens fed by pools and aqueducts and a 650-seat theater. (Haaretz)

Herodium with lower pool, tb021407740dxo

Herodium with lower pool


A theater that could hold an audience of 750 was discovered not far from the mausoleum. In front of the seating area is a large room for VIPs, from which the king and his close friends would watch the shows. (Arutz-7)

"In Herod's private box at the auditorium, the diggers discovered delicate frescoes depicting windows opening on to painted landscapes, one of which showed what appeared to be a southern Italian farm," said Roi Porat, one of Netzer's assistants on the digs. Just visible in the paintings, dating from between 15-10 B.C., are a dog, bushes and what looks like a country villa. (Haaretz)

"Normally in Judean art you wouldn't paint scenes such as these with animals. The style is so similar to what is known from Italy, it really looks like a team came over to do the painting," said Rachel Chachy-Laureys, a surveyor working with Nezter. "It fits the context." (National Geographic)

The theater, its two side rooms and VIP section, were intentionally destroyed when Herod constructed the cone-shaped artificial mountain, which enclosed the round structure that stood at the top of the hill. (Arutz-7)


"What we found here, spread all around, are architectural fragments that enable us to restore a monument of 25 meters high, 75 feet high, very elegant, which fits Herod's taste and status," [Netzer] told The Associated Press. (Haaretz)

In the excavation that took place this year in the area of the mausoleum, the remains of two white-colored tombs were found, most likely belonging to Herod’s family. The bright red and elegant coffin of Herod, which was displayed last year, is now completely restored, along with a large tomb. Prof. Netzer ascertains that the red coffin is the burial coffin of Herod. In contrast to the white coffins, the red coffin was shattered into hundreds of pieces, and spread throughout the mausoleum area. Prof. Netzer estimates that Malthace the Samaritan was buried in the larger of the two white burial coffins. (Arutz-7)

One big question remains: Where is Herod's body?  "We have only found a very small number of human bones at the site and have not been able to come to any conclusions," Netzer said. "We have not yet finished digging and have only uncovered a small area."  But he does not believe the king's remains will ever be recovered. (National Geographic)

Previous discussion and photos of Herod’s tomb can be found here.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Update

There was a flurry of news coverage of the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription yesterday, even though only a few words of that inscription have been translated (or, at least, announced).  Here are a few highlights.

CBS News has a 45-second video showing a man opening and handling the inscribed potsherd (ostracon).  A few letters are visible.

You can watch a 5-minute interview with the excavator, Yosi Garfinkel (in Hebrew) (via Yitzhak Sapir).

A few photos were released, but they appear to be deliberately impossible to read, as the excavators naturally want to translate the inscription before someone on the internet does.  It also has been suggested that high-tech photos may be necessary before the excavators are able to read the inscription in its entirety.  Here are a few photos: ostracon 1, ostracon 2, aerial view of the site and the gatehouse.

There is some debate on the ANE-2 list about whether this is a (Proto-)Canaanite inscription or a Hebrew inscription.

A member of the excavation team has posted some of his thoughts on Jim West’s blog.

The most ridiculous headline belongs to a British rag: 'Proof' David slew Goliath found as Israeli archaeologists unearth 'oldest ever Hebrew text'

And if you prefer your inscriptions on a coffee mug, Eisenbrauns just announced the 2008 Gezer Calendar mug

There are a couple of other stories that I don’t have time to comment on now, but you can read about Eilat Mazar’s discovery of the tsinnor (water shaft) that David used to conquer Jerusalem and about an inscribed stone seal found in Jerusalem.  Don’t believe everything you read.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

The Jerusalem Post has some details about the inscription from today’s archaeology conference in Jerusalem.  Some extracts:

A teenage volunteer found the curved pottery shard, 15 centimeters by 15 centimeters, in July near the stairs and stone washtub of an excavated home. It was later discovered to bear five lines of characters known as proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.

Carbon-14 analysis of burnt olive pits found in the same layer of the site dated them to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., the same time as the Biblical golden age of David's rule in Jerusalem.

Scholars have identified other, smaller Hebrew fragments from the 10th century B.C., but the script, which Garfinkel suggests might be part of a letter, predates the next significant Hebrew inscription by between 100 and 200 years....

The shard is now kept in a university safe while philologists translate it, a task expected to take months. But several words have already been tentatively identified, including ones meaning "judge," "slave" and "king."

The Israelites were not the only ones using proto-Canaanite characters, and other scholars suggest it is difficult - perhaps impossible - to conclude the text is Hebrew and not a related tongue spoken in the area at the time. Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning "to do," a word he said existed only in Hebrew.

"That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he said....

If the inscription is Hebrew, it would indicate a connection to the Israelites and make the text "one of the most important texts, without a doubt, in the corpus of Hebrew inscriptions," Maier said. But it has great importance whatever the language turns out to be, he added.

The full story is here.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa in the NY Times

The New York Times has an article in tomorrow’s print edition about Khirbet Qeiyafa (with thanks to Joe Lauer for pointing it out).  The article appears to me to be a teaser, released on the same day of the excavator’s lecture in Jerusalem, which likely will include some new revelations.  The article quotes a number of archaeologists, but most of the information is already known to those who have followed the excavation here or elsewhere.  I’m going to comment on some portions of the article, but you’ll do best the read the article in its entirety first, and then read my comments.

Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development.

This is a dramatic statement, but the rest of the article ignores the inscription.  The “competition” for the earliest Hebrew text would be the Izbet Sartah inscription (11th century), the Gezer Calendar (10th century), and the Tel Zayit Inscription (10th century).  Interestingly, all of these inscriptions are from the same general vicinity (the western foothills, aka Shephelah).

A great power [like that described of David and Solomon], they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

Hold on here.  Gezer is only a few miles up the road, and the excavations there were pretty decisive that it was a well-fortified city in the time of Solomon.  This is an example of trying to make the site more important by denigrating the significance of others.

Another reason this site holds such promise is that it was in use for only a short period, perhaps 20 years, and then destroyed — Mr. Garfinkel speculates in a battle with the Philistines — and abandoned for centuries, sealing the finds in Pompeii-like uniformity.

This is very important.  The problem with other sites is that they may be used for a long period of time, making it difficult to distinguish exactly what was going on at an earlier point it is history.  For that reason, archaeologists love destructions.  Even better is a single period site with a relatively short-lived occupation.

“The fortification required 200,000 tons of stone and probably 10 years to build,” he said as he walked around the site one recent morning. “There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C.”

These are some numbers that I had not seen before.  It does seem strange that a fortress that took 10 years to build would only be in use for 20 years.  Why was it not rebuilt?  Was it because it was captured by the Philistines?  Or was it because David’s kingdom was strong enough (and its border now further away) that this fortress was no longer necessary?

“This is an important site, one of the very few cases from the 10th century where you can see a settlement fortified in a style that is typical of later Israelite and Judean cities,” said Amihai Mazar, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University. “The question is who fortified it, who lived in it, why it was abandoned and how it all relates to the reign of David and Solomon.”

Mazar certainly asks the key questions.  It’s important to remember that many of these things are interpretive, which means that an archaeologist can interpret the finds one way and another archaeologist can come to a different (even opposite) conclusion.  If only the stones could speak.

The Philistines had a huge city, Gath, some seven miles away, but pottery found there looks distinct from what Mr. Garfinkel has found here.

This suggests that Qeiyafa was an Israelite fort.  That’s a real question because the Shephelah at this time was contested by the Philistines and Israelites.

Seymour Gitin, an archaeologist and a director of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, a private American institution, who has seen the finds, said: “The real value is that there was an urban center in the 10th century. You can extrapolate and say this helps support a kingdom, a united monarchy under David and Solomon. People will rightly use this material to support that.”

What Gitin is saying is that a fortress like this doesn’t come out of nowhere.  There must be some sort of strong organizing force (government) that financed and directed it.  This compound wasn’t built by three bored Israelites one Sunday afternoon.

“Some of us look at things in a very ethnocentric way — everything is Israelite or Judahite,” [Israel Finkelstein] said. “History is not like that. There were other entities playing a big role in the southern part of the country. And even if it belongs to Jerusalem, fine. So there is a late 10th-century fortified structure there. I don’t believe that any archaeologist can revolutionize our entire understanding of Judah and Jerusalem by a single site. It doesn’t work that way. This is a cumulative discipline.”

Whoops!  Look at how quickly Finkelstein re-dated the whole enterprise by approximately a century.  Earlier in the article the fortress is dated to 1050-970 B.C.  Finkelstein makes it late 10th-century with a wave of his hand.  This is not accidental, as his recent publications are built upon the theory that the biblical history was written very late and is entirely unreliable.  Any discovery which suggests a strong central government in Judah in the 10th century is very inconvenient for his views.

He [Garfinkel] says with some 96 percent of this site still to be unearthed, a process likely to take 10 years, he hopes that more writing, more olive pits and more pottery will be uncovered, and add depth to what he believes is a revolutionary find.

Most critical in the whole discussion is this note of caution.  Too often absolute and sensational conclusions are made after the first discoveries.  We have time.  Any discoveries heralded now, of course, certainly makes recruiting slave labor volunteers much easier.

The New York Times does not have any photos of the site, but we do.  For more photos of the site in relation to the Elah Valley, and my speculation before the Times article or Garfinkel’s lecture, see this previous blog post.  The Times article does not mention the possibility that Khirbet Qeiyafa is Ephes Dammim.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, 10th c four chambered gate, ar080731447

Khirbet Qeiyafa four-chambered gatehouse (10th century B.C.)

Khirbet Qeiyafa stele fragment, ar080731446  Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations with stele fragment

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Gath 2008 Excavation Summary

An update for the 2008 season at Gath (Tell es-Safi) is now posted at The Bible and Interpretation website.  Director Aren Maeir has summarized the discoveries and it’s worth reading in full.  Some of the highlights:

Early Bronze Age: the site was apparently huge

Middle Bronze Age: more excavation of the city wall and glacis

Late Bronze Age: a very large building, with rich collection of pottery

Iron Age I: remains of plants and animals could help determine the Philistines’ diet; Mycenaean IIIC pottery found

Iron IIA (1000-800 B.C.): – all bullet points are direct quotations from the article

  • clear early Iron IIA pottery
  • a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE)
  • several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide robust 14C datings for this phase
  • One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia. In fact, the finds from this level may serve as a central key to solving the “hot debate” on the chronology of the Iron Age, raging for now for more than a decade. Hopefully, the 14C results will be available by late 2008.
  • these finds demonstrate conclusively that our original assumption that the city of Gath was very large during the Iron Age IIA, reaching ca. 45-50 hectares [108-120 acres] in size, was correct. This makes it perhaps the largest site in Philistia, and perhaps in the entire Land of Israel during this period. As such, it appears to match the image of Gath that is portrayed in the biblical texts that relate to the early monarchy, in which the city is described as the largest and most important of five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, the primus inter pares among the five cities.

Iron IIB (c. 700 B.C.): two destruction layers, possibly related to Sargon II and Sennacherib

Methodology: “in-field laboratory (including an IR spectrometer in the field), which was supplemented by the additional laboratories back in the base camp, provided us with “on-line” results of these analyses - which enabled “real-time” understanding of the archaeological finds. This joint program is unparalleled at ANY excavation in Israel, and in fact, in the world. The close integration of a “regular” excavation team with a wide team of archaeological scientists IN THE FIELD, is simply unparalleled anywhere.”

For many reasons, this excavation looks like it will be extremely beneficial for archaeological and biblical studies.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, from east, tb060906175 Gath, view from the east

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Copper Mines from Time of Solomon

Recently Dr. Thomas Levy of the University of California at San Diego was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.  In conjunction with that, he published an article in their journal (abstract here) about his work at Khirbet en-Nahas, including his belief that the copper mines were in operation here during the time that the Bible records King Solomon as mining copper.  Lots of new sources and blogs have made a big deal out of the story, and while it is a good story, it is not a new story.  If you haven’t read about it before, or if you need a refresher, by all means read it again.  But if it all sounds familiar, you know why (NY Times 2006 article here; see also article in a recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review). 

The university press release is here.  There’s a good 12-minute video made by the university  (with dozens of photos used without even a kind mention of their source).  You can find many more articles by searching for “Levy copper mines.”

Kh en-Nahas overview to nw, df080207181dxo

Khirbet en-Nahas, view from southeast

Kh en-Nahas Area S, Iron Age four-room workshop, view ne, df080207014dxo

Khirbet en-Nahas, Iron Age workshop

Kh en-Nahas slag remains on surface, df080207332dxo

Copper slag remains on surface

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dan and Hazor

A brief report of the finds from the 2008 season at Hazor is now posted (click link at top or directly here).

Tel Dan may be even more lush and beautiful the next time you visit following an agreement for the neighboring kibbutz to take water from the lower spring rather than the one next to the tel.  The article from the JPost, in part:

Rather than pumping from the higher-altitude Tel Dan spring, the kibbutz will receive its water from the lower Dan spring, which can supply the kibbutz in a more sustainable manner.

Reclaiming the Tel Dan spring for the nature reserve will rejuvenate the aquatic habitat, which has languished and dried out due to the lack of water, the authority said. In addition, the diversion of the fish pond water to agriculture will prevent it from flowing into the streams that feed the Jordan River, thereby reducing pollution. It will also free up 1 million cu.m. of water per year for nature....

"The right of nature to water is protected by law since 2004, but it doesn't mean our work is done - rather, it has just begun. We've [also] managed to increase the amount of water in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and to revive the Ein Gedi Stream after 50 years, and today we are taking an important step forward in increasing the amount of water in the streams which feed the Jordan," he said.

Dan headwaters of Jordan, tb011500028 Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan

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Monday, October 06, 2008

“Son of the High Priest”: Sarcophagus Fragment Found

Arutz-7 reports:

Archaeologists excavating north of Jerusalem have found a piece of a sarcofagus - a stone coffin - belonging to a son of a High Priest.  The visible inscription reads, "the son of the High Priest" - but the words before it are broken off.  It thus cannot be ascertained which High Priest is referred to, nor the name or age of the deceased...

The precise location of the find is not being released, for security reasons. 

The sarcophagus cover fragment - 60 centimeters (2 feet) long by 48 centimeters (19 inches) wide - is made of hard limestone, is meticulously fashioned, and bears a carved inscription in Hebrew letters that are both similar to today's script and typical of the Second Temple period.

A number of High Priests served in the Temple in its final decades - it was destroyed in 70 C.E. - and there is no way of knowing which one is noted in the fragment.  Among the known High Priests of the end of the Second Temple period were Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) ben Chanan, Shimon ben Baitus, Chanan ben Chanan and others...

Other discoveries at the site include public and residential buildings, agricultural installations, pools and cisterns.

Tombs from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. are very common in Jerusalem.  There was a large upper class that built lavish stone tombs, approximately 1,000 of which have been found.

The full story (and a tiny photo) is here.

UPDATE: The Israel Antiquities Authority press release includes a link to a zip file with three high-res photos, including one of the excavation site and two of the inscription.  HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (10/8): Haaretz has the story with some new details, and the Jerusalem Post has a 2-minute video about the excavation and discovery.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Status Update

I’m working on a lengthy (or two-part) post on Khirbet Qeiyafa, but in the meantime, the excavator of the site has given an update, summarized by G. M. Grena and posted on biblicalist:

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel, co-director of the excavation, has given me permission to share his team's tentative publication schedule (quotes mark his exact words):

1) Their website "is under reorganization and shortly many photos of the site and the excavation will be available to the public."

2) They are still working on an official press release that should be ready "in a week or so."

3) They have already given the Israel Exploration Society "a preliminary text and 7 photos" for the "Notes and News section" of their journal, IEJ.

4) "A larger Hebrew article with 14 photos was given to a book conference to be published in 2 month[s]", but he wasn't sure about the official name of the book yet. "The conference is a cooperation between the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University and the Jerusalem district of the IAA. It will present to the public the latest results of research and excavations carried out in the Jerusalem area in the last year."

In a later post, the location of some new photos of a pottery presentation is given.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

10th Century Inscription from Shephelah

Aren Maier, excavator of Gath, was at a meeting in Jerusalem recently with a group of Israeli archaeologists and Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor presented a newly discovered inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa.  Maier reports on the ANE-2 list:

This absolutely fantastic, fortified Iron Age site (late Iron I/early Iron IIA) has a very nice assemblage of pottery, and what may be the most important Iron Age Semitic inscription found in Israel in the last decade! (to be published by Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University).

I can't give details about it, but OH BOY - this is going to be VERY INTERESTING!!!!

Clearly, the site, its dating, the finds, and their significance, will be of paramount importance in the discussions of the Iron Age southern Levant, and just about anything connected to it, in the near future.

Based on Yossi's previous track record in publishing excavation results, publications should be appearing soon!

I doubt Maier is exaggerating, and this could provide some fun discussion in the months ahead.  It may help some readers if I spell out more of what Maier means by "the site, its dating, the finds, and their significance."

The site: Khirbet Qeiyafa (aka the "Elah Fortress") is located opposite Azekah along a ridge north of the Elah Valley, near the famous battle of David and Goliath.

The date: The site, and therefore presumably the inscription, dates to "late Iron I/early Iron IIA," which is the scholarly way of saying "10th century B.C."  David and Solomon were kings in Jerusalem in the 10th century.

The finds: Some of this has already been reported, but Maier probably is meaning the inscription itself, about which nothing has been revealed to the public.  I reported previously that the ostracon (inscribed potsherd) has 4-5 lines of writing.

Its significance: The major discussion in "biblical archaeology" right now centers on the 10th century.  The newer view (popularized in this book) denies that Judah was a nation-state until hundreds of years later, insisting that the biblical account of the United Monarchy is pure fabrication.  Most archaeologists reject that view.  My guess is that Maier's excitement is because this inscription will play a role in this discussion.

Other inscriptions: It may be worth noting that two (or three) other significant 10th century inscriptions were found in the same region.  To the north, Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister found the Gezer Calendar in the early 1900s. To the south, Ronald Tappy discovered an abecedary (alphabetic inscription) at Tell Zayit a few years ago.  To the west at Gath, Maier uncovered the "Goliath inscription," which dates to the 10th or 9th centuries.  If you're an archaeologist looking for a 10th century inscription, head for the Shephelah.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Caesarea Underwater

The underwater excavations of the Caesarea harbor are shown and discussed in a 2.5 minute video on  Part of the transcript is posted here.

HT: Paleojudaica


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Excavations in Turkey

From Today's Zaman:

Excavations on some historical sites are not being carried out properly and the Culture and Tourism Ministry is not even sure if excavations are still continuing on others, the head of the ministry has said.

"If the excavation heads and professors who are not excited about the excavations any longer or are just carrying on their duties in a monotonous manner will let us, we will look for excavation heads who are more excited and enthusiastic to improve the conditions at the excavation sites both physically and scientifically," Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay told the Anatolia news agency.

Noting that he has visited many excavation sites, the minister said he respected excavation leaders who care for their excavations and the antiquities they find like children and who attempt to improve the situation of their sites.

There are currently 134 excavation projects being carried out in Turkey -- 90 by local teams and 44 by foreign teams. More than 100 surface research projects are under way.

In the excavation projects carried out by Turkish teams, the majority of the excavation heads are professors from İstanbul University and Ankara University. Currently most excavation heads are from Ankara University.

The story continues here.

HT: Explorator


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

City of David Excavation Report

Excavations began in the parking lot below Dung Gate in 2003 and were resumed in 2007.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has just released a brief report on the discoveries from the 2007 season.  It should be noted that this report does not include results from 2008.

Excavations in Central Valley, tb051908109 
Excavations of area in May 2008

The longest portion of the report concerns the Second Temple period, which is primarily the 1st century A.D.  It reports one of the discoveries:

A large impressive edifice, whose northeastern corner has only been revealed to date, was in the southern unit. The eastern wall of the building (exposed length over 14 m, thickness c. 2 m, height more than 5 m) was built of large roughly dressed fieldstones, some of which were hundreds of kilograms in weight. The northern wall (width c. 1 m) was also preserved to a substantial height. The interior portion of the building, within the limits of the excavated area, indicated that the structure was divided into elongated halls, oriented northwest-southeast.

This is what was hailed in the media as the "palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene," though as the 1st century ruler's name is not mentioned in this report, some may have missed the connection.

The period of greater interest given the current discussion of the nature of Jerusalem in the Old Testament period is the section on the Iron Age, quoted here in full.

The remains of the period, exposed in five strata that represented most of the Iron Age, were founded directly on bedrock, marking the earliest settlement in this part of the City of David. This period was mainly characterized in this area by relatively densely built houses of careless and poor construction. The houses, built of one-stone-wide walls, contained a variety of domestic installations. These indicate a residential quarter that existed in the area during this period.

The early phase of the Iron Age was noted for the use of bedrock the builders had employed for setting the buildings’ walls and incorporating it within their built complex of structures. Thus, ‘habitation pockets’, confined between the buildings’ walls and bedrock outcrops, were discovered. This phase was dated earlier than the eighth century BCE, based on the abundance of ceramic finds. The later phase of this period dated to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE. No building remains from Iron I were discovered.

There are several significant points to note here:

  • The discovery of houses from the Iron Age in Jerusalem is unusual.  In most places, later destruction removed traces of building except for monumental structure (walls, water systems).  The best examples of houses were found on the other (that is, east) side of the City of David in Shiloh's excavation.
  • Caution should be taken before concluding that because some houses in Jerusalem at this time were of "poor construction," all were.
  • Some of the material is "earlier than the eighth century," which means 9th century (or possibly 10th, but distinguishing pottery between the two centuries is problematic at the moment).  This indicates that there was habitation in this area before the expansion in Hezekiah's day (late 8th century) when the Western Hill was fortified.  This should not be surprising, given indications in the biblical text.
  • That no remains were found from Iron I (or Bronze Age; see end of report) also fits the biblical narrative.  The city of Jebus was small and more closely located to the Gihon Spring when it was captured by David.  The city expanded to the north as David prepared for the construction of the temple.

In other words, the biblical account would lead us to expect to find remains earlier than the 10th century in the City of David, remains from the 10th century and later at the Temple Mount, with a likely "filling in" of habitation between the two sometime after the temple's construction.  Admittedly, there are other possibilities, but this one seems quite reasonable, and it appears to fit with the results of this report.

Readers unfamiliar with the geography of the area and the location of these excavations will better understand the last two points with the graphic below, which shows that the excavation area was outside the boundaries of the "City of David."

Aerial view of City of David, tb010703 givati parking diagram 
Jerusalem from the southwest
Click on graphic for high-resolution

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shephelah Updates

The Shephelah, or western foothills of Judah, is an ideal site for excavations because of 1) its rich history; 2) its close proximity to universities in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; and 3) its moderate climate.  There's enough work to be done in the Shephelah alone to occupy every archaeologist working in Israel for the next 100 years.

Tel  Aviv University has been approved to renew excavations at Azekah.  Though it is one of the most important sites in the Shephelah, it has only been excavated by Robert Alexander Stuart Macalister in a brief dig more than 100 years ago.  Among other things, Azekah is mentioned in the Bible as near the place of the Philistine encampment when David defeated Goliath.  It was one of the last two cities holding out against Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (see Jeremiah 34:6-7 and Lachish Letter #4).  There are undoubtedly a lot of goodies buried under that pile of dirt.

Azekah from northeast, tb030407700
Azekah from the northeast

Bar Ilan University has been excavating Tel 'Eton/Tell Aitun under the direction of Avi Faust.  This year was their third season of excavation and they are finding a destruction level as well as a fortress in the style of a four-room house, only larger. The destruction level seems to pre-date Sennacherib's 701 campaign because pottery is transition form between Lachish III and IV; but also not likely to be Sargon II's 712/711 campaign since it appears he only visited cities on the coastal plain. Scholars have suggested that the site is biblical Eglon (for more on that, see The Sacred Bridge, 128). The website is viewable in MS Internet Explorer, but not Firefox.

 Tell Aitun, possibly Eglon, from south, tb102900331
Tel 'Eton, possibly biblical Eglon, from south

Khirbet Qeiyafa, located directly east of Azekah, is being excavated by Yosi Garfinkel of Hebrew University.  They found a four-chambered gate dating to the 10th century B.C. with a casemate wall and two attached buildings. There was no previous occupation and the nearest subsequent occupation is Hellenistic, so it is virtually a single-period site for Iron IIA. They also found an ostracon (inscribed potsherd) with about 4-5 lines of writing, the contents of which are apparently more sensitive than Israel's plans to bomb Iran.  (This is a good reminder to thank those archaeologists who are quick to share their discoveries with all of their supporters.)  The ostracon will be published by Misgav.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jerusalem Updates

Joe Lauer sends along a couple of articles worthy of notice.

The excavations at Ramat Rahel are featured in a 3-minute video by  It begins:

Deep inside of the hills of Jerusalem rests the Kibbutz of Ramat Rachel. Over the past 50 years many archaeologists have realized that hidden beneath this kibbutz are archaeological treasures beyond one’s imagination - the ruins of the palace of one of the king of Judah, along with relics from the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman era. At this site where space and time are mixed within the earth, another hidden treasure long buried underground has recently resurfaced. Just a few days ago, 15 silver coins dating from the Second Temple period were discovered inside of an ancient pot hidden in a columbarium.

The Jerusalem Post has an article on the increase of tourism to sites in east Jerusalem. 

The Company for the Development of East Jerusalem reported 28 percent growth in the number of visitors to the historical sites in and around the Old City's walls during the first six months of 2008.

"More Israelis have rediscovered Jerusalem this year and they visit it more frequently then they used to do in the past," Gideon Shamir, the company's director-general, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

During the first half of the year, 143,967 people visited the Ophel Archeological Park, situated at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, a 24% rise over the same period in 2007, the company said.

The Old City Ramparts saw 74,728 people walk on them from January to June, a up 29% from the same months in 2007. Both sections of the Promenade begin at the Jaffa Gate; one route passes through the New Gate, Herod's Gate and the Lions' Gate (aka St. Stephen's Gate), and the other stretches from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate.

Since January 1, 5,549 people visited Zedekiah's Cave, which was opened to the public in April 2007. During nine months of activity in 2007 the cave was toured by 9,356 people; visits during April to June 2008 are up 86% from the same period last year.

The article continues here.  I'm certainly happy to see these sites open again, but there has been a price.  Getting into the City of David with a group now requires an advance reservation, a fast pace to stay ahead of countless tour groups, and a wad of cash.  Zedekiah's Cave cost $1 before it closed in 2000; now they charge $5 a person to keep the lights on and a guard at the door.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kabri Archaeological Project Results

From the archaeologists:

The co-directors of the Kabri Archaeological Project (KAP), Assaf Yasur-Landau and Eric H. Cline, would like to announce that a pdf of the preliminary results from the 2008 excavation season at Tel Kabri is now available at:

If the direct link does not work for some reason, go to and click on the link there to download the pdf.  

Links to the results of previous seasons (2005, 2006, and 2007) are also listed at

KAP Publications which have already appeared are:  

E.H. Cline and A. Yasur-Landau, “Poetry in Motion: Canaanite Rulership and Aegean Narrative at Kabri,” in EPOS: Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology: 157-165, S.P. Morris and R. Laffineur, eds.  Aegaeum 28.  Liège: Université de Liège.  2007.  

A. Yasur-Landau, E.H. Cline, and G.A. Pierce, “Middle Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the Western Galilee, Israel,” Journal of Field Archaeology

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Western Wall Excavation Photos

Excavations continue at the western end of the Western Wall prayer plaza, and as the work proceeds further into the ground, the more interesting it gets (at least to those of us interested in pre-Byzantine periods).  Peter Wong from Hong Kong was at the site this week and sent me a couple of photos.  They show a remarkable level of preservation.



For context, here's a photo I took a few months ago that shows the excavation (at bottom) in relation to the prayer plaza.

Western Wall plaza excavations, tb051908178

I have not seen anything reported on this excavation recently, but when I do, I'll make note of it.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gold Coins from 1st Century Found at Ramat Rahel

Haaretz is reporting on the discovery of a hoard of coins at a site three miles south of ancient Jerusalem.

A few days ago, archaeologists made a most surprising find at the bottom of such a columbarium, at a site at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem - a hoard of coins from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.).

Late in July, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University identified, beneath the floor of the columbarium, a ceramic cooking pot from the 1st century C.E. that held 15 large gold coins. "It's very special to find a hoard like this, and it's very exciting," related the director of the excavations at the site, Dr. Oded Lipschits, of TAU. "We discovered the hoard with a metal detector, and then we went down into the niche and found this small cooking pot inside it."

What was a pot holding coins doing at the bottom of a cave used for raising pigeons? According to Lipschits, the pot was covered up in a way that indicates that it had been concealed in a hurry. "We know that coins like these were brought to the Temple," he says. "Possibly after the Temple was destroyed there was no place to bring the coins, and since the columbarium was no longer in use, they buried the coins here. This arouses sad thoughts as we approach Tisha B'Av," he added, referring to the Hebrew date (the ninth of Av) that traditionally marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

For photos, see the Hebrew version of the article. (HT: Joe Lauer).

Unrelated to the coin discovery is discussion of the function of the building that has previously been identified as a palace of the Judean kings (something akin to Camp David in the U.S.). 

Lipschits says that one of the aims of the current dig is to clarify the purpose of this structure. "The accepted claim is that it is a palace of the kings of Judea, but I'm dubious of that. The palace lacks any Judean characteristics, and there is no reason that a royal palace would have been built here, when the City of David is not far away."

Lipschits believes that the palace was built during the period of the Assyrian subjugation. "This entire complex is, in my opinion, an administrative center for the occupying regime, a place where agricultural produce was collected, for delivery as a tax to the Assyrians."

During the period of the return to Zion (beginning 539 B.C.E.), the Assyrian regime was replaced by a Persian one, but the administrative center continued to operate. Many seal impressions from this period have been found, bearing the name "Pahwat Yahud," the name of the country under this regime. The Ramat Rachel excavation is is the main accumulation in the country of impressions of this sort, and Lipschits sees this as further proof that the site was an administrative center.

There's some confusion about this elsewhere, but I think the journalist has it correct.  What Lipschits is suggesting, contrary to his predecessors (Aharoni, Yadin, and Barkay) is that the palace was an Assyrian center, following the time of the Assyrian subjugation of Judah under Hezekiah.  While most would agree that Assyria maintained some sort of control over Judah for about 50 years after Sennacherib's failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Lipschits goes farther in claiming that Ramat Rahel was an on-site command post for Assyria.  Here's a brief summary of archaeologists' conclusions about this important and beautiful building:

  • Yohanan Aharoni: Palace of Judean king Jehoiakim (cf. Jeremiah 22); ca. 600 B.C.
  • Yigael Yadin (never missing an opportunity to disagree with YA):  Palace of Judean queen Athaliah; ca. 840 B.C.
  • Gabriel Barkay: Palace of Judean king Hezekiah; ca. 700 B.C. (possibly built, destroyed, and rebuilt during his reign)
  • Nadav Na'aman and Oded Lipschits: Assyrian headquarters in Judah; ca. 700 B.C.

If you're interested in more, you can start with the article by Barkay in Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 2006, pp. 34-44.

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Gath Season 2008 Report

The season at Philistine Gath (Tell es-Safi) is concluded and archaeologist Aren Maeir has a great wrap-up of the season for all who couldn't be there. Gath is proving to be one of the most important excavations of recent times and Maeir's helpful reviews to the public should be a model for all excavations (and we get it straight from the horse's mouth and not garbled through a journalist!). Some highlights (from my perspective):

  • They excavated material from Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron II, and Crusader.
  • Gath appears to have been a large, significant site in Early Bronze, before the arrival of the Philistines.
  • Remains were found related to the earliest arrival of the Philistines at the site, including locally made Mycenean IIIC ware.
  • Important discovery from the time of David/Solomon: "a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE), and several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide nice 14C datings for this phase. One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia."
  • Gath was a large site in the time of the first kings of Judah: "As such, it appears to mirror the role that Gath is portrayed as playing in the biblical text in the early monarchy, that of the major Philistine city, primus inter pares among the five Philistine cities."
  • More evidence was revealed of Hazael's destruction of the site in about 800 B.C.
  • Gath may have been destroyed twice by the Assyrians - first by Sargon II (712 B.C.?) and then by Sennacherib (701 B.C.).

Maeir concludes: "All told, the season was great, the team was fantastic and the find were extraordinary!"

Read the whole thing here.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Digs, Blogs, and a Bomb

The excavations at Ramat Rahel have recently begun and they have their own blogToday they found a bomb!  Other excavations in Israel with blogs include Gath (regular and professional), Megiddo (regular), and Dan (they had good intentions).  I don't know of any blogs for the current excavations at Hazor (where is that archive?), Gezer (is this another Macalister dump?), or Ashkelon.

There's a few more days if you want to join in excavations on a site that used to be called Khirbet Qeiyafa, but is now dubbed the much more appealing "Elah Fortress."  There's some info here on what to bring.  Here's the season brochure (front, back). You can also watch a YouTube video on the site.

Next year Bryant Wood is headed back to Khirbet el-Maqatir after a hiatus since Palestinian terrorism restarted in 2000.  Excavations of the candidate for biblical Ai are scheduled for May 20 - June 6, 2009. 

The Jerusalem Report has a lengthy article (published online, but poorly formatted, by the JPost) about the state of Dead Sea Scroll and Qumran research, including various theories of who lived at Qumran and who were responsible for the scrolls. The article also discusses the newly publicized "Gabriel's Vision" tablet, and includes a sidebar on the Palestinians' demand that the scrolls be turned over to them.

If you didn't hear it already, Codex Sinaiticus is beginning to be posted online this week.  Here's the story, and here's the link to one of the oldest Bibles in existence.  Come back in a year if you want to read the whole thing.

Six months and $200,000 later, Zion Gate is now back in view.  The hundreds of bullet holes and shell marks are still visible, but the stones are now stabilized and less likely to collapse on a vehicle executing a beautiful 11-point turn as they exit the city.

Zion Gate, tb091702701
Zion Gate, before renovation

And perhaps tourism to Iraq is not so far off.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has a posted (with a follow-up) on his identification of several stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount that are clearly pre-Herodian.  Ritmeyer dates them to the time of King Hezekiah, suggesting that he was the one to build the 500-cubit square Temple Mount that Ritmeyer has previously identified.  He includes some helpful illustrations and photos.

A review of current excavations in Turkey is given at Today's Zaman.  New Testament sites being excavated include Alexandria Troas, Miletus, Hierapolis, Sardis, Smyrna, and Laodicea.  There are many other sites as well.  Many of these cities have very impressive remains, unlike many sites in Israel.  Today's Zaman also has an article on recent discoveries at Sardis.

NASA has a photo of a street of Ephesus at night, with (the planet) Jupiter illuminating the way.

Across the way in Greece, the ancient hippodrome of Olympia has been discovered.  This is a good story that counters the myth that everything to be found has already been found.

A couple fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have now been published by James H. Charlesworth.  One of the fragments may be from the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the other appears to be from Nehemiah, making it the first portion of that book to be found among the DSS.  Paleojudaica gives more info and links.

If you're a tourist in Israel and have a question, you can now call the 24-hour tourist hotline.  It's easy (dial *3888), but it's not a toll-free number.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

When You're Not Digging

One thing (an important thing) to consider when choosing an excavation to join is the extra-curricular activities. By that I mean the evening lectures and the afternoon or weekend tours. Digging in the dirt is nice, but your experience will be greatly enhanced if you can learn about your site and travel around the area. Having said that, and having looked at the schedule at Gath this season, I would certainly recommend choosing Gath for your excavation next year. Check the schedule out at the Gath blog. A tip to other excavations interested in boosting their number of volunteers for future seasons: put your extra-curricular schedule online. And start a dig blog.

Yigael Yadin lecturing at Megiddo, db6703260103
Yigael Yadin lecturing at Megiddo excavation, 1967
from forthcoming photo collection of David Bivin


Monday, June 16, 2008

DigMegiddo - Excavation Blog

Today is the first day of excavations at Megiddo, and a new blog intends to narrate the season from the perspective of archaeologist Eric Cline and 9 students.  Apparently 8 of the bloggers are female, which may say something about the attitude of guys towards archaeology or perhaps the recruiting skills of Cline.  You can check it out here:


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gezer Excavations 2007

The Star-Telegram has a brief article on the recent season of excavations at Gezer. The main finds mentioned are walls burned by the Assyrians in the 8th century and a rare silver coin from the Ptolemaic period. The excavation project is described at, and some general information and pictures of Gezer is available at

Gezer high place with standing stones, db6804053210
Gezer high place in 1968
Photo by David Bivin; from forthcoming CD from

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