Saturday, August 29, 2009

Drawing Israel’s Borders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complete article is here.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Photographed

The LA Times has a good article on the recent photographing of the 5-line early Hebrew ostracon found at Khirbet Qeiyafa.  One portion:

The result is hundreds of high-resolution images shot with different light filters. Using a process called spectral imaging, Boydston and Bill Christens-Barry, another imaging expert, aimed to maximize the contrast of the ink, made of charcoal and animal fat, against the terra-cotta piece.

Although they didn't find any hidden text, the images will be sent back to Israel. Other high-tech images were produced -- using slightly different imaging techniques -- at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and two other technical shops on the East Cost. [sic]

Once the shard's message is fully scrutinized and decoded, findings will be published in scholarly journals by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who led the dig. A few words already deciphered -- "slave," "king," "land" and "judge" -- indicate that it may be a legal text, lending weight to some scholars' belief that King David wielded considerable power over the Israelites.

The article gives much background about the firm that took the photographs, including mention of an early digital camera that they created – that weighed 300 pounds (136 kg)! 

HT: Paleojudaica (who also notes some speculation about the contents of the ostracon)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Fifteen years ago, virtually no one could see the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In a few years, maybe everyone will be able to, without leaving their home.  From the NY Times:

In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact....

The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room since they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London. Mr. Bearman is also using a specially made, $75,000 spectral camera that can produce a photographic image of previously illegible sections.

The rest of the story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Stories

A Byzantine cemetery has been discovered in construction work at the hospital of Ashkelon (JPost).

An arsonist set several fires in the Tel Dan nature reserve, burning half of the 120-acre park.  They hope to re-open the park later this week (JPost).

A rare marble discus was discovered underwater at Yavne-Yam.  The disk, 8 inches in diameter, was used to ward off the evil eye in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. (IAA; Arutz-7; Haaretz; JPost).

The hotel where Mark Twain stayed in Jerusalem has been identified (Haaretz).

Israeli, Palestinian, and German scholars will be studying bones unearthed at Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon in order to study the DNA so as to identify genes that made the ancient inhabitants more or less susceptible to tuberculosis (Guardian).

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg discusses two Jewish temples known from Egypt, one at Leontopolis (Tell el-Yehudiyeh) and the other on Elephantine Island (Yeb, Aswan) (JPost).

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dating from Magnetic Particles

This AP article is about American archaeology, but the technology could be applied to the Near East, if it hasn't been already.

You might be surprised what you can learn from a campfire. A campfire that has been cold for, say, 300 years.

Stacey Lengyel hopes she can tell, within 30 years or so, when it was used.

Lengyel, a research associate in anthropology at the Illinois State Museum, is the country's leading authority on archeomagnetic dating, a process built around two phenomena: when heated, magnetic particles reorient themselves to magnetic north; and over time, magnetic north is, literally, all over the map.

"They call it a 'drunken wander,' " said Lengyel. "Around 1600, it was real close to Earth's rotational axis. Now, it is around 75 degrees latitude...."

In archeomagnetic dating, once potential samples have been identified, their location and orientation are precisely measured, Lengyel said. About a dozen 1-inch cubes are then excised, encased to preserve them, then taken to a lab.

The chunks are then progressively demagnetized until their natural remnant magnetism can be measured, she said. The objects may have been partially magnetized by nearby lightning strikes, for example, or if they were stored near objects with strong magnetic fields. These weaker magnetic fields must be removed.

First their magnetic fingerprint is taken, and then they are slightly demagnetized. The process is repeated several times; eventually all that is left is the baseline magnetic signal, she said. If the material is fired to about 500 degrees Celsius or more, the magnetic field will point to where magnetic north was located at the time.

"The best dates we can get are within a 30-year time period," Lengyel said.

The complete article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer