Archaeology in Israel Update-- May/June 2011
By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
Bethsaida, Stratum VII
Excavations at Bethsaida, which lies close to the northern shore of lake Kinneret in the Galilee, restarted in June of this year. The work there has been conducted under the direction of Professors Rami Arav and Richard Freund for the last 25 years and has uncovered impressive remains of the Iron Age City that may have been the capital of the petty kingdom of Geshur.
Work this season will reach the foundations of the city, Stratum VII, which is currently dated to the middle of 10th century BCE. This is the period of the possible kingdom of David and Solomon, whose existence is doubted by the Tel Aviv school of archaeologists, in opposition to the biblical account. As we know, this is a hot subject of debate at present and it is hoped that evidence this season from Stratum VII may help to throw light on the problem.
Hebrew University Museum, 70th Anniversary
A special exhibition has been mounted by the Hebrew University Museum of Jewish Antiquities on Mount Scopus to mark its 70th anniversary, having been founded back in the time of Prof Sukenik. Besides many items such as inscriptions, pottery and coins from the well-known excavations sponsored by the university, there are on show ceiling tiles from the Dura-Europos synagogue of the 3rd century CE, whose colorful frescoes are preserved in the National Museum of Damascus, the synagogue having originally been located in what is today Eastern Syria. The ceiling tiles are highly decorated and some of them mention the names of Samuel the Cohen, Abraham the treasurer and one Samuel ben Supharah, who were presumably involved in the building of the synagogue.
Acre, Byzantine Structure Uncovered
The recent uncovering of an impressive building in the city of Acre, the ancient port north of Haifa, has prompted the speculation that this might be the remains of a church of the 6th century CE. The building was constructed of ashlar stonework and included a courtyard with a well and terra-cotta pipe work. If they are the remains of a church, it will be the first one discovered in the city, according to Nuri Feig of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who directed the excavation, and would add weight to the recorded fact that the Bishops of Acre and Caesarea attended international congresses in the city during the Byzantine period.
According to Vatican archives an Italian pilgrim visited the churches of Acre in 570 CE, but no other public buildings of the period have so far been discovered in Acre. The newly excavated building was found to contain a mosaic, roof tiles, pottery and coins. It was founded on a Hellenistic layer that included Rhodian amphorae and locally made pottery. The find cannot yet be opened to the public but will be fenced off and protected by sand and a textile covering while the adjoining mall and car park are completed.
Austrian Hospice, Salvage Dig
A rescue dig is in progress at the Austrian Hospice, famous for its coffee, cream and Sachertorte, on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, Jerusalem. The site is close to the triumphal arch built for Hadrians visit to Aelia Capitolina in 135 CE, and the eastern Cardo of the city. The Austrian Hospice began rebuilding a low retaining wall on their north-eastern boundary, which had collapsed a few years ago. When excavating for a new foundation, older structures were immediately revealed and the IAA were called in. To date they have uncovered a substantial archway from the Ottoman period and a well-preserved medieval vaulted chamber. Considerable remains of 14th century CE. imported tableware, including bowls from Italy and the Far East, indicate that this was an area occupied by well-heeled inhabitants, indeed an elite medieval society. The work continues.
Egyptologist Held for Selling and Smuggling Antiquities
It was reported that a retired US university lecturer in Egyptology was guiding a group of about twenty American tourists around the sites of two Tells in the Galilee and was selling them valuable archaeological artifacts for them to take out of the country. The suspect guide was detained at Ben Gurion airport by Customs and IAA officials but allowed to leave after signing a confession and posting a large deposit to ensure his return for future trial. The tourists were stopped at the Egyptian border at Taba, where they were found to be taking out valuable items. The photographs of the antiquities found on the guide and in his hotel room show fairly standard series of Roman oil lamps and bronze and silver coins of the Second Temple period.
The information released by the police and the IAA is sketchy, pending the trial, and it is believed that the IAA are using the case to warn tourists against buying antiquities from unauthorized dealers and taking them out of the country, which is a criminal offence with a penalty of up to three years imprisonment.
Stop the Presses! Opening of Ophel City Walls Site
June 21 was the official opening of a new archaeological park to the north-east of the City of David centre. The excavations were directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University, who described the remains as being possibly situated around the Water Gate mentioned in Nehemiah 3:26. These descriptions are still controversial and I hope to comment further on the site in the next Report.