Archaeology in Israel Update-- August 2011
By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
Boundary stone found in Lower Galilee
A local visitor to the small community of Timrat, which lies a few kilometres west of Nazareth, happened to come across a large stone inscribed in black with the three Hebrew letters reading Shabbat. According to Mordechai Aviam, head of Archaeology at the nearby Kinneret College, this will have been a marker for the Shabbat boundary around the village, marking the extent allowed for walking beyond the village on the Sabbath in the Mishnaic period. The letters are large and clear and extend over a length of half a meter. Boundary markers have been discovered at other locations but are inscribed in Greek and, according to Aviam, this is the first one to be found in Hebrew. The stone is dated to the Roman/Byzantine period when the village would have been inhabited, and volunteer teams are now being sent to the area to search for more examples.
Ancient Shechem to be opened to the Public
A team from Holland and the Palestinian Authority has been working since 1997 at Tel Balata, the site of the ancient city of Shechem, and they plan to open the site to the public next year. It is hoped that the remains uncovered, and in some cases reconstructed, by the Drew-McCormick Expedition directed by G.E.Wright in the early 1960s, will soon be available to be seen by visitors. Tel Balata, just east of modern Nablus, has been the site of a Palestinian refugee camp and in the last few years has become the center of old car sales and a dumping ground for second-hand and stolen vehicles. All this is being cleared away by the present expedition, supported by a team from UNESCO, and it is hoped that the site can be presented next year in a form useful to scholars and attractive to tourists.
Jerusalem sewage ditch yields up more treasures
From the waste water channel that runs from the Temple Mount to the Siloam Pool, in which the small golden bell was recently found, a Roman sword with part of an attached belt and a small inscribed stone were recently uncovered in the silt by Eli Shukron, working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The sword had a two-foot iron blade and is a military type that Shukron believes may have been stolen from the Roman garrison by a rebel Jew and then abandoned in the escape passage. The inscribed stone, from the same period, of the Roman destruction of the City in 70 CE, shows a menorah of five branches on a triple leg base. It is a fairly rough rendition and unclear why only five branches are shown though it may be that the artist did not want to reproduce the exact form of the menorah, which would have been considered sacrilegious outside the Temple. The sword was found fused to its leather scabbard, badly decayed but with two ring buckles that had attached it to a soldier's belt.
Phaesalis City Unvovered
At a site 20 km. north of Jericho, Hananiah Hizmi, working for the Archaeolgical Department of the Authority for Judaea and Samaria, uncovered the 15 acres of a town planned by Herod the Great and started in the year 8 BCE, according to Josephus. It was the last of Herod's great projects (he died in 4 BCE) and was being built as an agricultural complex in the name of his brother Phasael. In this desert area, water was a problem and Herods engineers managed to bring it in by a thousand-meter long ground-level aqueduct from the springs now called Petzael. The site had been covered by Palestinian and Bedouin shacks and, as alternative accommodation has been provided, the huts have been cleared and the remains of the city uncovered. They include a water basin of 40m by 30m and 6m deep which was used to store the spring water and distribute it to adjoining fields. So far only two months of work have been spent on site and it is clear that much more time needs to be expended, as it is hoped to uncover all the residential and public buildings of this new town in the desert. If the remains come up as expected, this will be anther example of an Herodian miracle, the building of a viable community in desert surroundings. The site continued in occupation for some time, as the excavators found the remains of a Byzantine Church with a mosaic floor. Today the name is preserved as the location goes under the title of El Fasayil and there is a small Jewish village at the springs called Petzael.
Bathhouse Hercules in the Jezreel Valley
In preparation for the building of a railway connection between Bet Shean and Haifa (partly for the benefit of Jordanian access to that port), a rescue dig at Horvat Tarbanet, west of Afula, has uncovered a bright white marble torso and two fragments that are clearly part of a statue of the Greek hero Hercules. It is headless and portrays a highly muscular body with a lions pelt draped over the left arm (the animals head is visible), similar to the well-known Hercules Farnese statue of the Roman period. The find was made by Walid Atrash of the IAA, who claims it to be of exceptional artistic quality. The torso stands about half-a-meter high and it was found near a bathhouse pool that had two rows of benches and a water-pumping system, and where the statue probably stood in a niche. It is dated to the late Roman period and appears that it was later deliberately smashed, hence the fragments.