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Archaeology in Israel Update--November/December 2010





Archaeology in Israel Update--November/December 2010

By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research,
Jerusalem
January 2011


Also submitted to the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society of London
See Also Strata:http://www.aias.org.uk/aias_bulletingeneral.htm


Non-Destructive Investigation by X-Ray

Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University has discovered a method of investigating clay and other materials by non-destructive methods, using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry . Having built up a data-base of results from former intrusive methods, he can now organize the analysis by merely scanning the object and comparing the results with the previous data. His scans will then show the type of clay or other material and its geographical origin. He is thus able to examine new finds and also older museum specimens without the need to break off a piece or cut off a sample. The method has been used on the Late Bronze Age fragment of a cuneiform letter from the City of David excavations that is dated to the El-Amarna period. Goren's analysis shows that the tablet material is the terra rossa soil from around Jerusalem and it is therefore most probable that the item was written by a scribe in the Jerusalem area and may indeed have been part of a letter dictated by the Jebusite king Abdi-Heba to Egypt, to the court of Amenhotep III or IV at El-Amarna, and the fragment may have been part of the copy retained by the sender.

Aelia Capitolina, A Roman Bathing Pool in Jerusalem

During excavations for a new miqve (ritual bath) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, a rescue dig by the IAA, directed by Dr. Ofer Sion, uncovered a large bathing pool that had been used by the Tenth Legion (Fretensis) of the Roman army in about 200 CE. Evidence of the Roman building was the large number of floor and roof tiles with the stamp of the legion, and the many stamped roof tiles show that the facility was completely roofed. The location in the Jewish Quarter, some distance from the presumed army HQ in the Armenian Quarter, shows that the occupying soldiers were spread out throughout the city. The Tenth Legion was involved in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and later in the rebuilding of the city by Hadrian, after the abortive Bar-Kochba revolt of 135 CE. when it was renamed Aelia Capitolina.

The excavators were amused to find one of the roof tiles impressed with the paw marks of a dog, presumably the cur had walked over the wet tiles that had been spread out and left to dry.

Monastery of St. George in Wadi Qelt

On 30th November a ceremony was held at the Monastery to celebrate the completion of a new road to St. George's, that had been built by the Ministry of Tourism and other bodies to improve access, at the request of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. The present road had suffered damage from flash floods and a minor earthquake over the last few years, and the new one will make things easier for pilgrims and tourists alike, to visit this remarkable 5th-7th century complex of buildings that appear to hang from the side of the steep desert mountain over the lush green wadi below.

It is thought that the original buildings were constructed above a fourth-century synagogue. They were destroyed during the Persian invasion of Jerusalem in 614 CE. and later restored by the Crusaders. The interior boasts some very fine icons and frescoes. Today, St. George's is one of only six monasteries still active in the Judaean desert area.

Funding for Restoration of Historic Sites

In the context of the National Heritage Plan announced last February, a first tranche of 91 million shekels (16 million sterling) has now been allocated for work to 16 major sites, ancient and modern. One of the archaeological sites is Herodion, where work was recently halted by the tragic death of Ehud Netzer. It can now continue with restoration of the unique frescoes at the small theatre, that will be preserved and made ready for presentation to the public by experts from the Hebrew University.

Another site will be the large Byzantine-period synagogue at Umm el-Kanatir, in the Golan heights, which is being restored piece by piece using computerized technology organized by engineer Yeshu Drei and archaeologist Haim Ben-David.

Sudden Fierce Storm, Destruction and Recovery

Winter in Israel started with a destructive storm on 12th and 13th December, that wreaked havoc along the Mediterranean coast in particular. Many sites were affected but worst of all was Caesarea. Some of the foundations of the northern aqueduct were exposed and parts of the Crusader city wall suffered fractures due to subsidence. The Crusader-period breakwater, that protected the southern arm of the Herodian harbour was broken into three pieces and the port wall left unprotected from southern wave damage. This work will have to be repaired very shortly to avoid major damage to the ancient port.

Ashdod-Yam, the ancient fortress close to the shore suffered damage.

In ancient Ashkelon, at the national park. there was damage to a mosaic floor and a row of several columns was overturned. On the other hand at the beach, ten metres below, the storm that hit the cliffs exposed and toppled a classic white marble Roman statue about 1.2m high. It was headless and without arms but depicted a fine female figure in a carefully folded toga and sandals and has been presumed to be of Aphrodite. It is from a bath house, exposed at the head of the cliffs, and may have been part of the dedication of the baths, that are dated to c. 300 CE.

Early Homo Sapiens from Cave in Israel, 400,000 Years Ago?

In 2000 Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University discovered the Qesem Cave where they claim to have found the earliest evidence of modern man. The cave is near Rosh Ha'ayin, about 20 km. east of Tel Aviv, and the archaeologists have located a series of human teeth that they claim are closer to the dental apparatus associated with Homo Sapiens, rather than their earlier brothers, the Neanderthals.. They have found in the cave evidence of flint knapping, the mining of sub-surface materials for flint production, hunting and the cutting and sharing of animal meat, evidence of regular burning and so on, all activities associated with Homo Sapiens.

The claim is that these findings antedate the earliest evidence of Homo Sapiens from Africa and thus the scholars claim that the species existed here at the Qesem cave many years earlier that presently realized. Their dating of the teeth to between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago is however not yet at all clear and one must await further results from the ongoing excavations before reaching any firm conclusions.


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