Archaeology in Israel Update --October 2010
By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research,
Israel Antiquities Authority
Last month the Reshut haAtiqot (Israel Antiquities Authority, IAA) celebrated its 20th anniversary. Before that it had been the Israel Department of Antiquities within the Ministry of Education, but in 1990 it became an independent body with its own budget and leadership structure. As will be known from these reports, the IAA has figured largely in most of the archaeological work in Israel and is responsible for much of the recovery and restoration of the important sites in the country. The IAA now numbers a permanent staff of about 450 men and women, many of them highly qualified experts in their various fields. The work is directed from Jerusalem but spread among local offices throughout the country. There are storage depots and workshops in several locations and new headquarters are in the process of being constructed in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum, which will concentrate all the various activities in one ambitious building. Besides the straightforward work of site excavation, and particularly rescue digs, the IAA has an active department for publications and preservation and restoration work. Education is important and staff are encouraged to undertake further professional training, to upgrade their academic degrees, and are sent abroad to lecture at international conferences.
Dead Sea Scrolls coming on line
As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced its plan to digitize the complete remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls to make them available to the public on line. In order to do this the IAA has teamed up with Google's Israel Research and Design Centre in a $3.5 million project. The technology will enable each layer of each fragment to be viewed in color and will make it unnecessary for the original pieces to be handled any more. It is planned to start the work before the end of the year and Google will then find a way to present the material on the Internet, together with transcriptions, translations and associated material. It is hoped that the first images will be available in Spring 2011 and work will then proceed continuously on the 30,000 fragments that have to be recorded.
Mosaic floor at Tel Shikmona
The site was partly excavated in the 1960s and then fell into neglect and became used as a refuse site. A new expedition by the University of Haifa, which is nearby, has cleaned the site and, on digging further, has uncovered some extensive floor mosaics of 6th century CE. The site lies by the sea shore west of Haifa, and was part of a major city in the area between 4th century BCE and the Muslim conquest of 7th CE. The previous finds included an Egyptian tomb, a Persian fortress and many elite items of Middle Bronze age. The mosaic presently being exposed and cleaned belonged to an ecclesiastical structure of the Byzantine period and will be exhibited to the public as part of a national archeological park connected with the Hecht Archaeological Museum of Haifa University.
Professor Ehud Netzer, in Memoriam
On 28th October Ehud Netzer died, aged 76. His sudden death came as a great shock to all archaeologists in Israel and no doubt further afield as well. Netzer had retired as Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University recently but was still very active in expeditions in Israel and Albania and was busy on further publications of his work. He was the world expert on the colossal constructions of Herod the Great and had spent thirty years at the site of Herodion, some of it looking for the king's tomb, which he finally located in 2007. As a result he travelled around the world describing this remarkable discovery. He continued his work at the site and was in a meeting with the Hebrew University to finalize plans to exhibit the frescoes he had uncovered at Herod's private theatre at the site. It was then that he leaned against an unsafe wooden barrier and fell down 3m. backwards causing a massive concussion from which he never recovered. This was a tragic end to a distinguished career that started as a site architect under Yigael Yadin at Masada, and finished clarifying most of the important monuments of the Hasmonean and Herodian periods in Israel.