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Archaeology in Israel Update-- March 2011

By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
March 2011

Also submitted to:
Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society of London
See Also Strata:

Bethlehem Church, UNESCO Heritage Site?

The Palestine Authority has recently applied to UNESCO to designate the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a World Heritage site. If agreed, this would be the first heritage site in the Palestine Authority area. At present the Authority's area is not recognized by the United Nations as a state so their sites cannot get heritage status, but the applicants hope that the historical importance of the Church will override that consideration. At present several sites in Israel have UNESCO Heritage status, including Megiddo, Masada and Bauhaus Tel Aviv, and several more are under consideration.

Jericho's Ancient Tower

Recently the Neolithic tower at Tel Jericho has been described as "the world's first skyscraper" and claimed to be a marker of the summer solstice. The tower is dated to c. 8500 BCE and is the first known stone monument to be built by humankind. It is conical in shape and 8.5 meters high. It has an internal staircase and was plastered externally. In the past it had been considered to be a fortification, a place of refuge during flooding, a ritual centre or a symbol of communal power. Now Ron Barkai and Roy Liran, archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, in a paper of 2008, claim to have found a distinct line of sight between the stair aperture of the tower and the mountain called Qarantal that lies directly west of the ancient site. By computer analysis they have worked out that at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, at this early period the mountain cast a shadow on the tower just before sunset. This finding leads them to suggest that the tower was built, at great expense of labor, as a symbol used to demonstrate to villagers the advantage of giving up their hunting ways and settling down to a life of farming around the oasis.

Atlantis and Tarshish identified?

Prof. Richard Freund claims to have discovered Atlantis, the mythical city mentioned by Plato as being just beyond the Pillars of Hercules and disappearing into the sea after a violent earthquake. In a film by Simcha Jacobovici, who has done a number of popular films on biblical subjects, Freund claims that Atlantis was a site off the coast of southern Spain, shown by aerial photos to be three concentric circles of sunken land around an island port. For extra interest Jacobovici has said that this Atlantis was the Tarshish known from the Bible, which mentions the ships of Tarshish (Ezek. 27 and elsewhere) and that Jonah took a boat to Tarshish (Jon. 1:3), which some scholars have equated with Tartessos in southern Spain.

Freund is professor at Hertford University and co-director of the ongoing dig at Betsaida with Ron Arav. As for Tartessos, in Spain, this has been equated with Tarshish, as Herodotus mentions it as a port reached by the Phoenicians (1:163), but it is much simpler and probably more correct to say that the biblical Tarshish is the port of Tarsus, on the southern coast of Turkey, near to Phoenicia, whose local name is exactly as the Hebrew.

New Ground-penetrating Technology

A new "algorithmic toolkit" developed by Professor of Geophysics Lev Eppelbaum and his team at Tel Aviv University will be able to reveal underground archaeological remains free of interference form later obstructions like pipes, cables and modern construction. A clear picture, free of local "noise", will emerge and enable archaeologists to work in densely built-up cities without the need for preliminary excavation. The system is called Multi-physical-archaeological-models, or Multi-PAM for short, and will cut expenditure of time and costs by many factors, but so far few details of how the apparatus works have emerged.

Three brief notices, Second Temple coins, headless Roman statue, Byzantine Mosaic

1. During a raid in Mazra'a, south of Nahariyah, police found a cache of ceramics and coins of the Second Temple period in the yard of a family who had been suspected of hiding weapons. The find has been taken to the local museum and further details are expected to be announced.

2. After the storm of 20th February, a headless Roman-style statue was found on the beach at Caesarea. It was nearly a meter long and possibly of the goddess Aphrodite. This follows a similar find made at Ashkelon after a previous storm this winter.

3. In the Gaza strip, archaeologists of the Ecole Biblique of Jerusalem have uncovered a fine mosaic floor of the Byzantine period at the site of the St.Hilarion Monastery at Umm al-'Amr. The work is supported by the French Consulate General and UNESCO and will include restoration and safeguarding the mosaic from damage by the public and the elements.