Archaeology in Israel Update - August 2010
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
Ancient Treasures in Gaza
There was a report last August about the difficulties of preserving archaeological remains in and around Gaza city. Much work has been done in the area in the past and much remains to be done, but at present organized digs are difficult to arrange and stray finds or rescue digs are open to unpreventable looting. In addition, contractors are loath to report any finds to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, as they will send a team of investigators and the building work will be held up for long periods. As a result discoveries are not notified and small finds are just covered over or looted by the contractors.
The Director of the Ministry, Mohammed Kheila, points out that funds for rescue work have been allocated, but his staff is small and unable to deal with all the many sites, both on private and public projects. Hayam al-Bitar, head of the Hamas Government Museums Department says that they try and educate the public in the importance of the ancient findings and arrange suitable exhibitions, but they are hampered by lack of appropriate materials for cleaning and preservation due to the Israeli embargo on non-essential goods.
Philistine Temple at Tell es-Safi, near Kiryat Gat
Tell es-Safi is the Biblical Gath and is being excavated by a team from Bar-Ilan University under the direction of Prof. Aren Maier. The temple building is of the 10th century BCE and the interior has two large column bases that would have supported pillars to the roof, and may have defined the inner sanctum of the temple.
Several walls on the site appear to have collapsed outwards due to a severe earthquake and Maier speculates that it may have been the one mentioned in the books of Isaiah and Amos, and, judging by the damaged walls, would have been of an intensity of 8 on today's Richter scale. The excavators also found evidence of the siege equipment used by Hazael of Damascus in his destruction of Gath in around 830 BCE.
Reopening of Israel Museum in Jerusalem
There was a special ceremony in early August for archaeologists to celebrate the opening of the archaeological wing of the Museum, recently renovated on a large scale. All the existing exhibits have been newly presented in a most attractive new setting and of special interest is a new room that presents details of some of the famous pioneers of archaeological work in Palestine/Israel.
Individual sections are devoted to the work of Sir William Flinders Petrie, to Felicien de Saulcy (who worked in Jerusalem, Herodion and Airaq al-Amir) and Conrad Schick, several of whose Temple models are shown. There is also a section on the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund and the original theodolite, used for the Survey of Western Palestine by Charles Warren and others, is exhibited.
Heavy Gold Coin from Tell Kedesh
The heaviest gold coin ever found in Israel was uncovered recently at the dig in Kedesh led by Sharon Herbert and Andrea Berlin of the University of Michigan. The coin is from the Hellenistic period of c. 200 BCE and shows the head of Queen Arsinoe Philadelphus, wife (and half-sister) of Ptolemy II of Egypt and the reverse has two overlapping cornucopia, symbols of plenty. The unusual size, 27-7 gms. of gold, suggest that the coin was used for ceremonial purposes to honor the queen, rather than as currency. It was minted by one of her successors, Ptolemy IV in 191 BCE in Alexandria.
According to Dr. Donald Ariel, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Coin Department, the coin had a nominal value of one mina, equivalent to 100 silver coins and would have been equivalent in value to half-a-year's average senior salary, He put it at a figure of about $80,000 today.
Tell Kedesh, south of Kiryat Shemona, has been shown to be the administrative seat of the satrap (governor) during the Persian period and continued as such under the Ptolemies who reigned over Palestine/Israel after the death of Alexander the Great, until they were ousted by the Seleucids in 198 BCE. The coin was found by the central administrative building that housed public rooms and an archive.
Cameo of Eros from Givati Car Park site, Jerusalem
The large building site opposite the City of David Visitors' Centre has recently offered up another piece of jewelry (previously there were gold and pearl earrings) of the Roman period. This time it is a small figure of Eros in semi-precious blue onyx on a dark brown background. The piece is only one cm. long and may have been enclosed in an oblong metal setting and used as a ring or even an earring. The figure of Eros is resting with his left hand on a reversed torch, that symbolizes the loss of life, according to Dr Doron ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are leading the excavation of the site by the IAA.
Not Israel, but Jordan, a Moabite Temple?
Last week an announcement from Amman reported on the finding of a shrine dated to c. 800 BCE at Khirbet 'Ataroz, near to Madeba, south-west of Amman. According to Ziad al-Saad, Jordan Antiquities Chief, the structure measured 9m by 4m, had two antechambers, stood in an open courtyard and came from the Iron Age biblical Moabite period.
The excavation turned up over 300 sacred vessels and figurines, including a four-legged animal figure devoted to the god Hadad. The dig is being conducted with La Sierra University of California and the pieces will be exhibited in Jordan's Archaeological Museum which, as far as we know, is still being rebuilt on the Acropolis in Amman. We await further news of this important find.