An inscription (top of above photo and below), written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” (photos from IAA courtesy Ashernet)
New neighbourhood construction in the southern part of the Sharon Plain of central Israel has revealed an estate, some 1,600 years old, which was determined by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists to have been the property of a wealthy Samaritan. The discovery reinforced evidence that, at one time, the area was extensively populated by the Samaritans, who claim they are Israelite descendants of the northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. An inscription, written in Greek, was translated by Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dated to the early fifth century CE, it says, “Only God helps the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen.” According to Dr. Hagit Torge, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The inscription was discovered in an impressive winepress [near the top of Tel Zur Natan, where remains of a Samaritan synagogue were found] that was apparently part of the agricultural estate of a wealthy individual named Adios. This is only the second such winepress discovered in Israel with a blessing inscription associated with the Samaritans. The first winepress was discovered a few years ago in Apollonia near Herzliya.” The Samaritans were originally brought to the region as part of Assyrian policy, and first settled on and around Mount Gerizim.
Uri Geller holds a water or oil jug that was found during the construction of a new museum dedicated to his activities. (photo by Dilila Bar-Ratson courtesy Ashernet)
During the construction of a new museum in the Old City of Jaffa, dedicated to the activities of Uri Geller, an illusionist, magician, television personality and self-proclaimed psychic, a 19th-century Ottoman-era soap manufacturing factory was discovered. The museum will go ahead as planned, with the addition of the newly discovered factory.
The site was well-preserved and comprised troughs for mixing raw material, cauldrons, storage facilities and water cisterns. It was of particular interest because soap made from olive oil was recorded as having been produced in Israel for more than a thousand years. Making olive oil-based soap took just over a week to prepare in large vats. The contents would then be poured onto lime-covered trays to cool and solidify for about another week before being cut into bars. It would take another two months approximately for the soap to completely harden before being wrapped in paper and offered for sale.
A Hellenistic-era golden earring, discovered in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park. (photo from IAA courtesy Ashernet)
A Hellenistic-era golden earring, featuring ornamentation of a horned animal, was discovered in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park encircling the Old City walls. The discovery was made during archeological digs carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University. According to the researchers, “It is unclear whether the gold earring was worn by a man or a woman, nor do we know their cultural or religious identity, but we can say for certain that whoever wore this earring definitely belonged to Jerusalem’s upper class. This can be determined by the proximity to the Temple Mount and the Temple, which was functional at the time, as well as the quality of the gold piece of jewelry.”
Dr. Yinon Shivtiel, left, and Dr. Danny Syon inside the cave where large wine jars, a cooking pot and other pottery more than 2,000 years old were salvaged two weeks ago in a joint operation of the Sefad Academic College, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the Israel Cave Research Centre and the Israel Cave Explorers Club. (photo by IAA from Ashernet)
In 2017, Dr. Yinon Shivtiel, a speleologist and senior lecturer at Sefad, conducted a survey in Western Galilee, aided by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, to locate caves that served as shelters and hiding places. He discovered a cave high on a sheer cliff, under an overhang, which contained ancient pottery vessels. “As a first impression,” said Dr. Danny Syon, senior archeologist with the IAA, “the finds seem to date to the Hellenistic period: between the third and first centuries BCE…. We assume that whoever hid here escaped some violent event that occurred in the area. Perhaps by dating the vessels more closely, we shall be able to tie them to a known historic event. It is mind-boggling how the vessels were carried to the cave, which is extremely difficult to access. Maybe an easier way that once existed disappeared over time?”
In the ancient city of Gath, now Tell es-Safi, an international team of archeologists has uncovered the earliest example of the use of a bridle bit with an equid in the Near East.(photo from Ashernet)
“The use of a bridle bit on a donkey during this period is surprising, since it was commonly assumed that donkeys were controlled with nose rings, as depicted in Mesopotamian art,” said Bar-Ilan University’s Prof. Aren Maeir, who has led the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archeological Project since its inception more than 20 years ago. Evidence of the bit was derived from the skeleton of an ancient donkey dating to the Early Bronze Age III (approximately 2700 BCE). The donkey is one of four that were found buried under neighbourhood houses, indicating the importance of the donkey in this society. Studies of the dental isotopes from this particular donkey (with the bit) demonstrate that it was born and raised in Egypt and brought to the site only in the last few months of its life, before it was sacrificed and buried beneath the floor of the house as it was being rebuilt. The research has been funded by the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council, with additional funds from BIU and the University of Manitoba; the researchers come from BIU, U of M, University of Saskatchewan, Ariel University and Grand Valley State University; their findings were published in the May 16 edition of the journal PLOS ONE.
Pigeon bones from 1,500 years ago. (photo from University of Haifa via Ashernet)
Israel’s Negev Desert has not always been a dusty, almost treeless place – 1,500 years ago, many parts of the Negev were green and produced basic foods. And a new study – led by Dr. Nimrod Marom of the University of Haifa and Tel Hai College, in cooperation with Prof. Guy Bar-Oz and Dr. Yotam Tepper of the Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa and Dr. Baruch Rosen of the Volcani Centre – reveals the first archeological evidence of the role played by pigeons in Byzantine agriculture: improving and fertilizing soil in vineyards and orchards. Among other goals, the researchers are interested in understanding how the Byzantines managed to maintain a broad-based agricultural system in the desert, and what led to the sudden abandonment and eventual collapse of these flourishing communities.
The date palm Methuselah “is a big boy now.” (photo from Arava Institute)
When I contacted Dr. Elaine Solowey, a California-born botanist of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura, for an update on the date palm Methuselah, she said, “He is a big boy now. He has flowered several times and his pollen is good. I hope to have some good news about companions for him.”
In honour of Tu b’Shevat in 2011, I wrote about Methuselah for the Jewish Independent and other publications. What best symbolizes the holiday known in the Talmud as Rosh Hashanah l’Ilanot, the New Year of the Trees, more than dates?
For that 2011 article, I interviewed London-born Dr. Sarah Sallon, director of the Louis Borick Natural Medicine Research Centre at Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, who is friends and colleagues with Solowey.
Sallon said that, in 2005, “we were interested in rejuvenating lost flora of Eretz Yisrael,” including the Judaean date. During a conversation with scientists about extracting DNA from ancient seeds, she wondered about the possibility of growing such seeds, and Masada came up.
In the early 1960s, during excavations of Masada – the fortress built by King Herod more than 2,000 years ago – archeologists Yigal Yadin and Ehud Netzer found date palm seeds. Under the custodianship of Netzer, the seeds were stored at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
At the Louis Borick Centre, Sallon directs research on complementary alternative and integrated medicine through the Middle Eastern Medicinal Plant Project. After studying medicines of Tibet, as an introduction to the ancient world of traditional medicine, the centre began to look at the medicinal plants of Eretz Yisrael, of which there are approximately 2,900 species. Sallon asked Netzer if she and her researchers could have a few seeds, and they were given five palm seeds, which Sallon took to Solowey.
Solowey took three of the ancient seeds and planted them in January 2005. Other seeds were sent to the University of Zurich, Switzerland, for radiocarbon dating and other testing. The date palm, which can be male or female, was domesticated more than 6,000 years ago, and is used for lung disease, colds, heart disease, hair growth and other things.
After eight weeks, in March 2005, one seed successfully germinated and was named Methuselah, after the biblical person who was said to have lived 969 years. Initially, the leaves had white spots because of a lack of chlorophyll. At 15 months, the seedling was transferred to a larger pot. After 26 months, the plant showed normal development, and Sallon said Methuselah is accepted by Guinness World Records as the oldest seed cultivated.
In 2011, I saw a photograph of Methuselah on a computer when its location was secret. At that time, it was two metres high (about six-and-a-half feet) and in a “protected quarantine site,” due to its scientific and financial value. In April of that year, a white flower appeared on the inner part of the tree, indicating that Methuselah was a male date palm. And, on Nov. 24, 2011, Methuselah was planted at Kibbutz Ketura.
Today, Methuselah has a permanent home at the Arava Institute research park on Kibbutz Ketura. As I wrote this update, there was hope for Methuselah to be bred with a female tree to produce the same date variety eaten commonly in ancient Judea, where it was valued as much for its flavour as for its medicinal properties.
Solowey continues to work with palms and has grown other date palms from ancient seeds found in archeological sites around the Dead Sea, as well.
“I’m trying to figure out how to plant an ancient date grove,” she said. And, if she can succeed in bringing forth a modern grove of ancient trees, it would provide unique insight into history. “We would know what kind of dates they ate in those days and what they were like,” she said. “That would be very exciting.”
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
(photo from Israel Antiquities Authority via Ashernet)
A 1,500-year-old mosaic floor, with a Greek inscription, was discovered this summer following groundwork for a communications cable infrastructure near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. David Gellman, the director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Authority, said, “The fact that the inscription survived is an archeological miracle…. We were about to close the excavation when, all of a sudden, a corner of the mosaic inscription peeked out between the pipes and cables. Amazingly, it had not been damaged.” Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Dr. Leah Di Segni deciphered the inscription, which “commemorates the founding of the building by Constantine, the priest. The inscription names the emperor Flavius Justinian. It seems that the building was used as a hostel for pilgrims.”
Students from the Paran and Hinaton pre-military preparatory programs took part in the discovery. (photo from Israel Antiquities Authority via Ashernet)
Late last month, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) uncovered an Ottoman-period well, hundreds of years old, as part of the work being carried out by Netivei Israel Co. to widen Highway 38, north of the main entrance to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Students from the Paran and Hinaton pre-military preparatory programs took part in the discovery of the well that is about 3.5 metres in diameter and joins a series of wells that have been documented over the years along Route 38. The palm tree is an indicator that there is nearby a source of groundwater.
An aerial view of part of the Caesarea excavations. (photo by Griffin Aerial, via IAA and Ashernet)
On April 27, the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, Caesarea Development Corporation, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Israel Nature and Parks Authority announced cooperation on an unprecedented scale in conserving and making accessible the public buildings of ancient Caesarea in Caesarea National Park, as well as developing and making the settlement’s beaches more accessible. The more than $28 million project will hopefully help attract three million tourists to Caesarea by 2030.
Caesarea has been a vibrant port city since its establishment about 2,030 years ago and throughout the various ensuing periods. The archeological excavations have revealed many remains that range from the time of Herod to the Crusader period. According to IAA director Israel Hasson, “To date, only about six percent of Caesarea’s treasures have been discovered, and magnificent finds on a global scale are buried beneath its sand dunes.”