A small pottery jar containing four pure gold coins dating from the Early Islamic period was unearthed during archeological excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), as part of the Jewish Quarter Development Corporation’s plan to build an elevator and make the Western Wall Plaza more accessible. The jar was found by IAA inspector Yevgenia Kapil and, some weeks later, excavation director David Gellman found the coins inside it. “To my great surprise, along with the soil, four shiny gold coins fell into my hand,” said Gellman. “This is the first time in my archeological career that I have discovered gold, and it is tremendously exciting.”
According to IAA coin expert Dr. Robert Kool, “The coins date from a relatively brief period, from the late 940s to the 970s CE. This was a time of radical political change, when control over Eretz Israel passed from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, Iraq, into the hands of its Shiite rivals, the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa, who conquered Egypt, Syria and Eretz Israel in those years.”
According to Kool, “Four dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time. It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common labourer. Compared with these people, the small handful of wealthy officials and merchants in the city earned huge salaries and amassed vast wealth. A senior treasury official could earn 7,000 gold dinars a month and receive additional incomes from his rural estates amounting to hundreds of thousands of gold dinars a year.”
An aerial photo of the remains of a 3,200-year-old Canaanite fortress built near today’s town of Kiryat Gat. (photo by Emil Aladjem/IAA via Ashernet)
The Kiryat Gat fortress site, which was opened to visitors this week, was prepared by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Jewish National Fund (KKL).
According to archeologists Saar Ganor and Itamar Weissbein of the IAA, “The fortress we found provides a glimpse into the geopolitical reality described in the Book of Judges, in which the Canaanites, Israelites and Philistines are fighting each other. In this period, the land of Canaan was ruled by the Egyptians and its inhabitants were under their control. During the 12th century BCE, two new players entered the game: the Israelites and the Philistines. This led to a series of violent territorial disputes. The Israelites settled in non-fortified settlements at the Benjamin and Judean mountains. Meanwhile, the Philistines accumulated power in the Southern Coastal Plain and established cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Gat in an attempt to conquer more areas. The Philistines confronted the Egyptians and the Canaanites on the borderline, which probably passed at the Guvrin River, between the Philistine kingdom of Gat and the Canaanite kingdom of Lachish. It seems that the Galon fortress was built as a Canaanite/Egyptian attempt to cope with the new geopolitical situation. However, in the middle of the 12th century BCE, the Egyptians left the land of Canaan and returned to Egypt. Their departure led to the destruction of the now-unprotected Canaanite cities – a destruction that was probably led by the Philistines.”
The dimension of the fortress is 18 metres square and watchtowers were built in the four corners. A threshold, carved from one rock weighing around three tons, was preserved at the entrance of the building. Inside the fortress was a courtyard paved with stone slabs and featuring columns in the middle. Rooms were constructed on both sides of the courtyard. Hundreds of pottery vessels, some still whole, were found in the rooms.
The remains of the fortress were uncovered with the help of students from the Israel studies department at Be’er Sheva’s Multidisciplinary School, students from the Nachshon pre-military preparatory program and other volunteers. This was done as part of the IAA’s policy to bring the general public, and especially the younger generation, closer to archeology.
The interior of a dolmen (ancient burial chamber built of rocks) with symbols overlaid on the image for clarity. (photo by Yaniv Berman/IAA via Ashernet)
There are many such dolmens in the Galilee and the Golan, all of which date back more than 4,000 years. An inspector of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has identified engravings of horned animals, leaves, fertilizers and wild cows in one dolmen; a human face in another; and a panel with geometric shapes in yet another.
A human jawbone found in the Misliya Cave on Mount Carmel near Haifa. (photo by Israel Hershkowitz, Tel Aviv University via Ashernet)
A human jawbone and other fossils found in the Misliya Cave on Mount Carmel near Haifa indicate that human migration from Africa occurred during the Ice Age, approximately 200,000 years ago, which is contrary to the popular theory that the freezing conditions and dryness of the Ice Age periods deterred human migration between continents.
These recent findings were published in the Journal of Human Evolution by Dr. Lior Weissbrod of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, and they build on work previously published by Weinstein-Evron and Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of Tel Aviv University in Science.
In addition to the jawbone, Weissbrod said, “The fossils now being investigated were identified as belonging to 13 different species of rodents and small insect eaters, some of which now live in high and cold regions, in the Zagros Mountains of northwestern Iran and in the Caucasus Mountains.”
This means that, “in Israel, cold conditions prevailed that allowed such animals to survive. Finding the human jawbone in the same layer where the rodent lived, suggests that these early humans survived under these conditions,” changing existing perceptions on human evolution.
The tablet found by Imri Elya. (photo by IAA via Ashernet)
Imri Elya was on an outing with his parents at Tel Jemmeh archeological site near Kibbutz Re’im when he picked up the square clay object. His parents contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and they handed over the item to the authority’s National Treasures Department.
According to archeologists Saar Ganor, Itamar Weissbein and Oren Shmueli of the IAA, the artifact was imprinted in a carved pattern, and the artist’s fingerprints even survived on the back. The tablet depicts the scene of a man leading a captive. According to the researchers, “The artist who created this tablet appeared to have been influenced by similar representations known in Ancient Near East art. The way in which the captive is bound has been seen previously in reliefs and artifacts found in Egypt and northern Sinai.”
They date the artifact to the Late Bronze Age (between the 12th and 15th centuries BCE) and believe that the scene depicted symbolically describes the power struggles between the city of Yurza – with which Tel Jemmeh is identified – and one of the cities close to the Tel, possibly Gaza, Ashkelon or Lachish, or the struggle of a nomadic population residing in the Negev. The researchers believe that the scene is taken from descriptions of victory parades; hence, the tablet should be identified as a story depicting the ruler’s power over his enemies. This opens a visual window to understanding the struggle for dominance in the south of the country during the Canaanite period.
Damascus Gate today and, below it, the Aelia Capitolina arch leading to the Roman Plaza. (photo by Deborah Rubin Fields)
Revenge is sweet. Apparently, while the Roman Emperor Hadrian did not spike enemy heads on palisades, after three years of battle, he did construct an arch celebrating the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt. This archway was quite detailed, as it marked the northern border of his Jew-less Roman colony (Jews were only allowed in on Tisha b’Av to mourn the temples they had lost) and the Aelia Capitolina, a colony built on the Jerusalem the Romans had destroyed.
Below and to the left of Damascus Gate (built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 16th century CE) are the remains of Hadrian’s Arch of Triumph and his Roman Plaza. Although the site has been explored since 1864 by numerous archeologists, only recently have the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem Municipality and the East Jerusalem Development Company (PAMI) cooperated to open to the public the arch that Hadrian ordered built in 135 CE.
The arch seen today was actually part of a three-arched entrance way. Two shorter arches bordered a taller and wider centre one. Only the eastern entrance remains fully intact, along with the bases of what were once elaborate stone pillars. Inside this archway, one still sees the vaulted ceiling and the floor made of large stone slabs.
The thick blocks making up this flooring measure some two metres (6.6 feet) long and 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) wide. To prevent people from slipping on the stones, the Romans striated some of the pavement, which is still in place, albeit worn smooth from use.
None of Hadrian’s building machinery was motorized, of course. Even the Roman tread wheel crane was run on human or animal power. Not one to waste and not one to overlook architectural beauty, Hadrian scavenged the enormous stones of the razed Second Temple and public structures – Herodian stones from the Temple area are distinct in having narrow margins and low, flat, smooth centre bosses. Hadrian used these stones to build two massive guard towers flanking the archway on the right and left.
As the Herodian stones were not attached by mortar, it was probably relatively easy – the average weight of each is said to have been two to five tons – for Hadrian’s gate builders to dismantle the Temple-area stones. These huge limestone pieces still stand, as the remains of the guard towers, neatly stacked at an incredible height of some 11 or 12 metres.
Soldiers throughout history have faced boredom. To counter this, the Roman soldiers in these guard towers played games. One such “board game,” is still scratched into the flooring near the towers.
The gate with its three arches was typical of its period. Just above the remaining arch, one can still decipher the “C” in the Latin inscription bearing the city’s Roman name, Aelia Capitolina. In Jerusalem, a similar example of this kind of gate is the Ecce Homo Arch. It served as an entrance to the eastern forum of Aelia Capitolina. Part of it may be seen today, along the Via Dolorosa.
As further evidence of how well-planned Hadrian’s city was, the gate opened into a plaza, a circular space that was the junction or crossing point of the eastern and western cardines (plural of cardo; literally, heart) or main roads. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book Jerusalem: The Biography, this plaza led to two forums, one close to the destroyed Antonia Fortress and one close to today’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There, Hadrian reportedly built a temple to Jupiter.
This gate appears on Jordan’s mosaic Madaba Map. On the sixth-century map – a model of which appears inside the discovered Roman Plaza – one sees an open square with a column just beyond the gate. To prevent anyone from forgetting who was victorious over the Jewish rebels, the column was topped with Hadrian’s figure. On site, there is a model of the column to give current-day visitors an idea of how the column looked. From this column, distances to different parts of the country were measured. Moreover, the column is the source of Damascus Gate’s Arabic name, Bab al-Amud.
To the left of the arch entrance are the large millstone remains from the later Byzantine period. Most likely, an olive oil factory existed there in ancient times.
To the east of the Roman Plaza, there are three other sites worth visiting when such things become possible again, once the COVID-19 pandemic is contained:
Zedekiah’s Cave (also known as Solomon’s Quarry) has visiting hours like those of the Roman Plaza. As the cave has very good acoustics, over the past few years, it has been used to host concerts. The entrance fee is currently 18 shekels. The local telephone is the same as that of the Roman Plaza, 02-6277550. There is partial wheelchair accessibility.
Rockefeller Archeology Museum, on the northern side of the street, recently had a small, but fascinating, exhibit dealing with the 100-year history of Jerusalem Armenian Ceramics. (imj.org.il/en/exhibitions/glimpse-paradise). The museum is free of charge, with hours Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and even on Saturdays. There is a short flight of stairs at the entrance, so contact the curator, Fawzi Ibrahim, about visiting in a wheelchair. The local number is 02-628-2251.
The Northern Promenade route of the Old City’s ramparts allows you to visit these areas from “above,” but is not designed for wheelchairs or strollers. Buy tickets at the tourist office just inside Jaffa Gate.
From the Romans onward, rulers have built special arches marking the defeat of their enemies. Hadrian’s Arch might also have served as a reminder to potential rebels not to try again. What does seem clear is Hadrian has left us with a 1,885-year-old reminder of the many changes of hands Jerusalem has undergone.
Deborah Rubin Fieldsis an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
A 1,400-year-old hammer and nails, found at the ancient city of Usha. (photo by Yoli Schwartz/IAA via Ashernet)
An Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavation some 15 kilometres east of Haifa at the ancient city of Usha revealed a 1,400-year-old hammer and nails, confirming that the ancient inhabitants of Usha manufactured iron tools.
The IAA’s community excavation, carried out predominantly by youth and volunteers, has exposed part of a Jewish settlement with ritual baths, oil presses and winepresses. Indications are that the primary occupation of the Usha inhabitants was the large-scale processing of the olive trees and vines they cultivated on the surrounding hills. The discovery of the ritual baths indicates that the Jewish press workers took care to purify themselves in the ritual baths in order to manufacture ritually pure oil and wine.
According to Yair Amitzur, director of the excavation and of the Sanhedrin Trail Project for the IAA, “the settlement of Usha is mentioned in the Jewish sources many times in the Roman and Byzantine periods, as the village where the institution of the Sanhedrin was renewed, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and after the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 CE. The Sanhedrin was the central Jewish council and law court, and it was headed by the president, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel the Second, who presided in Usha, and then his son, Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi. Here, in Usha, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin made decrees to enable the Jewish people to recover after the war against the Romans, and to reconstruct Jewish life in the Galilee.”
A mosaic revealed during the excavation of the “Burnt Church” in Hippos. (photos by Michael Eisenberg via Ashernet)
A mosaic was revealed during the excavation of the “Burnt Church” in Hippos, which was built in the second half of the fifth or in the early sixth century CE and was probably burnt down during the Sasanian conquest in the beginning of the seventh century. According to the researchers, the descriptions in the mosaic, along with the location of the church, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, raise the connection to the “Feeding the Multitude,” the miracle performed by Jesus in the area, according to the New Testament. “There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic, but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament: for example, from the fact that the New Testament has a description of five loaves in a basket, or the two fish depicted in the apse, as we find in the mosaic,” said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, head of the excavation team in Hippos on behalf of the Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, along with colleague Arleta Kowalewska. The excavation of the church specifically was placed in the hands of Jessica Rentz from the United States, who has exposed its entire internal area.
During the preservation process, headed by Yana Vitkalov from the Israel Antiquities Authority, most of the mosaic area was cleaned and preserved, and most of its decorations and two inscriptions in Greek were exposed. The first one tells about the two fathers of the church, Theodoros and Petros, constructing a sanctuary for a martyr, while the second one, which is located inside a medallion at the centre of the mosaic, exposes the name of the martyr, Theodoros. An initial reading of the inscriptions was done by Dr. Gregor Staab from the University of Cologne in Germany, expedition epigraphist.
Eisenberg continues to be cautious about the interpretation of the new mosaic. “Nowadays, we tend to regard the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, on the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, as the location of the miracle, but with careful reading of the New Testament, it is evident that it might have taken place north of Hippos within the city’s region.”
This pre-Columbian cultural artifact at the University of Haifa is one of the mysterious art objects from Puerto Rico that were alleged to have been made by members of the Ten Lost Tribes. “This is definitely one of the strangest and most fascinating stories I’ve ever been involved in,” stated the university’s Dr. Iris Groman-Yaroslavsky. “To date, we have not found any similar carved stone art objects from this region of the Americas and, therefore, many researchers assumed that they must be fake. However, the microscopic tests we performed show beyond any doubt that the stones were carved around 600 years ago.”
The story of these art objects, known as the “Library of Agüeybaná,” goes back to the 19th century, when a Puerto Rican monk by the name of José María Nazario presented a collection of some 800 carved stone statuettes, some of which had a clearly human form while others appeared to be artistic or ritual items. No similar statuettes or art objects have ever been found from this region, and it was he who claimed the Lost Tribes connection. In 2001, a research student named Reniel Rodríguez Ramos saw the stones during a study trip and was enchanted. He completed his doctorate in pre-Columbian cultures and returned to investigate the stones. Eventually, he came to Groman-Yaroslavsky’s lab, which specializes in microscopic examinations.
Dozens of undamaged pottery vessels have been discovered so far at the site.(photos from Israel Antiquities Authority via Ashernet)
In 2015, archeologists began an excavation in the Judean Foothills, between Kiryat Gat and Lachish. In research conducted in a cooperative venture by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, the archeologists believe they have found the Philistine town of Ziklag. Dozens of undamaged pottery vessels have been discovered so far at the site, and it has been determined that the vessels are at least 3,000 years old.
Ziklag is a Philistine name, given to the town by immigrants from the Aegean. It is mentioned many times in the Bible in relation to David (in both Samuel I and II). According to the biblical narrative, Achish, king of Gat, allowed David to find refuge in Ziklag while fleeing King Saul and, from there, David departed to be anointed king in Hebron. Ziklag was also the town that the Amalekites, desert nomads, raided and burned, taking women and children captive.