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.”
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.
The stamp of “Ikar, son of Matanyahu.” (IAA photos courtesy Ashernet)
The 2,600-year-old stamp of “Ikar, son of Matanyahu” was among the artifacts uncovered in archeological excavations at the Givati Parking Lot, in City of David National Park in Jerusalem. The dig was conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University and, according to TAU’s Prof. Yuval Gadot and IAA’s Dr. Yiftah Shalev, the artifacts were found inside a large public building that was destroyed in the sixth century BCE, probably during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered, all indications that they had survived a fire.
The stamp and bulla (seal impressions), which are about one centimetre in size, were deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem. “The name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed. However, this is the first reference to the name Ikar, which was unknown until today,” said Mendel-Geberovich.
According to Gadot and Shalev, “These artifacts corroborate the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city.”
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.
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.”
(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.”
A 1,200-year-old gold coin fonud at Kfar Kama. (photo by Israel Antiquities Authority via Ashernet)
Two teenage students from the lower Galilee, Dor Yogev and Ella Dicks, who were participating in an Israel Antiquities Authority dig in nearby Kfar Kama, found some ancient coins. Included in the find was a 1,200-year-old gold coin inscribed in Arabic and mentioning the name of Muhammad and monotheism. The find shows that the people who lived at the location were there at the early Islamic period in the 7th and 8th centuries. The location of the dig, Kfar Kama, is the home of the Circassian community. The Circassians are a Sunni Muslim community closely allied with Israel; they participate fully in Israeli life, including their young men serving in the Israel Defence Forces.
An artist’s impression of the interior of the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. (all photos from Ashernet)
The Museum of the Bible, which will open in Washington, D.C., in November 2017, will display a large collection on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The museum will cover an area of 48,000 square metres and use advanced techniques to illustrate Bible stories. Following an agreement with IAA, the new $400 million privately funded museum will devote a whole floor to a revolving selection of items from the two million held by IAA in Israel.
The museum also will house the Green Collection, the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts. Steve Green is the founder and president of the 600-branch U.S.-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain. The museum building, which was formerly the home of the Washington Design Centre, was purchased by Green for $50 million in 2012.
On the website deadseascrolls.org.il, visitors can explore the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (screenshot)
Have you ever taped up a torn page? In our household, taping has saved many a book and article from falling apart. Seems like a practical solution, right?
Wrong! While it might do the job on faulty binding or read-it-again storybooks, it hasn’t worked well on extremely old, organic (mostly animal skin) materials, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Curator Pnina Shor, who heads up the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Department for the Treatment and Conservation of Artifacts, recently discussed this sticky mess.
According to Shor, for some 2,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls had been stored in 11 dark caves below sea level in a steady climate of hot/dry days and cold/dry nights. Beginning with their first discovery in the late 1940s, archeologists transferred the scrolls from the Qumran area to open rooms at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum, some 800 metres above sea level. As anyone who has ever visited Jerusalem and the Dead Sea knows, these places are geographically close, but climatically quite far apart.
At the time, archeologists eagerly wanted to piece together the enormous puzzle of 15,000 (biblical and non-biblical) fragments now at their disposal. Most manuscripts date from the first century BCE to the first century CE, the periods of the Hasmonean and Herodian rule. The archeologists did not know the risks involved in handling such fragile, ancient pieces. So, for example, they touched the parchment with their bare hands, leaving skin oil on the surfaces. They drank their tea and ate their lunch over the texts. (Like the rest of us, researchers are guilty of leaving crumbs and spills.)
In the early second half of the 20th century, archeologists were unaware of the negative consequences of taping torn texts and fragments. They did not realize that the glass panes sandwiching the pieces would put additional weight on the delicate remains.
So, what happened? Sadly, the tape’s adhesive congealed. Some of the texts (especially evident along the edges of the texts) darkened to the point where they became indecipherable to the naked eye.
Measures to contain or reverse the damage began in the 1960s. Unfortunately, this treatment inadvertently resulted in further damage. Until the 1990s, when there was consultation with U.S. preservation experts, it was not understood that the safest environment for the scrolls was a replication of their original storage conditions. Since that time, however, the scrolls have been stored in a climate-controlled laboratory, and exhibited in like conditions for extremely limited periods of time.
Between 1990-2009, the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project put out 32 volumes, entitled Discoveries in the Judean Desert. These reports are based on the original infrared photography conducted from the 1950s-60s. The infrared negatives are referred to as PAM (Palestine Archeological Museum).
Four full-time conservationists work on the scrolls. The specialists repair each piece separately, depending on the condition of the leather or papyrus. If you have ever tried removing Scotch tape, you have a sense of what it can do to the material underneath.
The aging adhesive is painstaking removed using a water-based adhesive. Staff members lift stains using a kind of dry poultice. The writings are then placed on acid-free cardboard, lightly covered by Japanese tissue paper. They are housed in solander boxes.
Over the past several years, the IAA has come to feel responsible for sharing these ancient finds, not just with the professional world of archeologists, biblical researchers and historians, but with the public at large. So, on the one hand, some of the scrolls are lent to foreign museums for temporary exhibition. (Currently, the Los Angeles-based California Science Centre has a show.) The more compelling outcome of the new IAA policy, however, has been the mounting of the scrolls to the internet. This undertaking goes by the name of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project, which has brought experts from far afield.
NASA’s Dr. Gregory Bearman was among those who served as a consultant for imaging technologies. With the assistance of various outside experts, a spectral imaging protocol was established, and it applies to the copying of all the writing:
Displaying the “raw” image alongside the full, enhanced version so others can see both the beginning and end point of the work that has been done.
Documenting the imaging procedure so another scholar, employing basically the same image and tools, can replicate the procedure. In that way, the investigator can better judge the degree of subjectivity involved in a given set of image manipulators.
Labeling aggressively enhanced images as electronic reconstructions, that is, the scholar’s best judgment of what s/he thinks should be there, as opposed to what really is there.
The operating philosophy is to cause no [irreversible] harm. Bearman explained some of the benefits of applying spectral photography, namely that it can “determine the amount of water present in the parchment from which the scrolls are made. Data such as this has added value for conservation and preservation issues. If, for example, we discover that the parchments are too dry, it will be necessary to modify the conditions in which they are maintained.”
In his grey-walled photo lab, Shai Halevi spoke about how he photographs and stores the fragments using multi-spectral photography. Working with Google Research, he photographs the fragments using colors both visible (there are seven bands in this range) and invisible (there are five bands in this range) to the naked eye. Thus, letters that had been illegible are now digitally readable using infrared wavelengths in combination with spectroscopy. You have to see it to believe it:
Halevi described how he copies the fragment from a variety of angles, altering the resolution so that we (the viewing public) will be able to navigate around any part of a scanned image and magnify or reduce any section. Using different filters, Halevi allows us, for example, to see parchment folds appear and disappear at will.
He saves the images in a databank maintained by Google. For each fragment, there are 28 frontal images (referred to as “recto”), 28 back images (“verso”) and two extra color images, which the spectral imaging creates. The internet goal is twofold: first, to have all the fragments uploaded for open viewing and, second, to eventually add transcriptions and translations for all the text.
Recently, perhaps with a gesture toward Shavuot, which celebrates our receiving of the Ten Commandments, Shor brought out an ancient manuscript containing the Decalogue. This inscription is part of a very small scroll (its width is only 2.56 inches, or 6.5 centimetres) containing excerpts from the Book of Deuteronomy. It lists two reasons for keeping the Sabbath: what we know as the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy 5:15, the commemoration of the Exodus, that is, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, G-d took our ancestors from Egypt; and what we know as the Masoretic text of Exodus 20:11, the commemoration of Creation, that is, G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
This and other texts are within easy reach on the website of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (deadseascrolls.org.il).
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.