Friday, May 17, 2013
A Spectacular 1,500 Year Old Mosiac was Exposed in the Fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama in the South of the Country
A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council
Credit: Yael Yolovitch
A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council. The mosaic was discovered within the framework of an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the construction of an interchange between Ma’ahaz and Devira Junction, undertaken and funded by the Cross-Israel Highway Company.
Remains of a settlement that extends across more than six dunams were uncovered in the excavation being conducted on the kibbutz’s farmland and directed by Dr. Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The main building at the site was a large hall 12 meters long by 8.5 meters wide and its ceiling was apparently covered with roof tiles. The hall’s impressive opening and the breathtaking mosaic that adorns its floor suggest that the structure was a public building.
The well-preserved mosaic is decorated with geometric patterns and its corners are enhanced with amphorae (jars used to transport wine), a pair of peacocks, and a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet.
Pools and a system of channels and pipes between them used to convey water were discovered in front of the building. Steps were exposed in one of the pools and its walls were treated with colored plaster (fresco).
Archaeologists in the Antiquities Authority are still trying to determine the purpose of the impressive public building and the pools whose construction required considerable economic resources.
The site, which was located along an ancient road that ran north from Be’er Sheva, seems to have consisted of a large estate that included a church, residential buildings and storerooms, a large cistern, a public building and pools surrounded by farmland. Presumably one of the structures served as an inn for travelers who visited the place.
During the Byzantine period Jewish and Christian settlements in the region were located next to each other. Two of the nearby Jewish settlements are Horbat Rimon, where a synagogue and ritual bath (miqwe) were exposed, and the Nahal Shoval antiquities site, recently excavated prior to the construction of the Cross-Israel Highway, where ritual baths were uncovered. Noteworthy among the Christian settlements are the churches at Abu Hof in Lahav Forest and the monastery at Givot Bar.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
An Enormous Quarry Dating to the Second Temple Period was Exposed in the Ramat Shlomo Quarter of Jerusalem
An enormous quarry from the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) was exposed in recent weeks in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the paving of Highway 21 by the Moriah Company. A 2,000 year old key, pick axes, severance wedges etc are also among the artifacts uncovered during the course of the excavation.
A picture of the quarries. Photographic credit: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings. What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment. Some of the stones that were quarried are more than 2 meters long. The giant stones were probably hewn for the sake of the construction of the city’s magnificent public buildings”.
Pictures of the artifacts (a general photograph and a picture of the key). Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
A picture of the key. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Zilberbod explains, “The pick axes were used to cut the severance channels around the stone block in the bedrock surface and the arrowhead-shaped detachment wedge, which is solid iron, was designed to detach the base of the stone from the bedrock by means of striking it with a hammer. The key that was found, and which was probably used to open a door some 2,000 years ago, is curved and has teeth. What was it doing there? We can only surmise that it might have fallen from the pocket of one of the quarrymen”.
The enormous quarries that were exposed – totaling a 1,000 square meters in area – join other quarries that were previously documented and studied by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Research has shown that the northern neighborhoods of modern Jerusalem are situated on Jerusalem’s “city of quarries” from the Second Temple period.
The question arises: why did the quarrymen select this specific region. Researchers speculate that the answer to this lies in the Meleke rock formation found there, which is a type of rock that is easily quarried and hardens immediately after it is hewn.
In addition to this, since the northern area is topographically higher than the city of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, it was presumably easy to transport the huge stones, some which weighed tens if not hundreds of tons, down hill along the slope to the construction sites. An ancient road dating to the Second Temple period was exposed next to the quarry and it was probably used to move the large stones.
Another puzzle regarding the transportation of such large stones is how were they actually moved? Presumably this was accomplished by means of oxen and wooden rollers, but the contemporary historical sources also mention giant wooden lifting devices.
Friday, May 10, 2013
The so-called Elephant's Tomb in the Roman necropolis of Carmona (Seville, Spain) was not always used for burials. The original structure of the building and a window through which the sun shines directly in the equinoxes suggest that it was a temple of Mithraism, an unofficial religion in the Roman Empire. The position of Taurus and Scorpio during the equinoxes gives force to the theory.
The Carmona necropolis (Spain) is a collection of funeral structures from between the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. One of these is known as the Elephant's Tomb because a statue in the shape of an elephant was found in the interior of the structure.
The origin and function of the construction have been the subject of much debate. Archaeologists from the University of Pablo de Olavide (Seville, Spain) have conducted a detailed analysis of the structure and now suggest that it may originally not have been used for burials but for worshipping the God Mithras. Mithraism was an unofficial religion that was widespread throughout the Roman Empire in the early centuries of our era.
Researchers have identified four stages in which the building was renovated, giving it different uses.
"In some stages, it was used for burial purposes, but its shape and an archaeoastronomical analysis suggest that it was originally designed and built to contain a Mithraeum [temple to Mithras]," as explained to SINC by Inmaculada Carrasco, one of the authors of the study.
Carrasco and her colleague Alejandro Jiménez focus their studies on a window in the main chamber built during the first stage. Earlier studies had already suggested that the purpose of the window was not to provide light, but that rather it may have served a symbolic and spiritual purpose.
The Sun, the Moon and the stars
VIDEO: This shows the secrets of the Elephant's Tomb.
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"From our analysis of the window, we have deduced that it was positioned so that the rays of the sun reached the centre of the chamber during the equinoxes, in the spring and autumn, three hours after sunrise" explains Carrasco.
The authors believe that at that moment a statue of the tauroctony, the statue of Mithras slaying the bull (which has been lost), would have been illuminated.
In addition, during the winter and summer solstice, the sun would light up the north and south walls respectively.
Moreover, the position of the heavenly bodies at that time in the 2nd century reinforces the theory that the building was constructed for Mithraic worship, a religion that gave considerable importance to the constellations.
As the sun shines through the window during the spring equinox, Taurus rises to the East and Scorpio hides to the West. The opposite occurred during the autumn equinox.
Taurus and Scorpio were of special significance to the Mithraics. The main image of the cult is that of the God Mithras slaying a bull, and in the majority of these images there is also a scorpion stinging the animal's testicles.
Other constellations such as Aquarius, Orion or Leo, which were also of significance in this religion, appear in the path of the sun in the equinoxes and solstices at that time.
Moreover, according to the authors, the Moon, although having a secondary role, may have lit up the face of Mithras with a full moon on nights near to the equinoxes.
Four stages of renovation
Apart from the window, the architecture of the original building has similarities to other Mithraic constructions.
Carrasco explained that it is "an underground structure, with a room divided into three chambers, with a shrine or altar illuminated by the window at the head. The presence of a fountain is also highly significant as these are commonly found in the Mithraeums".
According to the authors, after its period as a Mithraic temple, the building was renovated three times, giving it new functions more in line with the functions of a necropolis. A burial chamber was built and at a later date, the roof was removed, leaving open courtyards. Lastly, it was filled with rubble and used as an area for burials.
However, there are some objections to the theory that it was a Mithraic temple as it is in a necropolis, an uncommon site for buildings used for this cult which were more often found in domestic, urban or rural environments.
"A similar case is that of Sutri (Italy) where the Mithraeum is on the outskirts of the town. The structure in Carmona is in a multi-purpose space, next to the Via Augusta which connected Cadiz to Rome, close to the amphitheatre and the circus, and consequently its position should not be considered an objection," says Jiménez.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
The Gabriel Revelation, Eastern Dead Sea region, 1st century BCE – 1st century CE, Ink on limestone, Collection of Dr. David and Jemima Jeselsohn, Zurich, Photo @ Bruce Zuckerman
Considered the most important archaeological artifact to come to light in the region since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gabriel Revelation Stone will be on public view for the first time in Israel as the centerpiece of a new focused exhibition at the Israel Museum, opening May 1, 2013. The inscribed first-century BCE tablet, discovered in 2007 on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, sheds light on the spiritual life of the Second Temple Period. The exhibition I Am Gabriel will contextualize and further illuminate the stone’s inscriptions with a number of ancient, rare manuscripts – including a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the 13th-century Damascus Codex – tracing the development of the figure of the Angel Gabriel across the early years of rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. On view through February 11, 2014, I Am Gabriel complements the ongoing large-scale exhibition Herod the Great, which explores other aspects of the period.
The Gabriel Revelation inscription reflects the messianic atmosphere, anxiety over the fate of Jerusalem, and the new role of angels as intermediaries that characterized the spiritual orientation of Jews in the Second Temple Period. Inscribed in ink on stone, a rare find in itself, the Hebrew text is written in the first person, the narrator identifying himself as the angel Gabriel. The inscription comprises a series of dialogues; in the main dialogue the speaker identifies himself three times in the first-person: "I am Gabriel." Gabriel converses with a human figure – a visionary or prophet – to whom he, Gabriel, is apparently communicating a vision. Scholars are deeply divided regarding the reading of the inscription's 87 lines, since large sections have been effaced. However, all agree that the main topic of the inscription is an attack on Jerusalem and the hope that God will see to the city's deliverance for the sake of his servant David, perhaps referring to the Messiah of Davidic descent. The style of the inscription echoes the late prophetic and apocalyptic literary genres that are unique to the Second Temple period, similar to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the later books of the Prophets, such as Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah.
Complementing this exceptional inscription are works showing the evolution of the figure of the angel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions, including the War Scroll, one of the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947; the Book of Daniel from the 13th-century Damascus Codex of the Hebrew Bible, rarely on display to the public; the Gospel of Luke from a rare 10th-century Latin manuscript of the Four Gospels from France, and a 15th-16th-century Quran from Iran. Also on view are prayer books from the three traditions with illustrations of the angel Gabriel.
I am Gabriel is curated by Michal Dayagi-Mendels, Tamar and Teddy Kollek Chief Curator of Archaeology, and Adolfo D. Roitman, Lizbeth and George Krupp Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in the Qiryat Menachem quarter of Jerusalem, a rare ritual 'miqwe' was exposed that dates to the late Second Temple period.
Archaeologist Benyamin Storchan standing at the bottom of the steps in the immersion chamber
According to Benyamin Storchan, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Numerous ritual baths have been excavated in Jerusalem in recent years, but the water supply system that we exposed in this excavation is unique and unusual. The ritual bath consists of an underground chamber entered by way of steps. The miqwe received the rainwater from three collecting basins (otzar) that were hewn on the roof of the bath, and the pure water was conveyed inside the chamber through channels. The ritual baths known until now usually consist of a closed cavity that was supplied with rainwater conveyed from a small rock-cut pool located nearby.
The complex that was exposed at this time is a more sophisticated and intricate system. The bath was apparently associated with a settlement that was situated there in the Second Temple period. Presumably, due to the rainfall regime and arid conditions of the region, the inhabitants sought special techniques that would make it possible to store every drop of water. It is interesting to note that the bath conforms to all of the laws of kashrut, like collecting the water in it naturally without human contact, and ensuring that the water does not seep into the earth which is why the bath was treated with a special kind of plaster”.
Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
The ritual bath, which is located in a picturesque valley where there are ancient agricultural installations, was uncovered a short distance from the houses in the Qiryat Menachem quarter.
According to the Jerusalem district archaeologist, Amit Re’em, “The neighborhood community has expressed great interest in the conservation of the miqwe. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Moriah Company are working to make this delightful treasure a site for the benefit of the residents and visitors”.
After the ritual bath went out of use, the place served as a quarry and the channels filled up with earth. During the twentieth century the immersion chamber was cleaned, a round opening was breached in its ceiling and it was used as a cistern.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Hunter-gatherers living in glacial conditions produced pots for cooking fish, according to the findings of a pioneering new study led by the University of York which reports the earliest direct evidence for the use of ceramic vessels.
Scientists from the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan carried out chemical analysis of food residues in pottery up to 15,000 years old from the late glacial period, the oldest pottery so far investigated. It is the first study to directly address the often posed question "why humans made pots?" The research is published in Nature.
The research team was able to determine the use of a range of hunter-gatherer "Jōmon" ceramic vessels through chemical analysis of organic compounds extracted from charred surface deposits. The samples analysed are some of the earliest found in Japan, a country recognised to be one of the first centres for ceramic innovation, and date to the end of the Late Pleistocene - a time when humans were adjusting to changing climates and new environments.
Until quite recently ceramic container technologies have been associated with the arrival of farming, but we now know they were a much earlier hunter-gatherer adaptation, though the reasons for their emergence and subsequent widespread uptake are poorly understood. The first ceramic containers must have provided prehistoric hunter-gatherers with attractive new ways for processing and consuming foods but until now virtually nothing was known of how or for what early pots were used.
The researchers recovered diagnostic lipids from the charred surface deposits of the pottery with most of the compounds deriving from the processing of freshwater or marine organisms. Stable isotope data support the lipid evidence, and suggest that the majority of the 101 charred deposits, analysed from across Japan, were derived from high trophic level aquatic foods.
Dr Oliver Craig, of the Department of Archaeology and Director of the BioArCh research centre at York, led the research. He said: "Foragers first used pottery as a revolutionary new strategy for the processing of marine and freshwater fish but perhaps most interesting is that this fundamental adaptation emerged over a period of severe climate change.
"The reliability and high abundance of food along shorelines and river-banks may well have provided the initial impetus for an investment in producing ceramic containers, perhaps to make the most of seasonal gluts or as part of elaborate celebratory feasts and could be linked to a reduction in mobility.
This initial phase of ceramic production probably paved the way for further intensification in the warmer climate of the Holocene when we see much more pottery on Japanese sites.
"This study demonstrates that it is possible to analyse organic residues from some of the world's earliest ceramic vessels. It opens the way for further study of hunter-gatherer pottery from later periods to clarify the development of what was a revolutionary technology."
Monday, April 8, 2013
A scientist who helped verify authenticity of the fabled Gospel of Judas today revealed how an ancient Egyptian marriage certificate played a pivotal role in confirming the veracity of inks used in the controversial text. The disclosure, which sheds new light on the intensive scientific efforts to validate the gospel, was made here today at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.
"If we hadn't found a Louvre study of Egyptian wedding and land contracts, which were from the same time period and had ink similar to that used to record the Gospel of Judas, we would have had a much more difficult time discerning whether the gospel was authentic," said Joseph G. Barabe. A senior research microscopist at McCrone Associates, he led an analytical team of five scientists who worked on the project at McCrone, a consulting laboratory in microscopy and microanalysis in Westmont, Ill. "That study was the key piece of evidence that convinced us that the gospel ink was probably okay."
Barabe's team was part of a multidisciplinary effort organized in 2006 by the National Geographic Society to authenticate the Gospel of Judas, which was discovered in the late 1970s after having been hidden for nearly 1,700 years. The text, written in Egyptian Coptic, is compelling because — unlike other Biblical accounts that portray Judas Iscariot as a reviled traitor — it suggests that Jesus requested that his friend, Judas, betray him to authorities.
After analyzing a sample, Barabe and his colleagues concluded that the gospel was likely penned with an early form of iron gall ink that also included black carbon soot bound with a gum binder. While this finding suggested that the text may have been written in the third or fourth century A.D., the researchers were perplexed by one thing: The iron gall ink used in the gospel was different than anything they'd ever seen before. Typically, iron gall inks — at least those from the Middle Ages — were made from a concoction of iron sulfate and tannin acids, such as those extracted from oak gall nuts. But the iron gall ink used to produce the Gospel of Judas didn't contain any sulfur. And that, Barabe said, was troubling.
"We didn't understand it. It just didn't fit in with anything that we had ever encountered," he said. "It was one of the most anxiety-producing projects I've ever had. I would lie awake at night trying to figure it out. I was frantically searching for answers."
Ultimately, Barabe found a reference to a small French study conducted by scientists at the Louvre who analyzed Egyptian marriage and land records written in Coptic and Greek and dating from the first to third centuries A.D. Much to Barabe's relief, those researchers had determined that a wedding certificate and other documents were written in ink made with copper, but little or no sulfur.
"Finding that study, and realizing its implications, tilted my opinion a little in the direction of it being appropriate for the era," Barabe said. "My memory of that experience remains quite vivid. I had a sudden feeling of peace that things were okay, and that I could submit my data without qualms."
Barabe now suspects that the ink used in the Gospel of Judas was probably transitional, a "missing link" between the ancient world's carbon-based inks and the iron gall inks (made with iron sulfate) that became popular in medieval times.
Barabe's presentation was part of an ACS symposium on archeological chemistry. Other presentations included:
- Announcement of the unprecedented discovery of the most sacred Biblical dye at Masada, an ancient mountain fortress in Israel.
- Examination of the glues George Washington's mother used to repair her ceramics and what it tells us about her life and the mending of china in the 18th century.
- Exploration of the use and trade of pulque — an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant — in prehistoric Mexico and Central America.