Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Clay seal found near the Western Wall bearing the Aramaic words "pure for God."


Archaeologists have found a 2,000-year-old button-shaped clay seal near the Western Wall bearing the Aramaic words "pure for God."

"It seems that the inscribed object was used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple, and it was imperative they be ritually pure," the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement announcing the find.

Archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University said it dates from between the 1st century B.C. to 70 A.D. — the year Roman forces put down a Jewish revolt and destroyed the second of the two biblical temples in Jerusalem.

The find marks the first discovery of a written seal from that period of Jerusalem's history, and appeared to be a unique physical artifact from ritual practice in the Temple, said Reich, co-director of the excavation.

Very few artifacts linked to the Temples have been discovered so far. The site of the Temple itself — the enclosure known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — remains off-limits to archaeologists because of its religious and political sensitivity.

Archaeologists say the seal was likely used by Temple officials approving an object for ritual use — oil, perhaps, or an animal intended for sacrifice. Materials used by Temple priests had to meet stringent purity guidelines stipulated in detail in the Jewish legal text known as the Mishna, which also mention the use of seals as tokens by pilgrims.

The find, Reich said, is "the first time an indication was brought by archaeology about activities in the Temple Mount — the religious activities of buying and offering and giving to the Temple itself."

The site where the seal was found is on the route of a main street that ran through ancient Jerusalem just outside the Temple compound.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jerusalem stone carvings baffle archaeologists

The carvings in the The City of David


Archaeologists have discovered mysterious stone carvings at an excavation site in Jerusalem. The carvings - which were engraved thousands of years ago - have baffled experts.

Israeli archaeologists excavating in the City of David, the oldest part of the city, discovered a complex of rooms with three "V" shapes carved into the floor. Yet there were no other clues as to their purpose and nothing to identity the people who made them.

Some experts believe the markings were made at least 2,800 years ago and may have helped hold up some kind of wooden structure. Others say an ancient people may have held ritual functions there.

The purpose of the complex is another aspect of the mystery.

There are straight lines on the walls and floors - something archaeologists see as evidence of careful engineering. The markings are also located close to the city's only natural water source - the Gihon spring - suggesting they may have had an important role.

Eli Shukron, a co-director of the project that found the markings, said they were a "little bit" mysterious.

"It's something that is here on the floor in this room from the First Temple period and we don't know yet what it means," he added. The First Temple period refers to a period in the ancient city beginning in the 10th century before the Christian era.

Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/Jerusalem-stone-carvings-baffle-archaeologists/tabid/1160/articleID/235592/Default.aspx#ixzz1goAvqxRX


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Disappearance of the Elephant Caused the Rise of Modern Man


Dietary change led to the appearance of modern humans in the Middle East 400,000 years ago, say TAU researchers

Elephants have long been known to be part of the Homo erectus diet. But the significance of this specific food source, in relation to both the survival of Homo erectus and the evolution of modern humans, has never been understood — until now.

When Tel Aviv University researchers Dr. Ran Barkai, Miki Ben-Dor, and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies examined the published data describing animal bones associated with Homo erectus at the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov in Israel, they found that elephant bones made up only two to three percent the total. But these low numbers are misleading, they say. While the six-ton animal may have only been represented by a tiny percentage of bones at the site, it actually provided as much as 60 percent of animal-sourced calories.

The elephant, a huge package of food that is easy to hunt, disappeared from the Middle East 400,000 years ago — an event that must have imposed considerable nutritional stress on Homo erectus. Working with Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the researchers connected this evidence about diet with other cultural and anatomical clues and concluded that the new hominids recently discovered at Qesem Cave in Israel — who had to be more agile and knowledgeable to satisfy their dietary needs with smaller and faster prey — took over the Middle Eastern landscape and eventually replaced Homo erectus.

The findings, which have been reported in the journal PLoS One
, suggest that the disappearance of elephants 400,000 years ago was the reason that modern humans first appeared in the Middle East. In Africa, elephants disappeared from archaeological sites and Homo sapiens emerged much later — only 200,000 years ago.

The perfect food package

Unlike other primates, humans' ability to extract energy from plant fiber and convert protein to energy is limited. So in the absence of fire for cooking, the Homo erectus diet could only consist of a finite amount of plant and protein and would have needed to be supplemented by animal fat. For this reason, elephants were the ultimate prize in hunting — slower than other sources of prey and large enough to feed groups, the giant animals had an ideal fat-to-protein ratio that remained constant regardless of the season. In short, says Ben-Dor, they were the ideal food package for Homo erectus.

When elephants began to die out, Homo erectus "needed to hunt many smaller, more evasive animals. Energy requirements increased, but with plant and protein intake limited, the source had to come from fat. He had to become calculated about hunting," Ben-Dor says, noting that this change is evident in the physical appearance of modern humans, lighter than Homo erectus and with larger brains.

To confirm these findings, the researchers compared archaeological evidence from two sites in Israel: Gesher B'not Yaakov, dating back nearly 800,000 years and associated with Homo erectus; and Qesem Cave, dated 400,000 to 200,000 years ago. Gesher B'not Yaakov contains elephant bones, but at Qesem Cave, which is bereft of elephant bones, the researchers discovered signs of post-erectus hominins, with blades and sophisticated behaviors such as food sharing and the habitual use of fire.

Evolution in the Middle East

Modern humans evolved in Africa 200,000 years ago, says Dr. Barkai, and the ruling paradigm is that this was their first worldwide appearance. Archaeological records tell us that elephants in Africa disappeared alongside the Acheulian culture with the emergence of modern humans there. Though elephants can be found today in Africa, few species survived and no evidence of the animal can be found in archaeological sites after 200,000 years ago. The similarity to the circumstances of the Middle East 400,000 years ago is no coincidence, claim the researchers. Not only do their findings on elephants and the Homo erectus diet give a long-awaited explanation for the evolution of modern humans, but they also call what scientists know about the "birth-place" of modern man into question.

Evidence from the Qesem Cave corroborates this revolutionary timeline. Findings from the site dated from as long as 400,000 years ago, clearly indicate the presence of new and innovative human behavior and a new human type. This sets the stage for a new understanding of the human story, says Prof. Gopher.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cairo Genizah scraps joined together using new software

Thousands of fragments of centuries-old Jewish texts, from shopping lists to historical documents, are being joined together using new software.

Two fragments of a Jewish manuscript are joined after years of being apart. A Hebrew text on the laws of the Sabbath features one portion of manuscript from the Jewish Theological Seminar library in New York, left, and another from Cambridge University Library. Source: Tel Aviv University via Bloomberg

The scraps of the Cairo Genizah being cataloged include a letter from a wife complaining about her husband and a rabbinical judge’s authorization of the kosher status of cheese sold by a Jerusalem grocer.

The software, developed by Tel Aviv University professors Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz, is analyzing texts that span about 1,000 years of Middle East history. The algorithm program adapts facial recognition technology to identify similar handwriting on documents which are then sorted into digital loose-leaf binders.

“The computer found thousands of items running for a week,” Dershowitz said in a telephone interview. “Then it took months for the scholars to look at it and decide if the computer was correct.”

A fragment, posted on the Friedberg Genizah Project website, from the complaining wife dates from the 15th or 16th century and details her husband’s absence from home and his plans to travel to Turkey.

“You will also adversely affect the fortunes of your adult daughter, Rachel,” the wife says, “who is a beautiful, fine and modest woman, for people will draw attention to the fact that a scribe of character and seniority has abandoned his wife and daughters for a number of years, preferring to travel to distant parts, and has apparently gone out of his mind.”

There is another marriage document dating from 1047 that outlines conditions the groom agrees to in order to wed: “I shall associate with good men and not corrupt ones. I shall not bring home licentious individuals, buffoons, frivolous men, and good-for-nothings. I shall not enter the home of anyone attracted to licentious behavior, to corruption and to revolting activities.”

The website also includes a note handwritten by Jewish scholar Maimonides, otherwise known as Moses ben Maimon or the Rambam. The note requests that tax owed by friends be paid by a Jewish community.

More than 1,000 pairs of pages joined by the algorithm have been confirmed by scholars since the computer started its scanning about two years ago, Dershowitz added.

Complete article


At Qumran all the textiles were made of linen


The Dead Sea Scrolls may have been written, at least in part, by a sectarian group called the Essenes, according to nearly 200 textiles discovered in caves at Qumran, in the West Bank, where the religious texts had been stored.

Scholars are divided about who authored the Dead Sea Scrolls and how the texts got to Qumran, and so the new finding could help clear up this long-standing mystery.

The research reveals that all the textiles were made of linen, rather than wool, which was the preferred textile used in ancient Israel. Also they lack decoration, some actually being bleached white, even though fabrics from the period often have vivid colours. Altogether, researchers say these finds lends credence to the claim that the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect, "penned" some of the scrolls.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation. An archaeologist who has excavated at Qumran told LiveScience that the linen could have come from people fleeing the Roman army after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and that they are in fact responsible for putting the scrolls into caves.

Complete, long interesting article

Building the Western Wall: Herod Began it but Didn’t Finish it

Who built the Temple Mount walls? Every tour guide and every student grounded in the history of Jerusalem will immediately reply that it was Herod. However, in the archaeological excavations alongside the ancient drainage channel of Jerusalem a very old ritual bath (miqwe) was recently discovered that challenges the conventional archaeological perception which regards Herod as being solely responsible for its construction.

Recently, reinforcement and maintenance measures were implemented in the pavement of Jerusalem’s main street from 2,000 years ago, used by pilgrims when they went up to the Temple Mount. This was done as part of the project to re-expose the drainage channel that passes beneath the street, running from the Siloam Pool in the City of David to the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden near the Western Wall.

The excavations at the site are being conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with Nature and Parks Authority and the East Jerusalem Development Corporation, and are underwritten by the Ir David foundation. The excavations are directed by archaeologist Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with assistance from Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa.

In an excavation beneath the paved street near Robinson’s Arch, sections of the Western Wall’s foundation were revealed that is set on the bedrock – which is also the western foundation of Robinson’s Arch – an enormous arch that bore a staircase that led from Jerusalem’s main street to the entrance of the Temple Mount compound.

Remains of Robinson's Arch

According to Professor Reich, “It became apparent during the course of the work that there are rock-hewn remains of different installations on the natural bedrock, including cisterns, ritual baths and cellars. These belonged to the dwellings of a residential neighborhood that existed there before King Herod decided to enlarge the Temple Mount compound. The Jewish historian Josephus, a contemporary of that period, writes that Herod embarked on the project of enlarging the compound in the eighteenth year of his reign (that is in 22 BCE) and described it as “the largest project the world has ever heard of”.

When it was decided to expand the compound, the area was confiscated and the walls of the buildings were demolished down to the bedrock. The rock-cut installations were filled with earth and stones so as to be able to build on them. When the locations of the Temple Mount corners were determined and work was begun setting the first course of stone in place, it became apparent that one of the ritual baths was situated directly in line with the Western Wall. The builders filled in the bath with earth, placed three large flat stones on the soil and built the first course of the wall on top of this blockage.

While sifting the soil removed from inside the sealed ritual bath, three clay oil lamps were discovered of a type that was common in the first century CE. In addition, the sifting also yielded seventeen bronze coins that can be identified. Dr. Donald Ariel, curator of the numismatic collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, determined that the latest coins (4 in all) were struck by the Roman procurator of Judea, Valerius Gratus, in the year 17/18 CE:

This means that Robinson’s Arch, and possibly a longer part of the Western Wall, were constructed after this year – that is to say: at least twenty years after Herod’s death (which is commonly thought to have occurred in the year 4 BCE).

This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and Robinson’s Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod’s lifetime.

This dramatic find confirms Josephus’ descriptions which state that it was only during the reign of King Agrippa II (Herod’s great-grandson) that the work was finished, and upon its completion there were eight to ten thousand unemployed in Jerusalem.


Ancient Greek trading vessels carried much more than wine

Curvy jars called amphorae (a version from fifth century Greece shown) were often used as storage and trading vessels, as well as for decoration.Ashmolean Museum, Univ. of Oxford, The Bridgeman Art Library International

Wine flowed freely from ancient Greece during its golden age, but new work suggests nuts and various herbs were also in demand.

With the help of DNA analysis, scientists are getting a present-day look at centuries-old trade in the Mediterranean. Such studies may help debunk some long-held assumptions, namely that the bulk of Greek commerce revolved around wine.

During the fifth through third centuries B.C., the Mediterranean and Black seas were major thoroughfares for ships loaded with thousands of curvaceous jars known as amphorae, thought from their shape to contain a drink made from fermented grape juice.

But only recently have researchers peered through the lens of 21st century genetics to identify the actual remnants of the jars’ long-disappeared cargo. Analyses of DNA fragments from the interior of nine jars from Mediterranean shipwrecks now reveal various combinations of olive, ginger, walnut and herbs in the rosemary family, along with the expected grapes.

Complete article