Friday, June 22, 2012

Research finds Stonehenge was monument marking unification of Britain



After 10 years of archaeological investigations, researchers have concluded that Stonehenge was built as a monument to unify the peoples of Britain, after a long period of conflict and regional difference between eastern and western Britain.


Its stones are thought to have symbolized the ancestors of different groups of earliest farming communities in Britain, with some stones coming from southern England and others from west Wales.

The teams, from the universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth and University College London, all working on the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP), explored not just Stonehenge and its landscape but also the wider social and economic context of the monument’s main stages of construction around 3,000 BC and 2,500 BC.

“When Stonehenge was built”, said Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, “there was a growing island-wide culture – the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast. This was very different to the regionalism of previous centuries. Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them. Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification.”

Stonehenge may have been built in a place that already had special significance for prehistoric Britons. The SRP team have found that its solstice-aligned Avenue sits upon a series of natural landforms that, by chance, form an axis between the directions of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset.

Professor Parker Pearson continued: “When we stumbled across this extraordinary natural arrangement of the sun’s path being marked in the land, we realized that prehistoric people selected this place to build Stonehenge because of its pre-ordained significance. This might explain why there are eight monuments in the Stonehenge area with solstitial alignments, a number unmatched anywhere else. Perhaps they saw this place as the centre of the world”.

Although many people flocked to Stonehenge yesterday for the summer solstice, it seems that the winter solstice was the more significant time of the year when Stonehenge was built 5,000-4,500 years ago.

Professor Parker Pearson said: “We can tell from ageing of the pig teeth that higher quantities of pork were eaten during midwinter at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls, and most of the monuments in the Stonehenge area are aligned on sunrise and sunset at midwinter rather than midsummer. At Stonehenge itself, the principal axis appears to be in the opposite direction to midsummer sunrise, towards midsummer sunset, framed by the monument’s largest stone setting, the great trilithon.”

Parker Pearson and the SRP team firmly reject ideas that Stonehenge was inspired by ancient Egyptians or extra-terrestrials. He said: “All the architectural influences for Stonehenge can be found in previous monuments and buildings within Britain, with origins in Wales and Scotland. In fact, Britain’s Neolithic people were isolated from the rest of Europe for centuries. Britain may have become unified but there was no interest in interacting with people across the Channel. Stonehenge appears to have been the last gasp of this Stone Age culture, which was isolated from Europe and from the new technologies of metal tools and the wheel.“

Previous theories have suggested the great stone circle was used as a prehistoric observatory, a sun temple, a place of healing, and a temple of the ancient druids. The Stonehenge Riverside Project’s researchers have rejected all these possibilities after the largest programme of archaeological research ever mounted on this iconic monument. As well as finding houses and a large village near Stonehenge at Durrington Walls, they have also discovered the site of a former stone circle – Bluestonehenge – and revised the dating of Stonehenge itself. All these discoveries are now presented in Parker Pearson’s new book Stonehenge: exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery published by Simon & Schuster. The research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, National Geographic and many other funding bodies.

Tel Megiddo Gold: New Pictures


Complete article




"This is really a very impressive piece," Finkelstein said of this golden earring adorned with ibex, or wild goats.

When excavating in the Megiddo region, "usually you get the sort of common earrings we also see in this same hoard"—simple crescent designs. "But this one is better, it's bigger, it's more elaborate—and as far as I know it's a unique piece in the history of the Levant region."

Archaeologists Uncover Possible 10th Century B.C.E. City Gate Near Sea of Galilee


Complete article (with lots of pictures)

...Located at an ancient Tel (or mound containing archaeological remains) just northeast of the Sea of Galilee, the structure is located near a later (9th century), fully excavated city gate complex which is part of a larger ancient settlement or city that some scholars suggest is the possible site of the capital city of the biblical Geshurites, a people who shared an important connection with the ancient Israelites...

The more ancient Geshurite city at the same location is eluded to in II Samuel 3:3, which records the birth of King David's son Absalom by his wife Maacah, who was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. The marriage between David and Maacah has been interpreted by scholars as a means of strengthening the political union between the kingdom of Geshur and Israel, as this was not an uncommon practice among the royalty of ancient kingdoms. It was also to the land of Geshur that Absalom fled for refuge after he slew his half-brother Amnon: "But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur." (II Samuel 13: 37) Absalom 's daughter, also called Maacah, married Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, the king of Judah after the united Israelite kingdom split into two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north...

If the find proves to be a 10th century city gate complex, the discovery could have implications within the context of the current scholarly debate about the nature of ancient Israel during that time. Many scholars and archaeologists argue that the paucity of archaeological evidence in support of the kingdoms of David and Solomon under Israel's United Monarchy as described in the biblical record cast doubt on the historicity of such an expansive State. One prominent school of thought maintains that Israel during the 10th century (the time of David and Solomon) was more like a tribal chiefdom, with few, if any, of the characteristics normally attributed to a large, highly developed State or kingdom, such as monumental architecture and other artifacts that reflect a centralized authority commanding vast resources. Recent discoveries at some archaeological sites have, however, provided possible evidence of such a State organization in ancient Israel.

The existence of a monumental 10th century city gate complex at Bethsaida, attributable to the capital city of Geshur, could support the historicity of an expansive, developed State organization or United Monarchy for ancient Israel as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Assuming the biblical account of the royal and political bonds between Geshur and the House of David is accurate, it would be unlikely that such a relationship would ever have developed between the Geshurite kingdom and a tribal chiefdom with comparatively few resources and influence....

Oldest Hebrew Inscription Protects Rights


Complete article


..Five lines of ancient Hebrew were painted onto a clay pot about 3,000 years ago. Their author is thought to have been a trainee court official – they were instructed to write out important laws over and over again to improve their writing skills.

Archaeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered the inscription-covered clay slab in 2008 while excavating the site of a ancient city known to have existed in 10 BC, Khirbet Qeiyafa, which lies 25 kilometres south-west of Jerusalem.

They sent copies to experts in ancient languages, who all had a go at translating the ancient scripture.

Professor of Protestant theology at the University of M√ľnster, Dr. Reinhard Achenbach's final interpretation was published recently in the French-language Hebrew studies journal Semitica.

"The language seems to be ancient Hebrew, but it is closely related to other west-semitic Canaanite languages," the Old Testament expert told The Local in an email.

The tablet’s...second and third lines ...read: “Give rights to slaves and to widows! Give rights to orphans and foreigners! Protect the rights of the poor and protect the rights of minors!”

"The form of the letters is older than the oldest Israelite text we have known until now, the "Gezer calendar". This points to the 10th century BC," Achenbach added.

Relics Could Be of John the Baptist



New dating evidence supports claims that bones found under a church floor in Bulgaria may be of John the Baptist, who is described in the Bible as a leading prophet and relative of Jesus Christ. A team from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at Oxford University dated a knucklebone from the right hand to the 1st century AD, a date which fits with the widely held view of when he would have lived. The researchers say they were surprised when they discovered the very early age of the remains adding, however, that dating evidence alone cannot prove the bones to be of John the Baptist.

Bones claimed to be of John the Baptist that were analysed by the research team. Clockwise from top left, the knucklebone, ulna, part of cranial bone and molar (together) and rib. (Credit: Oxford University)

The bones were originally discovered in 2010 by archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov, excavating under an ancient church on an island in Bulgaria known as Sveti Ivan, which translates into English as St John. The knucklebone was one of six human bones, including a tooth and the face part of a cranium, found in small marble sarcophagus under the floor near the altar. Three animal bones were also inside the sarcophagus. Oxford professors Thomas Higham and Christopher Ramsey attempted to radiocarbon date four human bones, but only one of them contained a sufficient amount of collagen to be dated successfully.

Professor Higham said: "We were surprised when the radiocarbon dating produced this very early age. We had suspected that the bones may have been more recent than this, perhaps from the third or fourth centuries. However, the result from the metacarpal hand bone is clearly consistent with someone who lived in the early first century AD. Whether that person is John the Baptist is a question that we cannot yet definitely answer and probably never will."

Former Oxford student Dr Hannes Schroeder and Professor Eske Willerslev, both from the University of Copenhagen, also reconstructed the complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequence from three of the human bones to establish that the bones were all from the same individual. Significantly, they identified a family group of genes (mtDNA haplotype) as being a group most commonly found in the Near East, which is better known as the Middle East today -- the region where John the Baptist would have originated from. They also established that the bones were probably of a male individual after an analysis of the nuclear DNA from samples.

Dr Schroeder said: "Our worry was that the remains might have been contaminated with modern DNA. However, the DNA we found in the samples showed damage patterns that are characteristic of ancient DNA, which gave us confidence in the results. Further, it seems somewhat unlikely that all three samples would yield the same sequence considering that they had probably been handled by different people. Both of these facts suggest that the DNA we sequenced was actually authentic. Of course, this does not prove that these were the remains of John the Baptist but nor does it refute that theory as the sequences we got fit with a Near Eastern origin."

The Bulgarian archaeologists, who excavated the bones, also found a small tuff box (made of hardened volcanic ash) close to the sarcophagus. The tuff box bears inscriptions in ancient Greek that directly mention John the Baptist and his feast day, and text asking God to 'help your servant Thomas'. One theory is that the person referred to as Thomas had been given the task of bringing the relics to the island. An analysis of the box has shown that the tuff box has a high waterproof quality and is likely to have originated from Cappadocia, a region of modern-day Turkey. The Bulgarian researchers believe that the bones probably came to Bulgaria via Antioch, an ancient Turkish city, where the right hand of St John was kept until the tenth century.

In a separate study, another Oxford researcher Dr Georges Kazan has used historical documents to show that in the latter part of the fourth century, monks had taken relics of John the Baptist out of Jerusalem and these included portions of skull. These relics were soon summoned to Constantinople by the Roman Emperor who built a church to house them there. Further research by Dr Kazan suggests that the reliquary used to contain them may have resembled the sarcophagus-shaped casket discovered at Sveti Ivan. Archaeological and written records suggest that these reliquaries were first developed and used at Constantinople by the city's ruling elite at around the time that the relics of John the Baptist are said to have arrived there.

Dr Kazan said: "My research suggests that during the fifth or early sixth century, the monastery of Sveti Ivan may well have received a significant portion of St John the Baptist's relics, as well as a prestige reliquary in the shape of a sarcophagus, from a member of Constantinople's elite. This gift could have been to dedicate or rededicate the church and the monastery to St John, which the patron or patrons may have supported financially."

The scientific analysis of the relics undertaken by Tom Higham and Christopher Ramsey at Oxford, and their colleagues in Copenhagen was supported by the National Geographic Society. The documentary 'Head of John the Baptist', featuring the scientists' work was shown on the National Geographic Channel on 17 June 2012.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Spectacular 2,000 Year Old Gold and Silver Hoard in the Qiryat Gat Region



The treasure trove comprising c. 140 gold and silver coins together with gold jewelry was probably hidden by a wealthy lady at a time of impending danger during the Bar Kokhba Revolt

A rich and extraordinary hoard that includes jewelry and silver and gold coins from the Roman period was recently exposed in a salvage excavation in the vicinity of Qiryat Gat. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was funded by Y. S. Gat Ltd., the Economic Development Corporation for the Management of the Qiryat Gat Industrial Park.

The rooms of a building dating to the Roman and Byzantine period were exposed during the course of the excavation. A pit that was dug in the earth and refilled was discerned in the building’s courtyard. To the archaeologist’s surprise, a spectacular treasure trove of exquisite quality was discovered in the pit wrapped in a cloth fabric, of which only several pieces remained on the artifacts.

According to archaeologist, Emil Aladjem, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The magnificent hoard includes gold jewelry, among them an earring crafted by a jeweler in the shape of a flower and a ring with a precious stone on which there is a seal of a winged-goddess, two sticks of silver that were probably kohl sticks, as well as some 140 gold and silver coins. The coins that were discovered date to the reigns of the Roman emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire from 54-117 CE. The coins are adorned with the images of the emperors and on their reverse are cultic portrayals of the emperor, symbols of the brotherhood of warriors and mythological gods such as Jupiter seated on a throne or Jupiter grasping a lightning bolt in his hand”.

Sa'ar Ganor, District Archaeologist of Ashkelon and the Western Negev for the Israel Antiquities Authority, adds “the composition of the numismatic artifacts and their quality are consistent with treasure troves that were previously attributed to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. During the uprising, between 132-135 CE, the Jews under Roman rule would re-strike coins of the emperor Trajan with symbols of the revolt. This hoard includes silver and gold coins of different denominations, most of which date to the reign of the emperor Trajan. This is probably an emergency cache that was concealed at the time of impending danger by a wealthy woman who wrapped her jewelry and money in a cloth and hid them deep in the ground prior to or during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It is now clear that the owner of the hoard never returned to claim it.

The treasure trove was removed from the field and transferred for treatment to the laboratories of the Artifacts Treatment Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem

Monday, June 4, 2012

Earliest Archaeological Evidence of the Existence of the City of Bethlehem already in the First Temple Period


The first ancient artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the city of Bethlehem, which is mentioned in the Bible, was recently discovered in Jerusalem.

A bulla measuring c. 1.5 cm was found during the sifting of soil removed from archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David. The sifting is underwritten by the 'Ir David Foundation' in a project being conducted in the Emek Tzurim National Park.

A bulla is a piece of clay that was used for sealing a document or object. The bulla was impressed with the seal of the person who sent the document or object, and its integrity was evidence the document or object was not opened by anyone unauthorized to do so.

Three lines of ancient Hebrew script appear on the bulla:
_____ Bishv'at
__ ___ Bat Lechem
[___]_ [Lemel]ekh

According to Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (it is unclear if the king referred to here is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem. The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE. The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.

Shukron emphasizes,” this is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period, which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods”.

In the Bible Bethlehem is first mentioned in the verse “in Ephrath, which is Bethlehem”, and it was on the way there that Rachel died and it is where she was buried (Genesis 35:19; 48:7). The descendants of Judah settled there, among them the family of Boaz (Book of Ruth).

Ancient Jugs Hold the Secret to Practical Mathematics in Biblical Times


Archaeologists in the eastern Mediterranean region have been unearthing spherical jugs, used by the ancients for storing and trading oil, wine, and other valuable commodities. Because we're used to the metric system, which defines units of volume based on the cube, modern archaeologists believed that the merchants of antiquity could only approximately assess the capacity of these round jugs, says Prof. Itzhak Benenson of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geography.

Now an interdisciplinary collaboration between Prof. Benenson and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures has revealed that, far from relying on approximations, merchants would have had precise measurements of their wares — and therefore known exactly what to charge their clients.

The researchers discovered that the ancients devised convenient mathematical systems in order to determine the volume of each jug. They theorize that the original owners and users of the jugs measured their contents through a system that linked units of length to units of volume, possibly by using a string to measure the circumference of the spherical container to determine the precise quantity of liquid within.

The system, which the researchers believe was developed by the ancient Egyptians and used in the Eastern Mediterranean from about 1,500 to 700 BCE, was recently reported in the journal PLoS ONE. Its discovery was part of the Reconstruction of Ancient Israel project supported by the European Union.

3D models unveil volume measurement system

The system of measurement was revealed when mathematician Elena Zapassky constructed 3D models of jugs from Tel Megiddo — an important Canaanite city-state and Israelite administration center — for a computer database. The jugs are associated with the Phoenicians, ancient seafaring merchants who had trading hubs along the coast of Lebanon. Using a statistical methodology, the team measured hundreds of vessels from the excavation, and discovered something surprising — large groups of these spherical or elliptic jugs had a similar circumference. This prompted the researchers to look more deeply into how the ancients measured volume.

The Egyptian unit of volume is called the hekat, and it equals 4.8 liters in today's measurements, explains Dr. Yuval Gadot, a researcher on the project. A spherical jug that is 52 centimeters in circumference, which equals one Egyptian royal cubit, contains exactly half a hekat. "In a large percentage of the vessels we measured, the circumference is close to one cubit, and the merchant could know that the vessel's volume is half a cubit by just measuring its circumference," he says.

When the researchers adopted the Egyptian system of measurement themselves instead of thinking in metrical units, many things became clear. For example, the tall round "torpedo" jugs packed into Phoenician ships in the 8th century BCE were found to contain whole units of hekats. Dr. Gadot believes that the Egyptian system of measurement gradually disappeared when the Assyrians took over the region, bringing their own methods of measurement with them.

A measure of political power

According to Prof. Finkelstein, elements of standardization in the ancient world hold interest because they are indicative of bureaucratic systems and reflect political and cultural influences. "The use of the Egyptian method is a strong indicator of Egyptian power in this region during a specific period of time," he explains.

"Working together with experts in mathematics and statistics, we have been able to provide new solutions for longstanding archaeological problems and debates."