Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Rare Ritual Bath (Miqwe) from the Second Temple Period

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

Pottery reveals Ice Age hunter-gatherers' taste for fish

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

Egyptian wedding certificate key to authenticating controversial Gospel of Judas

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.

New Light Shed On Ancient Egyptian Port and Ship Graveyard

New research into Thonis-Heracleion, a sunken port-city that served as the gateway to Egypt in the first millennium BC, will be discussed at an international conference at the University of Oxford.

This obligatory port of entry, known as 'Thonis' by the Egyptians and 'Heracleion' by the Greeks, was where seagoing ships probably unloaded their cargoes to have them assessed by temple officials and taxes extracted before transferring them to Egyptian ships that went upriver. Before the foundation of Alexandria, it was one of the biggest commercial hubs in the Mediterranean because of its geographical position at the mouth of the Nile. The conference will also explore the wider maritime trading economy during the Late Period (664 BC until 332 BC).

The first traces of Thonis-Heracleion were found 6.5 kilometres off today's coastline by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) under the direction of Franck Goddio in 2000. The Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford is collaborating on the project with IEASM in cooperation with Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities.

In the ports of the city, divers and researchers are currently examining 64 Egyptian ships, dating between the eighth and second centuries BC, many of which appear to have been deliberately sunk. The project researchers say the ships were found beautifully preserved, lying in the mud of the sea-bed. With 700 examples of different types of ancient anchor, the researchers believe this represents the largest nautical collection from the ancient world.

'The survey has revealed an enormous submerged landscape with the remains of at least two major ancient settlements within a part of the Nile delta that was crisscrossed with natural and artificial waterways,' said Dr Damian Robinson, Director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford. Dr Robinson, who is overseeing the excavation of one of the submerged ships known as Ship 43, will discuss his first findings about the Egyptians' unique shipbuilding style. He will also shed new light on why the boats appear to have been deliberately sunk.

'One of the key questions is why several ship graveyards were created close to the port. Ship 43 appears to be part of a large cluster of at least ten other vessels in a large ship graveyard about a mile from the mouth of the River Nile,' explained Dr Robinson. 'This might not have been simple abandonment, but a means of blocking enemy ships from gaining entrance to the port-city. Seductive as this interpretation is, however, we must also consider whether these boats were sunk simply to use them for land reclamation purposes.'

The port and its harbour basins also contain a collection of customs decrees, trading weights, and evidence of coin production. The material culture, for example, coin weights, will also be discussed at the conference, placing this into the wider narrative of how maritime trade worked in the ancient world.

Elsbeth van der Wilt, working on the project from the University of Oxford, said: 'Thonis-Heracleion played an important role in the network of long-distance trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, since the city would have been the first stop for foreign merchants at the Egyptian border. Excavations in the harbour basins yielded an interesting group of lead weights, likely to have been used by both temple officials and merchants in the payment of taxes and the purchasing of goods. Amongst these are an important group of Athenian weights. They are a significant archaeological find because it is the first time that weights like these have been identified during excavations in Egypt.'

Sanda Heinz from the University of Oxford will share her findings on over 300 statuettes and amulets from the Late and Ptolemaic Periods, including Egyptian and Greek subjects. The majority depict Egyptian deities such as Osiris, Isis, and their son Horus. She said: 'The statuettes and amulets were all found underwater, and are generally in excellent condition. The statuettes allow us to examine their belief system and at the same time have wider economic implications. These figures were mass-produced at a scale hitherto unmatched in previous periods. Our findings suggest they were made primarily for Egyptians; however, there is evidence to show that some foreigners also bought them and dedicated them in temples abroad.'

Friday, April 5, 2013

Significant evidence of the 17th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt -The Kings Who Knew Not Joseph?

The Djehuty Project, led by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), has discovered on the hill of Dra Abu el-Naga in Luxor (ancient Thebes), the burials of four personages belonging to the elite of the 17th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, who lived about 3.550 years ago. These findings, discovered during the 12th campaign of archeological excavations of the project, shed light on a little-known historical period in which Thebes becomes the capital of the kingdom and the empire's foundations become established with the dominance of Egypt over Palestine and Syria to the north, and over Nubia to the south.

The project is led by the CSIC researcher José Manuel Galán, from the Institute of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (ILC), and funded by Unión Fenosa Gas and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.

The 17th Dynasty belongs to the historical period called Second Intermediate Period of Egypt (between 1800 and 1550 BC), characterized by the hegemony of rulers of Syrian-Palestinian origin settled in the eastern Delta. This is a period of great political complexity in which the monarchy did not control all the territory and the real power was in the hands of local rulers.

Intefmose and Ahhotep

The owner of one of the tombs found was a personage called Intefmose, to whom the three inscriptions found inside (one of them accompanied by a portrait in relief) call "son of the king". Galán states: "We believe that Intefmose could be the son of Sobekemsaf, one of the first kings of the 17th Dynasty, about whom we barely have historical information".

The tomb of Intefmose consists of a small chapel built with adobe bricks, erected in front of a shaft-grave (about seven meters deep) that leads to a burial chamber. Through a hole in the back of this room, it is found the access to the burial chamber of a second tomb discovered by archeologists during this campaign.

The second tomb belongs to the high-level official Ahhotep, also called "spokesman of Nekhen", city better-know as the Greek toponym Hierakonpolis. In the burial chamber, archeologists found (as part of the grave goods) three clay funerary figurines (shabtis), painted and with the deceased's name written on the front.

Galán adds: "Two of these shabtis were found inside of both small clay sarcophagi, decorated with an inscription on the sides and on the top. The third one was wrapped in nine linen fabrics, as if it was a real mummy, and each of the fabrics had traces of writing in black ink. These figurines have a very original and naïf style, which provides them a special charm and a unique character".

In addition, during this archeological campaign, Galán and his team unearthed the intact coffin of a boy that lived about 3.550 years ago, as well as a set of shabtis and funerary linens of another child, prince Ahmose-Sapair, who lived during the transition from the 17th to the 18th Dynasty.

Tribute of Djehuty to the 17th Dynasty

This series of findings confirm, according to Galán and his team, that the Dra Abu el-Naga hill, on the northern edge of the necropolis of ancient Thebes, was the cemetery of the Royal Family of the 17th and early 18th Dynasties, as well as of their main courtiers. Recent findings help to contextualize the work done during previous campaigns in the tombs of Djehuty, supervisor of the Treasure of Queen Hatshepsut (ca 1470 BC), and Hery, a courtier who lived about 50 years before the said royal scribe.

The head of the Djehuty Project concludes: "Unlike what the rest of courtiers of his time did, around 1470 BC, Djehuty did not place his tomb in the surrounding area of Deir el-Bahari, where the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut was erected, but he chose the hill of Dra Abu el-Naga for his eternal rest, half kilometer further to the north, because that's where the members of the 17th Dynasty were buried".

In a fragmented political context, the 17th Dynasty, native to Thebes, the most important southern city, led the reconquest and expulsion of northern rulers (called "Hyksos"), unified the country, and contributed to the germ of a new historical stage in Egypt, the New Empire, the time of the great kings who would forge the Egyptian Empire from its new capital, Thebes.

An impressive wine press were recently excavated near Hamei Yo'av in the remains of a Byzantine settlement .


photograph: Saar Ganor, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dr. Rina Avner, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority,

"The wine press exceeded 100 square meters in area. It consisted of a large treading floor sarounded by six compartments that situated north and east of the treading floor. These compartments were used for fermenting grapesupon their arrival from the vineyards, allowing to produce high quality of wine. The treading floor slopes westward thus, causing the juice to flow westward through and into a setling vat. The juice flow from the treading floor through a led pipe to the setling vat, where the wastes and dirt sank. Two additional led pipes connected the setling vat with two collecting vats. The three vats situated in a row along the wetern wall of the treading floor.

At the center of the treading floor we found the cavity of a screw that enabled to press the grape waste from the compartments and to produce vinegar and low quality wine, mentioned in Rabbinic sources as "paupers' wine". The owner of the wine press was probably a Christian, because near it we found

photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

a ceramic lantern decorated by five crosses. The lantern was designed as a miniature church building, with an oval opening on one side that enabled to insert an oil lamp. The other sides of the lantern were decorated by geometric impressions creating a design of palm branches. The crosses were carved in the walls of the lantern, so when the lantern was lit in a small room glowing crosses were projected on the walls and the ceiling."

Sa'ar Ganor, the Ashkelon district archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority pointed-out that "the wine press at Hamei Yoav and three similar wine presses are located along the ancient road leading from Beth Guvrin to ancient Ashkelon and its port, thus, facilitating the transportation and exportation of the wine to Ashkelon and from the port of Ashkelon to Europe and North Africa. The wine press will undergo conservation and will be incorporated into the modern complex of the garden event, near the spa of Hamei Yo'av."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bronze warship ram reveals secrets

Analysis of a bronze battering ram from a 2000 year-old warship sheds light on how such an object would have been made in ancient times.

Known as the Belgammel Ram, the 20kg artefact was discovered by a group of British divers off the coast of Libya near Tobruk in 1964. The ram is from a small Greek or Roman warship – a “tesseraria”. These ships were equipped with massive bronze rams on the bow at the waterline and were used for ramming the side timbers of enemy ships. At 65cm long, the Belgammel Ram is smaller in size and would have been sited on the upper level on the bow. This second ram is known as a proembolion, which strengthened the bow and also served to break the oars of an enemy ship.

Since the Belgammel Ram was discovered, other rams have been found, some off the coast of Israel near Athlit, and more recently, off western Sicily. The latter finds look to be the remains of a battle site.

Leading marine archaeologist, Dr Nic Flemming a visiting fellow of the National Oceanography Centre, co-ordinated a team of specialists from five institutes to analyse the artefact before it was returned to the National Museum in Tripoli in May 2010. Their results have been published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Dr Flemming said: “Casting a large alloy object weighing more than 20kg is not easy. To find out how it was done we needed specialists who could analyse the mix of metals in the alloys; experts who could study the internal crystal structure and the distribution of gas bubbles; and scholars who could examine the classical literature and other known examples of bronze castings.

Dr Chris Hunt and Annita Antoniadou of Queen’s University Belfast used radiocarbon dating of burnt wood found inside the ram to date it to between 100 BC to 100 AD. This date is consistent with the decorative style of the tridents and bird motive on the top of the ram, which were revealed in detail by laser-scanned images taken by archaeologist Dr Jon Adams of the University of Southampton.

It is possible that during its early history the bronze would have been remelted and mixed with other bronze on one or more occasions, perhaps when a warship was repaired or maybe captured.

Micro-drilled samples show that the composition of the bronze was 87 per cent copper, 6 per cent tin and 7 per cent lead. The concentrations of the different metals vary throughout the casting. Scanning Electron Microscopy, SEM, reveals that the lead was not dissolved with the other metals to make a composite alloy but that it had separated out into segregated intergranular blobs within the alloy as the metal cooled.

These results indicate the likelihood that the Belgammel Ram was cast in one piece and cooled as a single object. The thicker parts cooled more slowly than the thin parts so that the crystal structure and number of bubbles trapped in the metal varies from place to place.

The isotope characterisation of the lead component found in the bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) can be used as a fingerprint to reveal the origin of the lead ore used in making the metal alloy. Up until now, this approach has only provided a general location in the Mediterranean. But recent advances in the analysis technique means that the location can be identified with higher accuracy. The result shows that the lead component of the metal could have come from a district of Attica in Greece called Lavrion. An outcome of this improved technique means that the method can now be applied to other ancient metal artefacts to discover where the ore was sourced.

Nic Flemming continued: “We have learned such a huge amount from the Belgammel Ram and have developed new techniques which will help us unpick future mysteries.

“We will never know why the Belgammel Ram was on the seabed near Tobruk. There may have been a battle in the area, a skirmish with pirates. It could be that it was cargo from an ancient commercial vessel, about to be sold as salvage. The fragments of wood inside the ram show signs of fire, and we now know that partsof the bronze had been heated to a high temperature since it was cast which caused the crystal structure to change. The ship may have caught fire and the ram fell into the sea as the flames licked towards it. Some things will always remain a mystery. But we are pleased that we have gleaned so many details from this study that will help future work.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Archaeologists Reopen Investigation of Early Humans at Manot Cave in Israel

Situated in the western Galilee region of present-day Israel, Manot Cave lies about 10 km north of the Hayonim Cave site and 50 km northeast of the well-known Mt. Carmel cave sites... the cave has recently yielded evidence of human occupation dated back to at least Upper Paleolithic times, when early modern humans and Neanderthals are suggested to have coexisted around the Mediterranean and further north into present-day Europe. Adding to evidence uncovered at other similar locations, scientists hope that the finds of the cave will help elucidate the story of early modern human and Neanderthal existence in the Levant, and perhaps even help answer questions related to one possible stage in the spread of modern humans from Africa to Europe...

Complete article

Cologne Archeological Dig Revives Ancient Jewish Heritage

Complete article

...An archaeological dig in western Germany has unearthed myriad traces of daily life in one of Europe's oldest and largest Jewish communities....

From the 10th to 12th centuries, Cologne, today Germany's fourth-largest city, was one of Europe's biggest cities, even ahead of Paris and London, with about 50,000 inhabitants.

Its prosperous Jewish community numbered nearly 1,000 at its height.

On Hebrew-inscribed fragments of slate, aspects of daily life from the Middle Ages have intriguingly come to light via school children's teachings, rules and regulations, a bawdy knight's tale and even a bakery's customer list, AFP reported.

The history of the city's Jewish quarter spans 1,000 years, from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages, and far from being closed-off, it was open and adjoined the Roman governor's imposing palace and later the city hall.

"Excavations show that the Jews in Cologne for a very long time were on good terms with the Christians, that their cohabitation saw long phases of peace and harmony," Schuette said.

He pointed to the synagogue's gothic-style and richly decorated altar having been constructed by craftsmen, possibly French, who had been working on the nearby cathedral building site.

But two events finally sounded the death knell for the Jewish quarter – a crusader massacre in 1096, followed by its eventual annihilation in 1349 when the Christians made the Jews the scapegoat for a black plague epidemic...