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 Elephant's Tomb in Carmona may have been a temple to the god Mithras

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

Renowned Gabriel Revelation Stone in First-Time Exhibition in Israel

​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.