Friday, August 28, 2015

Philistines introduced sycamore, cumin and opium poppy into Israel during the Iron Age

New findings show that Philistine culture had a major and long-term impact on floral biodiversity in Israel and may assist ecologists in dealing with invasive species.

This is the structure of Iron Age Floral List at each site. Circle size reflects the total number of new plant species recognized in Iron Age sites. Red indicates new species that appeared only in Philistine Iron Age sites. Green indicates species that appeared only in non-Philistine Iron Age contexts. Blue denotes species shared by Philistine and non-Philistine sites. The three numbers represent the quantity of Philistine species/non-Philistine species/shared species, at a site.

Map produced by M. Frumin using ArcGIS for Desktop (ArcMap 10.1), ESRI.

One of the most pressing issues in modern biological conservation is "invasion biology". Due to unprecedented contacts between peoples and culture in today's "global village" certain animal and plant species are spreading widely throughout the world, often causing enormous damage to local species.

Recent studies have shown that alien species have had a substantial impact not only in recent times but also in antiquity. This is exemplified in a study published in the August 25th issue of Scientific Reports by a team led by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology (Suembikya (Sue) Frumin, Prof. Ehud Weiss and Prof. Aren Maeir) and the Hebrew University (Dr. Liora Kolska Horwitz), describing the bio-archaeological remains of the

Philistine culture during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE). The team compiled a database of plant remains extracted from Bronze and Iron Ages sites in the southern Levant, both Philistine and non-Philistine. By analyzing this database, the researchers concluded that the Philistines brought to Israel not just themselves but also their plants.

The species they brought are all cultivars that had not been seen in Israel previously. This includes edible parts of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which originates in western Europe; the sycamore tree (Ficus sycomorus), whose fruits are known to be cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean, especially Egypt, and whose presence in Israel as a locally grown tree is first attested to in the Iron Age by the presence of its fruit; and finally, cumin (Cuminum cyminum), a spice originating in the Eastern Mediterranean. Sue Frumin, a PhD student at Prof. Ehud Weiss's archaeobotanical lab, Bar-Ilan University, explains that "the edible parts of these species - opium poppy, sycamore, and cumin - were not identified in the archaeobotanical record of Israel prior to the Iron Age, when the Philistine culture first appeared in the region. None of these plants grows wild in Israel today, but instead grows only as cultivated plants."

In addition to the translocation of exotic plants from other regions, the Philistines were the first community to exploit over 70 species of synanthropic plants (species which benefit from living in the vicinity of man) that were locally available in Israel, such as Purslane, Wild Radish, Saltwort, Henbane and Vigna. These plant species were not found in archaeological sites pre-dating the Iron Age, or in Iron Age archaeological sites recognized as belonging to non-Philistine cultures - Canaanite, Israelite, Judahite, and Phoenician. The "agricultural revolution" that accompanied the Philistine culture reflects a different agrarian regime and dietary preferences to that of their contemporaries.

The fact that the three exotic plants introduced by the Philistines originate from different regions accords well with the diverse geographic origin of these people. The Philistines - one of the so called Sea Peoples, and mentioned in the Bible and other ancient sources - were a multi-ethnic community with origins in the Aegean, Turkey, Cyprus and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean who settled on the southern coastal plain of Israel in the early Iron Age (12th century BCE), and integrated with Canaanite and other local populations, finally to disappear at the end of the Iron Age (ca. 600 BCE).

The results of this research indicate that the ca. 600 year presence of the Philistine culture in Israel had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity. The Philistines left as a biological heritage a variety of plants still cultivated in Israel, including, among others, sycamore, cumin, coriander, bay tree and opium poppy.

The Philistines also left their mark on the local fauna. In a previous study also published in Scientific Reports in which two of the present authors (Maeir and Kolska Horwitz) participated, DNA extracted from ancient pig bones from Philistine and non-Philistine sites in Israel demonstrated that European pigs were introduced by the Philistines into Israel and slowly swamped the local pig populations through inter-breeding. As a consequence, modern wild boar in Israel today bears a European haplotype rather than a local, Near Eastern one.

As illustrated by these studies, the examination of the ancient bio-archaeological record has the potential to help us understand the long-term mechanisms and vectors that have contributed to current floral and faunal biodiversity, information that may also assist contemporary ecologists in dealing with the pressing issue of invasive species.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Baron de Rothschild’s Ship, lost over 100 years ago?

Items excavated from the shipwreck.
Credit: University of Haifa

The "Baron de Rothschild's Ship" was one of three ships used to carry raw materials from France to a glass factory established by the baron at Tantura. The ship vanished without a trace in the late nineteenth century. Has it now been found more than a century later? In a new study, researchers from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa seek to show that a shipwreck discovered at Dor Beach in 1976 may be identified as the missing Baron's Ship. "We know that two of the baron's three ships were sold, but we have no information concerning the third ship. The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron's ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period," explained Dr. Deborah Cvikel and Micky Holtzman, who are investigating the shipwreck.

In 1893 the Baron de Rothschild founded a glass factory at Tantura beach in order to enable the local production of wine bottles for the winery at nearby Zichron Yaacov. The factory was actually established and managed by Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv. The Baron de Rothschild even purchased three small ships to transport raw materials from factories in France to the factory at Tantura and hired Jewish crews to man the ships. Contemporary records detail the purchase of the ships and specify their models. It was also noted that the ships were damaged and required repairs. Two of the ships were ultimately sold, while the fate of the third ship remains unknown.

Dr. Cvikel and Mr. Holtzman are now proposing the hypothesis that a two-masted shipwreck off the coast at Dor (Tantura) that was first excavated in 1999 may be the missing Baron's Ship. The shipwreck was excavated underwater in 1999-2000 in a study that focused mainly on the structure of the ship, and again in 2008 in a study that focused mainly on its contents, which included pots, earthenware, ceramic tiles, roof tiles, barrels, crates, and several sacks. The present study is based on the processing of findings from the 2008 excavation.

Following the initial underwater excavations, the researchers concluded that the shipwreck is a two-masted schooner and dated it very roughly to 1660-1960. The present processing of the findings has narrowed this timeframe considerably. A more precise dating of the vessel itself, and particularly of the date of its last voyage, was possible thanks to the findings on the pots, ceramic tiles, and roof tiles. In a meticulous review, the researchers found that most of these items were stamped with the name of the factory in which they were manufactured. They found a total of six different factory stamps, all relating to French factories active in the late nineteenth century. Once they found the lion motif of a company called Guichard Frères, the date on which the ship sank could be narrowed still further, since this company appears in the Marseille commercial yearbook in 1889-1897.

Accordingly, it is apparent that the ship was carrying French raw materials to Palestine for use in the new settlement at Zichron Yaacov (particularly roof tiles and ceramic tiles), and that its route passed close to Tantura in the late nineteenth century. A closer link with the Baron's ships is added by the fact that in one of the pots the researchers found the substance Barium sulfate (BaSO4), which is known as a material that enhances the transparency and shine of glass.

"This ship could certainly be one of dozens of similar ships that plied the coasts of Palestine during this period," the researchers acknowledge. "However, there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaacov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the Baron's Ships. Perhaps we can now conclude that the third ship was not sold and condemned to obscurity like its sisters, but sank with its cargo still onboard."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Mystery in Jerusalem: a Rare Ancient Message, Encoded in Symbols and Inscriptions, was Discovered in a Ritual Bath Dating to the Second Temple Period

An extraordinary find that has fired archaeologists’ imagination was discovered about two months ago in the Arnona quarter during a routine archaeological inspection by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the construction of a nursery school being built at the initiative of the Jerusalem municipality.

In the excavation an impressive ritual bath (miqwe) dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) was exposed inside an underground cave. An anteroom, flanked by benches, led to the bath. A winepress was excavated alongside the ritual bath.

The walls of the miqwe were treated with ancient plaster and were adorned with numerous wall paintings and inscriptions, written in mud, soot and incising. The inscriptions are Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script, which was customary at the end of the Second Temple period. Among the symbols that are drawn are a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and possibly even a menorah.

According to Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing”. At this point in the research the inscriptions are a mystery. Some of the inscriptions might indicate names. The symbols depicted on the walls are common elements in the visual arts of the Second Temple period. In the meantime, the drawing that might possibly be construed as a menorah is exceptional because in those days they abstained from portraying this sacred object which was located in the Temple. According to the excavators, “On the one hand the symbols can be interpreted as secular, and on the other as symbols of religious significance and deep spirituality”.

Moshe (Kinley) Tur-Paz, head of the Education Administration at the Jerusalem Municipality said, “The large education system in Jerusalem is always in need of additional school buildings. The unique find was discovered in a compound where two nursery schools are slated to be built and the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently carrying out the conservation process there. The archaeological and historical site that was exposed is of tremendous value to our identity as a Jewish people which might shine more lighton the lives of our ancestors in the city of Jerusalem. We will maintain contact with the Israel Antiquities Authority and together we  will examine how we can give educational and symbolic expression to the discovery that was found".

A number of issues and questions now face the researchers: What is the relationship between the symbols and the inscriptions, and why, of all places, were they drawn in the ritual bath? Who is responsible for painting them? Was it one person or several people? Was it someone who jokingly wanted to scribble graffiti, or perhaps what we have here is a desire to convey a deeply spiritual and religious message, perhaps even a cry for help as a result of a traumatic event (the destruction of the Temple and the catastrophic war of 66-70 CE)?

The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them. As soon as the inscriptions were discovered the Israel Antiquities Authority began implementing complex conservation measures. They underwent initial treatment at the site, were removed in their entirety from the ritual bath, and transferred to the conservation laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority for further treatment and stabilization. In the future the Israel Antiquities Authority will display the spectacular inscriptions to the general public.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Archaeologists uncover entrance gate and fortification of Biblical city of Philistine Gath (home of Goliath)



The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, headed by Prof. Aren Maeir, has discovered the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath of the Philistines, home of Goliath and the largest city in the land during the 10th-9th century BCE, about the time of the "United Kingdom" of Israel and King Ahab of Israel. The excavations are being conducted in the Tel Zafit National Park, located in the Judean Foothills, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon in central Israel.

Prof. Maeir, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, said that the city gate is among the largest ever found in Israel and is evidence of the status and influence of the city of Gath during this period. In addition to the monumental gate, an impressive fortification wall was discovered, as well as various building in its vicinity, such as a temple and an iron production facility. These features, and the city itself were destroyed by Hazael King of Aram Damascus, who besieged and destroyed the site at around 830 BCE.

The city gate of Philistine Gath is referred to in the Bible (in I Samuel 21) in the story of David's escape from King Saul to Achish, King of Gath.

Now in its 20th year, the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, is a long-term investigation aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi/Gath is one of the largest tells (ancient ruin mounds) in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th millennium BCE until modern times.

The archaeological dig is led by Prof. Maeir, along with groups from the University of Melbourne, University of Manitoba, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, University of Kansas, Grand Valley State University of Michigan, several Korean universities and additional institutions throughout the world.

Among the most significant findings to date at the site: Philistine Temples dating to the 11th through 9th century BCE, evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BCE possibly connected to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos I:1, the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, which contains two names similar to the name Goliath; a large assortment of objects of various types linked to Philistine culture; remains relating to the earliest siege system in the world, constructed by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus around 830 BCE, along with extensive evidence of the subsequent capture and destruction of the city by Hazael, as mentioned in Second Kings 12:18; evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan (around 1200 BCE); different levels of the earlier Canaanite city of Gath; and remains of the Crusader castle "Blanche Garde" at which Richard the Lion-Hearted is known to have been.