Thursday, December 31, 2015

An Impressive Farmstead and an Ancient Monastery with Colorful Mosaics and Inscriptions were Recently Exposed in Rosh Ha-‘Ayin

Impressive archaeological finds are currently being uncovered in extensive excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in Rosh Ha-‘Ayin at the initiative of the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Rosh Ha-‘Ayin municipality, prior to the building of new neighborhoods. So far scores of teenagers from preparatory programs and youth villages have participated in the excavation as part of the Israel Antiquities Authority policy of increasing public awareness of our cultural heritage.

During the excavation an impressive 2,700 year old farmhouse (30 × 50 meters) and a 1,500 year old church with colorful mosaics and inscriptions in it were uncovered.

According to Amit Shadman, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The large farmhouse was preserved to a height of more than two meters. The building is 2,700 years old and included twenty-four rooms constructed around a central courtyard. A large storage compartment (silo) meant to protect the grain was exposed in the courtyard. It seems that carbohydrates were as popular then as now, and the growing and processing of grain were fairly widespread in the rural-agricultural region. This was corroborated by other discoveries in the field that included numerous millstones which were used to grind the grain into flour. In addition, we found simple rock-hewn oil presses used in the production of olive oil”. Among the other artifacts that were exposed in the farmhouse remains were two silver coins from the fourth century BCE that bear the likenesses of the goddess Athena and the Athenian owl.

According to Shadman, this farmstead and other similar ones operated for centuries until the region was abandoned in Hellenistic period. Many hundreds of years later, during the fifth century CE, another settlement wave, this being one Christian, arrived in the area and changed the landscape. Among other things, the rapid spread of Christianity at that time is apparent as evidenced by the many impressive rural churches and monasteries that have been exposed.

A monastery dating to the Byzantine period was exposed on one of the hills in the area and included a church, an oil press, residential quarters and stables equipped with mangers and troughs, etc. The floors of the church that was built in the monastery were made of colorful mosaics that included geometric and other designs. In addition, a Greek inscription ascribed to a priest named Theodosius (a common name in the Byzantine period) was revealed in one of the mosaics – “This place was built under Theodosius the priest. Peace be with you when you come, peace be with you when you go, Amen”.

Hundreds of years after the monastery ceased to function a lime kiln was established there in the Ottoman period, which destroyed large parts of the monastery.

Given the impressive finds uncovered in the excavations, it was decided that the ancient remains will be conserved in situ, and will be displayed in the communal areas of the new neighborhoods that will be open for the benefit of the public.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ancient Irish human genomes show unequivocal evidence for mass migrations into Ireland

A team of geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen's University Belfast has sequenced the first genomes from ancient Irish humans, and the information buried within is already answering pivotal questions about the origins of Ireland's people and their culture.

The team sequenced the genome of an early farmer woman, who lived near Belfast some 5,200 years ago, and those of three men from a later period, around 4,000 years ago in the Bronze Age, after the introduction of metalworking. Their landmark results are published today in international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

Ireland has intriguing genetics. It lies at the edge of many European genetic gradients with world maxima for the variants that code for lactose tolerance, the western European Y chromosome type, and several important genetic diseases including one of excessive iron retention, called haemochromatosis.

However, the origins of this heritage are unknown. The only way to discover our genetic past is to sequence genomes directly from ancient people, by embarking on a type of genetic time travel.

Migration has been a hot topic in archaeology. Opinion has been divided on whether the great transitions in the British Isles, from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture and later from stone to metal use, were due to local adoption of new ways or whether these influences were derived from influxes of new people.

These ancient Irish genomes each show unequivocal evidence for massive migration. The early farmer has a majority ancestry originating ultimately in the Middle East, where agriculture was invented. The Bronze Age genomes are different again with about a third of their ancestry coming from ancient sources in the Pontic Steppe.

"There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island," said Professor of Population Genetics in Trinity College Dublin, Dan Bradley, who led the study, "and this degree of genetic change invites the possibility of other associated changes, perhaps even the introduction of language ancestral to western Celtic tongues."

"It is clear that this project has demonstrated what a powerful tool ancient DNA analysis can provide in answering questions which have long perplexed academics regarding the origins of the Irish," said Dr Eileen Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Osteoarchaeology at Queen's University Belfast.

Whereas the early farmer had black hair, brown eyes and more resembled southern Europeans, the genetic variants circulating in the three Bronze Age men from Rathlin Island had the most common Irish Y chromosome type, blue eye alleles and the most important variant for the genetic disease, haemochromatosis.

The latter C282Y mutation is so frequent in people of Irish descent that it is sometimes referred to as a Celtic disease. This discovery therefore marks the first identification of an important disease variant in prehistory.

"Genetic affinity is strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome some 4,000 years ago," added PhD Researcher in Genetics at Trinity, Lara Cassidy.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Site of first multi-year European settlement in the U.S. identified

The University of West Florida archaeology program recently identified the archaeological site of the Luna settlement – the first multi-year European settlement in the United States – in a developed neighborhood in Pensacola.

The artifacts discovered are evidence of the Spanish settlement by Tristán de Luna y Arellano from 1559 to 1561, the earliest multi-year European colonial settlement ever archaeologically identified in the United States.

The work began on Oct. 2, 2015, when Pensacola native Tom Garner discovered Spanish colonial and Native American artifacts at a privately owned residential lot within view of the two uncovered shipwrecks in Pensacola Bay, which were also linked to the Luna expedition. In 1983, Garner attended a UWF archaeology field school led by Dr. Judith Bense, founder of the UWF archaeology program and current University president. Garner is well versed in the identification of historical artifacts and aware of areas considered likely candidates for the location of the Luna settlement.

After multiple visits and surface collections, Garner brought the artifacts to the UWF archaeology lab on Oct. 30, 2015. Dr. John Worth (right), associate professor of historical archaeology, is an archaeology and ethnohistory expert and focuses on the Spanish colonial era in the southeastern U.S.

“What we saw in front of us in the lab that day was an amazing assemblage of mid-16th century Spanish colonial period artifacts,” said Worth. “These items were very specific to this time period. The University conducted fieldwork at this site in the mid-1980s, as have others since then, but no one had ever found diagnostics of the sort that Tom found on the surface. People have looked for this site for a long time.”

With the cooperation and support of residents and property owners, UWF began test excavations at the site and recovered additional artifacts in undisturbed context. Worth is the principal site investigator and Dr. Elizabeth Benchley, director of the UWF archaeology program, provides administrative and financial support. Garner also recently joined the team as a research assistant and neighborhood liaison for the project.

UWF archaeologists recovered numerous sherds of broken 16th century Spanish ceramics found undisturbed beneath the ground surface. They are believed to be pieces of assorted cookware and tableware, including liquid storage containers called olive jars. Small personal and household items were also among the findings – a lead fishing line weight, a copper lacing aglet and wrought iron nail and spike fragments. Additionally, the team recovered beads known to have been traded with Native Americans. These items are consistent with materials previously identified in the shipwrecks offshore in Pensacola Bay.

The artifacts were linked to the Spanish expedition led by Tristán de Luna y Arellano, who brought 1,500 soldiers, colonists, slaves and Aztec Indians in 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico, to Pensacola to begin the Spanish colonization of the northern Gulf Coast in 1559. One month after they arrived, the colony was struck by a hurricane, sinking many of their ships and devastating their food supplies. After two years, the remnants of the colony were rescued by Spanish ships and returned to Mexico.

The Luna settlement inhabited Pensacola from 1559 to 1561, which predates the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine, Florida, by six years, and the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, by 48 years.

   “If the Luna expedition hadn’t been devastated by a massive hurricane and had instead achieved its original goal, the reasons and circumstances surrounding the 1565 establishment of St. Augustine might never have happened,” explained Worth. “If Florida had grown as an extension of New Spain through Pensacola on the Gulf Coast to Santa Elena on the Atlantic, the history of the United States itself could have evolved quite differently.”

The winter encampment of Hernando de Soto’s Spanish exploratory expedition to Tallahassee, Florida, from 1539 to 1540, is the only earlier European habitation site positively identified by archaeologists in the southeastern U.S. Two earlier Spanish colonial settlements have yet to be found – those of Juan Ponce de León near Fort Myers, Florida, in 1521 and of Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón near Brunswick, Georgia, in 1526. However, neither settlement lasted more than a few weeks.

The discoveries made at the site of the Luna settlement signify that the two shipwrecks previously discovered in Pensacola Bay were wrecked at the anchorage for the entire Luna fleet. The first shipwreck was discovered by the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the second was found by UWF. The second shipwreck is currently being excavated by UWF with the assistance of a Florida Division of Historical Resources Special Category Grant. This new information about the location of the settlement may help UWF archaeologists narrow the field of search for the remaining shipwrecks.

With the continued cooperation of residents and property owners, UWF archaeologists will continue to examine the neighborhood to determine the extent and organization of the site.

“The shipwrecks have provided a tremendous insight into the nature of the machinery that brought Spain to the New World and how they operated this entire vast empire,” explained Worth. “In terms of understanding who they were after coming to the New World, this kind of archaeology at the terrestrial site will provide us that window.”

The UWF archaeology program includes a select group of 13 full-time professional archaeologists, nine support staff and numerous graduate students. The program has a rich history of significant instruction, research and public outreach in the Pensacola region. Exhibits displaying UWF research and Pensacola area archaeology are open to the public at the UWF Archaeology Institute, T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum and Destination Archaeology at the Florida Public Archaeology Network Coordinating Center.

Experiential learning is a key component of undergraduate and graduate education at UWF. Each summer, the archaeology program offers multiple 10- to 11-week field school sections – like the one Garner attended in 1983 – during which students receive hands-on experience and develop skills necessary for employment. The University plans to include the Luna settlement site in field school sections led by Worth in Summer 2016.

“It’s hard to believe that this opportunity is finally here,” said Worth. “Not only do we know where the site is, but now we get to explore it.”

In order to protect the neighborhood and the integrity of the site, the UWF archaeology program does not plan to disclose the exact location of the Luna settlement.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Late Chalcolithic period, 5th millennium BCE, lead object found in the northern Negev desert

In the deepest section of a large complex cave in the northern Negev desert, Israel, a bi-conical lead object was found logged onto a wooden shaft. Associated material remains and radiocarbon dating of the shaft place the object within the Late Chalcolithic period, at the late 5th millennium BCE.

Based on chemical and lead isotope analysis, this study shows that this unique object was made of almost pure metallic lead, likely smelted from lead ores originating in the Taurus range in Anatolia. Either the finished object, or the raw material, was brought to the southern Levant, adding another major component to the already-rich Late Chalcolithic metallurgical corpus known to-date.

The paper also discusses possible uses of the object, suggesting that it may have been used as a spindle whorl, at least towards its deposition.

Related article

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Millet: The missing link in prehistoric humans' transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer

New research shows a cereal familiar today as birdseed was carried across Eurasia by ancient shepherds and herders laying the foundation, in combination with the new crops they encountered, of 'multi-crop' agriculture and the rise of settled societies. Archaeologists say 'forgotten' millet has a role to play in modern crop diversity and today's food security debate.

The domestication of the small-seeded cereal millet in North China around 10,000 years ago created the perfect crop to bridge the gap between nomadic hunter-gathering and organised agriculture in Neolithic Eurasia, and may offer solutions to modern food security, according to new research.

Now a forgotten crop in the West, this hardy grain - familiar in the west today as birdseed - was ideal for ancient shepherds and herders, who carried it right across Eurasia, where it was mixed with crops such as wheat and barley. This gave rise to 'multi-cropping', which in turn sowed the seeds of complex urban societies, say archaeologists.

A team from the UK, USA and China has traced the spread of the domesticated grain from North China and Inner Mongolia into Europe through a "hilly corridor" along the foothills of Eurasia. Millet favours uphill locations, doesn't require much water, and has a short growing season: it can be harvested 45 days after planting, compared with 100 days for rice, allowing a very mobile form of cultivation.

Nomadic tribes were able to combine growing crops of millet with hunting and foraging as they travelled across the continent between 2500 and 1600 BC. Millet was eventually mixed with other crops in emerging populations to create 'multi-crop' diversity, which extended growing seasons and provided our ancient ancestors with food security.

The need to manage different crops in different locations, and the water resources required, depended upon elaborate social contracts and the rise of more settled, stratified communities and eventually complex 'urban' human societies.

Researchers say we need to learn from the earliest farmers when thinking about feeding today's populations, and millet may have a role to play in protecting against modern crop failure and famine.

"Today millet is in decline and attracts relatively little scientific attention, but it was once among the most expansive cereals in geographical terms. We have been able to follow millet moving in deep history, from where it originated in China and spread across Europe and India," said Professor Martin Jones from the University of Cambridge's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, who is presenting the research findings today at the Shanghai Archaeological Forum.

"These findings have transformed our understanding of early agriculture and society. It has previously been assumed that early agriculture was focused in river valleys where there is plentiful access to water. However, millet remains show that the first agriculture was instead centred higher up on the foothills - allowing this first pathway for 'exotic' eastern grains to be carried west."

The researchers carried out radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis on charred millet grains recovered from archaeological sites across China and Inner Mongolia, as well as genetic analysis of modern millet varieties, to reveal the process of domestication that occurred over thousands of years in northern China and produced the ancestor of all broomcorn millet worldwide.

"We can see that millet in northern China was one of the earliest centres of crop domestication, occurring over the same timescale as rice domestication in south China and barley and wheat in west China," explained Jones.

"Domestication is hugely significant in the development of early agriculture - humans select plants with seeds that don't fall off naturally and can be harvested, so over several thousand years this creates plants that are dependent on farmers to reproduce," he said.

"This also means that the genetic make-up of these crops changes in response to changes in their environment - in the case of millet, we can see that certain genes were 'switched off' as they were taken by farmers far from their place of origin."

As the network of farmers, shepherds and herders crystallised across the Eurasian corridor, they shared crops and cultivation techniques with other farmers, and this, Jones explains, is where the crucial idea of 'multi-cropping' emerged.

"The first pioneer farmers wanted to farm upstream in order to have more control over their water source and be less dependent on seasonal weather variations or potential neighbours upstream," he said. "But when 'exotic' crops appear in addition to the staple crop of the region, then you start to get different crops growing in different areas and at different times of year. This is a huge advantage in terms of shoring up communities against possible crop failures and extending the growing season to produce more food or even surplus.

"However, it also introduces a more pressing need for cooperation, and the beginnings of a stratified society. With some people growing crops upstream and some farming downstream, you need a system of water management, and you can't have water management and seasonal crop rotation without an elaborate social contract."

Towards the end of the second and first millennia BC larger human settlements, underpinned by multi-crop agriculture, began to develop. The earliest examples of text, such as the Sumerian clay tablets from Mesopotamia, and oracle bones from China, allude to multi-crop agriculture and seasonal rotation.

But the significance of millet is not just in transforming our understanding of our prehistoric past. Jones believes that millet and other small-seeded crops may have an important role to play in ensuring future food security.

"The focus for looking at food security today is on the high-yield crops, rice, maize and wheat, which fuel 50% of the human food chain. However, these are only three of 50 types of cereal, the majority of which are small-grained cereals or "millets". It may be time to consider whether millets have a role to play in a diverse response to crop failure and famine," said Jones.

"We need to understand more about millet and how it may be part of the solution to global food security - we may have a lot still to learn from our Neolithic predecessors."

Archaeologists discover location of historic battle fought by Caesar on Dutch soil

This is an overview of human skeletal remains from the Late Iron Age, dredged up in Kessel.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

At a press conference held on Friday Dec. 11, 2015 in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, archaeologist Nico Roymans from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam announced a discovery that is truly unique for Dutch archaeology: the location where the Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar massacred two Germanic tribes in the year 55 BC. The location of this battle, which Caesar wrote about in detail in Book IV of his De Bello Gallico, was unknown to date. It is the earliest known battle on Dutch soil. The conclusions are based on a combination of historical, archaeological, and geochemical data.

Skeletal remains, swords and spearheads

It is the first time that the presence of Caesar and his troops in Dutch territory has been explicitly proven. The finds from this battle include large numbers of skeletal remains, swords, spearheads, and a helmet. The two Germanic tribes, the Tencteri and the Usipetes, originated in the area east of the Rhine and had explicitly appealed to Caesar for asylum. Caesar rejected this request for asylum and ordered his troops to destroy the tribes by violent means. Nowadays, we would label such action genocide.

During the press conference, Roymans described in detail the discoveries made in Kessel (North Brabant) and their historical significance. He also showed weapons and skeletal remains from this battle.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Archaeologists unearth new evidence of Roman, medieval Leicester

Archaeologists from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) have unearthed new evidence of Roman and medieval Leicester after recently completing the excavation of two areas at the former Southgates Bus Depot, on the corner of Southgates and Peacock Lane in the centre of Leicester.

Archaeologists, led by John Thomas and Mathew Morris of ULAS, have been investigating a series of medieval and post-medieval backyards dating from the 12th century through to the 16th century. These are likely to be associated with densely packed houses and shops which would have once fronted onto the important medieval street of Southgates.

Evidence recorded includes stone-lined pits (possibly storage pits or cisterns), rubbish pits, latrines, wells, boundary walls and a possible late 15th or 16th century cellar. Such activity, and the evidence carefully collected and recorded from it, will give important new insights into the lifestyles and industry of the people living along one of Leicester's principle medieval streets.

John Thomas said: "Having the chance to excavate in this part of Leicester is fantastic. Because of the historic nature of the modern city centre, archaeologists rarely get the opportunity to explore this part of the city. These excavations will provide important new insights into the character of the settlement and the inhabitants living in the southern half of the Roman and medieval town."

The project is funded by property developer Viridis and the University team has been working closely with them and their contractors WinVic to complete the archaeological investigation before construction of new student apartments begins.

The site lies at the heart of Leicester's historic core, close to significant Roman and medieval sites such as the Roman forum and the Jewry Wall Roman public baths as well as the site of Grey Friars, the medieval Franciscan friary where the remains of King Richard III (d.1485) were discovered by University archaeologists in 2012.

Once the medieval archaeology was painstakingly recorded and removed, evidence of Leicester's Roman past was slowly revealed. The junction of two Roman streets has been identified. These have thick, cambered gravel surfaces with drainage gullies dug to either side. A number of large stone and timber buildings, and boundary walls, dating from the 2nd century through to the 4th century have been identified running along the sides of the streets.

In some areas the Roman archaeology has been badly disturbed by later activity but elsewhere Roman remains are very well preserved with intact floors and rare fragments of wall still surviving above floor level. The broken remains of a mosaic pavement has been found in one building, whilst pieces of painted wall plaster still survived on the walls in another.

This evidence will allow the archaeologists to reconstruct what these buildings might have looked like. A wide array of artefacts have been recovered during the excavation, including coins, fine table ware, a copper spoon, game counters, a number of bone hair pins and other pieces of jewellery. This suggests that Roman activity in the area was predominately domestic in nature with some industrial activity going on in the vicinity in the later Roman period.

Mathew Morris added: "This part of Roman Leicester is very poorly understood because there has been little previous archaeological investigation in the vicinity. One of the Roman streets found on the site has never been seen before in Leicester and isn't on any of our plans of the Roman city. This is a significant find and raises exciting new questions about the layout of the early Roman town and how it evolved through the Roman period. It also means that the excavations are exploring three different insulae or blocks within the Roman street system. So far, there appears to be contrasting types of occupation in the different areas and this will give terrific new insights into life in Leicester during the Roman period."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Impression of King Hezekiah’s Royal Seal Discovered in Ophel Excavations South of Temple Mount in Jerusalem

The Ophel excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar, have unearthed an impression of the royal seal of King Hezekiah (727–698 BCE).

A seal impression of King Hezekiah unearthed in the Ophel excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar.

(Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; Photo by Ouria Tadmor)

Measuring 9.7 X 8.6 mm, the oval impression was imprinted on a 3 mm thick soft bulla (piece of inscribed clay) measuring 13 X 12 mm. Around the impression is the depression left by the frame of the ring in which the seal was set.

The impression bears an inscription in ancient Hebrew script:

“לחזקיהו [בן] אחז מלך יהדה”
“Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah”

and a two-winged sun, with wings turned downward, flanked by two ankh symbols symbolizing life.

The bulla originally sealed a document written on a papyrus rolled and tied with thin cords, which left their mark on the reverse of the bulla. This bulla came to light, together with many pottery sherds and other finds such as figurines and seals, in Area A of the excavations (2009 season), supervised by Hagai Cohen-Klonymus.

The bulla was discovered in a refuse dump dated to the time of King Hezekiah or shortly after, and originated in the Royal Building that stood next to it and appears to have been used to store foodstuffs. This building, one of a series of structures that also included a gatehouse and towers, was constructed in the second half of the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon) as part of the fortifications of the Ophel — the new governmental quarter that was built in the area that connects the City of David with the Temple Mount.

The bulla was found together with 33 additional bullae imprinted from other seals, some bearing Hebrew names, their reverse showing marks of coarse fabric and thick cords that probably sealed sacks containing foodstuffs.

The Ophel excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar.

Dr. Eilat Mazar said: “Although seal impressions bearing King Hezekiah’s name have already been known from the antiquities market since the middle of the 1990s, some with a winged scarab (dung beetle) symbol and others with a winged sun, this is the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archaeological excavation.”

A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs excavations on the City of David’s summit and in the Ophel to the south of the Temple Mount’s southern wall. Among her many archaeological finds over the years, in 2013 she revealed to the world an ancient golden treasure discovered at the Ophel (see

The renewed Ophel excavations (2009-2013), and the processing of the finds as well as the preservation and preparation of the excavated area for tourists by the Israel Antiquities Authority were made possible through funding provided by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman (New York).The excavation site is situated within the Ophel Archaeological Park, which is part of the National Park Around the Walls of Jerusalem under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The seal impression was found during the wet-sifting of earth layers from the excavation in the Emek-Zurim wet-sifting facility, directed by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Dvira, under the auspices of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Ir David Foundation. The bulla was discovered by Efrat Greenwald, a member of the Ophel expedition, who supervised the wet-sifting of the excavation material. Reut Ben-Aryeh, who prepared the Hebrew bullae from the Ophel excavations for publication, was the first to identify it as a seal impression of King Hezekiah. Students and alumni of Herbert W. Armstrong College from Edmond, Oklahoma participated in the excavation.

King Hezekiah is described favorably in the Bible (II Kings, Isaiah, II Chronicles) as well as in the chronicles of the Assyrian kings— Sargon II and his son Sennacherib—who ruled during his time. Hezekiah is depicted as both a resourceful and daring king, who centralized power in his hands. Although he was an Assyrian vassal, he successfully maintained the independent standing of the Judean Kingdom and its capital Jerusalem, which he enhanced economically, religiously, and diplomatically.

The Bible relates of Hezekiah that “there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those before him” (II Kings 18:5).

The symbols on the seal impression from the Ophel suggest that they were made late in his life, when both the Royal administrative authority and the King’s personal symbols changed from the winged scarab (dung beetle)—the symbol of power and rule that had been familiar throughout the Ancient Near East, to that of the winged sun—a motif that proclaimed God’s protection, which gave the regime its legitimacy and power, also widespread throughout the Ancient Near East and used by the Assyrian Kings.

This change most likely reflected both the Assyrian influence and Hezekiah’s desire to emphasize his political sovereignty, and Hezekiah’s own profound awareness of the powerful patronage given his reign by the God of Israel. While the changed Royal administrative symbol imprinted on the King’s jars used the motif of a sun with wings extended to the sides, Hezekiah’s personal changed symbol had a sun with sheltering wings turned down and a life-symbol at the end of each wing. This special addition of the symbol of life may support the assumption that the change on the King’s personal seal was made after Hezekiah had recovered from the life-threatening illness of shehin (II Kings 20:1-8), when the life-symbol became especially significant for him (ca. 704 BCE).

The discovery of King Hezekiah’s Royal Seal impression in the Ophel excavations vividly brings to life the Biblical narratives about King Hezekiah and the activity conducted during his lifetime in Jerusalem’s Royal Quarter.

The full research about King Hezekiah’s bulla is included in the first volume of the Ophel Excavations 2009–2013 Final Reports, published today with the support of the David Berg Foundation.