Graffiti Found Inside Tiny Chamber in Great Pyramid

From Past Horizons:

Researchers on the Djedi robot expedition have now obtained video images from a tiny chamber hidden at the end of one of the shafts leading from the Queen’s chamber. This tunnel is particularly hard to explore because it is extremely narrow (20cm x 20cm), it is built at angle of 40 degrees and has no outside exit.
The team overcame these practical difficulties by using a robot explorer that could climb up inside the walls of the shaft whilst carrying a miniature ‘micro snake’ camera that can see around corners.
The bendy camera (8 mm diameter) was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone ‘door’ at the end of the shaft, giving researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond.
The ‘micro snake’ camera’ allowed all walls of the camber to be carefully examined, revealing sights not seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid
When pieced together, the images gathered by Djedi revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint that team members suggest were made by workmen. Prior to this, researchers had only found hieroglyphs in the roof of the King’s Chamber, which lies some distance above the Queen’s Chamber.
“We believe that if these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built,” Dr Richardson said.

The full story includes photos.

HT: Jack Sasson


Walk a Mile Underneath Jerusalem

Matti Friedman, writing for the AP, describes the various “underground tours” that are open to tourists in Jerusalem.  He also touches on the political and religious complications.

Underneath the crowded alleys and holy sites of old Jerusalem, hundreds of people are snaking at any given moment through tunnels, vaulted medieval chambers and Roman sewers in a rapidly expanding subterranean city invisible from the streets above.
At street level, the walled Old City is an energetic and fractious enclave with a physical landscape that is predominantly Islamic and a population that is mainly Arab.
Underground Jerusalem is different: Here the noise recedes, the fierce Middle Eastern sun disappears, and light comes from fluorescent bulbs. There is a smell of earth and mildew, and the geography recalls a Jewish city that existed 2,000 years ago.
Archaeological digs under the disputed Old City are a matter of immense sensitivity. For Israel, the tunnels are proof of the depth of Jewish roots here, and this has made the tunnels one of Jerusalem’s main tourist draws: The number of visitors, mostly Jews and Christians, has risen dramatically in recent years to more than a million visitors in 2010.
But many Palestinians, who reject Israel’s sovereignty in the city, see them as a threat to their own claims to Jerusalem. And some critics say they put an exaggerated focus on Jewish history.

The story continues here.  The underground “route” that Friedman describes begins with a walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (or its alternate, the Siloam Tunnel).  Then, later this summer, one will be able to enter the Roman drainage system and walk all the way to the Western Wall plaza.  In several years, a new route will take visitors on the first-century street beneath the prayer plaza.  That will link up with the Western Wall tunnels which run north along Herod’s well-preserved retaining wall.

For more of the political angle on the “Underground Jerusalem” excavations, see last month’s article in Haaretz (noted here).  For some additional photographs, see Leen Ritmeyer’s post.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Hasmonean channel, tb091802305

Western Wall tunnel: northern section through Hasmonean aqueduct

Ennion Glass Exhibit at Israel Museum

Ennion created some of the most beautiful pieces of glass of all time.  He was producing mold-blown glass in the years when Jesus lived in Galilee.  If Ennion worked in Sidon, as many suppose, Jesus may have passed by his shop (Matt 11:21; 15:21; Mark 7:31).  Such a large collection of Ennion’s works have never before been on display.

From Israel Museum’s facebook page:

Made by Ennion: Ancient Glass Treasures from the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection – on view through January 28, 2012.
The Israel Museum presents an exceptional group of ancient mold-blown glass vessels, many of them made by Ennion, a master glassworker who was the first to put his name on his art. Ancient glass bearing the name of the artist is exceedingly rare, and never before have so many examples been gathered in a single display. The exhibition brings together forty-three pieces, nine of them signed, including a number of pieces that rank among the highest achievements in glassworking of all time. Approximately half of the works are on loan from the rich collection of Shlomo Moussaieff and are exhibited to the public for the first time.

The J. Paul Getty Museum has a brief biography of Ennion.

Ennion worked as a glassmaker about 1 to 50 A.D. His signature is known from over thirty surviving pieces, and many other works are attributed to him on the basis of style. Ennion created the ground-breaking technique of blowing glass vessels into molds. This new process allowed the vessel and its decoration to be created at the same time and permitted the creation of multiple copies of the same vessel. Ennion’s clear, precise designs distinguish his work; he also minimized the visibility of the lines caused by the seams in the mold.
The location of Ennion’s workshop is debated, in part because his work is found throughout the Roman Empire. Some scholars believe he worked in Sidon in modern Lebanon, while others assert that he worked in northern Italy. The inscriptions he frequently used as decoration may provide a clue. Though his name may have been Semitic in origin, he signed it in Greek, the language of the eastern Mediterranean, not Italy. The city of Sidon, where he may have worked, had all the raw material for glass-making and extensive trade connections.


Weekend Roundup

Aren Maeir has posted the schedule of the 31st Annual Conference of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University.

Gary Byers has a report on discoveries from the first week of excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has posted his review of “Archaeology in Israel Update—April 2011.” 

He reviews the demonstrations over graves in Jaffa, Jordan’s demand for the return of fake metal codices, Jacobivici’s “Nails of the Cross,” and the politicization of the Kenyon Institute (formerly the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem).

The ASOR blog has several dozen links to news from the world of archaeology.

Israel is moving forward with plans to construct the largest desalination plant in the world.  When constructed, 65% of Israel’s water consumption will come from desalinated sources.

Kevin DeYoung’s post on “being better Bereans” is broader than the usual focus of this blog, but I suspect that many readers attracted to a blog like this one may be tempted to make some of the mistakes he describes.  I recommend it highly.

If you’ve been waiting to pick up the new book by Ronny Reich, Excavating the City of David: Where Jerusalem’s History Began, do so this weekend, while the price is knocked down from $50 to $30 at the Biblical Archaeology Society website.  They also have a good deal on Hershel Shanks, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.  And the third edition of Ancient Israel.  The sale ends at 11:59 pm on Monday.


Government to Invest $83 Million in Jerusalem

From the Prime Minister’s Office:

The Cabinet will, on Sunday, 29.5.11 [May 29, 2011], at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem, hold a festive meeting to mark Jerusalem Day.  At this meeting, the Cabinet is due to approve the multi-year Merom Plan, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is advancing in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority.  The goal of the plan is to economically strengthen the capital city via two main growth engines.  The first is to invest NIS 145.5 million [$41.9 million] in strengthening Jerusalem as a tourist city.  The second is to invest NIS 71.4 million [$20.5 million] in strengthening the city a center of research, development and bio-technology industry.  A further NIS 70.5 million [$20.3 million] will be invested in additional complementary measures to develop the city economically.  Thus, the budget for the 2011-2016 Merom Plan will stand at almost NIS 290 million [$83.6 million].  A designated budget will be approved each year by a steering committee in keeping with the pace of implementation, the budget law and the outline of the Plan. In addition to the Merom Plan’s budgetary framework, the Tourism Ministry will allocate NIS 75 million [$21.6 million] to encourage hotel construction in Jerusalem.  The goal is to increase the supply of hotel rooms in the capital and enable it to attract millions of tourists per annum.

The full press release is here.  I would note that building more hotel rooms may only decrease the quality of the experience of visiting Jerusalem.


The World’s Oldest Museum

The “world’s oldest known museum” was created by Princess Ennigaldi, the daughter of Nabonidus, king of Babylon from 555 to 539 BC.  The story of its discovery and significance is recounted by Alasdair Wilkins.

In 1925, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artifacts while excavating a Babylonian palace. They were from many different times and places, and yet they were neatly organized and even labeled. Woolley had discovered the world’s first museum.
It’s easy to forget that ancient peoples also studied history – Babylonians who lived 2,500 years ago were able to look back on millennia of previous human experience. That’s part of what makes the museum of Princess Ennigaldi so remarkable. Her collection contained wonders and artifacts as ancient to her as the fall of the Roman Empire is to us. But it’s also a grim symbol of a dying civilization consumed by its own vast history.

The story continues here.

HT: Paleojudaica


Turkey Cancels Excavations of Foreign Countries

The New York Times reports on Turkey’s renewed demands that artifacts in museums around the world be given to them.

After years of pleading in vain for the return of Anatolia’s cultural treasures from Western museums, Turkey has started playing hardball. And it is starting to see some results.
This month, Germany reluctantly agreed to return a Hittite statue taken to Berlin by German archaeologists a century ago. “It was agreed that the statue will be handed over to Turkey as a voluntary gesture of friendship,” the German government said after weeks of negotiations between the countries’ foreign ministries.
Days later, Ankara announced it was stepping up a campaign to obtain a breakthrough in a similarly longstanding dispute with the Louvre in Paris over an Ottoman tile panel that went to France in 1895.
Although the Turkish cases for restitution of the sphinx and the tiles have always been more compelling than those for other treasures, like the Pergamon Altar, that were exported with permission of the Ottoman authorities, Ankara’s requests for their restitution went unanswered for years.
Then, Turkey changed tack. Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay announced earlier this year that he would kick German archaeologists out of the excavations at Hattusa, where they have been working for over a century, if the matter was not resolved. “I am determined not to renew the excavation license for Hattusa if the sphinx is not returned,” Mr. Gunay said in February.
In a first that rocked the archaeological world in Asia Minor, the digging licenses of two longstanding excavations conducted by German and French teams were revoked earlier this year.
The leader of the canceled German dig at Aizanoi, Ralf von den Hoff, said in an e-mail that his excavation had fallen victim to the ministry’s “extortionate demands” over the Hattusa sphinx.
But Germany says the return of the sphinx is a one-of-a-kind deal. “Both sides agreed that the sphinx is a singular case that is not comparable to other cases,” the German government said.
Turkey disagrees. “This is a revolution,” Mr. Gunay said last week about the agreement with the Germans. “This is a great development for the restitution of all our antique artifacts from abroad,” adding, “We will fight in the same way for the restitution of the other artifacts.”
Mr. Gunay said he foresaw a long struggle ahead, of a century or more, but added that he believed that “in the end Europe will return all of the cultural treasures that it has collected from all over the world.”

All governments take note.  Turkey’s goal is nothing less than that “all of the cultural treasures” be “returned.” 

The article has much more.  Is there any irony in the fact that in order to get some old artifacts returned Turkey would cancel excavations which would fill their museums with new discoveries?

HT: Jack Sasson


AIA Newsletter: Finkelstein’s Redating

The Australian Institute of Archaeology produces a newsletter, the current edition of which is online (also in pdf). You may also subscribe by email request. Some items are specific to Australian readers, but other articles are of broader interest. For example, one item notes Israel Finkelstein’s revision of his Low Chronology to be closer to the mainstream position.

During his presentation [at SBL 2010], Israel Finkelstein revised his dating, and stated that he was now dating the transition from Iron Age I to IIA to about 950 BC. This was momentous. Based on their experiences in the Philistine areas and sites such as Lachish, Ussishkin and Finkelstein have been dating the start of Iron Age II to 920–900 BC and they, and many others, have used this dating to argue that David and Solomon did not exist. Archaeologists working elsewhere in the southern Levant have found the comparatively short period of Iron Age II problematic because it was difficult to compress their Iron Age II levels into it. While they mounted archaeological arguments to support an earlier start to Iron Age II they were normally accused of being ‘biblically biased’.
Now that Finkelstein is digging at Megiddo, where there is a significant depth of Iron Age II material, he realises that the period was longer and that an earlier date for the start of Iron Age II is necessary. There are numerous books written by Finkelstein arguing that there was no United Monarchy because Iron Age II began long after the time it was supposed to have existed. Unfortunately these books will continue to have influence for decades to come, although the core argument is no longer accepted. The change does not mean that the United Monarchy did exist; it simply removes one of the hypothesised impediments. It was interesting that in the presentations the only person to regularly refer to biblical texts was Finkelstein: for him, disproving the Old Testament appears to be a hobby-horse. Much of the scholarly world has been fixated on Finkelstein conveying his hypotheses as facts. It will be interesting to see if it now takes a less dogmatic stance.

The full text of the newsletter is here (also in pdf format). More information about the Australian Institute of Archaeology and how to become a member may be found here.

HT: James Lancaster


Wednesday Roundup

A plan by the Israeli government will save the southern end of the Dead Sea from rising waters by harvesting salt

Beersheba. Just say the name, and images come to mind of an old, crusty patriarch leaning on his staff in the dry winds of the wilderness.”

Leen Ritmeyer comments on the report that the temporary bridge to the Mughrabi Gate must be removed within two weeks.

The Bible Gateway Blog answers the question: “How should we respond to sensational archaeological claims?

A 39-year-old archaeology student was arrested for looting archaeological sites, including Tel Shikmona near Haifa.  He was caught by the IAA Theft Prevention Unit when he left his cell phone at the site.

The 4th meeting of the Forum for the Research of the Chalcolithic Period will be held on June 2, 2011, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  The conference title: “50 Years of the Discovering of the Nahal Mishmar Treasure.”  A full schedule of the program is here.

Eric Meyers writes in The Jewish Week on the earliest synagogues known archaeologically.  He does not agree with those who wish to re-date many of these synagogues to the 4th-6th centuries.  Of the period immediately after AD 70, he writes:

In my view this period in the history of Judaism was as definitive as the period after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE when the exiled Judeans not only survived but managed to pray without the Temple and began the task of editing the books of Scripture that would help them maintain their identity and keep the traditions of former times. The first centuries after 70 CE also led to publication of the Mishnah by 200 CE and many of the early biblical commentaries. It is unimaginable that all of this literary creativity, along with the development of the synagogue liturgy, could have happened without a physical setting in which it could take shape. The most logical setting is the synagogue as a structure where the Torah was read, translated and interpreted; where homilies were given; and where the liturgy was sung and recited.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson