Wednesday Roundup

Hezekiah’s Pool is now clean, for the first time in decades if not centuries. Tom Powers gives the report and includes many photos. He suggests that the workers found a paved or plastered floor.

(Background here.)

Biblical Archaeology Society has a brand spanking new blog that includes an RSS feed and welcomes readers with a new 140-page ebook entitled the “Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries.” The new site also allows readers (upon sign-in) to control which email subscriptions they receive. The blog is part of a complete re-design of the BAS website.

Olof Pedersén has posted his list of ANE Placemarks for Google Earth.

Foreign Policy has posted a photo essay entitled, “Once Upon a Time in Damascus.” More than a dozen photos from the American Colony/Eric Matson collection are featured.

The work of Gustaf Dalman is being celebrated in a program to be held at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem on August 18-19. I’ve been working on publishing a Dalman project myself but I will not be finished in time for the 70th anniversary of his death.

Restoration work is scheduled to be restarted at the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser) at Saqqara (with photo). The article notes that already a second successor to Zahi Hawass is in office.

The Pantheon in Rome may have been built as a massive sundial.

In recent weeks, Wayne Stiles has visited En Gedi and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

CBN News has a 30-second video of the tunnel where they discovered the Roman sword and etching of a menorah. Ynet News posts a two-minute video of the tunnel with English subtitles (to start you may need to click the smaller button on the right side of the screen).

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson


Hyraxes a Nuisance in Israel

What some people view as cute critters are becoming a troublesome pest to others. Hyraxes, also known as rock badgers or coneys, are mentioned in Leviticus 11:5, Deuteronomy 14:7, Psalm 104:18, and Proverbs 30:26. A BBC report describes how these relatives of the elephant and aardvark are leaving the crags and entering villages.

“A lot of people in the west haven’t heard of the hyrax, but it’s very common in the Middle East,” lead researcher Arik Kershenbaum told BBC Nature.
“It’s even mentioned in the Bible as one of the main inhabitants of the land.”
But, as Mr Kershenbaum explained, around Galilee the animals are no longer behaving in a “biblical way” – making their homes in the rocky hills and cliffs of the countryside.
“They’re coming into the villages and eating everything they can find,” said Mr Kershenbaum.
“It turns out that it’s the piles of boulders [created by clearing sites for building] that attract the hyraxes,” said Mr Kershenbaum.
They make their homes in the underground caverns and crevices created by these man-made rubble piles.
But early research indicates that simply filling in the boulder piles would drive hyraxes out of the villages and back to the cliffs, just as it says in the Bible.

For more information about the hyrax, see the Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:1143.

HT: The Land and the Book

Rock badger, coney, at Haibar, tb052004807

The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys (Ps 104:18).

Summer 2011 at Tel Zayit

Tel Zayit is a small site in the Shephelah of Judah best known for the 10th-century abecedary discovered in 2005. Tel Zayit is 5 miles (8 km) south of Gath (Tell es-Safi), 6 miles (9 km) southwest of Azekah, and 4.5 miles (7 km) north of Lachish. The excavator, Ron Tappy, has suggested that Tel Zayit is biblical Libnah, though for that identification Zayit is competing with Tel Burna (pdf), only 2.5 miles (4 km) to the east.

Gordon Franz joined the Tel Zayit team this summer and he has posted some of his personal reflections and experiences on his blog.

There were no spectacular small finds at Tel Zayit this summer. The most important discovery, however, was a clearer understanding of the stratigraphy of the site. In K-20 it was the newly discovered Persian period level as well as another phase of the Roman period. In O-19 all indications point to the abecedary being clearly dated to the 10th century BC. If this date is correct, it would demonstrate that Israelites living in this out-of-the-way city were literate and, therefore, not a bunch of hillbillies living in some little cow town!

I’ve heard that the team will not be in the field next summer, but you may want to consider joining as a volunteer in 2013.


Important sites in Shephelah. Source: Google Earth. For other images with marked routes, see Chris McKinny’s blog.

Tourism in the Middle East in 2011

Tourism in the Middle East this year is up and down, depending upon the country and the month.

Best bets: Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. From the Jerusalem Post:

Travel to the Middle East this year was supposed to reach record highs, but the Arab Spring sent the numbers tumbling, as the violence and turmoil kept many away. But there are signs of recovery in Egypt and in Israel, even as tourism continues to drop in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas.
Egypt’s Tourism Ministry has announced special discounts for Ramadan (Muslim holy month) visitors, particularly targeting the Gulf states. Egyptian Finance Minister Hazem El-Beblawi told Reuters that the Egyptian government forecast revenues from tourism would total $10 billion in the financial year that began on July 1, compared with $11.6 billion in 2009/10.
El-Beblawi said the tourism minister told him “occupancy in Sharm A-Sheikh and other places on the Red Sea was systemically and constantly recovering. If this trend continues, by the end of the year we will reach the normal level.”
According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, which monitors tourism trends, recovery has already been seen through statistics showing that Egypt suffered an 80% drop in tourism in February at the height of the anti-regime protests, but that by May it had halved to 41% less.
Syria and Lebanon, on the other hand, have seen tourism die a painful death as Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad’s troops ratchet up the bloody crackdown on popular unrest that erupted in March.
“We would be happy to arrange for you a package that doesn’t take in the risky spots. The hotels are offering very many special deals now,” a travel agent at Syritours, one of the leading tour operators in Syria, said cheerfully when reached by telephone.
The Syrian Tourism Ministry’s “Damascus in August” brochure is offering Ramadan night tours in the old market sponsored by the Iranian cultural chancellery; and a film festival at the Russian culture center.
The alleys of the Damascus suk [marketplace] should have been filled with tourists this summer. Ironically, it was just a year ago that the New York Times rated Syria in the top ten of the hottest places to visit in 2010. UNESCO has cited Syria as the number one place in the world for archaeological sites.
And until this Arab Spring and the bloody, ruthless suppression of anti-regime protests during which human rights organizations say nearly 2,000 people have been killed, tourist numbers had been steadily climbing. The United States and European Union have issued severe travel warnings against visiting Syria and have urged their citizens there to “depart immediately.”

The full story is here.


Roman Sword and Menorah Depiction Found in Jerusalem

The continued excavations of the Siloam street and drainage channel by Reich and Shukrun have revealed two important objects from the first-century AD. From the Israel Antiquities Authority press release:

During the course of work the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out in Jerusalem’s ancient drainage channel, which begins in the Siloam Pool and runs from the City of David to the archaeological garden (near the Western Wall), impressive finds were recently discovered that breathe new life into the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. The excavations are being conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and are underwritten by the City of David Foundation.
A 2,000 year old iron sword, still in its leather scabbard, was discovered in work the Israel Antiquities Authority is doing in the channel, which served as a hiding refuge for the residents of Jerusalem from the Romans at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction. In addition, parts of the belt that carried the sword were found. According to the excavation directors Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “It seems that the sword belonged to an infantryman of the Roman garrison stationed in Israel at the outbreak of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. The sword’s fine state of preservation is surprising: not only its length (c. 60 cm), but also the preservation of the leather scabbard (a material that generally disintegrates quickly over time) and some of its decoration”.
A stone object adorned with a rare engraving of a menorah was found in the soil beneath the street, on the side of the drainage channel. According to Shukron and Professor Reich, “Interestingly, even though we are dealing with a depiction of the seven-branched candelabrum, only five branches appear here. The portrayal of the menorah’s base is extremely important because it clarifies what the base of the original menorah looked like, which was apparently tripod shaped”. The fact that the stone object was found at the closest proximity to the Temple Mount to date is also important. The researchers suppose a passerby who saw the menorah with his own eyes and was amazed by its beauty incised his impressions on a stone and afterwards tossed his scrawling to the side of the road, without imagining that his creation would be found 2,000 years later.

High resolution images are available at the (temporary) link for the press release, or directly in a zip file here.


Roman sword made of iron used by soldier stationed in Jerusalem in AD 66. Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Stone inscribed with five-branched menorah. Photo by Vladirim Naykhin.

UPDATE: An article on the discovery in Haaretz includes six additional photos.

(HT: Joseph Lauer)


Kinect Game System To Be Used in Jordan Excavation

From Popular Science:

Archaeological digs are a painstaking process even after the earth has been excavated — artifacts must be carefully catalogued so researchers know exactly where they were found, which tells information about their past. On an upcoming dig in Jordan, a modified Kinect could serve as a 3-D scanner, making this process simpler — and decidedly more high-tech.
Researchers hope students traveling to an archaeological dig in Jordan will use a hacked Microsoft Kinect as a mobile scanning system, making 3-D models of ancient sites that can then be visited in a virtual-reality environment.
The modified ArKinect — archaeology and Kinect — would scan an entire dig site, and the data would be used to reconstruct the site in 3-D. Calit2 has an immersive VR system called StarCAVE, a 360-degree, 16-panel setup, which allows researchers to interact with virtual objects. A realistic 3-D portrayal of ancient cookware, for instance, would be a lot more valuable than a 2-D photograph, because it would show more detail and craftsmanship and even help researchers understand how an artifact was used.

The full story is here.

HT: Charles Savelle


Romans Imported Wood for Masada Siege

A new study indicates that wood for the siege of Masada was not available locally but was imported from areas east of the Dead Sea. From a press release from the University of Haifa:

The Roman Legion that lay siege on Masada some 2,000 years ago was forced to use timber from other areas in the land of Israel for its weapons and encampments, and was not able to use local wood as earlier studies have proposed. This has been revealed in a new study conducted at the University of Haifa, refuting earlier suggestions that described the Judean Desert area as more humid in the times of the Second Temple.
Despite all the historic and archaeological evidence that has been revealed about the Roman siege on Masada, scholars are at difference over the large quantities of timber and firewood that were required for the Jewish fortress defenders on the mountain and for the Roman besiegers. A previous study by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of wooden remains found on the siege rampart showed that they originated from a more humid habitat, and assuming that the timber was local, claimed that this was proof of the Judean region being more humid some 2,000 years ago. The University of Haifa researchers maintain that the wood originated in a more humid region: not from the local habitat but brought from a more humid region to the foot of Masada by the well-organized Roman military supply unit.

The press release continues here. The technical article is available to subscribers or with payment here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Turkey Revoking Foreign Excavation Licenses

From Hurriyet Daily News:

When German archaeologist-businessmen Heinrich Schilemann stumbled upon the ancient city of Troy in today’s province of Çanakkale nearly 150 years ago, initiating the first archaeological excavation in Turkey, he could scarcely have thought other non-Turkish colleagues would one day be prevented from digging in the country’s soil.
Although many of Turkey’s myriad archaeological sites – such as Ephesus, Antioch, Troy, Knidos, Alacahöyük and Hattuşa – were initially found and dug by foreign archaeologists, recent announcements from Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry suggest this will soon change. The recent cancellation of several licenses for important digs that had been run by foreign scientists for decades, has precipitated a new debate on how to evaluate archaeological studies.
“Some of the foreign-run excavations are going well, but some groups only come here, work for 15 days and leave,” Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said regarding the reason for the canceled licenses. “We are not going to allow that. If they don’t work on it, they should hand it over.”
Among this year’s canceled licenses are Xanthos, Letoon and Aizonai in the provinces of Antalya, Muğla and Kütahya, respectively. The excavations had been conducted by French and German teams for many decades.
“What I am told is that there hasn’t been enough study in the area in recent years, that’s why the excavation was handed over to us,” Burhan Varkıvanç, the new head of the excavation team in Xanthos told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The story continues here.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Editorial: Biblical Archaeology Today

From an op-ed by Alex Joffe in the Jerusalem Post:

Every summer, the Israel Antiquities Authority holds a reception at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem for foreign archeological teams excavating in Israel. This year’s reception was attended by over 200 archeologists from over 50 Israeli and foreign projects, who are investigating sites from the Paleolithic through the Islamic periods. It was another indication that, despite its many critics, the new biblical archeology is going strong.
But what’s “new” about the new biblical archeology?
Part of the answer lies in the field’s sophistication. The majority of archeological projects in Israel focus on sites outside the brief “biblical period,” 900 to 586 BCE. But all projects incorporate scientific field and lab techniques using geological sciences as well as satellite imagery to understand the changing physical landscapes and climates of their sites. At many projects, teams with computers and spectrographs analyze materials as they come out of the ground. At Tel Aviv University, one especially promising lab project will examine the rate at which pottery shards absorb moisture after being fired – a technique that promises the most accurate dating yet.
After almost 150 years of work, biblical archeology has thus moved from a supporting role in theological dramas to a fully scientific branch of world archeology. But for over two decades it has also been drawn directly into the Arab-Israeli and, increasingly, the Muslim-Jewish, conflict. At its extreme, biblical archeology has been falsely accused of being a handmaiden of Zionism, through the invention of finds as well as the destruction of Palestinian and Muslim remains. Israelis and Arabs alike have been bitterly critical of research projects, particularly in Jerusalem, which appear to upset the city’s delicate Jewish- Arab relations.
As a result, the impulse to use archeology to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians (for example, by bringing disadvantaged youths together to work on excavations) has been strong. Some local progress has been made, but overall, Palestinian attitudes have hardened thanks to their relentless propaganda denying any Jewish past.

The editorial continues with a look at excavations of three important sites: Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tell es-Safi (Gath), and Khirbet Summeily.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Metropolitan Museum Returns 19 Objects to Egypt

On Tuesday, August 2, nineteen small objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will arrive in Egypt. The agreement to return the objects was negotiated in November 2010 when Zahi Hawass was Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, a post now held by Mohamed Abdel Maksoud. The objects come from the tomb of Tutankhamun and were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 20th century from the estate of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb.

The story is being reported in several outlets, including here and here and here.

HT: Jack Sasson