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A very rare papyrus fragment with paleo-Hebrew writing from the time of King Josiah and his sons was recovered by Israeli authorities recently. The fragment is part of a hastily written letter dating to circa 600 BC and including the name Ishmael. It was discovered near the Dead Sea and sold by an antiquities dealer to an American tourist in 1965. The purchaser’s son was persuaded to return the letter to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Times of Israel gives the fullest account, and The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz also have the story, with others sure to follow. There is also a two-minute video about the document.

Some might classify this as a Dead Sea Scroll, but the important difference is the dating—this fragment was already a 400-year-old antiquity when the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls were being written. Only two other scroll fragments have been found from the time of the First Temple.

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Today’s announcement cannot wait until the Weekend Roundup. I expect that the discovery of ivory inlays in Jerusalem will rank #1 in my list of “top discoveries” of the year.

The story is reported in the major sources (including Haaretz, Arutz-7, AFP), but I am going to provide some brief commentary on the well-illustrated report in The Times of Israel.

Some 1,500 ivory fragments were excavated from the City of David’s Givati Parking Lot, but only discovered during wet sifting in the nearby Emek Tsurim National Park.

The unappealing name of the “Givati Parking Lot” refers to an area on the northwestern side of the City of David, just below the Old City’s Dung Gate.

AerialviewofCityofDavidtb010703givatiparkingdiagram

The City of David, aerial view from the southwest

The fact that they found 1,500 fragments, but only in wet sifting, indicates that they found slivers that were not identified during the primary excavation. Someone must have done an enormous amount of work to piece these slivers into the whole pieces that are shown in the article.

The ivory pieces, which would have made up decorative inlays for furniture or a door, were discovered in a monumental building that was in use when Jerusalem was at the height of its power (the 8th and 7th centuries BCE) and was likely razed during the Babylonian Conquest of 586 BCE.

An important structure, possibly a royal building or a palace, was decorated with these ivories in the time of Hezekiah or Manasseh. The Babylonian destruction explains why the archaeologists found so many tiny fragments.

Ivory appears in the Bible in numerous locations, referring to extreme opulence, such as King Solomon’s “large ivory throne” (1 Kings 10:18), King Ahab’s palace adorned with ivory (1 Kings 22:39) and firebrand warnings from the prophet Amos to stop lolling on ivory-inlayed beds and couches (Amos 6:4).

In other words, this discovery really is not unexpected. The Bible indicates that ivory decorated royal furniture in the capital cities of both Samaria and Jerusalem. What makes this discovery so extraordinary is that in 150 years of excavating in Jerusalem, archaeologists have not found ivory pieces. The reason is not that they didn’t exist, but that archaeologists were missing these fragments because they weren’t wet-sifting.

The capitals of Nimrud and, to a lesser extent, Samaria, are known for their wealth and opulence. But First Temple Jerusalem? Many scholars argue that the Holy City only came into its own around the end of the 8th century BCE — exactly when these ivory finds are dated to.

Yes, this certainly supports the prominence of Jerusalem at this time. But the fact that we didn’t have such evidence yesterday only means that we were wrong to assume that the absence of evidence was meaningful.

In a painstaking collaborative process, the fragments were reassembled in the IAA laboratories by conservator Orna Cohen, together with Ilan Naor.

“At the end of the process of joining and ‘fusing’ hundreds of the fragments, we were able to understand that the assemblage includes remnants of at least 12 small square plaques – about 5 cm x 5 cm, at most 0.5 cm thick – which were originally inlaid in wooden furnishings,” Cohen and Naor said.

Kudos to these hard-working experts. May they receive the honor they deserve for their labors.

The style of the decorative motifs points to a clear Levantine influence, she said, and was popular throughout Mesopotamia. They were likely forged in Syria and then imported to Jerusalem, either as furniture or a door, or as inlays ready to be affixed.

I don’t think anyone would suggest that Jerusalem (or Samaria) had their own ivory workshops, so they were imported from the north. Perhaps Ahaz, in his friendly relations with the Assyrians, was entranced by more than the  altar in Damascus (2 Kgs 16:10).

“When we did a reconstruction, we imagined something between a couch or a chair, upon which a person would recline,” she said. Due to other luxury items that were also uncovered in the monumental building — vanilla-flavored wine, special serving dishes and a rare agate seal, she said the team of researchers envisioned a rich, opulent feast. “You can imagine these couch/chairs as a place where they sat at the banquet,” she said.

If you haven’t read The Times of Israel article already, the illustration for this paragraph is working clicking over for. It gives you an idea for how these inlays may have decorated the furniture. Of course, wood is never preserved in Jerusalem, so the artist relied on furniture parallels in Egypt and his imagination.

“There are only three motifs, all vegetative, and they’re very known on ivories in general in ancient Near East art, especially at this time,” she said. What was more interesting is what symbols were left out, she said, including, for example, a sphinx or other animal and human depictions.”

This suggests that Ahaz or Hezekiah or whoever placed this order was choosing from the aniconic section of the ivories catalog. This contrasts with Samaria where creatures were depicted on the ivories.

Samaria ivories, 9th-8th c BC, tb032014289

Ivory fragment from Samaria, depicting a sphinx, 9th-8th centuries BC (on display in the Israel Museum)

The article notes that the ivories will be displayed next week at the 23rd Conference of the City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem.

I would guess that archaeological protocol in Jerusalem now is that everything from the 1st and 2nd Temple periods is being sifted. This means that there will be more future dramatic discoveries.

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Israel HaYom surveys the history of Shiloh along with the present quest to discover the location of the tabernacle. Scott Stripling believes he knows the location but is not sure he’ll ever be able to prove it.

“Archaeologists announced Tuesday the discovery of a 1,200-year-old estate in Israel’s southern Negev desert, boasting unique underground structures that allowed its owners to overcome the searing summer heat.”

Nathan Steinmeyer takes viewers to excavations at Tel Shimron in a 4-minute video that is the second in a series on excavating in the Bible lands. Tel Shimron is one of the largest sites in the Jezreel Valley region.

Archaeologists are excavating a fortified village in Samaria that existed at the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt. You can see a drone video of the site here and more information and photos here.

Writing for The Jerusalem Post, Aaron Reich’s article claims to provide “everything you need to know about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.” It’s a decent introduction.

The oldest synagogue in Jerusalem is a non-rabbinic form of Judaism known as Karaism. Daniel J. Lasker has written a book about the subject, and his post on the ASOR Blog gives an introduction.

“Between the former rains (in autumn) and the latter rains (in spring) Israel receives all its rainfall. Except for this week, when it rained in summer!”

Ferrell Jenkins reports on a recent visit to Taanach.

There is a campaign to turn Hebron Road in Jerusalem into a “pedestrian-friendly space with cafes, bike paths, and more.”

Rejuvenation podcast: “Dr. Jodi Magness, the outstanding archaeologist, prolific writer and excellent educator, joins Eve Harow to talk about her renewed decade long excavation at the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in the Galilee.”

Zoom lecture on Sept 15: “Flavians in Galilee (67 CE): Their Aims and Activities,” by Steve Mason

The Fall 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes articles on Diaspora Jews living in Jerusalem in the 1st century, the lethal capabilities of slings, and the location of Magdala.

HT: Agade, Arne Halbakken, Joseph Lauer, Explorator, Paleojudaica

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Recent excavations are revealing details of the lives of middle-class inhabitants of Pompeii.

“Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Roman bridge from the Imperial era during an excavation alongside the Via Tiburtina in north-east Rome.”

The Getty Villa is returning one of its signature pieces, “Orpheus and the Sirens,” after it was determined that they were illegally excavated in Italy.

Deloitte estimates the value of Rome’s Colosseum to be $79 billion.

Carl Rasmussen shares photos he took of the recently renovated Mausoleum of Caesar Augustus (part 1, part 2).

The Brandeis magazine tells the story of recently retired classical archaeologist Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, at one time known as the “Queen of Latrines.”

There are some impressive Roman mosaics that few tourists visit in western Switzerland.

“Works being carried out in the town of Tomares in Spain have brought to light 19 Roman amphorae containing 600 kilos (1322.77 lbs.) of bronze coins from the 4th century.”

New exhibition in Trier, Germany: “The Fall of the Roman Empire” (until Nov 27).

The Museum of the Bible is hosting a new exhibit, “Samaritans: A Biblical People” from September 16 to January 1. The exhibition was created under the direction of Steven Fine and a panel discussion and documentary are part of the opening events.

The Center for Near Eastern Archaeology (CNEA) at La Sierra University is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The annual Archaeology Discover Weekend will be held on November 12 and 13.

New from Christopher D. Stanley: Paul and Asklepios: The Greco-Roman Quest for Healing and the Apostolic Mission (The Library of New Testament Studies)

New exhibition publication: David Roberts: Artist and Traveler, by John Olbrantz (Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, 2022). Hardcover, 152 pages, 96 color illustrations, $45.

A complete list of speakers and topics for the 25th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest (virtual, Oct 8-9) is now online and includes:

  • James Charlesworth, “Discovering the Tombs of David and Solomon After 50 Years of Searching”
  • Ralph Hawkins, “The Promise of the Conquest of Canaan in the Book of Exodus”
  • Thomas Levy, “Archaeological Science and Biblical Edom”
  • R. Steven Notley, “Byzantine Bethsaida and the House of St. Peter”
  • Shelley Wachsmann, “‘Some Went Down to the Sea in Ships…’: Ships, Boats, and Seafaring in Biblical Times”

HT: Agade, Arne Halbakken, Joseph Lauer, Explorator, Paleojudaica

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A statue head dated to the 2nd century AD was unearthed during the excavations at the Ancient Smyrna Theater.”

Archaeologists found the VIP seats of the ancient amphitheater of Pergamum.

Archaeologists have discovered a gladiator burial ground in near Adana in Turkey.

Restoration has begun on the floor mosaics of the ancient synagogue of Sardis.

The main building and exhibition halls of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums were opened last month after extensive renovations. Renovations continue on the Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Tiled Kiosk Museum and the northern wing of the Classical Building.

This article has some nice photos of the world’s largest mosaic, now part of the Antakya Museum Hotel in the ancient Antioch on the Orontes.

BBC: “More than 85m beneath the famous fairy chimneys of Cappadocia lies a massive subterranean city [Derinkuyu] that was in near-constant use for thousands of years.”

The Turkish Archaeological News surveys the top stories for the month of July.

New release: Excavations at Karkemish II. The Inner West Gate in Area N, by S. Mantellini and S. Pizzimenti (Ante Quem 2021). Free pdf downloads of entire series here.

“Greek archaeologists have discovered a virtually intact grave of an ancient noblewoman buried with her golden jewellery at a Roman burial monument in the island of Sikinos.”

“The majestic ancient Greek monument unearthed in Northern Greece in 2012 and known as the Amphipolis Tomb could open for visitors by the end of 2022.”

Ancient Athens 3D has created a video with a beautiful virtual model of the Parthenon.

Giovanna Dell’ortho describes some of the sites in Thessaloniki.

“Ancient Greeks had a great love and respect for their dogs, cherishing them as companions, protectors, and hunters, as evidenced by several dog tombstones discovered over the centuries.”

Archaeologists believe they have found a mega-monument at the ancient burial mound of Laona in Cyprus.

National Geographic takes a road trip through western Cyprus (requires registration).

HT: Agade, Arne Halbakken, Joseph Lauer, Explorator, Paleojudaica

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Two ancient Egyptian sarcophagi were opened live at a press conference.

Restoration work has been completed on the gold shrine at the mortuary temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu.

Chelsey Cook discusses three mysteries about Egypt’s ancient pyramids (how were they built, what’s inside, and why they stopped).

A newly discovered letter by Alan Gardiner indicates that Howard Carter stole artifacts from King Tut’s tomb before it was officially opened.

Mattias Karlsson writes for the ASOR Blog about relations between the Neo-Assyrian empire and Egypt, especially in the 7th century BC.

Some researchers believe that typhoid fever and plague were contributing factors in the collapse of the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the Akkadian empire.

Zoom lecture on August 26: “Unpacking Tutankhamun’s Wardrobe,” by Rosalind Janssen

New release: Egypt and the Classical World: Cross-Cultural Encounters in Antiquity, edited by Jeffrey Spier and Sara E. Cole (Getty Publications, 2022). Free pdf download (open right sidebar for other options).

Brent Nongbri argues that Codex Sinaiticus dates not to AD 360 but to anytime between the early 4th and early 5th centuries AD, making it an ideal candidate for radiocarbon analysis.

Assaf Kleiman has written an extensive piece on Hazael’s oppression of Israel. (My take is a bit different—and longer.)

The Jordan Times provides a brief summary of papers presented at the 15th International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan.

“Ancient Abila, located about 12km northeast of Irbid, [Jordan,] is a case study for scholars who want to track pilgrim itineraries in the Late Antiquity.”

John DeLancey has posted a 360-degree video of the walk up Macherus and a visit of the ruins.

Analysis of animal and plant remains is allowing archaeologists to identify the season in which a site was destroyed. The underlying journal article is here.

Accordance has many Carta works on sale through today, including The Sacred Bridge, The Raging Torrent, The Quest, Eusebius’s Onomasticon, and the “Understanding” Series.

HT: Agade, Arne Halbakken, Joseph Lauer, Explorator, Paleojudaica

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