Archaeology in Israel Update—March 2013
By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
Early Industrial Works under Jaffa
In anticipation of renovated underground infrastructure plans for the streets of the city of Jaffa, rescue digs by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have uncovered extensive industrial installations related to ancient liquid extraction processes, such as presses to produce wine and other alcoholic beverages. The remains date to the Byzantine period according to Dr. Yoav Arbel, director of the IAA excavations. He said that they were evidence of just one phase of the extensive agricultural processes carried out in the Jaffa area from the time of the early Egyptian occupation of the 14th century BCE up to that of the Ottoman empire, when vines and fruit orchards were still prevalent in the surroundings.
Each uncovered unit consisted of a pressing floor connected to a collecting vat to hold the pressed liquids. The excavators thought that the discovered sections, found under Hai Gaon street, represented only part of a larger industrial complex and that further installations would be found when the adjoining streets are investigated. The new infrastructure works, such as cables and drainage, are being laid carefully over the uncovered remains so that they would be kept preserved and protected, though not visible. The renewal project covers the Magen Avraham Compound of Jaffa and will result in improved drainage, landscaping and street lighting for the city.
Ancient Burial Cave on Mount of Olives Looted
Two young men were arrested by police in late February for digging into an ancient burial cave that was a known sealed ancient monument near to the large Kidron Valley tombs, such as the so-called tomb of Absalom. The culprits admitted they were looking for buried treasure, as recorded by a spokeswoman for the IAA Theft Prevention Unit. The caves were thought to have preserved burial goods such as oil lamps and weapons, and it was not clear why such valuable remains had not been removed earlier by the IAA, seeing they were known to have been present in the tombs.
Preservation of Antiquities in Syria
Concern has been expressed over the preservation of the many objects of antiquity in Syria, during the present unrest and virtual civil war. One specific example has been mentioned, the looting and near- destruction of the Jobar synagogue in Damascus, one of the oldest in the world. It is situated in an old part of the city, is built over a cave dedicated to the Prophet Elijah and is presumed to date back, at least in part , to the first century CE. The plaque on the cornerstone claims it to be the "Shrine and Synagogue of the Prophet Eliyahou Hanabi since 720 BC." It served the Jewish community until the early 19th century and was replaced by the more modern synagogue in the Old City where, it is reported, the Torah scrolls and other artifacts from the Jobar have been stored for safety.
It is to be hoped that the extensive wall paintings of the Dura-Europos synagogue which, I have heard, are stored in the open but under cover, in Damascus, will not be affected by the unrest. It is also reported that the ancient souk in Aleppo has suffered heavily, and many of its medieval stone vaults have been destroyed, as have other ancient markets and mosques throughout the country.
Biblical Faces Reconstructed by Jacobovici
In another of his controversial archaeology series, Simcha Jacobovici is showing faces that he claims are reconstructed from authentic skulls of biblical personalities. The series is being aired on Canadian TV and the first episode purports to show the face of a Philistine woman, who is designated as "Delilah". It is based on a 3,000 year old skull from a collection in Tel Aviv University. The face has been reconstructed in the way that forensic scientists work from skulls for police investigations. A second episode shows the face of a man from a burial cave of the time of Jesus who, Jacobivici claims, was a man who knew Jesus. A third claim is based on the remains of an infant found inside a burial jar and is said to be that of "a sacrificed child". These claims are clearly highly speculative and have been dismissed by Joe Zass, formerly of the IAA, as "show business and not science". The actual reconstructions were mostly carried out by Victoria Lynwood of Montreal, who also reconstructed the skull of a 6,000 year-old warrior, whose teeth had decayed to such an extent that it was unclear how he had been able to continue to eat. Although dismissive of the series, Prof. Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University said that it would spark renewed interest in archaeology and that was the one good side of the presentation.