Archaeology in Israel Update-- September 2011
By Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
Two-Horned Altar From Tell-es Safi
The site of Tell es-Safi is considered to be the Philistine city of Gath and work had been going on there for many seasons, under the direction of Prof. Aren Maier of Bar-Ilan University. A recent find has been a large stone altar with two squarish horns. It was found within the ruins of a large building of the lower city that was destroyed by Hazael of Aram in the ninth century BCE. The altar is made of a single piece of stone, which is unique for its size, according to Maier. The dimensions are 50cm by 50cm by one meter high, which is equivalent to the cubit by cubit by 2 cubits high of the wooden incense altar of the Mishkan, as described in Exod. 30:1. Although one side is broken, Maier claims that the altar only had the two horns on the one side, not the usual four, and the reasons for this are obscure, though it may have been a Philistine characteristic. Another important find of the season was a jar with an inscription, which seems to have been in a Philistine version of Hebrew, but is as yet undeciphered.
Damascus Gate Restored
The most ornate of the Jerusalem Gates, the Damascus Gate or Shaar Shechem, has been fully cleaned and restored after the four years of work on the ancient walls of the city. The restoration work included the reconstitution of the projecting external guard box that was cantilevered over the main arched entry, and served as a sentry box for one soldier to monitor all who entered from the north. It was destroyed during the 1967 war and was finally restored and unveiled last month. The gate is highly elaborate and was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent from the famous Islamic architect Sinan Minmar (1489-1578) of Constantinople in the mid-sixteenth century CE. Sinan was also the architect of the Sulemaniye Mosque, the second largest in Istanbul, whose huge dome rests on four massive pillars. The Damascus gate is planned with a double chicane which in plan is like the Hebrew letter Lamed, with two right angle turns. In elevation it contains 22 or more stepped finials, and it is founded on an earlier Roman gate from the time of Hadrian. According to Avi Mashiah, the architect of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who supervised the work, this gate is the most beautiful one of the wall and therefore it has been amply recorded in drawings and photographs which enabled the restoration to be completed accurately. The work was carried out in carefully planned stages so that the many small-scale Arab merchants, who lined the walls of the gate, were able to continue trading without interruption.
Kenyon Institute, Change from Archaeology
The Kenyon Institute, formerly the British School of Archaeology, in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, has just announced a new series of lectures on Palestinian politics. The lecture for last week was entitled The Question of Palestinian Representation in Historical Context and the State Recognition Initiative, and was given by Dr. Abdel Razzeq Takriti of St Edmnd Hall, Oxford. The centre is also starting a series of classes in spoken Arabic, to run over the next three months. From the point of view of the archaeological community of Jerusalem and the wider world, it is most unfortunate that the Kenyon Institute, run by the Centre for British Research in the Levant, has abandoned its previous concentration on archaeological subjects, for which it was originally founded.
Continuous Occupation at Yavne Yam
The ancient port of Yavne-Yam, that lies on the Mediterranean coast between Jaffa and Ashdod, recently gave up its latest secrets. A complex of a fortress and a bath-house of the late Islamic period were excavated last season by a team from Tel Aviv University headed by Prof. Moshe Fischer. He pointed out that this latest find confirmed the use of the port city from the Middle Bronze Age period up to medieval times, and showed that the Islamic population continued the Roman practice of providing lavish bathing premises alongside their main public buildings. The latest finds, not yet published, indicate that the port was occupied continuously for a period of over three thousand years.
The Underground Passage from Robinsons Arch to Siloam Pool
Work by Prof. Ronnie Reich of Haifa University and Eli Shukron of the IAA has continued on this amazing underground passageway and the sewer that ran below it, where a Roman sword and a tiny golden bell were found recently. The excavators have now been able to continue their exploration right up to the Herodian retaining wall of the Temple Mount (the Haram es-Sharif) and have uncovered the stepped foundations that underlie the massive ashlars of the wall. The wall reaches a maximum height of over forty meters at the south-west corner, where it rises from the bedrock of the Tyropaean Valley. The discovery of the base of the wall attracted enormous interest and the site was visited by the Mayor of Jerusalem and other important dignitaries and politicians, who were reported to have been seen weeping at the wonder of the exposed foundations of the retaining wall to our holiest site. It is hoped that the site can be prepared for public viewing in the near future. It will certainly be interesting to see how Herod's engineers coped with the problem of founding their huge walls on the naturally irregular bedrock of the mountain.
TCorpus of Graffiti Inscriptions
Over the years individual explorers have come across graffiti scratched into cave walls and other rough surfaces in many different places and many different languages. It is now the intention to publish all the known and readable ones that have been found in Israel over many years by many different scholars. Prof. Jonathan Price of Tel Aviv Classics Department says the study of these casual writings has been neglected so far but their importance has now been recognized and the Corpus will be of great interest to historians. The graffiti so far known are dated from the fourth century BCE , the early Hellenistic period, to the early Islamic age of 7th century CE and the corpus is likely to contain 13,000 items in over ten languages. Some examples are the Greek name Christo found on limestone walls in the Judean hills, the Jewish family name Sh-ph-n (rabbit) found in a first century CE burial cave, and the name Yonatan in another burial cave.. Many scrawls were found in the extended caves used by the Jewish population to hide from the Romans during the Jewish Revolts of 66 and 135 CE., many of which have still to be deciphered.