Archaeology in Israel Update--July 2010
Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem
Honey bees at Tel Rehov, Bet Shean Valley
During excavations at Tel Rehov, under the direction of Prof. Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University (HU), thirty intact beehives were found in 2007, as well as evidence of over another 100 hives made of straw and clay. From their context these hives could be dated to about 900 BCE. It was surprising to find these hives in the middle of the city, and the residue of the hives, which included bee fragments, were sent for biological analysis by Prof. Guy Bloch of the HU Department of Ecological Science. He confirmed the great age of the hives that had become carbonized, and he found remnant of bee larvae and pupae, remnants of wings and legs. The type of bee was different from the local Syrian species, and not similar to the known Egyptian or Persian varieties, but was found to be related to the Anatalyan type found in central Turkey. It may have been that they were indigenous to Israel in antiquity or that they were somehow imported to the region. The reason for their use at Rehov was that the species is known for their high productivity as well as their docility, which made them suitable for raising in an urban setting. Evidence was found of moving bees in large pottery hives and an Assyrian stamp of the 8th century BCE (from elsewhere) showed that some bees had been brought 400 km. from the Taurus mountains in Turkey, to a southern location. Bloch therefore speculated that the Rehov beekeepers had started with the Syrian variety but, after finding them too aggressive for an urban location, they had taken the trouble of importing the more docile species from Turkey in the north.
Jerusalem, Herod's Gate reinaugurated
Four years into a five-year program of renovation of the Old City walls, the work to Herod's gate, at the north-east sector, has been completed. It is one of the seven major gateways and all its stonework has been repaired, cleaned and repointed, ugly electrical and drainage conduits have been removed or concealed and the interior of the gate refurbished.
The gate dates from 1539 and leads into the Muslim Quarter, at a place where the Muslim gypsy community live. The work was coordinated with the local residents so as not to disrupt their busy commercial activities during the four months of the facelift. The complete renovation project is funded by the Prime Minister's Office, administered by the Jerusalem Development Authority and executed by the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The next phase of the work will concentrate on the Damascus Gate and the Lion's gate, on the north and east walls of the Old City. During work near the Damascus Gate, the workmen found an area of shattered stone that concealed an old hand-grenade. The police were called, identified it as a Turkish-era weapon and removed it for controlled detonation, so the archaeologists were unable to examine it closely, but it was considered to have lain hidden in the wall for at least eighty years.
Jerusalem, large medieval monastery fresco
Remains of the nine m. long by nearly three m. high fresco were discovered during rescue excavations in the Kidron valley, in East Jerusalem, in 1997. It came from a wall of 12th century Abbey of St Mary of the Valley of Jehoshaphat. At the time it had to be cut up and taken for safekeeping into the storage rooms of the Israel Museum to avoid being destroyed by the sewage line that was being built in the valley, and it is now being restored and prepared for exhibition in the newly renovated Museum, which is opening its doors this week. The colored fresco depicts Jesus in the center flanked by Mary to his right and John the Baptist to his left, both seeming to plead for forgiveness for Humanity. There are further incomplete figures and a Latin inscription from St. Augustine that reads "Who injures the name of an absent friend, may not at this table as guest attend" which is a warning against loose talk. According to Jon Seligman of the IAA, who was in charge of the original discovery, this will be an opportunity for the public to see one of the few remaining frescoes in Israel.
Wadi Ara, near Katzir Harish, bronze tablet is chariot-wheel pinhead
During excavations by Prof. Adam Zertal of Haifa University in 1997 at El-Ahwat in the Wadi Ara, a small bronze circular tablet was found, only 2 cm. in diameter and 5 mm thick. It depicted the head of a woman with large wheel-like earrings and has now been identified by scientist Oren Cohen of Haifa University as the decorative plaque set on the end of the linchpin that held the axle of a Canaanite chariot. He came to his conclusion after seeing similar objects on the chariots in the battle scenes in the Temple of Rameses III in Luxor, Egypt. Dating from its context in the "Governor's House" of the town, the 12th century BCE pinhead may have served one of the 900 chariots of the foreign general Sisera in his fight with the Israelites under Deborah and Barak at the battle of Har Tabor in the lower Galilee. This, at least, is the belief of Zertal, who claimed thirteen years ago that the site of El-Ahwat was most likely the Haroshet Hagoyim mentioned in the Book of Judges (4:2) as the headquarters of Sisera. It appears that having one's head on such a linchpin was a sign of insult and indignity, and that this woman depicted here was a Hittite goddess, one hated by the Egyptians and presumably also by the Canaanites, who were being led by Sisera.
Bethsaida, north of the Sea of Galilee, unique gold coin found
In this year's excavations, directed by Dr. Rami Arav, of University of Nebraska at Omaha, a gold coin of Antoninus Pius (138-161 CE) 15th Roman Emperor, was found in a residential building of this town of fishermen, mentioned in the New Testament as being visited by Jesus, before he performed the miracle of walking on the water of the lake.
The coin was minted to announce that Antoninus Pius had been designated consul by the Roman Senate for the second time, a very high honor. It is the first such coin found in Israel, having the head of the Emperor on the obverse and the goddess Pietas before an altar on the reverse. The coin is 98% gold, and weighs 7gm. It is unusual to find such a high-value coin in a provincial town of fishermen, but a silver coin had been found there in a previous season and it is possible that the town was an active trading post on the shores of the lake that attracted wealthy merchants from further afield.
Jerusalem, fragment of cuneiform tablet found near City of David
A 2cm by 4cm fragment of a larger document was found in fill from the Ophel area, north of the City of David, in excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the HU. It is only a tiny fragment but the cuneiform writing is of a good quality and indicates that it was the work of an expert scribe working for a high-level administration.. The date assigned to the context is 14th century BCE and shows that it was contemporary with the El Amarna correspondence that was exchanged between the Egypt of Akhenaton and prince Abdu-Heba of Jerusalem. The piece has been identified by Prof. Wayne Horowitz of HU as being of high quality but there is insufficient of it to read its meaning, although a few words such as "you were", "to do" and "later" are mentioned. Nevertheless the fragment indicates the importance of Jerusalem at this early date, several hundred years before the advent of the United Monarchy. Mazar described this piece as one of the most important finds of her dig and thought that the appearance of one fragment might well lead to the discovery of further pieces of this document.
Tel Hazor in the north, another cuneiform fragment
Several fragments of cuneiform tablets were recently found in the palace area of Tel Hazor, during excavations directed by Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman of the HU. The language is Akkadian and the words "slave". "master" and "tooth" have been deciphered, which makes the subject similar to one treated in the Code of Hammurabi of the 18th century BCE from Elam and Mari in the East. The newly discovered fragments will be published, together with others found previously, by Prof.Wayne Horowitz of HU and they form the largest body of cuneiform documents so far discovered in Israel. The collection indicates that Hazor was an important trading, administration and cultural centre in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. Work on site continues with the excavation of a large monumental Bronze Age building where the team hopes to recover further fragments.