List of Discoveries
(1999 - 2003)
by Hillel Geva
Jerusalem – The Tomb of a Chained Anchorite
On a hill near the Jerusalem – Bethlehem road, a
subterranean complex of cells dating to the Byzantine period, was uncovered
in 1991. It was composed of a stepped entryway leading to an antechamber
lined with masonry and containing eight rectangular niches, probably used
for storing personal effects and books. The innermost cell (1.75 x 0.85m,
1.70 m. high) was also partly lined with masonry and had small niches with
a ceramic bowl in each; a lamp-holder was suspended from the ceiling.
On the floor lay the skeleton of a 24-26 year-old
ascetic; it was on its side, the legs bent sideways, and an iron chain
wound four times around the pelvis and back and over the shoulders. The
chain, with a total length of six meters, weighs six kilograms and is made
of 50 mm.-long links.
The skeleton is that of a Christian recluse who chose to
live as an anchorite in this subterranean cell. The wearing of heavy chains
was an accepted way of mortifying the flesh, to prevent impure thoughts and
ensure celibacy. The anchorites secluded habitation became his burial
chamber and a round memorial structure, 9.4 m. in diameter, was later
erected above it.
A mass grave was discovered in the remains of the Jewish
city of Yodfat in the Galilee. Bones of at least 30 individuals were found
in a water cistern, in which they had been deposited. The find provides
vivid evidence of Josephus Flavius eye-witness account of the bloody
battle that took place there in 67 CE, during the Jewish Revolt. He
reported that at the end of the fighting the Jewish survivors committed
suicide and that he himself surrendered to the Romans.
Tiberias – A Hoard of Metal
Three large pottery jars of the Fatimid period (10th -
11th century) were uncovered in 1998 during excavations at the southern end
of ancient Tiberias. The jars, hidden under the floor of a building,
contained some 500 artifacts of bronze and copper, in an excellent state of
preservation: candlesticks, lampstands, bowls, cups, ewers, bottles, small
boxes, incense burners, oil lamps, bells and small sculpted birds and
snakes. The objects were made in a variety of techniques of casting and
hammering and some have intricate punched and engraved decorations and
This is the largest assemblage of metal artifacts from
the Fatimid period found to date in Israel. Many coins with Christian
symbols, from this period, were also found. This may indicate that the
artifacts belonged to a Christian merchant or metal-smith. Why the treasure
was hidden is not known, but it was probably related to the conquest of
Tiberias by the Crusaders in 1099.
Pekiin: A Karstic Cave
A karstic cave near Pekiin in the Galilee was used for burials in the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE). The cave contains a large number of clay ossuaries (chests for storing human bones) with painted decorations, several of them representing human faces. They attest to a highly artistic society and provide evidence of the burial customs and the spiritual life of the Chalcolithic people.
Maresha: A Hellenistic Measuring Table
A unique Hellenistic measuring table, carved from a soft limestone block, was found in the remains of a second century shop. The tables front is decorated with lions heads and four funnels of unequal size are carved into its top; the capacity of each funnel is inscribed in Greek around the rim. A Greek inscription above the lions heads reads: Year 170 (of the Seleucid era = 143 BCE), agoranomoi (market inspectors), Antipatros son of [...]doros and Aristodomos son of Ariston[...]
The table was probably part of the official equipment used by inspectors to check the measuring tools for liquids, such as wine and oil, of the merchants of Maresha.
Kastra: An Ancient Bread Seal
A bread seal from the Late Roman-Byzantine period was found in excavations at Kastra. It bears the word Seventh and was probably used in the Shmitta (sabbatical) year. According to Halacha (Jewish religious law) the fields of the Land of Israel have to lie fallow every seventh year, and crops have to be specially handled.
An Early Islamic Fortress at
The fortress is located on the shoreline, some 30
km. south of Tel
Aviv. It was excavated between the years 1997-1999.
The rectangular fortress (60x40 m.) is built of well-dressed
kurkar stones bonded with mortar. The walls, preserved to a height of
8 m., are 2 m. thick and reinforced on the outside by a series of piers,
3-4 m. apart. Eight towers protect the fortress: the western towers,
facing the sea, are square; the eastern towers are round. Two pairs
of semi-circular towers guard the two gates leading into the citadel.
Vaulted rooms were built aong the walls of the central
courtyard. A small bathhouse, consisting of a well, two bathtubs and
a furnace for heating the water, is located in the northern part of
the courtyard. In its center stood a small mosque (13x3 m.), its mihrab
(prayer niche) facing Mecca.
This fortress was built during the Umayyad period (late 7th - early 8th century) to protect the southern coastline
against marauders from the sea. It was in use until the Crusader
Church of John the Baptist
In July 1999, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that a sixth century Byzantine church dedicated to John the Baptist was discovered at the Tel a-Shakef dig in the Gaza Strip.
The Church, measuring 13x25 meters in area, is covered in marble floor tiles and multi-colored mosaics of geometric shapes and flora motifs, as well as three Greek inscriptions.
The site is located at a military installation in the northwest edge of the Gaza Strip, in an area under Israeli military and civilian control. The excavation is being conducted by the archeology officer for Judea and Samaria and the base commander, with the aid of the Employment Service as part of a public works project for the unemployed.
Two Engraved Bronze Plaques
from Tel Dan
Fragments of two engraved bronze plaques, dated to
the 9th century BCE, were recently
found at Tel Dan in northern Israel. The fragments, each about
9 cm. in diameter, were discovered in a well-planned building of several
rooms situated in a large paved courtyard outside the city walls of
biblical Dan. The building was probably part of a hutzot, a market place
outside the city walls; the term hutzot (Heb. lit. "outsides")
appears several times in the Bible,
e.g. I Kings 20:34.
On the right side of one plaque is a scene depicting
a human figure (king?) with upraised arms, standing behind a table covered
with cloth; on the left is a throne, probably of a god or goddess, and
at top center is the royal symbol of the winged sun-disk. A bull is
depicted in the lower part of the second plaque, with a human figure
with outstretched arms standing on it; wings appear to spread from this
figure - probably the depiction of a goddess; to the left stands another
human figure with outstretched arms.
Many parallels of such scenes are known from Neo-Hittite
art, which was widespread in the Aramean Kingdoms (northern Syria today) during this period.
Sources: Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Israel Information Center, Jerusalem 2003 No. 8
Hillel Geva studied archeology
at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, participated in excavations in
the Jewish Quarter and the Citadel in Jerusalem, and is author of the
entry "Jerusalem" in the New Encyclopedia of Archeological
Excavations in the Holy Land and editor of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.