This one’s obviously in its very early stages, but we’ll mention it and see where it goes … tip o’ the pileus to Jim West (Have The Remains of Jews Killed by the Romans in Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Been Discovered?) who alerts us to Antonio Lombatti’s post (Scheletri del massacro del Monte del Tempio?) pointing to this item in Israel Hayom:
Remains of thousands of Jews massacred by the Romans on the Temple Mount at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple may have been uncovered in Jerusalem, according to a veteran archaeological journalist.
During a conference on Thursday at Megalim – the City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies, journalist Benny Liss screened a movie recorded a few years ago that clearly shows thousands of skeletons and human bones in what appears to be a mass grave.
Liss, veteran archaeological correspondent for Israel’s Channel 1, told the amazed audience that the film had been shot in a spacious, underground cavern in the area of the Mercy Gate, near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, but just outside it. Liss raised the possibility that the skeletons were the remains of 6,000 Jews, mostly women and children, killed on the Temple Mount when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, as described in the writings of Flavius Josephus, who witnessed the destruction.
The movie shows a group of people accessing the cavern with construction tools. Liss goes in first, followed by a lighting technician and cameraman. The three first pass through a narrow passage and then enter the cave with the skeletal remains. Liss says he tried to work out the size of the pile of remains by putting his hand in as far as he could, but he could not reach the bottom. The movie shows Liss crumbling some of the carbonized materials near the skeletons. As soon as Liss left the cave, Antiquities Authority staff resealed the cave, he says.
During the lecture, Liss also cites historical sources that show that in the area of the Old City where the Muslim cemetery now stands, there was once a Jewish neighborhood and cemetery, which was moved to the Valley of Josaphat. He basis his theory that the skeletons are the remains of the people killed on the Temple Mount on the site of the mass grave, the soot in the cave and the written history.
“The Romans stayed on the Temple Mount for a month after the destruction of the temple until going on to conquer the upper city [today's Jewish Quarter],” says Liss. “They had to get rid of the thousands of decomposing bodies and the most obvious place to do this would have been the natural caves on the upper slope of the mount, around Mercy Gate.”
The veteran journalist emphasized that this was just a theory. “Now, after publishing this information, the experts should go into the field and examine what we found back then, evaluate it and publish their own findings,” he says.
Liss does not believe that the remains are Christian since on the lower levels of the mount he has documented systematic Christian burials where crosses, sandals and buckles clearly attest to the religion of the dead. The same cannot be said about the burial site closer to the Mercy Gate.
Asked why he waited until now to release his findings, Liss said that he was worried that they would ignite the situation and wanted to wait for a better time.
A host of senior archaeologists approached by Israel Hayom said that photographs were not enough to determine the history of the cave and that samples need to be taken from the site and dated.
Professor Dan Bahat, a former Jerusalem District archaeologist, said the bones could be Jewish, but also just as easily be Christian or Muslim. Prominent archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai said that Muslim mass graves had been found in the area in the past, though he does not discount other possibilities. Archaeologist Dr. Ayelet Mazar said that such a finding was unprecedented, but refused to come to any conclusions without further investigations being carried out.
The chances of the site being reopened are very slim as it is located in a particularly sensitive area, where the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf keeps a close watch and interprets every movement by Jews or Israeli authorities on the mount.
The Antiquities Authority said in response that it was unaware of the findings presented in Liss’ movie, and it would be happy to receive the materials. One official told Israel Hayom that he was aware of unsubstantiated reports of a cave with a large amount of human remains in the area, but because of the extreme sensitivity of the location and its close proximity to the Muslim cemetery, the cave had never been explored.
The article includes a grainy photo from the movie … kind of odd how Liss claims the cave was sealed by IAA people while the IAA denies any knowledge what was inside; seems unlikely that they’d stand around outside while someone else was poking around inside. We’ll do some poking around of our own on this …
UPDATE 1 (the next day): it also strikes me as suspicious that Arutz Sheva doesn’t appear to have been at this news conference, but consciously cites the above article second hand: Remains of Jews Massacred on Temple Mount Found?
This appears to be the big news of the past few days, and all the coverage seems to stem from the MFA coverage, so ecce:
In archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at the foot of Akko’s southern seawall, installations were exposed that belong to a harbor that was operating in the city already in the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE) and was the most important port in Israel at that time.
The finds were discovered during the course of archaeological excavations being carried out as part of the seawall conservation project undertaken by the Old Akko Development Company and underwritten by the Israel Lands Administration.
The first evidence indicating the possible existence of this quay was in 2009 when a section of pavement was discovered comprised of large kurkar flagstones dressed in a technique reminiscent of the Phoenician style that is characteristic of installations found in a marine environment. This pavement, which was discovered underwater, raised many questions amongst archaeologists. Besides the theory that this is a quay, some suggested this was the floor of a large building.
According to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Archaeology Unit , “Among the finds we’ve discovered now are large mooring stones that were incorporated in the quay and were used to secure sailing vessels that anchored in the harbor c. 2,300 years ago. This unique and important find finally provides an unequivocal answer to the question of whether we are dealing with port installations or the floor of a building. In addition, we exposed collapse comprised of large dressed stones that apparently belonged to large buildings or installations, which was spread of a distance of dozens of meters. What emerges from these finds is a clear picture of systematic and deliberate destruction of the port facilities that occurred in antiquity”. Sharvit adds, “Recently a find was uncovered that suggests we are excavating part of the military port of Akko. We are talking about an impressive section of stone pavement c. 8 meters long by c. 5 meters wide that was partially exposed. The floor is delimited on both sides by two impressive stone walls that are also built in the Phoenician manner. It seems that the floor between the walls slopes slightly toward the south, and there was a small amount of stone collapse in its center. Presumably this is a slipway, an installation that was used for lifting boats onto the shore, probably warships in this case”. According to Sharvit, “Only further archaeological excavations will corroborate or invalidate this theory”.
The bottom of the ancient harbor was exposed at the foot of the installations. There the mooring stones were found as well as thousands of fragments of pottery vessels, among which are dozens of intact vessels and metallic objects. The preliminary identification of the pottery vessels indicates that many of them come from islands in the Aegean Sea, including Knidos, Rhodes, Kos and others, as well as other port cities located along the Mediterranean coast.
These finds constitute solid archaeological evidence regarding the location of the Hellenistic harbor and perhaps the military port. According to Sharvit, “It should be understood that until these excavations the location of this important harbor was not clear. Remains of it were found at the base of the Tower of Flies and in the region of the new marina in excavations conducted in the early 1980s by the late Dr. Elisha Linder and the late Professor Avner Raban. But now, for the first time, parts of the harbor are being discovered that are adjacent to the ancient shoreline and the Hellenistic city. Unfortunately, parts of the quay continue beneath the Ottoman city wall – parts that we will probably not be able to excavate in the future.
Nevertheless, in those sections of the harbor that extend in the direction of the sea and the modern harbor the excavation will continue in an attempt to learn about the extent of the ancient harbor, and to try and clarify if there is a connection between the destruction in the harbor and the destruction wrought by Ptolemy in 312 BCE, the destruction that was caused by the Hasmonean uprising in 167 BCE or by some other event.
- via: Akko’s ancient harbor exposed (MFA)
All the coverage includes the same (it seems) three photos which are kind of underwhelming, given the obvious importance of this find. For the coverage from 2009, see: Hellenistic Harbour Remains from Ptolemais/Akko/Acre (ours) or A Pier from the Hellenistic Period was Discovered in Akko (the full IAA coverage mentioned there; it has moved as Joseph Lauer predicted).
- Important Hellenistic harbor found in Acre (JPost)
- 2,300 year old port discovered in Akko (Ynet)
- Ancient Hellenistic Harbor Found in Israel (Discovery)
Here’s the IAA press release:
A Spectacular 2,000 Year Old Gold and Silver Hoard was Uncovered in an Archaeological Excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority Conducted in the Qiryat Gat Region
The treasure trove comprising c. 140 gold and silver coins together with gold jewelry was probably hidden by a wealthy lady at a time of impending danger during the Bar Kokhba Revolt
A rich and extraordinary hoard that includes jewelry and silver and gold coins from the Roman period was recently exposed in a salvage excavation in the vicinity of Qiryat Gat. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was funded by Y. S. Gat Ltd., the Economic Development Corporation for the Management of the Qiryat Gat Industrial Park.
The rooms of a building dating to the Roman and Byzantine period were exposed during the course of the excavation. A pit that was dug in the earth and refilled was discerned in the building’s courtyard. To the archaeologist’s surprise, a spectacular treasure trove of exquisite quality was discovered in the pit wrapped in a cloth fabric, of which only several pieces remained on the artifacts.
According to archaeologist, Emil Aladjem, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The magnificent hoard includes gold jewelry, among them an earring crafted by a jeweler in the shape of a flower and a ring with a precious stone on which there is a seal of a winged-goddess, two sticks of silver that were probably kohl sticks, as well as some 140 gold and silver coins. The coins that were discovered date to the reigns of the Roman emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire from 54-117 CE. The coins are adorned with the images of the emperors and on their reverse are cultic portrayals of the emperor, symbols of the brotherhood of warriors and mythological gods such as Jupiter seated on a throne or Jupiter grasping a lightning bolt in his hand”.
Saʽar Ganor, District Archaeologist of Ashkelon and the Western Negev for the Israel Antiquities Authority, adds “the composition of the numismatic artifacts and their quality are consistent with treasure troves that were previously attributed to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. During the uprising, between 132-135 CE, the Jews under Roman rule would re-strike coins of the emperor Trajan with symbols of the revolt. This hoard includes silver and gold coins of different denominations, most of which date to the reign of the emperor Trajan. This is probably an emergency cache that was concealed at the time of impending danger by a wealthy woman who wrapped her jewelry and money in a cloth and hid them deep in the ground prior to or during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It is now clear that the owner of the hoard never returned to claim it.
The treasure trove was removed from the field and transferred for treatment to the laboratories of the Artifacts Treatment Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem.
- via: A Spectacular 2,000 Year Old Gold and Silver Hoard was Uncovered in an Archaeological Excavation (IAA)
Here’s some photos of the hoard via the IAA
I can’t see any evidence of any Trajanic restrikes in the artfully arranged photos, alas (although there is a really nice portrait of Trajan in there, and a Jupiter Custos, which probably has the aforementioned portrait of Nero on the other side) nor do I see any specifically Bar Kochba coins. Until we do have something a bit more specific along those lines, I suspect we’re tying this hoard to Bar Kochba for press purposes …
- Archeologists uncover 2,000-year-old coins, jewelry (JPost)
- Bar-Kochba Era Treasure Hoard Discovered (Arutz Sheva)
Very interesting item in the Times of Israel:
We do not know the name of the Roman war veteran who owned this bronze certificate, which marked his discharge from active service 1,922 years ago. His name was engraved on the tablet when it was issued in Rome, but that part is missing.
We do know that he was discharged in 90 CE and that he served in one of the empire’s combat units stationed in the unruly province of Judea. Because a Roman soldier served 25 years before being released, we can deduce that this anonymous fighter was in active service as a younger man during one of the key events in Jewish history: Rome’s suppression of the Jewish revolt and destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. He might have been a participant.
The certificate, currently displayed along with other Roman military artifacts at the Israel Museum, was a copy given to the soldier — the original remained the property of the government and would have been displayed in Rome, on the Capitoline Hill or in the Forum. It was issued, the text informs us, in the name of the emperor Domitian, identified here as “Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus, son of the deified Vespasian, Pontifex Maximus.”
The inscription also identifies the commander of Rome’s forces in Judea at the time, an imperial administrator named Titus Pomponius Bassus, who was known to scholars from other records. Bassus spent several years as a governor in Anatolia, and later ran a government program in southern Italy that offered incentives to encourage childbirth, according to a 2003 article in the museum’s journal, Studies in Archaeology, which first published details of the certificate after its acquisition. But this tablet was the first indication that Bassus had ever been governor of Judea.
These details are important to historians, but the most important detail for the anonymous soldier himself would have been the end of the inscription, the part that said he had been “honorably discharged after 25 years of military service” and officially granted him civitas – Roman citizenship.
Troops in the Roman auxiliaries, like our soldier, were from conquered provinces and were not citizens of Rome, unlike members of the empire’s crack detachments, the legions. Citizenship was the Empire’s reward for the successful completion of a quarter-century of military campaigns, interspersed with periods of grueling fortification and construction work: It was a privilege he could pass on to his children, an upgrade in his social status and a powerful incentive to join the military in the first place.
Many of our soldier’s comrades, we can assume, did not live to receive the honor.
The certificate lists nine Roman units that were in Judea the year it was issued. We don’t know which he belonged to, but one of them, the Ala Veterana Gaetulorum, is known to have participated in crushing the Jewish revolt two decades before. Forty years later, the province’s Roman garrison would be engaged in suppressing yet another Jewish revolt, this one led by Simon Bar Kochba. On that occasion, too, the Jews would prove no match for Rome.
Physical remains of the Roman military presence in the land of Israel all those years ago still crop up with some frequency. Last year, for example, a complete legionnaire’s sword and sheath were found in a Roman-era sewer underneath Jerusalem. Most of these artifacts can be traced to the unit that was long the empire’s dominant local force — the famed Tenth Legion, which arrived to suppress the first revolt and stayed for the better part of three centuries. Roof tiles, bricks, belt buckles and other paraphernalia have been found bearing the legion’s name — Legio X Fretensis, or the Tenth Legion of the Sea Strait — and its trademark symbols, a wild boar and a warship.
Perhaps the most evocative of these discoveries is a pay slip belonging to one Tenth Legion man, a soldier from Beirut named Gaius Messius. The parchment fragment was found at Masada during excavations there; it was the troops of Gaius’s legion who besieged and stormed the desert fortress that was the Jews’ last stronghold after the fall of Jerusalem. The assault was in 73 CE, and the pay slip dates to around that time.
Gaius’s fate is unknown. All that history remembers of him is how much he made that year: 50 denarii.
Of that, according to the slip, most was deducted for supplies, including 16 denarii for barley, five for boots, two for leather straps and seven for a linen tunic.
The original has a photo of the diploma, but if the article disappears, there’s a very nice image at the Google Art Project. There’s a rather brief description and photo available here as well. The Roman Army Talk folks had a brief discussion of this item a while back, which includes some bibliography. The Roman Legion folks have an excellent section on military diplomata in general …
Brief item from the Jerusalem Post:
Archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered a 1,800-year-old bathing pool in Jerusalem built by soldiers from the Tenth Roman Legion, the Legion that destroyed the Temple a few years before, reported Israel Radio on Monday.
Remains of the pool were discovered during excavations in the Jewish Quarter where a ritual bath is expected to be built.
Several wash basins were found in the pool, and surrounding it were hundreds of clay tiles that had imprints of the Roman Legion seal.
Site excavation director, Dr. Ofer Sion, told Israel Radio that the discovery shows that the Roman city established after the destruction of Jerusalem was bigger than what has been believed.
For those of you wondering about the Tenth Roman legion (as I was), this would have been the Legio X Fretensis …
Not sure why I can’t find this up at the IAA site yet, so the Ha’aretz coverage seems to be the best right now:
Israeli archeologists unveiled a 2,000 year old semi-precious cameo bearing the image of Cupid on Monday, which the Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) said was among several items located in the City of David archeological area in Jerusalem’s Old City in the last 12 months.
The cameo, which will be displayed at the 11th Annual City of David Archaeology Conference scheduled to take place later this week, is 1 cm in length and 0.7 cm in width, and was discovered in the Givati Parking Lot Excavation, a part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park.
The excavation, according to an IAA statement, has been conducted by the organization under the direction of Dr. Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets and funded by the Ir David Foundation.
Dr. Doron Ben Ami, of the IAA, said that the cameo was “made from two layers of semi-precious onyx stone. The upper layer, into which the image of cupid is engraved is a striking blue color which contrasts with the dark brown background color of the lower layer.”
“The brown layer is the side of the cameo which would have been inserted into the round metal setting of a piece of jewelry, apparently an earring,” Ben Ami said, adding that the “cupid’s left hand is resting on an upside-down torch which symbolizes the cessation of life.”
According to Dr. Ben Ami, the “discovery, together with other important finds that we uncovered from this unusual large Roman structure at the City of David, contribute significantly to our understanding of the nature of Jerusalem’s Roman Period.””
The IAA statement added that the inlaid stone was of the “Eros in mourning” type, one of a group of visual motifs linked with the imagery of mourning practices.
Ha’aretz includes an excellent photo:
If you want to see a pile of cameos — many involving Eros/Cupid in various activities (not mourning, as far as I can tell), check this page out (scroll to the bottom) …
- 2,000 year-old intact carving of Cupid found in Jerusalem | JPost
- Israel finds 2000 year old Cupid | Times
A unique archaeological exhibition has opened in Caesarea harbor: for the first time the general public can see an extraordinary 1,700 year old sarcophagus cover that is one of the most impressive ever discovered in Caesarea.
The cover, which weighs more than 4 tons, is decorated with snake-haired medusa heads and joyful and sad-faced masks. These were taken from the world of the ancient theater where two kinds of plays were customarily presented: comedy and tragedy. The meaning of the Greek word medusa is “guard or sentry”; whoever looked directly at the mythological medusa would be turned to stone immediately. In antiquity they used to produce medusa reliefs on, among other things, tombs and various shields, in the hope that this would ward off the threat.
Interment in large stone coffins (sarcophagi) was widespread in the Mediterranean basin in the second to fifth centuries CE. This funerary custom was first practiced among pagans and was later also adopted by Jews, Christians and Samaritans. The word sarcophagus is Greek in origin, meaning “flesh-eating”. The sarcophagus has two parts: a rectangular chest-like receptacle in which the deceased was placed and a lid. The sarcophagi were interred inside burial structures (mausoleum; pl. mausolea) or in rock-hewn burial caves. The residents of ancient Caesarea were buried in cemeteries that were located in regions outside the built-up area of the city.
The impressive sarcophagus cover, which was probably used in the burial of one of Caesarea’s wealthiest denizens in the Roman period, is one of an assortment of unique stone items that were exposed in archaeological excavations and by other means in Caesarea. The items constitute living and tangible evidence of the lives of the rich in Caesarea, at a time when the city was a vibrant Roman provincial capital.
More: Medusas in Caesarea Harbor. (likely won’t last long; some photos in a zip file available there too)
Warning: This article contains much that is uncertain and even speculative. You must therefore be over 18 to continue reading. On the other hand, the uncertainties and speculations are clearly marked as such. Moreover, the background of the story is unquestionably true.
This is the true part.
Each Jewish male 20 years or older was Biblically required to contribute a half shekel each year to the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) (see Exodus 30:11–16). In Temple times this half-shekel tax was used for upkeep of the Temple. After the Roman legions destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E., the emperor Vespasian imposed the so-called Fiscus Judaicus as a kind of replacement tax, to be used for the upkeep of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. Unlike the half-shekel tax, which was imposed only on adult males, the two-denarius Fiscus Judaicus was imposed on every Jew—male and female, young and old, in the Land of Israel and elsewhere.
The spectacular finds continue to pour in! This time, it’s the discovery of what should probably be called an intaglio depicting Alexander the Great … from Tel Dor! Here’s the Arutz Sheva coverage:
Excavations in Tel Dor have turned up a rare and unexpected work of Hellenistic art: a precious stone bearing the miniature carved likeness of Alexander the Great. Archaeologists are calling it an important find, indicating the great skill of the artist.
The Tel Dor dig, under the guidance and direction of Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of Haifa University and Dr. Ilan Sharon of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, has just ended its summer excavation season. For more than 30 years, scientists have been excavating in Tel Dor, identified as the site of the Biblical town of Dor. The town’s location, on Israel’s Mediterranean Sea coast some 30 kilometers south of Haifa, made it an important international port in ancient times.
“Despite the tiny proportions – the length of the gemstone (gemma) is less than a centimeter and its width less than half a centimeter – the artist was able to carve the image of Alexander of Macedon with all of his features,” Dr. Gilboa said. “The king appears as young and energetic, with a sharp chin and straight nose, and with long, curly hair held in a crown.”
According to the archaeologists involved in the Tel Dor excavations, the discovery of the miniature Alexander gemstone carving in Israel is fairly surprising. The Land of Israel was not, for the Greek Empire, a central or major holding.
“It has been accepted to assume that first-rate artists – and whoever carved the image of Alexander in this gemstone was certainly one of them – were primarily active under the patronage of the large royal courts in Greece itself or in major capitals,” the scientists explained. “It turns out that local elites in secondary centers such as Dor could allow themselves – and knew to appreciate – superior artwork.”
Additionally, the new find is important for the study of the historical Alexander the Great. The gemstone was found in the remains of a large public building from the Hellenistic period in the southern area of the tel. Unlike most of the portraits of Alexander in museums throughout the world, with unknown origins, the Tel Dor carving was found and classified within its archaeological context. The face was definitively identified as that of Alexander the Great by Dr. Jessica Nitschke of Georgetown University and Professor Andrew Stewart of UC Berkeley.
Historically, Alexander himself passed through Dor in 332 BCE, during his voyage to Egypt. It appears that the city fell to him without resistance. Since that time until its conquest by the Hasmonean Jewish King Alexander Yannai around 100 BCE, Dor served as a stronghold of non-Jewish Hellenists in the Land of Israel.
Here’s the best photo of the find (tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Lauer, who passed on a number of Hebrew-language items):
The identification of Alexander seems reasonable (based on the nose and chin) and the detail is amazing for the size of the object. It’s interesting that it seems to depict a pre-Zeus Ammon Alexander …
As I work through the last of the end-of-school backlog, the quarry thing (next item) reminded me of this very interesting (especially as regards the dating) papyrus which border police in Israel seized about a month ago. An excerpt from the IAA press release:
The document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of the writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins. The document itself is written on papyrus. The papyrus is incomplete and was in all likelihood rolled up. It is apparent that pieces of it crumbled mainly along its bottom part. The holes along the left part of the document probably attest to the damage that was caused to it over time. The document measures 15 x 15 centimeters.
Fifteen lines of Hebrew text, written from right to left and one below the other, can be discerned in the document. In the upper line of the text one can clearly read the sentence “Year 4 to the destruction of Israel”. This is likely to be the year 74 CE – in the event the author of the document is referring to the year when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Great Revolt. Another possibility is the year 139 CE – in the event the author is referring to the time when the rural settlement in Judah was devastated at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
The name of a woman, “Miriam Barat Ya‘aqov”, is also legible in the document followed by a name that is likely to be that of the settlement where she resided: Misalev. This is probably the settlement Salabim. The name Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov is a common name in the Second Temple period. Also mentioned in the document are the names of other people and families, the names of a number of ancient settlements from the Second Temple period and legal wording which deals with the property of a widow and her relinquishment of it.
According to Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Theoretically, based on the epigraphic style, the material the document is written on, the state of preservation and the text, which includes a historic date that can be deciphered, we are dealing with a document that appears to be ancient as defined by the Antiquities Law. Since this object was not discovered in a proper archaeological excavation, it still must undergo laboratory analyses in order to negate the possibility it is a modern forgery”. Ganor adds, “The document is very important from the standpoint of historical and national research. Until now almost no historic scrolls or documents from this period have been discovered in proper archaeological excavations. A historic document that can be definitely dated based on a reference to a historical event such as the ‘destruction of Israel’ has never been discovered. Much can be learned from this document about the names of people, their surnames names and the locations of settlements in Israel during this period. From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time – until the creation of the State of Israel”.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is curious how the legal niceties compare with those seen in the Babatha archive.
From an IAA press release:
An ancient quarry, c. 1 dunam in area and dating to the end of the Second Temple period (c. 2,030 years old), was uncovered in excavations being conducted on Shmuel HaNavi Street in Jerusalem, under the direction of Dr. Ofer Sion and Yehuda Rapuano of the Israel Antiquities Authority, prior to the construction of residential buildings.
Dr. Ofer Sion, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, believes, “The immense size of the stones (maximum dimensions: length 3 m, width 2 m, height 2 m) indicates it was highly likely that the large stones that were quarried at the site were destined for use in the construction of Herod’s magnificent projects in Jerusalem, including the Temple walls. It seems that a vast number of workers labored in the quarry where various size stones were produced: first they quarried small stones and when the bedrock surface was made level they hewed the large stones. The stones were quarried by creating wide detachment channels that were marked by means of a chisel which weighed c. 2.5 kilograms. After the channels were formed the stones were severed from the bedrock using hammers and chisels”.
“We know from historical sources that in order to build the Temple and other projects which Herod constructed, such as his palace, hundreds of thousands of various size stones were required – most of them weighing between two and five tons each”, said Dr. Sion. “The dimensions of the stones that were produced in the quarry that was revealed are suitable for the Temple walls. The large section that was exposed is actually a small part of an enormous series of quarries that was spread across the entire slope – from the Musrara Quarter to the Sanhedria Quarter. The massive quarrying effort, on the order of hundreds of thousands of stones, lowered the topography of Jerusalem in the vicinity of the Old City. Today, with the exposure of this quarry, the intensity of the building projects as described in the historical sources can be proven: Flavius Josephus wrote that before Herod built the Temple he prepared the infrastructure for it: the quarrying of the Temple’s stones lasted eight whole years. The Temple itself was built in a relatively short period of time of two years. With the exposure of the quarries in Sanhedria and Ramat Shlomo, it is clear that Herod began quarrying closest to the Temple and worked away from it: first he exploited the stone on the nearby ridges and subsequently he moved on to quarry in more distant regions”.
According to Dr. Sion, “In those days the world of hi-tech focused on quarrying, removing and transporting stones. Historical sources record that Herod trained more than 10,000 people to be involved in this work: they prepared suitable transportation routes and then moved the huge stones in a variety of ways – on rolling wooden fixtures that were drawn by camels, in pieces on carriages, etc.
Among the artifacts that were discovered in the excavation on Shmuel HaNaiv Street were metal plates (referred to in the Talmud as ‘cheeks’) that were used as fulcrums to severe the stones from the bedrock, and coins and pottery sherds that date to the end of the Second Temple period (the first century BCE).
- A Large Stone Quarry from the End of the Second Temple Period was Exposed (IAA … will likely change urls)
- Second Temple Stone Quarry Discovered (Arutz Sheva)
Despite the piles of news coverage of this one, it probably needs to be pointed out that we’re still in the early days of research. A vary large underground man-made cave — originally a quarry, apparently — has been found near Jericho. Coverage from PhysOrg seems to be the best on this one, inter alia:
The enormous and striking cave covers an area of approximately 1 acre: it is some 100 meters long and about 40 meters wide. The cave is located 4 km north of Jericho. The cave, which is the largest excavated by man to be discovered in Israel, was exposed in the course of an archaeological survey that the University of Haifa has been carrying out since 1978.
As with other discoveries in the past, this exposure is shrouded in mystery. “When we arrived at the opening of the cave, two Bedouins approached and told us not to go in as the cave is bewitched and inhabited by wolves and hyenas,” Prof. Zertal relates. Upon entering, accompanied by his colleagues, he was surprised to find an impressive architectonic underground structure supported by 22 giant pillars. They discovered 31 cross markings on the pillars, an engraving resembling the zodiac symbol, Roman letters and an etching that looks like the Roman Legion’s pennant. The team also discovered recesses in the pillars, which would have been used for oil lamps, and holes to which animals that were hauling quarried stones out of the cave could have been tied.
The cave’s ceiling is some 3 meters high, but was originally probably about 4 meters high. According to Prof. Zertal, ceramics that were found and the engravings on the pillars date the cave to around 1-600 AD. “The cave’s primary use had been as a quarry, which functioned for about 400-500 years. But other findings definitely indicate that the place was also used for other purposes, such as a monastery and possibly as a hiding place,” Prof. Zertal explains.
The main question that arose upon discovering the cave was why a quarry was dug underground in the first place. “All of the quarries that we know are above ground. Digging down under the surface requires extreme efforts in hauling the heavy rocks up to the surface, and in this case the quarrying was immense. The question is, why?” For a possible answer to this mystery, Prof. Zertal points to the famous Madaba map. This is a Byzantine mosaic map that was found in Jordan and is the most ancient map of the Land of Israel. Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley are depicted with precision on the map, and a site called Galgala is depicted next to a Greek inscription that reads “Dodekaliton”, which translates as “Twelve Stones.” This place is marked at a distance from Jericho that matches this cave’s distance from the city. According to the map, there is a church next to Dodekaliton; there are two ancient churches located nearby the newly discovered cave. According to Prof. Zertal, until now it has been hypothesized that the meaning of “Twelve Stones” related to the biblical verses that describe the twelve stones that the Children of Israel place in Gilgal. However, it could be that the reference is a description of the quarry that was dug where the Byzantines identified the Gilgal. “During the Roman era, it was customary to construct temples of stones that were brought from holy places, and which were therefore also more valuable stones. If our assumption is correct, then the Byzantine identification of the place as the biblical Gilgal afforded the site its necessary reverence and that is also why they would have dug an underground quarry there,” Prof. Zertal concludes. “But” he adds, “much more research is needed.”
Here’s a useful little video report from NTDTV:
I can’t find an image of the ‘Roman Legion flag’ mentioned by Dr. Zertal in the video report (or perhaps I’m missing it).
- Underground cave dating from the year 1 A.D. exposed in Jordan Valley (PhysOrg)
- Underground cave dating from the year 1 A.D. exposed in Jordan Valley (EurekAlert)
- Underground Cave Dating From The Year 1 A.D. Exposed In Jordan Valley (Science Daily)
- Huge Underground Chamber Found–Early Christian Refuge? (National Geographic)
- PHOTOS: “Glorious” Ancient Chamber Found in Israel(National Geographic)
- Discovery of giant underground quarry in Jordan Valley may rock archaeological thinking (Ha’aretz)