Jericho Cave/Quarry

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:

The same video is available via Scientific American. More photos have just been put up by National Geographic.

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).

Lod Mosaic Re-exposed

Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquities Authority

Much excitement over the past few days over the ‘re-exposure’ of the very nice 4th century Roman mosaic from Lod. It was originally discovered back in 1996, then recovered because funds weren’t available at the time for its preservation. Now, however, the Leon Levy Foundation and the Jerome Levy Foundation are partnering up with the IAA to preserve this very impressive bit of flooring. It is destined to be removed from the site and given ‘proper’ conservation treatment, whence it will spend some time, apparently, at the Met.

The IAA has a zip file of some high resolution images which you might want to check out; seems to be an awful lot of animals-eating-other-animals in this mosaic.

Parthenon Colours

This is interesting … we have reported in the past of various studies etc. which have demonstrated/recreated the colours which originally adorned ancient statuary and temples, but apparently no trace of paint has ever been found on the Parthenon before. Recently, however, a researcher at the British Museum — Giovanni Verri — has developed a technique to detect at least one colour (Egyptian Blue) on the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. An excerpt from the coverage in New Scientist:

Verri shines red light onto the marble, and any traces of paint that remain absorb the red light and emit infrared light. Viewed through an infrared camera, any parts of the marble that were once blue appear to glow.

Egyptian blue has shown up on the belt of Iris, Poseidon’s messenger goddess (see image), and as a wave pattern along the back of Helios, god of the sun, who is shown rising out of the sea at dawn. It also appears as stripes on the woven mantle draped over another goddess, Dione (see image).

If you look at the images accompanying the New Scientist article, you can see we’re definitely talking about ‘traces’. Of course, Dr. Verri has a paper on the technique, the abstract (and possibly full text) of which is available here.

CFP: ‘Mediterranean Identities: Formation and Transformation’, final CFP

seen on the Classicists list …

Final Call for Papers: deadline 30th July 2009

International Conference

Mediterranean Identities: Formation and Transformation

University of Leicester, Friday 26 – Sunday 28th March 2010

Recent studies of the Mediterranean have been dominated by the construction, reinforcement, representation and renegotiation of identities. As a departure point, this conference will address theoretical approaches to the formation and transformation of these identities throughout time and space. In particular, the use of comparative methods in the history of communal identities in the Mediterranean will highlight not only the course of their development but also will explain the extraordinary longevity of influential identities such as Greek and Jewish.

Questions to be addressed will include, but are certainly not limited to: 1) How are identities formed? 2) How are they represented? 3) How do communities and societies organize and express themselves spatially? How does their identity relate to that of surrounding spaces and surrounding communities? How permeable are the boundaries? 4) How is power distilled from heterogeneity? 5) To what extent is the formation of identities governed by economic considerations? 6) How do wars, revolutions and migrations affect collective identities? 7) How do identities develop and evolve over time? 8) To what extent can we identify a ‘Mediterranean identity’? 9) Can we recognize patterns of identity that cut across different Mediterranean communities and cultures? 10) How far did the elite centres of Greece and Rome inform the ways peripheral communities and later societies deployed and understood their populations, geography and environment? 11) How should we approach the archaeology of identity?

This conference is part of a larger project that aims to assess the value of ‘identity’ as a tool of intellectual enquiry in the disciplines of archaeology, classics, history, literature and art history. It sets out to explore identities in the full range of spheres – social, political, cultural, religious and economic – and their value as a tool of historiographical enquiry into ancient and modern societies in the Mediterranean world. Furthermore, it seeks to depart from the ‘traditional’ social constructionist interpretations, which focus only on the impact of culture. The challenge that remains is to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between society, religion, culture, economics and ethnicity in the formation of identities in the Mediterranean.

Diverse methodologies are encouraged, although proposals should indicate strong theoretical content and considerations that will appeal to a wide range of disciplines. Papers should be of twenty minutes’ length. Abstracts of approximately 200 words should be submitted by 30 July, 2009. Successful contributions may be considered for publication in a peer-reviewed conference volume.

Speakers already confirmed:

Clifford Ando (Chicago)

Hartwin Brandt (Bamberg)

Bill Cavanagh (Nottingham)

John K. Davies (Liverpool)

Lin Foxhall (Leicester)

Hans Joachim Gehrke (German Archaeological School)

Jonathan M. Hall (Chicago)

Anthea Harris (Birmingham)

Kerstin Hoffman (Researcher, TOPOI)

Anthony Kaldellis (Ohio State University)

Constantina Katsari (Leicester)

Naoise Mac Sweeney (Cambridge)

David Mattingly (Leicester)

Robin Osborne (Cambridge)

Nicholas Purcell (Oxford)

Jim Roy (Nottingham)

Katerina Zacharia (Loyola Marymount University)


Leicester: Dr Constantina Katsari ck82

Nottingham: Dr Mark Bradley Mark.Bradley AT

TOPOI Dr. Kerstin Hofmann kh AT

Official Email: MICHA AT

Mithras in the News

A couple of items of interest relating to the worship of Mithras. First, remains of a Mithraeum have been found in Iraq’s Duhok province. Here’s the incipit of a piece (ultimately from Bloomberg, it turns out) in St. Louis Today:

A temple built by followers of Mithraism, a mystery cult that flourished throughout the Roman Empire from the second to third centuries A.D., has been discovered in Iraq’s northern Duhok province.

The temple, which consists of three parts, lies in the Badri Mountains in eastern Duhok, and includes a place for prayer facing the sun, the province’s antiquities director, Hassan Ahmed Qassim, said in a statement to the website of President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

“This discovery is important in helping to understand and learn the region’s history, and the important stages it passed through,” Qassim was quoted by Aswat al-Iraq newspaper as telling a news conference at Duhok University.

The other big news regarding Mithras was the recovery, by Italian police, of a very impressive relief depicting the divinity. The incipit of the AdnKronos coverage:

An 2000-year-old marble monument featuring the pagan god Mithras has been found outside Rome by Italian police who believe it was to have been illegally sold abroad. The large marble bas-relief which dates from the 2nd century AD was recovered by authorities in a house north of the capital, according to a report in the Italian daily, Il Messaggero.

Police said the monument was to be sold to China or Japan and transported via the United Arab Emirates.

The relief, made of white Carrara marble and weighing 1,500 kilogrammes, comes from Vejo – a former Etruscan city that flourished in the 5th century BC – and shows the god Mithras slaying a bull.

Agents from the Italian tax police or Guardia di Finanza said the piece was recovered from an old house in the Roman countryside.

According to a statement by Italian tax police, the operation “allowed us to also discover an archaeological site previously unknown to authorities.”

Police said the tomb robbers were four Italians who planned to ship the piece to the UAE and then sell it on the Chinese or Japanese black market.

Oddly enough, the only decent photo of the relief is in a Finnish newspaper:

from Suomen Kuvalehti
from Suomen Kuvalehti