I was raised on country acreage and always liked to play in the dirt so it’s not surprising that as an adult I am interested in archeology particularly since there is so much to discover here in Israel. It seems here in Israel that under each rock, pile of dirt, or excavation of new construction there is exciting new finds. Did you ever wonder how man began, or what our forefathers did? A people that is not aware of its past, has a meager present and unclear future. So today I want to share with you the nine most exciting finds of the last year.
RARE BRONZE COINS FROM JEWISH REVOLT AGAINST ROME
Rare bronze coins dating back to the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire (66-70CE) were found in the Ophel near the Temple Mount. It was announced in May of this year that dozens of these coins were found in excavations in a cave near the Mount. Broken pottery vessels including jars and cooking pots, were also found in the area. The 1.5 cm thick coins were left behind by Jewish residents who hid from the Romans during the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. The great majority of the coins date from the final year of the Jewish revolt, known as “year four’ The coins were decorated with Hebrew inscriptions and Jewish symbols, such as the four biblical plant species; palm, myrtle, citron, and willow, and a picture of the goblet that was used in the Temple service. The earlier coins were inscribed with the slogan “For the Freedom of Zion” while the later ones were change to “For the Redemption of Zion,” reflecting the changing mood and last four-year remnants of the rebels during the revolt. Obviously, a discovery like-these – ancient coins bearing the words “Freedom” and “Redemption” found right before the Passover-began was incredibly moving.
FIND OF 2700-YEAR-OLD SEAL PROVES EXISTENCE OF THE GOVERNOR OF JERUSALEM
It was announced in January that a stamped piece of clay from the First Temple period, which belonged to the “governor of the city of Jerusalem- -was discovered in the Western Wall Plaza. This position was the most prominent local position to be held in Jerusalem of 2700 years ago. When found Archeologists were examining the dust from a first Temple structure 100 meters northwest of the Western Wall at a site they have been excavating since 2005. This historical find is a lump of clay, stamped and fired. The seal had been attached to an important document, and served as some sort of logo, or as a tiny souvenir, which was sent on behalf of the governor. It measures 13 x 15 mm and is 2-3 mm thick. The upper part depicts two figures in striped garments facing each other, between them is what could be a moon. In the lower part there is an inscription in ancient Hebrew saying “Belonging to the governor of the city” The governor most likely functioned much like today’s mayor. This role is referenced in the Bible in 2 Kings, Joshua is listed as the governor of the city in the days of Hezekiah, and in 2 Chronicles Maaseiah as governor of the city in the days of Josiah. This find shows that already 2700 years ago, Jerusalem, was a strong and central city. This is the first time that such an impression has been found and it supports the biblical rendering of the existence of the position of the governor of the city in Jerusalem. Recently past and present collided when this extremely rare seal impression was presented to the current Mayor of Jerusalem.
PROPHET ISAIAH’S SEAL FOUND
Chanced upon near a seal identified with King Hezekiah, a tiny clay piece may be the first ever proof of the prophet, though a missing letter leaves room for doubt. The hand of the Prophet Isaiah himself may have created an 8th century BCE seal impression discovered in First Temple remains near the Temple Mount. Archeologists from Hebrew University uncovered the minuscule bulla or seal early last year, during renewed excavations of the Ophel, located at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The clay impression is inscribed with letters, and what appears to be a grazing doe, a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem. The seal however is not intact.
On its legible portion, there is an inscription with first Temple Hebrew letters seems to spell out the name Yesha yahu (belonging to Isaiah) One line below, there is the partial word nvy, presumably that spells out “prophet”. Unfortunately, since the bulla has been slightly damaged at the end of the word nvy, it is not known if it originally ended with the letter aleph, which would have resulted in the word prophet and would have definitely identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah. Without an aleph at the end the word nvy is most likely just a personal name. Formerly in 2015 only 10 feet away was discovered an intact bulla with the inscription “of King Hezekiah of Judah. It is logical that the Isaiah and Hezekiah bullae would be discovered in close proximity given the symbiotic relationship of Isaiah the prophet and King. Hezekiah as described in the Bible. The name of King Hezekiah is mentioned together with the name of Isaiah 14 of the 29 times it is recalled. No other figure was closer to King Hezekiah than the prophet Isaiah. Due to the missing aleph even though it cannot be confirmed beyond any doubt that the bulla was Isaiah’s, nevertheless archeologists feel it still remains a unique and fantastic discovery.
MASSIVE DISCOVERY OF WESTERN WALL TUNNELS
Archeologists are one step closer to solving what took place in Jerusalem following the destruction of the city by Romans in 70CE. Israel’s Antiquity authority for the past two years has been excavating and exposing a massive eight-meter-deep section of Jerusalem’s Western Wall next to Wilson’s Arch which is immediately adjacent to the men’s prayer section. Three stone courses of the Western Wall were discovered under an 8-meter layer of earth that had been hidden for 1700 years Wilson’s Arch until a couple of years ago was the only intact visible structure remaining from the Temple mount compound of the Second Temple period. It is built of enormous stones and is the last of a series of such arches that once constituted a gigantic bridge leading to the Temple Mount from the west or the old city. It served as a passage way for people entering the Temple Mount. During the Second Temple, the arch was used as a walk way bridge for worshipers entering the compound. The space under the Wilson’s Arch pedestrian bridge was used for a road, shops, and drainage. The sensational find was a real surprise. When archeologists started excavating their goal was to date Wilson’s Arch. They did not imagine that a window would open to the courses of the Western Wall.
WESTERN WALL THEATER
While the archeologists believe that the exposure of the courses of the Western Wall and the components of Wilson’s Arch are thrilling discoveries. They described the discovery of a theater like structure as the real drama. . The area under the arch was damaged in a massive earthquake circa 360CE. Jerusalem residents concerned the arch would collapse, deliberately covered the spacious area with dirt and debris thereby also covering all remnants of the theater for some 1,650 years. During excavations, a new reinforced floor was constructed under the men’s prayer area as not too interrupt daily worship It was announced at the end of May of this year that that unexpectedly a small Roman theater built in classic Roman style was discovered directly under Wilson’s Arch, which serves as its roof. Archeologists discovered the theater as they were searching for the known Second Temple road. Standing amid the rubble they started to find flat stones and thought they had reached the road but then the stones began to curve and they realized they had found something very different.
Realizing they had found a theater the archeologists entire understanding of the whole Roman city changed. It is unclear whether the theater served as a small acoustic theater, or as a city council meeting place or both. However, the backs of the audience faced the Temple Mount, perhaps hinting at the unimportance of the site to the Roman audience. The discovery represented a never-before-seen window into the daily public life of the newly Roman conquered city. The small 200-to 300 seat theater, whose existence was noted by Joseph Flavius and other ancient sources but which had eluded Jerusalem excavations is the first rediscovered example of Roman public buildings in Jerusalem in 70CE, However the theater was never fully finished. The stairs are not fully hewn and there are rocks that have guide marks that weren’t fully carved. The Second Temple was razed along with most of the Jewish settlement of Jerusalem. In its place, the Roman Colony Julia Capitolina was established and began reconstructing the city in 150CE following the bloody Bar Kochba Revolt. The theater, courses, and finds, from previous excavations give “a hint” into the importance of the Temple Mount following the fall of the of the Second Temple. Archeologists expect to continue excavations until next Spring and reach First Temple-period remains, and finally bedrock which is three meters deeper.
RARE GREEK 1800CE MOSAIC FOUND AT CAESAREA
Although it seems like it sometimes not all of our archeological recent finds in Israel are found in the area of Jerusalem. In fact, a rare colorful mosaic dating from the 2nd-3rd century was recently uncovered in Caesarea. It is one of few extant examples of mosaics from the time period in Israel and its craftmanship is compared by archeologists to the fine artistry found in Antioch. During work on an expansion of Caesarea National Park the mosaic was discovered under an opulent commercial structure from the Byzantine period. According to archeologists for the excavation the mosaic predates the shopping structure by some 300 years and was once part of an even earlier building from approximately 1,800 years ago. The mosaic measures 3.5×8 meters and is “of a rare high quality” comparable to that of Israel’s finest examples from Lod or Tzippori’s Mona Liza.
There are three figures depicted on the uncovered section as well as typical multicolored geometric patterns which were formed using mosaic pieces placed densely at about 12,000 stones per square meter. The figures all wear togas and apparently belong to the upper class. The central figure is frontal and the two other figures face him on either side. “Who are they?” That depends on what the building was used for, which is not clear. If the mosaic was part of a mansion, the figures could have been the owners. If this was a public building they might have represented the donors of the mosaic or member s of the city council. Of potentially even more interest is a long inscription in ancient Greek. It was unfortunately damaged by the Byzantine building constructed on top of it but is currently being studied now by epigraphers. Old Caesarea seems to never stop fascinating and thrilling us, time after time revealing slices of history of worldwide significance. This amazing mosaic is indeed a unique find in Israel
PREHISTORIC PICNIC SPOT FOUND
Archeologists have uncovered an ancient sweet spot in which early humans flourished some 500,000 years ago. The “mega site,” located in Juljulia near the town of Kfar Saba, was discovered last November by developers who were surveying the area in preparation for urban development. All new construction sites are explored by experts before building can begin. In the last year archeologists have uncovered thousands of artifacts at this one-hectare site, an area frequented by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers some 500,000 years ago. The site, once the marshy bank of a meandering river, is located near highway 6. Digging to a depth of 5 meter, the archeologists uncovered layer after layer of tools and animal bones.
At least six different subsites are absolutely littered with flint hand-axes. The site was most likely inhabited by a now-extinct species of humans known as Homo-erectus, who took full advantage of what this area had to offer. These early hunter-gatherers are a direct ancestor of modern humans and were likely the first hominids to leave Africa (around 1.8 million years ago0. The site was a perfect spot for humans “The water brought flint modules from the hills, which were used to make tools on the spot, and attracted animals, which were hunted and butchered here. Archeologists have uncovered hundreds of hand axes.
The tool which had two blade ends was used for cutting, butchering, and digging, and was typical of the ancient culture, from about 1.5 million to 200,000 years ago. However, the excavators also found tools made with a more developed technique which requires considerable more foresight and planning. The more primitive hand axes were made by hammering a piece of flint into a desired shape. However, the more advanced tools were made in two stages, hammering a flint core into a specific shape, and then striking the core with a single decisive stroke. This method requires the designer to envision the final shape which is a much more advanced process. The discovery is showing that many of the characteristics that define modern humans were already in place a half million years ago in a very closely related ancestor living right here in Israel.
HIDDEN FRAGMENTS OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Undoubtedly one of the greatest historical treasures of all times are the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were uncovered from almost oblivion in the midst of the early days of our War of Independence. Since their discovery between 1946 and 1956 , archeologists and historians have poured over the Scrolls some of which were incomplete in a bid to decipher their meaning and further understand our ancestors. . Today the two-thousand years-old Dead Sea Scrolls are widely heralded as the archeological find of the 20th century.
When the fragments were discovered in the 1950’s by archeologists and Bedouins in 12 caves near Qumran, they were placed in boxes without being sorted or deciphered due to their small size and delicate state. Scholars once sat, cigarettes drooping between their lips, touching the ancient scraps with their bare hands, and often seeing them disintegrate between their hands. In contrast, today the Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory has a decidedly space age feel with the immaculate use of high tech imaging techniques that stem directly from the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Researchers started looking at these fragments under a microscope but they could not see anything. Today twenty-eight types of light exposures are used ranging from green, to blue, red and orange in order to show different elements in the scrolls, and fragments. Formerly hidden script is now able to be uncovered in fragments not legible before. Of particular interest to researchers are a fragment from the Temple Scroll, a text dealing directions for conducting the services in the ideal Temple, a fragment from the Great Psalms Scroll, and a fragment written in ancient Paleo-Hebrew that may be part of an unknown manuscript. It is obvious that archeologists and historians with the aid of even more sophisticated methods will be discovering the secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls far into the future.
PROOF OF KING DAVID IN JUDEA?
Has excavations in the Judean city of Tel Eton provided new evidence that verifies account of King David and King Solomon? Since archeology is a scientific pursuit the results of any discovery must be proved beyond any doubt. Archeologists have been excavating Tel Eton for the past decade, located in Judea , east of the hills of Hebron. The new discovery seems to suggest that the highland kingdom of Judah controlled larger areas than some scholars believe. Until 25 years ago, no one doubted that King David was a historical figure. In the last 25 years or so however, David’s historicity and especially the size of his kingdom, have been hotly debated. In the last decade what archeologists call a “governors residency” has been uncovered at Tel Eton.
The building appears to have been destroyed in the late eight century BC by Assyrian forces. However, evidence emerged that the oldest house on the site was built around the 10th century BC. No artifacts were found that said King David or King Solomon but archeologists discovered definite signs of social transformation that the region underwent. The style of the four-room house is common in the highlands at the center of David’s kingdom, and is not found outside Israel. The structure of the two story 2,420 square feet home speaks to hierarchy in there was a large courtyard from which the rooms branched off. It occupied high ground on top of a mound, and the house was carefully built with deep foundations. Large masonry stones were placed in the corners of the building and high-quality building materials were used.
The archeologists believe that the four-room house embodied Israelite society and values of the Israelite period. The house was built in a city that was then at the edge of Israelite territory, right around the same time the Bible records that Israel’s power was expanding. Dating has been confirmed by taking soil samples from three corners of the site that all match, and the carbon dating of olive pits found in the foundation. The association with David is not based on any archeological evidence but on circumstantial grounds only. Since the source of the change seems to be in the highlands and since it took place at the time when David was supposed to have existed the link is plausible. Scholars have identified Tel Eton as the site of the ancient city of Eglon. In addition, archeologists stated that the settlement at Tel Eton expanded significantly in size during the Iron Age and combined evidence suggests that the settlement was transformed from a village into a central town with a city-wall and a residency with ashlar blocks at some point in the late 11th or the first half or three quarters of the 10th century BCE.
The biblical book of Joshua records that Eglon was a city of Canaanites who fought against Israel, and its king was one of the five of the Amorites. Under Joshua the Israelites conquered many cities , including Eglon and took the territory as belonging to the tribe of Judah. The deposition of a giant chalice in the foundation of the hose symbolizes cooperation which was done by agreement. The transition from a Canaanite to an Israelite settlement is just not evidenced via violence. Rather, it appears there was a seemingly peaceable assimilation of the locals into Israelite society. However, the archeologists developing the find clearly state that the association of the site with King David is not based on direct archeological evidence , but solely on circumstantial grounds. However, they add that if someone thinks that there was no king by the name of David we should find another name to call the highland king in whose time the region was incorporated into the highland kingdom.
As exciting as the nine significant finds of the last year have been I have every confidence that in the next year archeologists in Israel will find just as significant and interesting finds. As archeologists makes use of even more advanced knowledge and methods we will become even more familiar with our history. I hope you have enjoyed and learned as much from this presentation as I have in presenting it to you.