11
Aug
08

BAR Highlights: 8/11/08

More archaeological news from Biblical Archaeology Review:

Uncovering Roman Sepphoris
August 11, 2008
Excavators from Hebrew University have discovered a second-century Roman temple in Sepphoris, the Jewish capital of the Galilee in ancient times. Sepphoris is just a few miles from Nazareth, and many scholars have speculated that Jesus and Joseph may have been employed as carpenters in Sepphoris during a building boom in the first century A.D.

The newly uncovered temple dates to the second century A.D. and measures about 80 by 40 feet. It was found beneath a Byzantine-era church and south of the decumanus, the colonnaded main east-west street in Roman cities. It is not known which deity was worshiped in the Sepphoris temple, but coins found earlier in the city depict a temple dedicated to the Roman gods Zeus and Tyche.

Science Daily reports on the Roman temple uncovered in Sepphoris.

Oils Well that Ends Well
August 10, 2008
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has discovered a large complex in the western Galilee for the making of olive oil. The structures were destroyed by a major fire in the seventh century A.D.—always a boon to archaeologists because fires help “seal” buildings and other structures in the state in which they had been used. The excavators suggest that this complex may have produced oil for the city of Akko, which is six miles to the west. The IAA has announced its discovery of the oil production complex on its Web site.

No Expansion at Western Wall
August 9, 2008
Often called the most hotly contested piece of real estate on earth, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is back in the news. A planning commission for the city has rejected a plan to expand the women’s section in the Jewish prayer area along the western wall of the Mount. An expansion became a possibility when a bridge leading to the Mount collapsed in 1994. Just how to rebuild the bridge has become a contentious issue, even sparking violence by Muslims on several occasions on the claim that the Temple Mount itself—home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—will be damaged by the reconstruction. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports on the continuing debate over the Temple Mount bridge.

From North Dakota to the Pyramids
August 8, 2008
Mark Lehner is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Pyramids of Giza, but he got his start in a somewhat unlikely place: Minot, North Dakota. On a recent visit back to his old school, Lehner explains how his roots helped propel him to study the ancient world’s greatest wonders. You can read the story of this leader in Pyramid research in the Minot Daily News.

The Plunder of Iraq
August 7, 2008
Few subjects in archaeology today are as tragic as the looting that took place—and continues to take place—in Iraq. Most notable, of course, was the ransacking of the Iraq Museum just after the American invasion in 2003, but many archaeological sites have been plundered as well. The New York Review of Books recounts the sad history of the looting of Iraq with a review-article on seven books on the subject.

4,000-Year-Old Grave of Canaanite Warrior Found
August 6, 2008
Excavators with the British Museum at Sidon, in southern Lebanon, have uncovered the tomb of young warrior buried with a spear. The tomb dates to 2000 B.C.; the skeleton is that of a 15-to-20-year-old. This is the seventy-seventh grave found by the team since it began excavations ten years ago. Earlier this year they discovered a jar, also from 2000 B.C., containing the remains of a newborn, while last year they found tons of wheat at the site.

Sidon is one of the most important sites in ancient Phoenicia and was, before that a key Canaanite city. It is mentioned 38 times in the Hebrew Bible. The Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star has a report on the young warrior’s tomb at Sidon.

Gold from the Temple?
August 5, 2008
Excavators at Ramat Rachel, just south of Jerusalem, made a very surprising discovery recently as they were investigating a dovecote: They uncovered a cooking pot holding 15 large gold coins from the end of the Second Temple period (first century A.D.). The dovecote, or columbarium, was no surprise, of course; these structures—underground caves pockmarked with niches in which birds could lay their eggs—have been found all over Israel. The coins, though, were a jolt: What was a collection of valuable currency doing beneath a dovecote? Oded Lipschits, of Tel Aviv University and director of the dig, suggests that the coins may have been collected for the Jerusalem Temple and hidden in unlikely places after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

This hoard of coins is not the first to be found at Ramat Rachel: 380 coins from the Byzantine era (fourth or fifth century A.D.) have been recovered, with an additional 70 coins found nearby. Though some have identified Ramat Rachel as home to a Judean palace in the seventh century B.C., Lipschits believes the site served as an important administrative center for the Assyrian empire and, later, for the Persian empire.

Read about the hoard of gold coins from Ramat Rachel in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

You can see photos of the coins and the dovecote in the paper’s Hebrew edition.

Welcome to Genesis Land
August 4, 2008
Visitors to a tent encampment between Jerusalem and Jericho get a taste of life in Biblical times thanks to Israeli actors who portray Abraham and his faithful servant Eliezer. At Genesis Land modern four-wheeled modes of transportation are exchanged for the more low-tech, four-legged kind. Visitors are then whisked to two large Bedouin-style tents, where they are greeted by “Abraham.” The guests next sit cross-legged as they are served a Biblical-style feast.

The Jerusalem Post describes a recent visit to Genesis Land.

What Went Down Must Come Up
August 3, 2008
A Greek trading ship that sank 2500 years ago has been raised from the sea off the southern coast of Sicily. At about 65-by-21 feet, the ship is the largest of its type ever recovered. The ship is especially intriguing because its planks were sewn together, a technique of shipbuilding known from Homer’s Iliad.

First discovered by scuba divers in 1988, the ship had its hull and many of its storage jars and woven baskets raised in 2003. Now a team in England is hoping to reconstruct the vessel.

You can find more details in a news report about the ancient Greek ship.

Pompeii in Danger—Again
August 2, 2008
The Italian government has declared a year-long emergency at Pompeii, the spectacular ancient Roman site that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago. It has granted special powers to a retired law enforcement official to enable him to bypass Italy’s Byzantine laws in order to draft a plan to help save the site.

Currently 2.6 million visitors visit the site annually, and their movements have taken a toll on the fragile ancient remains. Sun and weather also create damage. To make matters worse, the site is understaffed and what workers there are are prone to call wildcat strikes with no notice. As a result, only about a third of Pompeii is currently open to the public.

You can read about efforts to save Pompeii in the New York Times and also view a slide show of the site.

Seal Impression of Royal Adviser Recovered in Jerusalem
August 1, 2008
A bulla, a lump of clay bearing a seal impression, inscribed with the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur has been found in the City of David excavations currently being conducted just south of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The find was announced by Eilat Mazar, who is leading the excavation; Mazar noted that the just-discovered bulla was found just yards from the spot where a bulaa inscribed with the name Yehukual ben Shelemyahu was unearthed three years ago. Both men served as ministers to King Zedekiah, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Judah before Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. According to Jeremiah 38:1-4, both men were part of a group that urged King Zedekiah to put Jeremiah to death because the prophet had preached that the besieged city of Jerusalem surrender to the Babylonians.

Mazar has been something of a controversial figure because she believes that a large stone structure she has been excavating had been the palace of King David. She has also suggested that a wall she has uncovered had been originally built by Nehemiah as part of the repairs to Jerusalem after the return from Babylonian exile.

Read about the Biblical-era seal in the Jerusalem Post.

Unlocking the Mysteries of an Ancient Greek Computer
July 31, 2008
Researchers have made important new progress in understanding a complex ancient Greek device known as the Antikythera Mechanism. Discovered in an ancient shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera by sponge divers in 1901, the mechanism has long been thought to have been a computing device for predicting the dates of future solar eclipses. New X-ray images of the device have now shown that the mechanism did much more than that.

The Antikythera Mechanism is dated to about 150 B.C. and consists of a number of geared wheels, making it the earliest such device by a thousand years. The new X-ray images have revealed inscriptions on the devices that indicate that it was used to reconcile the lunar and solar calendars over a cycle of 19 solar years (the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar one, and 235 lunar months fit well into 19 solar years). The new study has also shown the mechanism organized the calendar according to the four-year cycles of the Olympic games. The names of the months on the mechanism’s calendar are those used by the Greek city-state of Corinth and suggest that the device originated in a Corinthian colony, possibly with Syracuse, on the island of Sicily. The great Greek mathematician and astronomer Archimedes was from Syracuse, and it is therefore possible that the Antikythera Mechanism was inspired by his work.

The science journal Nature has a very well done video on the Antikythera Mechanism and there are also reports on this fascinating ancient Greek device in the New York Times, the Britsh newspaper The Guardian and in Science News.

Happy Birthday, Zion Gate!
July 30, 2008
One of the main entryways into the Old City of Jerusalem has undergone renovation—just in time for its 468th birthday. Zion Gate, on the southwest side of the city wall, was built in 1540 by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent and leads into the Armenian and Jewish quarters of the Old City.

Zion Gate had been damaged by intensive fighting during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948; the recent restoration work repaired stones that had begun to crumble because of bullet holes from that fighting. Also renovated was a dedicatory inscription to the magnificent Suleiman.

Along with Jaffa Gate, Zion Gate serves as a primary entrance to the Old City for non-Muslims. Learn more about the restoration of Zion Gate from the Jerusalem Post.

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