Category Archives: Archaeology

Small awl may provide evidence of the earliest use of metal in Middle East

Copper awl.

The ancient awl. Estimated to be from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the fifth millennium BCE. Photo: Yosef Garfinkel.

The following report is a press notice released by Media Relations of Haifa University, Thursday, August 21, 2014.

An awl-inspiring find at Tel Tsaf: The oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East

According to Dr. Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the copper awl is a unique and very rare artifact, whose discovery, along with other items during the excavations at Tel Tsaf in the Jordan Valley, indicates that the site was an ancient international commercial center.

A copper awl, the oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East, was discovered during the excavations at Tel Tsaf, according to a recent study published by researchers from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology and the Department of archaeology at the University of Haifa , in conjunction with researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the German Archaeological Institute of Berlin. According to the study, which appeared in the prestigious journal PLOS One, the awl dates back to the late 6th millennium or the early 5th millennium BCE, moving back by several hundred years the date it was previously thought that the peoples of the region began to use metals.

Tel Tsaf, a Middle Chalcolithic village dated to about 5200-4600 BCE, is located near the Jordan River and the international border with Jordan. The site was first documented in the 1950s and excavations there began at the end of the 1970s. From the earliest digs nearly 40 years ago, this area, the most important archaeological site in the region dated to this period, has been supplying researchers with a great deal of valuable data, and continues to do so during this latest research project led by Dr. Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa in conjunction with Dr. Florian Klimscha of the Eurasia Department of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. For example, the researchers learned of the communites great wealth and the long-distance commercial ties it maintained from the large buildings made of mud-bricks and the large number of silos in which wheat and barley were stored on an unprecedented scale. There were many roasting ovens in the courtyards, all filled with burnt animal bones testifying to the holding of large events and many other findings, among them items made of obsidian (a volcanic glass with origins in Anatolia or Armenia), shells from the Nile River in Egypt and other areas around the Mediterranean, figurines of people and animals, and pottery unlike that found in almost any other location in the region.

But the most important finding to date is only 4 centimeters long. This unique item, a copper awl, which is 1 millimeter thick at the tip that was set in a wooden handle, was actually found during a previous excavation at the site by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University. The cone-shaped awl was found in a sealed grave of a woman about 40 years old that was dug inside a silo, and around her waist was a belt made of 1,668 ostrich-egg shell beads. The grave was covered with several large stones, and according to Dr. Rosenberg, its location within a silo testifies to both the importance of the deceased and the importance the community ascribed to the facility in which she was buried.

But while the grave, the woman’s skeleton, and the beaded belt were all previously reported in scientific journals, the little awl was only reported on recently, after its chemical components were analyzed by Prof. Sariel Shalev of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. As noted, the awl was found to made of copper, and according to Dr. Rosenberg, the fact that it was found just above the skeleton ad in a sealed grave, meant that it was buried with the woman, apparently as a burial offering, and may have belonged to her.

This artifact is important because until now, researchers believed that area residents began to use metals only in the Late Chalcolithic period (during the second half of the 5th millennium BCE, so that this finding moves back the appearance of metal in our region by several hundred years. This has significant impact on our understanding of the developing use of complex technologies and the related social contexts.

But this is not the only reason the awl is significant. The chemical examination of the metal shows it may have come from the Caucasus, some 1,000 kilometers from Tel Tsaf. According to Dr. Rosenberg, while the long-distance commercial ties maintained by village communities in our region were already known from even earlier periods, the import of a new technology combined with the processing of a new raw material coming from such a distant location is unique to Tel Tsaf and provides additional evidence of the importance of this site in the ancient world.

The researchers are still not sure what the awl was used for, but the early use of a metal object, as well as its distant source, also testify to the high social status of the woman and the importance of the building she was buried in.

The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we’ve seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and its possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity, said Dr. Rosenberg. However, in this area far more is unknown than is known, and although the discovery of the awl at Tel Tsaf constitutes evidence of a peak of technological development among the peoples of the region and is a discovery of global importance, there’s a lot of progress still to be made and many parts of the wider picture are still unknown to us”.

It seems that at least some of the questions raised by this unique item will be answered by an interdisciplinary research project we have been conducting at the site since last year, Dr. Rosenberg continued. This project integrates multi-national archaeologists and researchers from a variety of other scientific disciplines, who will address the even more complex questions that will undoubtedly arise.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Traveling in Europe

For the past week my wife and I have been traveling in Europe, revisiting some of the places we have enjoyed with groups over the years. Berlin is one of those places. We did some of the typical sightseeing, but the main visit was the museums with Ancient Near Eastern collections.

My first visit to the Pergamum Museum was about 1978. I returned several times when the Museum was behind the Berlin Wall, and have been there several times since the fall of the wall.

The Egyptian collection formerly was in the west, but now is housed in the Neues Museum in the building on the left of the photo below. Considerable construction is underway in the area. The former entry to the Pergamum Museum is closed. The red sign in the distance points to the temporary entry. Crowds are so large that people wait in line for four hours or more to buy at ticket and gain admission to the Museum. The only way to avoid this is to purchase a ticket online with a 30 minute time span for admission. I purchased a two day Museum pass after I arrived in Berlin and then made an appointment online for two different days. A single entry costs about 13 Euro (a little under $20 per entry).

berlin_pergamum-crowd-01fj_1

Crowds waiting in line to enter the Pergamum Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pergamum Altar already has some scaffolding in place. At the end of September the exhibition will close for __________ years (you know about government projects).

The visit was somewhat disappointing because of the appointment requirement, but mostly because portions of the Museum are closed. Whole galleries pertaining to the the Greco-Roman world are not open. The great Ishtar Gate from Babylon is open, and the Miletus Marketgate, which was covered with netting the last time I was in Berlin, is now one of the nicest exhibits. The halls dealing with Babylon, Assyria, and the Hittites were open.

Later I hope to share some representative photos with you, but I confess that I am traveling with a Samsung Tab 4 and have had difficulty getting the single photo above loaded into the blog. I refused to pay the $20+ a day to be online at the hotel. I only ate at one place that offered time online, and they could not locate the card with the passport. :-(

We are in Paris now and I have Wi-Fi at the hotel. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so I went to the Tourism office and purchased tickets to the museum in order to avoid the long lines the next two days. The tickets here are under $20 per entry.

If any reader has experience in loading photos from an Android tablet into WordPress I would be glad to hear about it. Who knows, maybe I will be able to load a second photo.

 

Rare hoard of coins from pre-AD 70 discovered near Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway

The Israel Antiquities Authority announces today the discovery of a box containing 114 bronze coins dating to Year Four of the Great Revolt (Jewish Revolt against the Romans). The discovery was made several months ago during work on the new Highway 1 project (between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv).

Coin hoard as it was found in the excavation. Photo Vladimir Nuhin, IAA.

Coin hoard as it was found in the excavation. Photo Vladimir Nühin, IAA.

According to Pablo Betzer and Eyal Marco, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The hoard, which appears to have been buried several months prior to the fall of Jerusalem, provides us with a glimpse into the lives of Jews living on the outskirts of Jerusalem at the end of the rebellion. Evidently someone here feared the end was approaching and hid his property, perhaps in the hope of collecting it later when calm was restored to the region”. All of the coins are stamped on one side with a chalice and the Hebrew inscription “To the Redemption of Zion” and on the other side with a motif that includes a bundle of lulav between two etrogs. Around this is the Hebrew inscription “Year Four”, that is, the fourth year of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (69/70 CE).

The hoard was concealed in the corner of a room, perhaps inside a wall niche or buried in the floor. Two other rooms and a courtyard belonging to the same building were exposed during the course of the archaeological excavation. The structure was built in the first century BCE and was destroyed in 69 or 70 CE when the Romans were suppressing the Great Revolt.  Early in the second century CE part of the building was reinhabited for a brief period, which culminated in the destruction of the Jewish settlement in Judea as a result of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. This is attested to by three complete jars that were discovered embedded in the courtyard floor.

It seems that the residents of this village, like most of the Jewish villages in Judea, were active participants in both of the major uprisings against the Romans – the Great Revolt and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. As a result of their involvement the place was destroyed twice, and was not resettled.

The Israel Antiquities Authority and Netivei Israel Company are examining the possibility of preserving the village remains within the framework of the landscape development alongside the highway.

Pablo Betzer, IAA District Archaeologist for Judah, with a coin from Year Four of the Great Revolt. Photo Vladimir Nühin, IAA.

Pablo Betzer, IAA District Archaeologist for Judah, with a coin from Year Four of the Great Revolt. Photo Vladimir Nühin, IAA.

This discovery might remind Bible readers of the illustration used by Jesus.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)

HT: Joseph Lauer

More artifacts of the Tenth Roman Legion

We had a good response to our recent posts, here and here, about the Roman Tenth Legion in Jerusalem.  I will post a few photos of other artifacts that are readily available for those who visit Israel.

The first is an inscription of the eighth cohort of the Tenth Legion. According to the accompanying sign in the Israel Museum this limestone inscription comes from Jerusalem or Samaria and belongs to the first or second century A.D. The inscription reads “LEG X FRE COH IIX” and is decorated with dolphins and a wild boar, symbols of the legion.

Inscription of the Eighth cohort of the Tenth Legion. Israel Museum.

Inscription of the eighth cohort of the Tenth Legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

About halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is the site of Ramat Rachel. It was first occupied in the 7th century B.C. Stratum III revealed evidence of a Roman villa dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. Some of the clay tiles from the villa are displayed in the hotel at the site.

Information about Ramat Rachel is available on the Archaeological Project website here.

Tile of the Tenth Legion from Ramat Rachel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tile of the Tenth Legion from Ramat Rachel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Finally, here is a tile fragment with a stamp of the Tenth Legion. The inscription reads “LG X F.” A wild boar and a battleship are the symbols on this one. The Israel Museum says this tile dates to the 1st-2nd century A.D.

Tenth Legion tile in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tenth Legion tile in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman period in the Holy Land is usually dated from about 63 B.C. to A.D. 323. This includes the entire period of Jesus, the early church, and the New Testament, but it also includes the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the period when Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian and named Aelia Capitolina.

Added Note: See the helpful comments by Tom Powers below. Tom is licensed as a guide in Israel, but is no longer living there. Here is the photo he mentions in the comment about the reused stone in the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate.

Partial stone bearing inscription of the Tenth Legion reused in the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Tom Powers.

Partial stone bearing inscription of the Tenth Legion reused in the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Tom Powers.

IAA Director General Dorfman died today at age 64

The Israel Antiquities Authority announces the passing of Yehoshua (Shuka) Dorfman today, July 31, 2014, at the age of 64. His passing came after what is described as a long battle with a serious illness.

Dorfman’s academic training was in Political Science. He served in a variety of military roles reaching the rank of Brigadier General. He was appointed director of the IAA in 2000.

IAA Director Shuka Dorfman. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

IAA Director Shuka Dorfman. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

The Tenth Roman Legion in Jerusalem

Students of the Bible are aware that the city of Jerusalem, including the Herodian temple, was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Vespasian commanded the Romans in the north of the country. When he learned of the death of Nero he began his return to Rome and left his son Titus in command of the military forces.

When Titus began to position his forces around the city of Jerusalem, he called the tenth legion from Jericho to come up to the Mount of Olives and take their position there.

and as these were now beginning to build, the tenth legion, who came through Jericho, was already come to the place, where a certain party of armed men had formerly lain, to guard that pass into the city, and had been taken before by Vespasian. These legions had orders to encamp at the distance of three quarters of a mile from Jerusalem, at the mount called the Mount of Olives, {c} which lies opposite the city on the east side, and is parted from it by a deep valley, interposed between them, which is named Kidron. (Josephus, Jewish Wars 5:69-70)

Jesus had prophesied about forty years earlier that the Holy City would be surrounded by armies.

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. (Luke 21:20 ESV)

The word used for armies (stratopedon) is used in literature of the time to specify a legion or a camp (see BDAG and MM).

Archaeological discoveries have supplemented the writings of Josephus to provide evidence of the presence of the tenth legion in Jerusalem. In addition to the column near Jaffa Gate that we mentioned in the previous post, we here call attention to some other evidence that is readily available for anyone who wishes to see it. Here, I call attention to a Roman milestone.

Roman milestone found near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem mentions Vespasian, Titus, and the Tenth Legion. Displayed in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman milestone found near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem mentions Vespasian, Titus, and the Tenth Legion. Displayed in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Israel Museum sign associated with the milestone reads,

Near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a milestone bearing a Latin inscription was discovered. The inscription mentions both the Roman emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, commander of the Roman army at the time of the suppression of the Great Revolt and had been deliberately effaced, seems to have mentioned the name of Flavius Silva, procurator of Judea and commander of the Tenth Legion, responsible for both the destruction of Jerusalem and the conquest of Masada. The inscription was carved by soldiers of the Tenth Legion.

I have a few more photos of artifacts mentioning the tenth legion that I hope to post soon.

More on Roman Roads and Milestones

We have had a few follow-up questions from our post on Roman Roads and Milestones. One reader asked on Facebook, “Is the milepost inside Jaffa Gate for real??”

If you enter the Old City of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate you should turn left on the second street (lane would be better). You may not see the name, but it is Demetrius Street. A column, now serving as a lamppost, is actually a portion of an inscribed Roman column. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (Holy Land, 5th edition) says the Latin inscription reads,

M(arco) Iunio Maximo leg(ato) Aug(ustorum) Leg(ionis) X Fr(etensis)—Antoninianae—C. Dom(itius) Serg(ius) str(ator)eius.

Roman column near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman column near Jaffa Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murphy-O’Connor explains,

The inscription honours Macus Junius Maximus, Legate of the Augusts (i.e. the emperor Septimius Severus and his eldest son Caracalla), which implies that he was the governor of the province of Judaea, and Legate of the Tenth Legion Fretensis.

The column was erected about A.D. 200. Hoade (Guide to the Holy Land) says the once-taller column “was scalped by a bomb in 1948.” [See comment below by Tom Powers, with link to a photo of the column made in the 1930s.] This column is comparable to a milestone but apparently never served that purpose. The camp of the Tenth Roman Legion was immediately south of this place in the area now occupied by the Armenian Quarter. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Titus allowed the Tenth Legion to remain in Jerusalem.

[Titus] … permitted the tenth legion to stay, as a guard at Jerusalem, and did not send them away beyond the Euphrates, where they had been before; (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7:17)

Close-up of Roman column mentioning 10th Roman legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Close-up of Roman column mentioning 10th Roman legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What is a mile? Another reader asked, “How does the mile mentioned in the NT (I would assume the Roman mile) compare in length to our mile?”

The Greek term used in Matthew 5:41 is milion. BDAG says the term is used of “a Roman mile, lit. a thousand paces, then a fixed measure = eight stades = 1,478.5 meters.”

But the term used in Luke 24:13 and John 6:19 is stadion. This term is defined as “a measure of distance of about 192 meters, stade, one-eighth mile” (BDAG). This word also came to mean “an area for public spectacles, arena, stadium.” This is the term translated race in 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Our English versions typically adapt the Greek term stadion “to familiar measurements of distance” (Louw-Nida).