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Hebrew University Archaeologists Find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls Cave

08/02/2017

Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Oren Gutfeld: "This is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran."

Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12. [Photo links below]

The surprising discovery, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, with the collaboration of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.

The excavators are the first in over 60 years to discover a new scroll cave and to properly excavate it.

The excavation was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and is a part of the new “Operation Scroll” launched at the IAA by its Director-General, Mr. Israel Hasson, to undertake systematic surveys and to excavate the caves in the Judean Desert.

Excavation of the cave revealed that at one time it contained Dead Sea scrolls. Numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and deep inside a long tunnel at its rear. The jars were all broken and their contents removed, and the discovery towards the end of the excavation of a pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proves the cave was looted.

Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls. With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would be numbered as Cave 12. Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (the Q=Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no scrolls were found).

"This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave," said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation. "Finding this additional scroll cave means we can no longer be certain that the original locations (Caves 1 through 11) attributed to the Dead Sea scrolls that reached the market via the Bedouins are accurate."

Dr. Gutfeld added: “Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more."

The finds from the excavation include not only the storage jars, which held the scrolls, but also fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that was a part of a scroll. The finding of pottery and of numerous flint blades, arrowheads, and a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, also revealed that this cave was used in the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods.

This first excavation to take place in the northern part of the Judean Desert as part of “Operation Scroll” will open the door to further understanding the function of the caves with respect to the scrolls, with the potential of finding new scroll material. The material, when published, will provide important new evidence for scholars of the archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea caves.

"The important discovery of another scroll cave attests to the fact that a lot of work remains to be done in the Judean Desert and finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered,” said Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain. The State of Israel needs to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to launch a historic operation, together with the public, to carry out a systematic excavation of all the caves of the Judean Desert.”

Photos for download: (Credit for all photos to Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld):

- Dov Smith

Hebrew University Archaeologists Find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls Cave
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Rare Frescoes from Roman Period Discovered at Zippori in the Galilee in Hebrew University Excavations

10/08/2016

New finds contribute significantly to research of Roman art in Israel: Provide first evidence of figurative images in wall paintings at the site, and precede earliest mosaics discovered at the site by a hundred years

A team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered hundreds of fragments belonging to frescoes from the Roman period, in the Zippori National Park. The fragments, which contain figurative images, floral patterns and geometric motifs, shed light on Zippori (Sepphoris), which was an important urban center for the Jews of the Galilee during the Roman and Byzantine periods.

The discovery was made this summer in the excavations at Zippori, in memory of Ursula Johanna and Fritz Werner Blumenthal of Perth, Western Australia. The excavations are directed by Prof. Zeev Weiss, the Eleazar L. Sukenik Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.

The frescoes decorated a monumental building that was erected in the early second century CE north of the decumanus, a colonnaded street that cut across the city from east to west and continued to the foot of the Acropolis. The building, whose function is not clear at this stage of excavation, spread over a wide area, and the nature of the artifacts discovered indicate that it was an important public building. In the center of the building was a stone-paved courtyard and side portico decorated with stucco. West and north of the courtyard, several underground vaults were discovered. Some of these were used as water cisterns and were of high quality construction. The monumental building was built on the slope and the vaults were designed to allow the construction of the superstructure located on the level of the decumanus.

The monumental building was dismantled in the third century CE for reasons that are unclear, and was replaced by another public building, larger than its predecessor, parts of which were uncovered during this season. The monumental building's walls were dismantled in antiquity and its building materials — stone and plaster, some colorful — were buried under the floors of a newly established Roman building on the same location. Hundreds of plaster fragments discovered during this excavation season were concentrated in one area, and it seems that they belong to one or several rooms from the previous building.

The patterns on the plaster fragments are varied and are decorated in many colors. Among them are geometric patterns (guilloche) and brightly colored wall panels. Other fragments contain floral motifs (light shaded paintings on red backgrounds or various colors on a white background).

Particularly important are the pieces which depict figures — the head of a lion, a horned animal (perhaps a bull?), a bird, a tiger's hindquarters and more — usually on a black background. At least one fragment contains a depiction of a man bearing a club. Research on these pieces is in its early stages but it is already clear that at least one room in the building was decorated with figurative images, possibly depicting exotic animals and birds in various positions.

The population of Zippori prior to the Great Revolt against the Romans was not very large, and archaeological finds dating to this period are particularly notable for the absence of figurative images – both humans and animals. The construction of the Roman city of Zippori after the Great Revolt, in the late first century and the second century CE, is indicative of a change in the attitude of Galilean Jews toward Rome and its culture. The city gained the status of a polis thanks to its loyalty to Rome during the Great Revolt, and constructed monumental public buildings, as befit a polis, that stood out in the urban landscape. This building boom also included the monumental building discovered north of the decumanus whose walls were decorated with frescoes, and whose remains were discovered during this season.

The new finds in Zippori contribute significantly to the research of Roman art in Israel. To date, excavators uncovered the walls of several public and private buildings from Roman Zippori (second and third centuries CE) which were decorated with colorful frescoes in geometric and floral patterns. This season’s finds are the first, only and earliest evidence of figurative images in wall paintings at the site. The finds date to the beginning of the second century CE. Parallels to these finds are virtually unknown at other Israeli sites of the same period. Some panels bearing depictions of figures were discovered a few years ago in Herod’s palace at Herodium, and according to Josephus (Life of Josephus 65-69) the walls of the palace of Herod Antipas in Tiberias were also decorated with wall paintings depicting animals; but beyond that, no murals with depictions of figures, dating to the first century and the beginning of the second century CE, have been discovered to date in the region.

The discovery in Zippori is unique and provides new information regarding murals in Roman Palestine.  Zippori is well known for its unique mosaics. The newly discovered frescos are now added to the city’s rich material culture. While the earliest mosaics discovered at the site date to around 200 CE, the ancient frescoes precede them by about a hundred years and are thus of great importance.

These finds raise questions relating to their socio-historic background. Who initiated the construction of the monumental building that was discovered north of the decumanus? Who is responsible for choosing the patterns that adorn the walls, and for whom were they intended? The various finds uncovered  throughout the site indicate that Zippori, the Jewish capital of the Galilee, was home to many Jewish inhabitants throughout the Roman period, but the city also had a significant pagan community for which the temple was built to the south of the decumanus, opposite the monumental building,  parts of which were discovered this season. It is difficult to determine who was responsible for the construction and decoration of this monumental building, at this stage of excavation. However the new finds clearly reflect the multi-cultural climate that characterizes Zippori in the years following the Great Revolt, in the late first century and the second century CE.

About the Excavations at Zippori

Most of the archaeological work conducted in Zippori since 1990 was led by the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This team worked both on the Upper Hill as well as in an area to the east.  The Hebrew University team revealed a well-planned city built around an impressive network of streets. Various buildings, public as well as private, were built in the city which existed throughout the Byzantine period. Among the public buildings uncovered are a Roman temple, bath houses, a theatre, two churches, and a synagogue. Over 60 mosaics dating from the 3rd to 5th centuries CE have been uncovered to date in Zippori, in both public and private buildings. The mosaics include numerous rich and varied iconographic depictions, ranking the city among the most important mosaic centers of the Roman and Byzantine east. The assortment of finds that have come to light in the course of the excavations provides a wealth of information about this multifaceted urban center, allowing one to draw significant conclusions about this Hellenized city’s demographic composition, architectural development, and everyday life, as well as the cultural relationships between the various communities residing in Zippori during the first centuries of the Common Era.

About The Institute of Archaeology

The Institute of archaeology, the birthplace of Israeli archaeology, is a research and teaching unit within the Hebrew University's Faculty of Humanities. Academic programs include studies for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in prehistoric, biblical, and classical archaeology, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, and Computerized Archaeology. In addition to its role as a teaching and training institution, the Institute is involved in major archaeological endeavors and interdisciplinary research programs. Its excavations at major prehistoric and historic sites have shaped many of the current paradigms in Israeli archaeology and contributed to a better understanding of past human behavior. For more information, visit http://archaeology.huji.ac.il.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution, producing one-third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

Rare Frescoes from Roman Period Discovered at Zippori in the Galilee in Hebrew University Excavations
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Historic Find at Tel-Hazor: A Statue of an Egyptian Official

25/07/2016

In a historic find, a large fragment of an Egyptian statue measuring 45 X 40 centimeters, made of lime-stone, was discovered In the course of the current season of excavations at Tel-Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Only the lower part of the statue survived, depicting the crouching feet of a male figure, seated on a square base on which a few lines in the Egyptian hieroglyphic script are inscribed.

The archaeologists estimate that the complete statue would equal the size of a fully-grown man. At present only a preliminary reading of the inscriptions has been attempted, and the title and name of the Egyptian official who originally owned the statue, are not yet entirely clear.

The statue was originally placed either in the official's tomb or in a temple – most probably a temple of the Egyptian god Ptah – and most of the texts inscribed on the statue's base include words of praise to the official who may have served and most probably practiced his duties in the region of Memphis, the primary cult center of the god Ptah. They also include the customary Egyptian funerary formula ensuring eternal supply of offerings for the statue's owner. This statue, found this year, together with the sphinx fragment of the Egyptian king Mycerinus (who ruled Egypt in the 25th century B.C.E.) discovered at the site by the research team three years ago, are the only monumental Egyptian statues found so far in second millennium contexts in the entire Levant.

The discovery of these two statues in the same building currently being excavated by the research team, indicates the special importance of the building (probably the administrative palace of the ruler of the city), as well as that of the entire city of Hazor.

According to Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has been conducting excavations at Tel-Hazor for over 27 years, Hazor is the most important site from the Biblical period. Shlomit Bechar, a doctoral student at the Institute of Archaeology who has been excavating at Hazor for a decade, is co-director of the Hazor excavations and director of the main excavation area.

In the course of close to 30 years of excavation, fragments of 18 different Egyptian statues, both royal and private, dedicated to Egyptian kings and officials, including two sphinxes, were discovered at Hazor. Most of these statues were found in layers dated to the Late Bronze Age (15th-13th centuries B.C.E.) – corresponding to the New Kingdom in Egypt. This is the largest number of Egyptian statues found so far in any site in the Land of Israel, although there is no indication that Hazor was one of the Egyptian strongholds in Southern Canaan nor of the presence of an Egyptian official at Hazor during the Late Bronze Age.

Interestingly, most Egyptian statues found at Hazor so far date to Egypt's "Middle Kingdom" (19th-18th centuries B.C.E), a time when Hazor did not yet exist. It thus seems that the statues were sent by an Egyptian king in the "New Kingdom" as official gifts to the king of Hazor, or as dedications to a local temple (regardless of their being already "antiques"). This is not surprising considering the special status of the king of Hazor who was the most important king in Southern Canaan at the time. The extraordinary importance of Hazor in the 15th-13th centuries B.C.E. is indicated also by the Biblical reference to Hazor as "the head of all those kingdoms" (Joshua 11:10).

All the statues at the site were found broken to pieces and scattered over a large area. Clear signs of mutilation indicate that most of them were deliberately and violently smashed, most probably in the course of the city's final conquest and destruction sometime in the 13th century B.C.E. The deliberate mutilation of statues of kings and dignitaries accompanying the conquest of towns, is a well-known practice in ancient times (I Samuel 5:1-4; Isaiah 11:9) as well as in our time.

The Hazor excavations, which began in the mid 1950 (under the direction of the late Prof. Yigael Yadin), are carried out on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations were resumed in 1990 – still on behalf of the Hebrew University, and the Israel Exploration Society, and are named "The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin". The excavation takes place within the Hazor National Park, in full support and cooperation with the National Parks Authority.

Hazor is the largest biblical-era site in Israel, covering some 200 acres, and has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The population of Hazor in the second millennium BCE is estimated to have been about 20,000, making it the largest and most important city in the entire region. Its size and strategic location on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon made it "the head of all those kingdoms" according to the biblical book of Joshua (Joshua 11:10). Hazor's conquest by the Israelites opened the way to the conquest and settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. The city was rebuilt and fortified by King Solomon and prospered in the days of Ahab and Jeroboam II, until its final destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.

Documents discovered at Hazor and at sites in Egypt and Iraq attest that Hazor maintained cultural and trade relations with both Egypt and Babylon. Artistic artifacts, including those imported to Hazor from near and far, have been unearthed at the site. Hazor is currently one of Israel's national parks.

The Institute of Archaeology, the birthplace of Israeli archaeology, is a research and teaching unit within the Hebrew University's Faculty of Humanities. Academic programs include studies for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in prehistoric, biblical, and classical archaeology, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East and Computerized Archaeology. In addition to its role as a teaching and training institution, the Institute is involved in major archaeological endeavors and interdisciplinary research programs. Its excavations at major prehistoric and historic sites have shaped many of the current paradigms in Israeli archaeology and contributed to a better understanding of past human behavior. For more information, visit http://archaeology.huji.ac.il.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution, producing one-third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

Historic Find at Tel-Hazor: A Statue of an Egyptian Official
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12,000-Year-Old Funeral Feast Brings Ancient Burial Rituals to Life

06/07/2016

One of the earliest funeral banquets ever to be discovered reveals a preplanned, carefully constructed event that reflects social changes at the beginning of the transition to agriculture in the Natufian period

The woman was laid on a bed of specially selected materials, including gazelle horn cores, fragments of chalk, fresh clay, limestone blocks and sediment. Tortoise shells were placed under and around her body, 86 in total. Sea shells, an eagle's wing, a leopard's pelvis, a forearm of a wild boar and even a human foot were placed on the body of the mysterious 1.5 meter-tall woman. Atop her body, a large stone was laid to seal the burial space.

It was not an ordinary funeral, said the Hebrew University archaeologist who discovered the grave in a cave site on the bank of the Hilazon river in the western Galilee region of northern Israel back in 2008 (LINK). Three other grave pits have been found at the site of Hilazon Tachtit since 1995, and most contained bones of several humans. Nevertheless, the unusual objects found inside the grave, measuring approximately 0.70 m x 1.00 m x 0.45 m, point to the uniqueness of the event and the woman at its center.

Eight years after the discovery, Prof. Leore Grosman from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Natalie Munro from the University of Connecticut, have identified the sequence of events of the mysterious funeral ritual that took place 12,000 years ago.

"We've assigned the event to stages based on field notes, digitized maps, stones, architecture and artifact frequency distributions and concentrations," said Prof. Grosman, adding that, "The high quality of preservation and recovery of a well-preserved grave of an unusual woman, probably a shaman, enabled the identification of six stages of a funerary ritual."

The research, published in the journal Current Anthropology (LINK), details the order of the six-step sequence and its ritual and ideological importance for the people who enacted it.

It began with the excavation of an oval grave pit in the cave floor. Next, a layer of objects was cached between large stones, including seashells, a broken basalt palette, red ochre, chalk, and several complete tortoise shells. These were covered by a layer of sediment containing ashes, and garbage composed of flint and animal bones. About halfway through the ritual, the woman was laid inside the pit in a child-bearing position, and special items including many more tortoise shells were placed on top of and around her. This was followed by another layer of filling and limestones of various sizes that were placed directly on the body. The ritual concluded with the sealing of the grave with a large, heavy stone.  

A wide range of activities took place in preparation for the funerary event. This included the collection of materials required for grave construction, and the capture and preparation of animals for the feast, particularly the 86 tortoises, which must have been time-consuming.

"The significant pre-planning implies that there was a defined 'to do' list, and a working plan of ritual actions and their order," said Prof. Grosman.

The study of funerary ritual in the archaeological record becomes possible only after humans began to routinely bury their dead in archaeologically visible locations. The Natufian period (15,000-11,500 years ago) in the southern Levant marks an increase in the frequency and concentration of human burials.

"The remnants of a ritual event at this site provide a rare opportunity to reconstruct the dynamics of ritual performance at a time when funerary ritual was becoming an increasingly important social mediator at a crucial juncture deep in human history," the researchers said.

This unusual Late Natufian funerary event in Hilazon Tachtit Cave in northern Israel provides strong evidence for community engagement in ritual practice, and its analysis contributes to the growing picture of social complexity in the Natufian period as a predecessor for increasingly public ritual and social transformations in the early Neolithic period that follows.

The unprecedented scale and extent of social change in the Natufian, especially in terms of ritual activities, make this period central to current debates regarding the origin and significance of social and ritual processes in the agricultural transition.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s leading academic and research institution, producing one-third of all civilian research in Israel. For more information, visit http://new.huji.ac.il/en.

Citation: Leore Grosman and Natalie D. Munro, "A Natufian Ritual Event," Current Anthropology57, no. 3 (June 2016); DOI: 10.1086/686563. Link to Current Anthropology: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/686563.

12,000-Year-Old Funeral Feast Brings Ancient Burial Rituals to Life
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