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Underwater Stonehenge-like Monument Discovered by TAU Researcher
8/18/2015

Monolith found on island submerged by flood nearly 10,000 years ago

Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, Italy, have discovered a mysterious Stonehenge-style monolith in the sea off the coast of Sicily, shedding new light on the earliest civilizations in the Mediterranean basin.

The 3.2-foot-long, 15-ton monolith is broken in two parts and features three holes of similar diameter. The holes leave little doubt that the monolith was human-made some 10,000 years ago. The once single large block required cutting, extraction, transportation, and installation.

"There are no reasonable known natural processes that may have produced these elements," writes Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham of TAU's Department of Earth Sciences and Emanuele Lodolo of the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, in a study published in the most recent Journal of Archaeological Science.

The monolith was found 131 feet underwater on what was once an island in the Sicilian Channel called Pantelleria Vecchia Bank. The island was located some 24 miles north of the volcanic island of Pantelleria and was submerged during a massive flood about 9,500 years ago. According to the study, "The Sicilian Channel is one of the shallow shelves of the central Mediterranean region where the consequences of changing sea-level were most dramatic and intense."

<p<"This discovery reveals the technological innovation and development achieved by the Mesolithic inhabitants in the Sicilian Channel region," Prof. Lodolo said. The monolith's function is not known, nor whether it was part of a larger complex.

For more, read the story in Discovery News: "Underwater 'Stonehenge' Monolith Found Off Coast of Sicily"

TAU Among International Researchers to Discover First Evidence of Farming in Mideast
7/22/2015

International collaboration uncovers proof of earliest small-scale agricultural cultivation

Until now, researchers believed farming was "invented" some 12,000 years ago in the Cradle of Civilization — Iraq, the Levant, parts of Turkey and Iran — an area that was home to some of the earliest known human civilizations. A new discovery by an international collaboration of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Harvard University, Bar-Ilan University, and the University of Haifa offers the first evidence that trial plant cultivation began far earlier — some 23,000 years ago.

The study focuses on the discovery of the first weed species at the site of a sedentary human camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was published in PLOS ONE and led by Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University in collaboration with Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences and Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, among other colleagues.

"While full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, our study shows that trial cultivation began far earlier than previously believed, and gives us reason to rethink our ancestors' capabilities," said Prof. Sternberg. "Those early ancestors were more clever and more skilled than we knew."

Evidence among the weeds

Although weeds are considered a threat or nuisance in farming, their presence at the site of the Ohalo II people's camp revealed the earliest signs of trial plant cultivation — some 11 millennia earlier than conventional ideas about the onset of agriculture.

The plant material was found at the site of the Ohalo II people, who were fisher hunter-gatherers and established a sedentary human camp. The site was unusually well preserved, having been charred, covered by lake sediment, and sealed in low-oxygen conditions — ideal for the preservation of plant material. The researchers examined the weed species for morphological signs of domestic-type cereals and harvesting tools, although their very presence is evidence itself of early farming.

"This uniquely preserved site is one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of the hunter-gatherers' way of life," said Prof. Sternberg. "It was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants."

"Because weeds thrive in cultivated fields and disturbed soils, a significant presence of weeds in archaeobotanical assemblages retrieved from Neolithic sites and settlements of later age is widely considered an indicator of systematic cultivation," according to the study.

Early gatherers

The site bears the remains of six shelters and a particularly rich assemblage of plants. Upon retrieving and examining approximately 150,000 plant specimens, the researchers determined that early humans there had gathered over 140 species of plants. These included 13 known weeds mixed with edible cereals, such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats.

The researchers found a grinding slab — a stone tool with which cereal starch granules were extracted — as well as a distribution of seeds around this tool, reflecting that the cereal grains were processed for consumption. The large number of cereals showing specific kinds of scars on their seeds indicate the likelihood of those cereals growing in fields, and the presence of sickle blades indicates that these humans deliberately planned the harvest of cereal.

The new study offers evidence that early humans clearly functioned with a basic knowledge of agriculture and, perhaps more importantly, exhibited foresight and extensive agricultural planning far earlier than previously believed.

Where There’s Smoke: 400,000-Year-Old Dental Tartar Provides Earliest Evidence of Manmade Pollution
6/17/2015

New discovery at TAU excavation of Qesem Cave reveals early prehistoric "balanced" diet and presence of respiratory irritants


Human teeth from Qesem Cave. Photo: Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, TAU

Most dentists recommend a proper teeth cleaning every six months to prevent, among other things, the implacable buildup of calculus or tartar — hardened dental plaque. Routine calculus buildup can only be removed through the use of ultrasonic tools or dental hand instruments. But what of 400,000-year-old dental tartar?

Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain, the U.K. and Australia, have uncovered evidence of food and potential respiratory irritants entrapped in the dental calculus of 400,000-year-old teeth at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major discoveries from the late Lower Paleolithic period. The research, published in Quaternary International, led by Prof. Karen Hardy of ICREA at the Universitat Autònoma, Barcelona, Spain, together with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, in collaboration with Dr. Rachel Sarig of TAU's School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Stephen Buckley of the University of York, Anita Radini of the University of York and the University of Leicester, U.K., and Prof. Les Copeland of the University of Sydney, Australia, provides direct evidence of what early Palaeolithic people ate and the quality of the air they breathed inside Qesem Cave.

Possible respiratory irritants, including traces of charcoal — manmade environmental pollution — found in the dental calculus, may have resulted from smoke inhalation from indoor fires used for roasting meat on a daily basis. This earliest direct evidence for inhaled environmental pollution may well have had a deleterious effect on the health of these early humans.

"Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque," said Prof. Gopher. "However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well."

In what Prof. Barkai describes as a "time capsule," the analysed calculus revealed three major findings: charcoal from indoor fires; evidence for the ingestion of essential plant-based dietary components; and fibers that might have been used to clean teeth or were remnants of raw materials.

"Prof. Karen Hardy published outstanding research on the dental calculus of Neanderthals from El Sidron cave in Spain, but these dated back just 40,000-50,000 years — we are talking far earlier than this," said Prof. Barkai.

Burned animal bones from Qesem Cave. Photo: Ruth Blasco

"This is the first evidence that the world's first indoor BBQs had health-related consequences," said Prof. Barkai. "The people who lived in Qesem not only enjoyed the benefits of fire — roasting their meat indoors — but they also had to find a way of controlling the fire — of living with it.

"This is one of the first, if not the first, cases of manmade pollution on the planet. I live near power plants, near chemical factories. On the one hand, we are dependent on technology, but on the other, we are inhaling its pollutants. Progress has a price — and we find possibly the first evidence of this at Qesem Cave 400,000 years ago."

The researchers also found minute traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, and small particles of starch in the analysed calculus. "We know that the cave dwellers ate animals, and exploited them entirely," said Prof. Barkai. "We know that they hunted them, butchered them, roasted them, broke their bones to extract their marrow, and even used the butchered bones as hammers to shape flint tools. Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed.

"We have come full circle in our understanding of their diet and hunting and gathering practices."

Within the calculus, the researchers also discovered small plant fibers, which they suspect may have been used to clean teeth — prehistoric tooth picks.

"Our findings are rare — there is no other similar discovery from this time period," said Prof. Barkai. "The charcoal and starch findings give us a more comprehensive idea of how these people lived their lives — and this broader view came directly from their teeth."

The research was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and Pharos Research sponsored the dental calculus work. The Qesem Cave excavations are supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the CARE Archaeological Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Thyssen Foundation, and the Dan David Foundation.

Prehistoric Stone Tools Bear 500,000-Year-Old Animal Residue
3/19/2015

TAU discovers first direct evidence early flint tools were used to butcher animal carcasses


An elephant rib bearing cutmarks associated with flint tools at the Revadim site.

Some 2.5 million years ago, early humans survived on a paltry diet of plants. As the human brain expanded, however, it required more substantial nourishment — namely fat and meat — to sustain it. This drove prehistoric man, who lacked the requisite claws and sharp teeth of carnivores, to develop the skills and tools necessary to hunt animals and butcher fat and meat from large carcasses.

Among elephant remains some 500,000 years old at a Lower Paleolithic site in Revadim, Israel, Prof. Ran Barkai and his graduate students Natasha Solodenko and Andrea Zupanchich of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures recently analyzed "handaxes" and "scrapers," universally shaped and sized prehistoric stone tools, replete with animal residue.

The research, published recently in PLOS One, represents the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Paleolithic stone tools: to process animal carcasses and hides. The research was done in collaboration with Drs. Stella Ninziante Cesaro and Cristina Lemorini of La Sapienza, University of Rome, and Dr. Ofer Marder of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Putting the puzzle together

"There are three parts to this puzzle: the expansion of the human brain, the shift to meat consumption, and the ability to develop sophisticated technology to meet the new biological demands. The invention of stone technology was a major breakthrough in human evolution," Prof. Barkai said. "Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone.

"At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint handaxes and scrapers still retaining animal fat. It became clear from further analyses that butchering and carcass processing indeed took place at this site."

Through use-wear analysis — examining the surfaces and edges of the tools to determine their function — and the Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) residue analysis which harnesses infrared to identify signatures of prehistoric organic compounds, the researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time direct proof of animal exploitation by flint tools.

"Archaeologists have until now only been able to suggest scenarios about the use and function of such tools. We don’t have a time machine," Prof. Barkai said. "It makes sense that these tools would be used to break down carcasses, but until evidence was uncovered to prove this, it remained just a theory."

A prehistoric Swiss army knife

While the question of their function and production remained unanswered until now, there was little doubt that the handaxe and scraper, found at prehistoric sites all around the world, were distinct, used for specific purposes. By replicating the flint tools for a modern butchering experiment, and then comparing the replicas with their prehistoric counterparts, the researchers determined that the handaxe was prehistoric man's sturdy "Swiss army knife," capable of cutting and breaking down bone, tough sinew, and hide. The slimmer, more delicate scraper was used to separate fur and animal fat from muscle tissue.

"Prehistoric peoples made use of all parts of the animal," said Prof. Barkai. "In the case of the massive elephant, for example, they would have needed to use both tools to manage such a challenging task. The knowledge of how to make these tools was precious, and must have been passed along from generation to generation, because these tools were reproduced the same way across great territorial expanses and over hundreds of thousands of years.

"In this thousand-piece puzzle called archaeology, sometimes we find pieces that connect other pieces together. This is what we have found with the stone tools and animal bones."

Ancient Skull Proves Modern Humans Colonized Eurasia 60-70,000 Years Ago
1/29/2015

TAU discovery also indicates modern humans coexisted, interbred with Neanderthals in the Levant


The skull. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

While it is widely accepted that the origins of modern humans date back some 200,000 years to Africa, there has been furious debate as to which model of early Homo sapiens migration most plausibly led to the population of the planet — and the eventual extinction of Neanderthals. While fossil records prove that some anatomically modern human groups reached the Levantine corridor (the modern Middle East) as early as 100,000 years ago, genetic testing indicates that human populations inhabiting the globe today descended from a single group that migrated from Africa only 70,000 years ago — an unexplained gap of 30,000 years. Little evidence has emerged to bridge the contradictory theories.

Until now. The discovery in the Manot Cave of Israel's Western Galilee of an almost complete skull dating back 55,000 years provides direct anatomical evidence that fills the historic time gap of modern human migration into Europe. It is also the first proof that anatomically modern humans existed at the same time as Neanderthals in the same geographical area.

The finding, by Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, the Tassia and Dr. Joseph Meychan Chair for the History and Philosophy of Medicine at the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Head of The Dan David Laboratory for the Search and Study of Modern Humans at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and National Research Center, was published in Nature this week.

A new light on our ancestors


At the beginning of excavations, the only possible entry to the cave was to rappel from the hole the bulldozer had discovered. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

"The morphology of the skull indicates that it is that of a modern human of African origin, bearing characteristics of early European Upper Palaeolithic populations. This suggests that the Levantine populations were ancestral to earlier European populations," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "This study also provides important clues regarding the likely inbreeding between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals."

The Manot Cave, where the skull was unearthed, was discovered accidentally in 2008 when a bulldozer struck the cave roof, revealing a time capsule tens of thousands of years old. "This is a goldmine," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "Most other caves are 'disturbed caves,' but this is untouched, frozen in time — truly an amazing find. Among other artefacts found there, the skull, which we dated to 55,000 years ago using uranium thorium methods, was astonishing. It provides insight into the beginnings of the dispersal of modern humans all over the world."

According to Prof. Hershkovitz, the skull disproves two major narratives: that all modern human populations are linked to migrations out of Africa 100,000 years ago, and that early European Upper Paleolithic populations interbred with local European Neanderthals. Instead the skull indicates that modern humans met and interbred with Neanderthals in Israel, only to later pass on their genes to the rest of the world. Considering Europe was in the last Ice Age period, its harsh climate rendered it generally inhospitable, so humans from the Levant moved first to Asia, and only later (45,000 ago) to Europe.

Sorting out the contradictions


The Manot Cave. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

"This was a wonderful scenario, but there was one problem," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "Geneticists discovered that present-day human populations were linked to a group of African modern humans who started migrating 70,000 years ago. Accordingly, all previous migrations of modern humans out of Africa were presumed to have reached a dead end, contributing nothing to present-day human life. But this was a prediction based on genetic studies only. No fossils to be found anywhere to back it up."

The first physical evidence that modern man left Africa 70,000 years ago, stopped in Israel, then moved afterward to Europe came in the form of the newly discovered Manot skull. "This skull dates back 55,000 years, a critical time period," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "If modern humans indeed moved from Africa 70,000 years ago to Israel, this skull means they settled in the Levant for a long period of time, before moving to Europe (45,000 years ago).

"When we analysed the morphology of Manot skull, we made two important discoveries. First, we found African affinities, confirming that the Manot population originated in Africa. Second, we noted many morphological peculiarities akin to early Upper Paleolitic populations in Europe, which suggest ancestral connections to earlier European populations. All of this confirms that people in Manot came from Africa, stayed in Israel for several thousand years, and later, when weather conditions improved, moved to Europe. The Manot people are indeed the ancestors of European populations."

A further critical finding was the apparent communication and interbreeding between the local Neanderthals and the Manot Homo sapiens in the Levant — not in Europe, as some anthropologists previously hypothesized. "When the Manot people came to Israel, they encountered a flourishing population of Neanderthals, with whom they must have communicated, shared tools and interbred with," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "According to our analysis of the skull, which bears a complex mix of archaic and modern characteristics, this was probably the only place on earth where Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans lived side by side for a long period of time."

Excavation at Megiddo Yields Proof of Animal Sacrifice
10/21/2014

TAU researchers believe that corridors of massive 5,000-year-old temple were used for ritual discarding of bones


Finding animal bone remnants in the rear of the temple.
Photo: Israel Finkelstein

The identity of the gods worshipped at Tel Megiddo 5,000 years ago remains shrouded in mystery. But the ceremonies that took place at the vast Great Temple, unearthed in 2010 by Tel Aviv University's Megiddo Expedition, evidently involved animal sacrifice. Two long, narrow corridors in the main structure of the massive temple were discovered to be full of bones, as was a third corridor which served as the corridors' access path.

In an article published in April in The American Journal of Archaeology, Prof. Israel Finkelstein, Prof. David Ussishkin, and Dr. Matthew J. Adams of TAU's Megiddo Expedition, now say that the corridors were used to ritually discard bones after animal sacrifices. They suggest that the deliberate arrangement of the remains "lends support to the sanctity of the process and suggests that there was a ritual dimension to the discard process."

Prof. Finkelstein of TAU's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Prof. Eric H. Cline of George Washington University currently co-direct the Mediddo Expedition.

More than 80 percent of the recently discovered remains were found to be those of young sheep and goats; the rest were cattle bones. The western corridor contained bones marked with cuts, which may have originated in the early stages of carcass processing. The bones in the eastern corridor showed signs of burning, possibly indicating that they were the product of later stages of carcass processing.

The Great Temple is the most monumental single structure uncovered from the Early Bronze Age in the Levant. The building, which covers 3,610 square feet, has no equal of its era. It is more than ten times larger than the average temple of the time, which measured around 328 square feet in size.

For more, read the Haaretz story:
"5,000-year old Megiddo temple yields evidence of industrial animal sacrifice"

Ancient Metal Workers Were Not Slaves But Highly Regarded Craftsmen
8/28/2014

Iron Age copper smelters were respected leaders with sophisticated skills, say Tel Aviv University archaeologists


Excavation at Slaves' Hill. Photo: CTV project at Tel Aviv University

In 1934, American archaeologist Nelson Glueck named one of the largest known copper production sites of the Levant "Slaves' Hill." This hilltop station, located deep in Israel's Arava Valley, seemed to bear all the marks of an Iron Age slave camp — fiery furnaces, harsh desert conditions, and a massive barrier preventing escape. New evidence uncovered by Tel Aviv University archaeologists, however, overturns this entire narrative.

In the course of ongoing excavations at Timna Valley, Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures analyzed remnants of food eaten by copper smelters 3,000 years ago. The result of this analysis, published in the journal Antiquity, indicates that the laborers operating the furnaces were in fact skilled craftsmen who enjoyed high social status and adulation. They believe their discovery may have ramifications for similar sites across the region.

"What we found represents a general trend or reality related to metal workers in antiquity," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "They had a very unique role in society, and we can demonstrate this by looking at Timna."

Examining ancient leftovers

The rare arid conditions of Timna have resulted in unparalleled preservation of organic materials usually destroyed by the march of time: bones, seeds, fruits, and even fabric dating back to the 10th century B.C. Using a technique called "wet sieving," the archaeologists found miniscule animal and fish bones, evidence of a rich and diverse diet.

"The copper smelters were given the better cuts of meat — the meatiest parts of the animals," said Dr. Sapir-Hen. "Someone took great care to give the people working in the furnaces the best of everything. They also enjoyed fish, which must have been brought from the Mediterranean hundreds of kilometers away. This was not the diet of slaves but of highly-regarded, maybe even worshipped, craftsmen."

Copper, used at the time to produce tools and weapons, was the most valuable resource in ancient societies. According to Dr. Ben-Yosef, the smelters needed to be well-versed in the sophisticated technology required to turn stone into usable copper. This knowledge was so advanced for the time it may have been considered magical or supernatural.

"Like oil today, copper was a source of great power," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "If a person had the exceptional knowledge to 'create copper,' it is not surprising he would have been treated well. In comparing our findings to current ethnographic accounts from Africa, we see smelters worshipped and even honored with animal sacrifices."

Copper production is a complex operation requiring many levels of expertise. Ancient mine workers at Timna may have indeed been slaves or prisoners, because theirs was a simple task performed under severe conditions. However, the act of smelting, turning stone into metal, required an enormous amount of skill and leadership. The smelter had to build a furnace out of clay in precise dimensions, provide the right amount of oxygen and charcoal, maintain a 1,200 degree (Celsius) heat, connect bellow pipes, blow a fixed amount of air, and add an exact mixture of minerals. All told, the smelter had to manage some 30-40 variables in order to produce the coveted copper ingots.

Reconstructing social diversity

According to Dr. Sapir-Hen, an expert on early complex societies, the food remains reflect the social stratification of different laborers at the site. "By studying the remains of domesticated food animals, we reveal differential access to meat that may indicate different levels of specialization among workers at the same site. This allowed us to reconstruct social diversity at the site," said Dr. Sapir-Hen.

The remains of the wall found at the Timna site, once considered a barrier used to contain slave laborers, apparently played a different role as well. "We now know it was a wall used to defend the sophisticated technology and its most precious product — the ingot, the result of the complex copper smelting process," said Dr. Ben-Yosef.

The research on the ancient societies of Timna continues as part of the Central Timna Valley (CTV) Project of Tel Aviv University.

Finding Israel's First Camels
2/3/2014

TAU archaeologists pinpoint the date when domesticated camels arrived in Israel

Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible's historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.

Now Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures have used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the moment when domesticated camels arrived in the southern Levant, pushing the estimate from the 12th to the 9th century BCE. The findings, published recently in the journal Tel Aviv, further emphasize the disagreements between Biblical texts and verifiable history, and define a turning point in Israel's engagement with the rest of the world.

"The introduction of the camel to our region was a very important economic and social development," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "By analyzing archaeological evidence from the copper production sites of the Aravah Valley, we were able to estimate the date of this event in terms of decades rather than centuries."

Copper mining and camel riding

Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE. In 2013, he led another dig in the area.

To determine exactly when domesticated camels appeared in the southern Levant, Dr. Sapir-Hen and Dr. Ben-Yosef used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to analyze the findings of these digs as well as several others done in the valley. In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible. The few camel bones found in earlier archaeological layers probably belonged to wild camels, which archaeologists think were in the southern Levant from the Neolithic period or even earlier. Notably, all the sites active in the 9th century in the Arava Valley had camel bones, but none of the sites that were active earlier contained them.

The appearance of domesticated camels in the Aravah Valley appears to coincide with dramatic changes in the local copper mining operation. Many of the mines and smelting sites were shut down; those that remained active began using more centralized labor and sophisticated technology, according to the archaeological evidence. The researchers say the ancient Egyptians may have imposed these changes — and brought in domesticated camels — after conquering the area in a military campaign mentioned in both biblical and Egyptian sources.

Humping it to India

The origin of the domesticated camel is probably the Arabian Peninsula, which borders the Aravah Valley and would have been a logical entry point for domesticated camels into the southern Levant. In fact, Dr. Ben-Yosef and Dr. Sapir-Hen say the first domesticated camels ever to leave the Arabian Peninsula may now be buried in the Aravah Valley.

The arrival of domesticated camels promoted trade between Israel and exotic locations unreachable before, according to the researchers; the camels can travel over much longer distances than the donkeys and mules that preceded them. By the seventh century BCE, trade routes like the Incense Road stretched all the way from Africa through Israel to India. Camels opened Israel up to the world beyond the vast deserts, researchers say, profoundly altering its economic and social history.


Everything Old is New Again: Cavemen Recycled to Survive
11/7/2013

TAU discusses the origins of recycling at on-campus conference

Recycling may seem like a modern practice, championed by 21st century environmentalists and concerned urbanites. But there is mounting evidence that, hundreds of thousands of years ago, cavemen recycled the objects they used in their daily lives, says Prof. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures.

"For the first time, we are revealing the extent of this phenomenon, both in terms of the amount of recycling that went on and the different methods used," Prof. Barkai said at a four-day gathering he helped organize at TAU in October. The conference, titled "The Origins of Recycling," gathered nearly 50 scholars from about 10 countries to compare notes and figure out what the phenomenon meant for our prehistoric ancestors.

From caves in Spain and North Africa to sites in Italy and Israel, archaeologists have been finding recycled tools in recent years. Just as today we recycle materials,

like paper and plastic, to manufacture new items, early hominids would collect discarded or broken tools made of flint and bone to create new utensils, Prof. Barkai said. The behavior appeared at different times, in different places, and with different methods. Recycling was widespread not only among early humans but also among our evolutionary predecessors, such as Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and other species of hominids that have not yet been named.

Prof. Avi Gopher, also of TAU's Department of Archaeology, said the early appearance of recycling highlights its role as a basic survival strategy. While they may not have been driven by concerns over pollution and the environment, hominids shared some of our motivations, he said.

"Why do we recycle plastic? To conserve energy and raw materials," Gopher said. "In the same way, if you recycled flint you didn't have to go all the way to the quarry to get more, so you conserved your energy and saved on the material."

He said scientists have various ways to determine if a tool was recycled. They can find direct evidence of retouching and reuse, or they can look at the object's patina — a progressive discoloration that occurs once stone is exposed to the elements. Differences in the patina indicate that a fresh layer of material was exposed hundreds or thousands of years after the tool's first incarnation.

For more, see the AP story at Yahoo News:
http://news.yahoo.com/israel-conference-cavemen-discovered-recycling-065933653.html


Genetic Study Proves Israel's Wild Boars Originated in Europe
11/4/2013

TAU researchers say animals descended from pigs brought by the Philistines 3,000 years ago

Wild boars look more or less the same in Israel as they do anywhere else: stalky and hairy with big heads, long snouts, and beady eyes. So scientists had no reason to suspect Israeli wild boars were any different than their brothers and sisters roaming the Middle East, from Egypt to Iran.

Now, in a study reported in the New York Times today, Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Dr. Meirav Meiri of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near East Civilizations together with Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen from the same department and Dr. Dorothee Huchon of TAU's Department of Zoology have found that, unlike the Near Eastern wild boars in surrounding countries, Israel's wild boars originated in Europe. After a genetic and archaeological analysis, the researchers suggest the wild boars living in Israel are descendants of domesticated pigs brought to Israel starting almost 3,000 years ago by the Philistines and other seafaring raiders.

The findings were published this week in Scientific Reports. Prof. Steve Weiner and Dr. Eilsabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of Haifa University, Dr. Greger Larsen of Durham University, Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University and Dr. Liora Kolska Horwitz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem contributed to the study.

Pillagers and pig lovers

"Our DNA analysis proves that the wild boars living in Israel today are the descendants of European pigs brought here starting in the Iron Age, around 900 BCE," says Prof. Finkelstein. "Given the concentration of pig bones found at Philistine archaeological sites, the European pigs likely came over in the Philistines' boats."

Pig bones have been found in abundance at Philistine archaeological sites along Israel's southern coastal plane dating from the beginning of the Iron Age, around 1150 to 950 BCE. But pig bones are rare or absent at Iron Age sites in other parts of the country, including in the central hills, where Ancient Israel is thought to have emerged. The researchers set out to determine whether the Philistines and other Sea Peoples — groups of seafaring invaders from around the Aegean Sea — made use of local pig breeds or brought new ones with them from their native lands. Because there is not much difference in the size and the shape between European and Near Eastern pigs, the researchers had to use DNA testing to identify the origins of the animals.

Genetics researchers divide the pigs of the world into three main groups: European, Far Eastern, and Near Eastern. To the researchers' surprise, each of the 25 modern-day wild boars they analyzed from Israel share a European genetic signature, whereas modern-day boars from nearby countries, like Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran, have a Near Eastern genetic signature. The researchers conclude that European pigs arrived in Israel at some point and overtook the local pig population.

To find out when, the researchers collected and analyzed pig bones from archaeological sites across Israel — ranging from the Neolithic period to medieval times, 9500 BCE to 1200 CE — the most comprehensive study of ancient DNA carried out in Israel in terms of both number of samples and time span. The results showed that pigs from the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age display the local Near Eastern genetic signature, while a European genetic signature appears early in the Iron Age, around 900 BCE, and has been dominant ever since. Domestic European pig breeds may have been introduced by groups of "Sea Peoples" — including the Philistines, mentioned in the Bible — who migrated to the coast of the Levant starting in the 12th century BCE and settled in places like Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod.

Making themselves at home

Additional European pigs could have been brought to the Levant during the Roman-Byzantine period and during the Crusades. Over time, Over time, the European pigs overtook the local pig population, and their descendants are the only wild boars living in Israel today. The domestic European pigs could have driven the local pigs to extinction, or mated with them — which the researchers think is more likely. To find out for sure, they are further analyzing the DNA of modern wild boars.

"If the European pigs mated with the local pigs, as we suspect, today's modern wild boars should have some Near Eastern DNA," says Dr. Meiri, who conducted the laboratory work for the study in a special, highly sterile lab in TAU's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology. "If the European pigs just out-competed the locals, we'd expect the wild boars to have purely European DNA."

The pig study is part of a larger project directed by Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Weiner, which makes use of modern exact- and life-science methods to study the Iron Age. It was funded by a generous research grant from the prestigious European Research Council.

To read the New York Times story, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/05/world/middleeast/pigs-in-israel-originated-in-europe-researchers-say.html


TAU Solves a 3,000-Year-Old Mystery with Pollen
10/22/2013

TAU archaeologists dig under Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to explain the collapse of Bronze Age empires in the Levant

More than 3,200 years ago, the thriving civilizations in and around modern-day Israel suddenly collapsed for reasons that have long been a mystery.

Now Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Dr. Dafna Langgut of the Dr. Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Thomas Litt of the University of Bonn in Germany have found an answer in the pollen at the bottom of Israel's lakes. In a study published Monday in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and reported in the New York Times, the researchers say it was drought that led to the fall of the ancient southern Levant.

As a result of this climate change, "in a short period of time the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled," explains Prof. Finkelstein.

An unusually high-resolution analysis of pollen grains taken from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee and the western shore of the Dead Sea, backed up by a chronology of radiocarbon dating, pinpointed the period of the crisis at between 1250 and 1100 BC. The study used a unique combination of technological, archaeological, and historical analysis to provide the fullest picture yet of the environmental disaster.

Several years ago, Prof. Finkelstein received a grant from the European Research Council to conduct research aimed at reconstructing ancient Israel. The project consists of 10 tracks, including ancient DNA and molecular archaeology. For the climate change part of the project, the researchers extracted about 60 feet of samples of gray muddy sediment from the center of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Drills passed through 1,000 feet of water and into 65 feet of the lake bed, recovering evidence dating over the past nine millenia. At Wadi Zeelim in the southern Judean Desert, on the western margins of the Dead Sea, the researchers manually extracted eight cores of sediment, each about 20 inches long.

"Pollen is the most enduring organic material in nature," explains Dr. Langgut, a pollen researcher who carried out the actual work of sampling. "These particles tell us about the vegetation that grew in the vicinity of the lake in the past and therefore testify to the climatic conditions in the region."

The results showed a sharp decrease in the Late Bronze Age of Mediterranean trees like oaks, pines, and carobs, and a similar decline in the local cultivation of olive trees, which the experts interpret as the consequence of repeated periods of drought. The droughts were likely exacerbated by cold spells, causing famine and the movement of marauders from north to south.

Recent studies of pollen grains conducted by experts in southeast Anatolia, Cyprus, along the northern coast of Syria and the Nile Delta came up with similar results, indicating that the crisis was regional. After the devastation came a wet period of recovery and resettlement, according to the researchers, eventually giving rising to the kingdoms of biblical times, including ancient Israel and Judah.

For more, see the New York Times story at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/world/middleeast/pollen-study-points-to-culprit-in-bronze-era-mystery.html

Proof of Solomon's Mines Found in Israel
9/3/2013

An excavation led by TAU archaeologists dates mines in the south of Israel to the days of King Solomon

New findings from an archaeological excavation led this winter by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures prove that copper mines in Israel thought to have been built by the ancient Egyptians in the 13th century BCE actually originated three centuries later, during the reign of the legendary King Solomon.

Based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert, the findings overturn the archaeological consensus of the last several decades. Scholarly work and materials found in the area suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that according to the Bible warred constantly with Israel.

"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," says Dr. Ben-Yosef. "They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise."

Slaves to history

Now a national park, Timna Valley was an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites. In February 2013, Dr. Ben-Yosef and a team of researchers and students excavated a previously untouched site in the valley, known as the Slaves' Hill. The area is a massive smelting camp containing the remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process.

In addition to the furnaces, the researchers unearthed an impressive collection of clothing, fabrics, and ropes made using advanced weaving technology; foods, like dates, grapes, and pistachios; ceramics; and various types of metallurgical installations. The world-renowned Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford in England dated 11 of the items to the 10th century BCE, when according to the Bible King Solomon ruled the Kingdom of Israel.

The archaeological record shows the mines in Timna Valley were built and operated by a local society, likely the early Edomites, who are known to have occupied the land and formed a kingdom that rivaled Judah. The unearthed materials and the lack of architectural remains at the Slaves' Hill support the idea that the locals were a semi-nomadic people who lived in tents.

The findings from the Slaves' Hill confirm those of a 2009 dig Ben-Yosef helped to conduct at "Site 30," another of the largest ancient smelting camps in Timna Valley. Then a graduate student of Prof. Thomas E. Levy at the University of California, San Diego, he helped demonstrate that the copper mines in the valley dated from the 11th to 9th centuries BCE — the era of Kings David and Solomon — and were probably Edomite in origin. The findings were reported in the journal The American Schools of Oriental Research in 2012, but the publication did little to shake the notion that the mines were Egyptian, based primarily on the discovery of an Egyptian Temple in the center of the valley in 1969.

Power without stone

The Slaves' Hill dig also demonstrates that the society in Timna Valley was surprisingly complex. The smelting technology was relatively advanced and the layout of the camp reflects a high level of social organization. Impressive cooperation would have been required for thousands of people to operate the mines in the middle of the desert.

"In Timna Valley, we unearthed a society with undoubtedly significant development, organization, and power," says Ben-Yosef. "And yet because the people were living in tents, they would have been transparent to us as archaeologists if they had been engaged in an industry other than mining and smelting, which is very visible archaeologically."

Although the society likely possessed a degree of political and military power, archaeologists would probably never have found evidence of its existence if it were not for the mining operation. Ben-Yosef says this calls into question archaeology's traditional assumption that advanced societies usually leave behind architectural ruins. He also says that the findings at the Slaves' Hill undermine criticisms of the Bible's historicity based on a lack of archaeological evidence. It's entirely possible that David and Solomon existed and even that they exerted some control over the mines in the Timna Valley at times, he says.

Dr. Ben-Yosef is leading another dig at the Slaves' Hill in the winter and is looking for volunteers.

TAU Archaeologists Find Massive Fortifications from the Iron Age
8/19/2013

A new excavation on the Israeli coast reveals ancient Assyrian wall

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have unearthed the remains of massive ancient fortifications built around an Iron-Age Assyrian harbor in present-day Israel.

At the heart of the well-preserved fortifications is a mud-brick wall up to more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet high. The wall is covered in layers of mud and sand that stretch for hundreds of feet on either side. When they were built in the eighth century B.C.E., the fortifications formed a daunting crescent-shaped defense for an inland area covering more than 17 acres.

The finding comes at the end of the first excavation season at the Ashdod-Yam archaeological dig in the contemporary Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, just south of Tel Aviv. Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures is leading the project on behalf of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.

"The fortifications appear to protect an artificial harbor," says Fantalkin. "If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant."

Building up and putting down

When the fortifications were built, the Assyrians ruled the southeastern part of the Mediterranean basin, including parts of Africa and the Middle East. Assyrian inscriptions reveal that at the end of the century, Yamani, the rebel king of Ashdod, led a rebellion against Sargon II, the king of the Assyrian Empire. The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, rejected Yamani's call to join the insurrection.

The Assyrians responded harshly to the rebellion, eventually destroying Philistine Ashdod. As a result, power shifted to the nearby area of Ashdod-Yam, where the TAU excavations are taking place. The fortifications seem to be related to these events, but it is not yet clear exactly how. They could have been built before or after the Ashdod rebellion was put down, either at the initiative of the locals or at the orders of the Assyrians.

"An amazing amount of time and energy was invested in building the wall and glacis [embankments]," says Fantalkin.

3D castles in the sand

More recent ruins — from the Hellenistic period, between the fourth and second centuries B.C.E. — were also found on top of the sand of the Iron Age fortifications. The buildings and walls were apparently built after the fortifications were abandoned and then probably destroyed by an earthquake in the second half of the second century B.C.E. Among the unusually well-preserved ruins were artifacts, including coins and weights.

The researchers employed a powerful new digital technique, photogrammetry, to create a 3D reconstruction of all the features of the excavation. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provided the equipment. Dr. Philip Sapirstein, a postdoctoral fellow at TAU, served as a digital surveyor on the project.

The only archaeological work done previously at Ashdod-Yam was a series of exploratory digs led by late Israeli archaeologist Dr. Jacob Kaplan on behalf of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Museum of Antiquities between 1965 and 1968. Kaplan believed the Ashdod rebels built the fortifications in anticipation of an Assyrian attack, but Fantalkin says the construction appears too impressive to have been done under such circumstances.

TAU Archaeologists Find Treasure Amid Trash
8/12/2013

A dig in Israel's Apollonia National Park has unearthed coins, rings, and jewelry in a Byzantine refuse pit

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered an archaeological treasure trove in an ancient garbage dump.

The dig, funded by the Israel Lands Administration, is part of the TAU-run Apollonia-Arsuf excavation project just north of Tel Aviv. The researchers are particularly interested in a number of Byzantine refuse pits on the site. One large pit, about 100 feet wide, was found to contain 400 Byzantine coins, 200 Samaritan lamps, and a variety of gold jewelry.

"In the midst of the many sherds [ancient fragments] in the big refuse pit was a large amount of usable artifacts, whose presence in the pit raises questions," Prof. Oren Tal, the chairman of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, said. Of note is an octagonal ring with excerpts from the Samaritan Pentateuch, including the words "Adonai is his name" and "One God, and so on" engraved in Samaritan around the band.

"Approximately a dozen Samaritan rings have been published so far in scientific literature, and this ring constitutes an important addition given the assemblage in which it was discovered," said Tal.

During many historical periods, the area of the excavation site served as farmland for the ancient city of Appollonia, also known as Arsuf, located along the nearby Mediterranean coast. Archaeological excavations conducted in what is now the Apollonia National Park between the 1950s and today show the site was continuously inhabited for more than 1,500 years — from the Persian period in the late sixth century BCE until the end of the Crusader period in the 13th century. The centerpiece of the park is a ruined Crusader fortress.

For more information about the dig, see the HeritageDaily story:
http://www.heritagedaily.com/2013/08/archaeologists-examine-historic-garbage-dump/98074


Mysterious Monument Found Beneath the Sea of Galilee
6/10/2013

TAU research says unique structure is the product of skilled construction

The shores of the Sea of Galilee, located in the North of Israel, are home to a number of significant archaeological sites. Now researchers from Tel Aviv University have found an ancient structure deep beneath the waves as well.

Researchers stumbled upon a cone-shaped monument, approximately 230 feet in diameter, 39 feet high, and weighing an estimated 60,000 tons, while conducting a geophysical survey on the southern Sea of Galilee, reports Prof. Shmulik Marco of TAU's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences. The team also included TAU Profs. Zvi Ben-Avraham and Moshe Reshef, and TAU alumni Dr. Gideon Tibor of the Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute.

Initial findings indicate that the structure was built on dry land approximately 6,000 years ago, and later submerged under the water. Prof. Marco calls it an impressive feat, noting that the stones, which comprise the structure, were probably brought from more than a mile away and arranged according to a specific construction plan.

Dr. Yitzhak Paz of the Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University says that the site, which was recently detailed in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, resembles early burial sites in Europe and was likely built in the early Bronze Age. He believes that there may be a connection to the nearby ancient city of Beit Yerah, the largest and most fortified city in the area.

Ancient structure revealed by sonar

The team of researchers initially set out to uncover the origins of alluvium pebbles found in this area of the Sea of Galilee, which they believe were deposited by the ancient Yavniel Creek, a precursor to the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galilee. While using sonar technology to survey the bottom of the lake, they observed a massive pile of stones in the midst of the otherwise smooth basin.

Curious about the unusual blip on their sonar, Prof. Marco went diving to learn more. A closer look revealed that the pile was not a random accumulation of stones, but a purposefully-built structure composed of three-foot-long volcanic stones called basalt. Because the closest deposit of the stone is more than a mile away, he believes that they were brought to the site specifically for this structure.

To estimate the age of the structure, researchers turned to the accumulation of sand around its base. Due to a natural build-up of sand throughout the years, the base is now six to ten feet below the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. Taking into account the height of the sand and the rate of accumulation, researchers deduced that the monument is several thousand years old.

Looking deeper

Next, the researchers plan to organize a specialized underwater excavations team to learn more about the origins of the structure, including an investigation of the surface the structure was built on. A hunt for artefacts will help to more accurately date the monument and give clues as to its purpose and builders. And while it is sure to interest archaeologists, Prof. Marco says that the findings could also illuminate the geological history of the region.

"The base of the structure — which was once on dry land — is lower than any water level that we know of in the ancient Sea of Galilee. But this doesn't necessarily mean that water levels have been steadily rising," he says. Because the Sea of Galilee is a tectonically active region, the bottom of the lake, and therefore the structure, may have shifted over time. Further investigation is planned to increase the understanding of past tectonic movements, the accumulation of sediment, and the changing water levels throughout history.


Desecrated Ancient Temple Sheds Light on Early Power Struggles at Tel Beth-Shemesh
11/12/2012

TAU archaeologists unearth unique 11th-century BCE sacred compound with a turbulent history

Tel Aviv University researchers have uncovered a unique 11th-century BCE sacred compound at the site of Tel Beth-Shemesh, an ancient village that resisted the aggressive expansion of neighboring Philistines. The newly discovered sacred complex is comprised of an elevated, massive circular stone structure and an intricately constructed building characterized by a row of three flat, large round stones. Co-directors of the dig Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of TAU's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology say that this temple complex is unparalleled, possibly connected to an early Israelite cult — and provides remarkable new evidence of the deliberate desecration of a sacred site.

The village of Beth-Shemesh frequently changed hands between the ambitious Philistines and the Canaanite and Israelite populations that resisted them. The temple and its history reflect the power struggles that defined the region in the 12th-11th century BCE, say Prof. Bunimovitz and Dr. Lederman. Their findings will be presented this month at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Chicago.

In the archaeological record, there are no parallels to this Canaanite or Israelite sacred compound of the period, note the researchers. Research has revealed that the temple has a rich history steeped in conflict. Excavators determined that the temple was not only destroyed, but also desecrated. More intensive scientific analysis of the site, conducted by geoarchaeolgist Dr. Shawn Bubel of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, has shown that the temple ruins were used as animal pens, maybe by the invading Philistines.

Power clash in Tel Beth-Shemesh

After ruling out the use of the site as a domestic structure, the researchers knew that they had found something unique. Excavations revealed almost only shards of painted chalices and goblets found spread on the floor but no traces of domestic use. One of the three flat stones was surrounded by animal bone remnants, and the two other stones were seemingly designed to direct liquids. These clues convinced Prof. Bunimovitz and Dr. Lederman that they had uncovered a likely place of sacred worship.

But the temple didn't remain sacred. Samples of earth taken from layers above the destroyed temple and analyzed at the Weizmann Institute of Science revealed astonishing results. Directly above the temple was a packed-in layer containing phytoliths (remains of weeds that are commonly eaten by livestock) and spherulites (microscopic remnants of manure produced by grass-eating animals), indicating the presence of animal pens directly on top of the sacred site, explains Prof. Bunimovitz. Intermittent burning in order to clean the pens likely resulted in the concentrated state of the layer.

This desecration was no accident or coincidence, the researchers believe. Instead, it represents the see-saw of political might between the Philistines and the local population. Presumably the Philistines gained temporary control of Beth-Shemesh, and brought in livestock to live on what they knew had been a sacred site to their enemies.

Preserving tradition

According to Prof. Bunimovitz and Dr. Lederman, this discovery also serves to illuminate the recent discovery of a number of round clay ovens, called "tabuns," in the layer excavated above the temple. Typically, such ovens were located in a domestic building for food preparation, explains Prof. Bunimovitz. But these particular ovens were not part of a neighborhood or living quarter.

When the temple was discovered directly underneath, a plausible explanation for the mysterious ovens emerged. "We believe that ancestors of those who had built the original complex came back to rebuild the site," says Dr. Lederman, who suspects that the ovens were used to cook celebration feasts held in veneration of the old temple. Thus, despite the desecration of the temple by the Philistines, the memory of the sacred site survived. Once the Philistines withdrew from the area, the descendents of the original worshippers returned to commemorate this sacred place.

The researchers are now looking for additional funding to help further the excavation and analysis of this unique and surprising sacred site, which has only been partially unearthed.


Ancient Seal May Add Substance to the Legend of Samson
8/13/2012

TAU researchers uncover a 12th century BCE seal depicting a man and lion in battle in Tel Beth Shemesh

Tel Aviv University researchers recently uncovered a seal, measuring 15 millimetres (about a half-inch) in diameter, which depicts a human figure next to a lion at the archaeological site of Beth Shemesh, located between the Biblical cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, where Samson was born, flourished, and finally buried, according to the book of Judges. The scene engraved on the seal, the time period, and the location of the discovery all point to a probable reference to the story of Samson, the legendary heroic figure whose adventures famously included a victory in hand-to-paw combat with a lion.

While the seal does not reveal when the stories about Samson were originally written, or clarify whether Samson was a historical or legendary figure, the finding does help to "anchor the story in an archaeological setting," says Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Prof. Bunimovitz co-directs the Beth Shemesh dig along with Dr. Zvi Lederman.

"If we are right and what we see on the seal is a representation of a man meeting a lion, it shows that the Samson legend already existed around the area of Beth Shemesh during that time period. We can date it quite precisely," Prof. Bunimovitz adds.

The right place, the right time

The seal was discovered with other finds on the floor of an excavated house, dated by the archaeologists to the 12th century BCE.

Geographically, politically, and culturally, the legends surrounding Samson are set in this time period, also known as the period of the Judges, prior to the establishment of kingship in ancient Israel. The area of Beth Shemesh was a cultural meeting point where Philistines, Canaanites, and Israelites lived in close proximity, maintaining separate identities and cultures. Samson's stories skip across these cultural borders, Dr. Lederman says. Although he was from the Israelite tribe of Dan, Samson is frequently depicted stepping out into the world of the Philistines — even searching for a Philistine wife, much to the chagrin of his parents.

Although Samson did have some positive interactions with the Philistines — his infamous lion brawl took place on the way to his bachelor party with a group of Philistine men prior to his marriage to his first Philistine wife in Timnah — he is also reputed to have fought against the Philistines. In one tale, this ancient superman is said to have killed 1,000 Philistines with a single donkey's jaw bone.

"Samson has a very legendary aura," explains Dr. Lederman, calling the Samson stories "border sagas." On one hand, Samsom could cross the border and interact with the Philistines, but on the other, he met with danger and various challenges when he did stray out of his home territory. "When you cross the border, you have to fight the enemy and you encounter dangerous animals," Dr. Lederman says. "You meet bad things. These are stories of contact and conflict, of a border that is more cultural than political."

Cultural connections and conflicts

The Philistines were immigrants, one of a number of so-called "sea peoples," originating from the Aegean region. They settled along the southern coastal plain and the lowlands of present-day Israel, including Ashdod, Ashkelon Gaza, Gath, and Ekron. Here they created their own cultural and political enclave and were always seeking to expand their own territory. "The flourishing Canaanite village of Beth Shemesh, despite frequent destruction caused by their aggressive neighbors, was not abandoned or won by the Philistines and retained its original culture and identity", Dr. Lederman adds.

The border disputes and the Canaanite resistance to growing Philistine pressure and cultural influence created some identity changes, Prof. Bunimovitz believes. This period of contact and strife may have been the "meat" of the Samson legend incorporated in the Book of Judges, the seventh book of the Hebrew Bible that tells the stories of figures who champion the Israelite cause and fight against oppression through this historical period.


Neolithic Man: The First Lumberjack?
8/9/2012

Transition from hunting to agricultural society parallels development of woodworking tools, TAU research reveals

During the Neolithic Age (approximately 10000–6000 BCE), early man evolved from hunter-gatherer to farmer and agriculturalist, living in larger, permanent settlements with a variety of domesticated animals and plant life. This transition brought about significant changes in terms of the economy, architecture, man's relationship to the environment, and more.

Now Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations has shed new light on this milestone in human evolution, demonstrating a direct connection between the development of an agricultural society and the development of woodworking tools.

"Intensive woodworking and tree-felling was a phenomenon that only appeared with the onset of the major changes in human life, including the transition to agriculture and permanent villages," says Dr. Barkai, whose research was published in the journal PLoS One. Prior to the Neolithic period, there is no evidence of tools that were powerful enough to cut and carve wood, let alone fell trees. But new archaeological evidence suggests that as the Neolithic age progressed, sophisticated carpentry developed alongside agriculture.

Evolution of axes

The use of functional tools in relation to woodworking over the course of the Neolithic period has not been studied in detail until now. Through their work at the archaeological site of Motza, a neighbourhood in the Judean Hills, Dr. Barkai and his fellow researchers, Prof. Rick Yerkes of Ohio State University and Dr. Hamudi Khalaily of the Israel Antiquity Authority, have unearthed evidence that increasing sophistication in terms of carpentry tools corresponds with increased agriculture and permanent settlements.

The early part of the Neolithic age is divided into two distinct eras — Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Agriculture and domesticated plants and animals appear only in PPNB, so the transition between these two periods is a watershed moment in human history. And these changes can be tracked in the woodworking tools which belong to each period, says Dr. Barkai.

Within PPNA, humans remained gatherers but lived in more permanent settlements for the first time, he says. Axes associated with this period are small and delicate, used for light carpentry but not suited for felling trees or other massive woodworking tasks. In PPNB, the tools have evolved to much larger and heavier axes, formed by a technique called polishing. The researchers' in-depth analysis of these tools shows that they were used to cut down trees and complete various building projects.

"We can document step by step the transition from the absence of woodworking tools, to delicate woodworking tools, to heavier woodworking tools," Dr. Barkai says, and this follows the "actual transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture." He also identifies a trial-and-error phase during which humans tried to create an axe strong enough to undertake larger woodworking tasks. Eventually, they succeeded in creating a massive ground stone axe in PPNB.

Home makeover

Whether the transition to an agricultural society led to the development of major carpentry tools or vice versa remains to be determined, says Dr. Barkai, who characterizes it as a "circular argument." Whatever the answer, the parallel changes led to a revolution in lifestyle.

Beyond the change from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural economy, a new form of architecture also emerged. Not only did people begin to live in permanent villages, but the buildings in which they lived literally took a different shape. The round and oval structures of earlier domiciles were replaced by rectangular structures in PPNB, explains Dr. Barkai. "Evidence tells that us that for each home, approximately 10 wooden beams were needed. Prior to this, there were no homes with wooden beams." In addition, humans began to produce limestone-based plaster floors for their homes — which also represented a growing use of wood, since plaster is manufactured by heating limestone.

These architectural developments, along with building pens and fences for domesticated animals, also necessitated the felling of trees in large quantities.


Hoard of Crusader Gold Found in Ruins
7/26/2012

TAU uncovers unprecedented trove of gold coins in 13th century castle

A team of researchers from Tel Aviv University has uncovered a hoard of real-life buried treasure at the Crusader castle of Arsur (also known as Apollonia), a stronghold located between the ancient ports of Jaffa and Caesarea, in use from 1241 to its destruction in 1265. The hoard, comprised of 108 gold coins, mostly dinars dated to the Fatimid Period (ca. 900 to 1100 AD), was discovered in a pot by a university student. The coins bear the names of sultans and blessings, and usually include a date and a mint name that indicates where a coin was struck.

This fascinating find is the first of its kind, says Prof. Oren Tal, director of the excavation and Chairman of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. "The scientific value is unprecedented. This is the first hoard of gold coins that we have in Israel that we can date to the Crusader period."

Prof. Tal believes that the coins provide an important clue to how large-scale economic transactions were made in the Crusader period. "They were not afraid to use older coins in order to complete large transactions and run large-scale businesses," he said, indicating that this "pot of gold" may be one of a group hidden in the castle, remnants of Arsur's role as a business center where industrial and agricultural goods were traded.

Crusader economics

According to Prof. Tal, the discovery adds to the debate over gold circulation during the time of the Crusades, a series of military incursions into the region to establish Christianity. It puts Fatimid-period coins, minted by Egyptian Sultans in the 10th and 11th centuries, in a Crusader context. Their use of gold from an earlier period is somewhat surprising, given the importance placed on coin minting.

Typically, societies mint their own coins, especially for the completion of large transactions, because it impacts more than just economics — it has marketing and public relations value. From a social and political standpoint, the minting of coins shows that a culture has the wealth and ability to make its own currency, feeding into a sense of independence as a people, cultural self-definition, and a collective identity, explains Prof. Tal.

Though historically priceless, the actual cash value of the coins is difficult to pin down, says Prof. Tal. A document found in the Cairo Genizah hints at the worth of the hoard, suggesting that two gold dinars, the face value on the coins that were found, can provide sufficiently for an extended family for one month.

Assuming the extended family includes a father, mother, sons, daughters, and their spouses and children, this could include 12 to 24 people. If 20 people can make their living for a month on two gold coins, the horde that was discovered could sustain 50 families for 30 days, or five families for approximately one year, all depending on the standard of living.

A time capsule

Arsur is a perfect time capsule due to its short period of occupation, says Prof. Tal. The findings from the castle, which in addition to the coins include items such as pottery, glass and metal objects, arrowheads, and catapult stones, are a window into a specific historical period. They help researchers to develop a working knowledge of the material culture of the Crusaders, and provide clues to interactions between the Islamic and Christian worlds.

The seigniory of Arsur was leased to the Military Order of the Hospitallers in 1261. The Order originally arrived in the Holy Land in the 12th century as a group of orderlies serving European pilgrims. As evidenced by their use of the castle as a storage place for their profits, Arsur was one of their most important strongholds. In 1265, the castle was attacked by the Egyptian Sultan Baybars, and after withstanding a 40-day siege, the castle was eventually conquered. It has remained uninhabited since then.


Ancient Jugs Hold the Secret to Practical Mathematics in Biblical Times
6/4/2012

Archaeologists in the eastern Mediterranean region have been unearthing spherical jugs, used by the ancients for storing and trading oil, wine, and other valuable commodities. Because we're used to the metric system, which defines units of volume based on the cube, modern archaeologists believed that the merchants of antiquity could only approximately assess the capacity of these round jugs, says Prof. Itzhak Benenson of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geography.

Now an interdisciplinary collaboration between Prof. Benensonand Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures has revealed that, far from relying on approximations, merchants would have had precise measurements of their wares — and therefore known exactly what to charge their clients.

The researchers discovered that the ancients devised convenient mathematical systems in order to determine the volume of each jug. They theorize that the original owners and users of the jugs measured their contents through a system that linked units of length to units of volume, possibly by using a string to measure the circumference of the spherical container to determine the precise quantity of liquid within.

The system, which the researchers believe was developed by the ancient Egyptians and used in the Eastern Mediterranean from about 1,500 to 700 BCE, was recently reported in the journal PLoS ONE. Its discovery was part of the Reconstruction of Ancient Israel project supported by the European Union.

3D models unveil volume measurement system

The system of measurement was revealed when mathematician Elena Zapassky constructed 3D models of jugs from Tel Megiddo — an important Canaanite city-state and Israelite administration center — for a computer database. The jugs are associated with the Phoenicians, ancient seafaring merchants who had trading hubs along the coast of Lebanon. Using a statistical methodology, the team measured hundreds of vessels from the excavation, and discovered something surprising — large groups of these spherical or elliptic jugs had a similar circumference. This prompted the researchers to look more deeply into how the ancients measured volume.

The Egyptian unit of volume is called the hekat, and it equals 4.8 liters in today's measurements, explains Dr. Yuval Gadot, a researcher on the project. A spherical jug that is 52 centimeters in circumference, which equals one Egyptian royal cubit, contains exactly half a hekat. "In a large percentage of the vessels we measured, the circumference is close to one cubit, and the merchant could know that the vessel's volume is half a cubit by just measuring its circumference," he says.

When the researchers adopted the Egyptian system of measurement themselves instead of thinking in metrical units, many things became clear. For example, the tall round "torpedo" jugs packed into Phoenician ships in the 8th century BCE were found to contain whole units of hekats. Dr. Gadot believes that the Egyptian system of measurement gradually disappeared when the Assyrians took over the region, bringing their own methods of measurement with them.

A measure of political power

According to Prof. Finkelstein, elements of standardization in the ancient world hold interest because they are indicative of bureaucratic systems and reflect political and cultural influences. "The use of the Egyptian method is a strong indicator of Egyptian power in this region during a specific period of time," he explains.

"Working together with experts in mathematics and statistics, we have been able to provide new solutions for longstanding archaeological problems and debates."


Ancient "Graffiti" Unlock the Life of the Common Man
3/6/2012

Comprehensive new collection from TAU illuminates popular history from Alexander the Great to the rise of Islam

History is often shaped by the stories of kings and religious and military leaders, and much of what we know about the past derives from official sources like military records and governmental decrees. Now an international project is gaining invaluable insights into the history of ancient Israel through the collection and analysis of inscriptions — pieces of common writing that include anything from a single word to a love poem, epitaph, declaration, or question about faith, and everything in between that does not appear in a book or on a coin.

Such writing on the walls — or column, stone, tomb, floor, or mosaic — is essential to a scholar's toolbox, explains Prof. Jonathan Price of Tel Aviv University's Department of Classics. Along with his colleague Prof. Benjamin Isaac, Prof. Hannah Cotton of Hebrew University and Prof. Werner Eck of the University of Cologne, he is a contributing editor to a series of volumes that presents the written remains of the lives of common individuals in Israel, as well as adding important information about provincial administration and religious institutions, during the period between Alexander the Great and the rise of Islam (the fourth century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E.).

These are the tweets of antiquity.

There has never been such a large-scale effort to recover inscriptions in a multi-lingual publication. Previous collections have been limited to the viewpoints of single cultures, topics, or languages. This innovative series seeks to uncover the whole story of a given site by incorporating inscriptions of every subject, length, and language, publishing them side by side. In antiquity, the part of the world that is now modern Israel was intensely multilingual, multicultural, and highly literate, says Prof. Price, who has presented the project at several conferences, and will present it again this fall in San Francisco and Philadelphia. When the volumes are complete, they will include an analysis of about 12,000 inscriptions in more than ten languages.

History's "scrap paper"

The project represents countless hours spent in museum storerooms, church basements, caves and archaeological sites, says Prof. Price, who notes that all the researchers involved have been dedicated to analyzing inscriptions straight from the physical objects on which they are written whenever possible, instead of drawings, photos or reproductions. The team has already discovered a great amount of material that has never been published before.

Each text is analyzed, translated, and published with commentary by top scholars. Researchers work to overcome the challenges of incomplete inscriptions, often eroded from their "canvas" with time, and sometimes poor use of grammar and spelling, which represent different levels in education and reading and writing capabilities — or simply the informal nature of the text. Scholars thousands of years in the future might face similar difficulties when trying to decipher the language of our own text messages or emails.

Most of these inscriptions, especially the thousands of epitaphs, are written by average people, their names not recorded in any other source. This makes them indispensable for social, cultural, and religious history, suggests Prof. Price. "They give us information about what people believed, the languages they spoke, relationships between families, their occupations — daily life," he says. "We don't have this from any other source."

The first volume, edited by Prof. Price, Prof. Isaac, and others and focusing on Jerusalem up to and through the first century C.E., has already been published. New volumes will be published regularly until the project comes to a close in 2017, resulting in approximately nine volumes.

"I was here"

Graffiti, which comprise a significant amount of the collected inscriptions, are a common phenomenon throughout the ancient world. Famously, the walls of the city of Pompeii were covered with graffiti, including advertisements, poetry, and lewd sketches. In ancient Israel, people also left behind small traces of their lives — although discussion of belief systems, personal appeals to God, and hopes for the future are more prevalent than the sexual innuendo that adorns the walls of Pompeii.

"These are the only remains of real people. Thousands whose voices have disappeared into the oblivion of history," notes Prof. Price. These writings are, and have always been, a way for people to perpetuate their memory and mark their existence.

Of course, our world has its graffiti too. It's not hard to find, from subway doors and bathroom stalls to protected archaeological sites. Although it may be considered bothersome and disrespectful now, "in two thousand years, it'll be interesting to scholars," Prof. Price says with a smile.


Exploration of Mythical David and Goliath Battle Site Reaches New Depth
2/27/2012

This summer, Tel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology is adding another excavation to their already expansive list of seven active digs. Azekah, a city of the ancient kingdom of Judah that features prominently in the Bible — both as a main border city and the fortification which towers above the Ellah valley — is the site of the legendary battle between David and giant Goliath. The new dig will be led by TAU's Prof. Oded Lipschits, Dr. Yuval Gadot, and Prof. Manfred Oeming from Heidelberg University, Germany.

The Assyrian king Sennacherib described Azekah as "an eagle's nest ... with towers that project to the sky like swords." The Judahite stronghold bordered the land of the Philistines and was strategically positioned for military action and trade. This culturally significant city could hold the answer to historically significant riddles about the development of the Kingdom of Judah, the relationship between Judah and its neighbors, and the Judahite culture.

The dig's first season will run from July 15 – August 24, 2012. Registration is now open to volunteers for the first season of what the directors call a truly international dig, with partner universities from all over the world. "In every square that we are excavating, there will be participants from all over the world," says Dr. Gadot. "It's a great way to get to know new people and gain valuable experience." More details about the new dig are available at www.azekah.com.

Beneath the layers of destruction

After years of excavation at Ramat Rahel near Jerusalem, the heart of the Kingdom of Judah, the researchers are looking to Azekah for insight into what life was like on the periphery of that ancient kingdom. "We are asking questions about the history of Judah from the westernmost border," says Prof. Lipschits, noting that the main Philistine Kingdom of Gat was located just a few kilometres to the west of Azekah. The site probably served as the setting for the tale of David and Goliath, the story of an unlikely Judahite hero who overcame the Philistine's champion warrior, because Azikah was truly "a meeting point of the two different cultures," he explains.

Beyond its cultural significance, Azekah was also a gateway to the Judahite kingdom, positioned along the main roads leading from the coastal plains to the Judean Hills at the heart of the kingdom. Although the city flourished for millennia, its natural riches and strategic position made it an inviting target for foreign powers.

The researchers hope that extraordinary findings await them beneath the destruction layers of the city, which was conquered in 701 B.C.E. by the Assyrians and in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians. When a site is abandoned, the people who once lived there would usually collect their gatherings and move on. But this wasn't possible in the wake of a sudden and catastrophic event, such as war, says Dr. Gadot. Under the destruction layer, cultural artefacts are well-preserved, and there could also be remnants of an invasion, like a siege ramp, like the one that was found in the Judahite city of Lachich.

An international dig

The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition is a continuation of a scientific cooperation started in 2003 between Tel Aviv University and Heidelberg Universities at the excavation Ramat Rahel. The new excavation of Azekah brings together a team of international scholars, students, and volunteers. Participants in the dig need an optimistic attitude and an adventurous spirit, say the excavation directors.

Over the course of the dig, volunteers will be living and working together in the nearby Nes Harim guest house in the north of Israel, which belongs to the Jewish National Fund. All participants will be invited to attend lectures and cultural and social activities. Students can also complete classes for university credit.

"This is a very multi-national experience, and the friendships that people build are truly amazing," says Dr. Gadot. He adds that the project is looking forward to accepting volunteers who are new to the field. Team spirit is the most important qualification, he says, and students of archaeology, enthusiasts, and adventurers are all welcome.

For the dig, Tel Aviv University will partner with other universities from around the world, including Macquarie University in Australia, the Czech Univerzita Karlova v Praze, the Collège de France, Université de Lausanne, and the University of Zurich; five German universities (Georg-August-Universität-Göttingen, lius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität des Saarlandes); and the University of Iowa, Duke University,  Moravian College, and the Moravian Theological Seminary from the U.S.

Fossilized Pollen Unlocks Secrets of Ancient Royal Garden
2/16/2012

Pollen recovered in a 2,500-year-old garden helps reconstruct a paradise of exotic plants, say TAU researchers

Researchers have long been fascinated by the secrets of Ramat Rahel, located on a hilltop above modern-day Jerusalem. The site of the only known palace dating back to the kingdom of Biblical Judah, digs have also revealed a luxurious ancient garden. Since excavators discovered the garden with its advanced irrigation system, they could only imagine what the original garden might have looked like in full bloom — until now.

Using a unique technique for separating fossilized pollen from the layers of plaster found in the garden's waterways, researchers from Tel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology have now been able to identify what grew in the ancient royal gardens of Ramat Rahel. And based on the garden's archaeological clues, they have been able to reconstruct the lay-out of the garden.

According to Prof. Oded Lipschits, Dr. Yuval Gadot, and Dr. Dafna Langgut, the garden featured the expected local vegetation such as common fig and grapevine, but also included a bevy of exotic plants such as citron and Persian walnut trees. The citron, which apparently emigrated from India via Persia, made its first appearance in the modern-day Middle East in Ramat Rahel's royal garden.

Plastered pools a "pollen trap"

One of the unique features of Ramat Rahel's garden is its advanced irrigation system. The scope of the garden is even more impressive, says Dr. Gadot, because there was no permanent water source at the site. Rainwater was efficiently collected and distributed throughout the garden with aesthetic water installations that included pools, underground channels, tunnels, and gutters.

These installations finally allowed researchers to uncover what they had been searching for. Early attempts to remove pollen grains from the site's soil in order to reconstruct the botanical components of the garden were unfruitful because the pollen had oxidized. But after noticing that the channels and pools themselves were coated with plaster, probably due to renovation, the researchers theorized that if the plaster had ever been renewed while the garden was in bloom, pollen could have stuck to the wet plaster, acting as a "trap," and dried within it. Luckily, this hunch proved to be correct.

While some plaster layers included only typicalnative vegetation, one of the layers, dated to the Persian period (the 5th-4th centuries B.C.E.), also included local fruit trees, ornamentals, and imported trees from far-off lands. "This is a very unique pollen assemblage," explains Dr. Langgut, a pollen expert. Among the unusual vegetation are willow and poplar, which required irrigation in order to grow in the garden; ornamentals such as myrtle and water lilies; native fruit trees including the grape vine, the common fig, and the olive; and imported citron, Persian walnut, cedar of Lebanon, and birch trees. Researchers theorize that these exotics were imported by the ruling Persian authorities from remote parts of the empire to flaunt the power of their imperial administration.

This is the first time that the exact botanical elements have been reconstructed in an ancient royal garden, say the researchers. The botanical and archaeological information they have collected will help them to re-create the garden so that visitors can soon experience the floral opulence of Ramat Rahel.

The origins of tradition

In their migrations, human beings distributed different plants and animals throughout the world, mostly for economic purposes, says Dr. Gadot. In contrast, at Ramat Rahel, royalty designed the garden with the intent of impressing visitors with wealth and worldliness.

Certainly, the decision to import various trees has had a lasting impact on the region and on Judaism as well, says Prof. Lipschits. The citron tree, for example, which made its first appearance in Israel in this garden, has worked its way into Jewish tradition. The citron, or etrog, is one of the four species of plants used at Sukkot, and the earliest appearance of these species was at the garden of Ramat Rahel.


Archaeologists Find Sophisticated Blade Production Much Earlier Than Originally Thought
10/17/2011

Archaeology has long associated advanced blade production with the Upper Palaeolithic period, about 30,000-40,000 years ago, linked with the emergence of Homo Sapiens and cultural features such as cave art. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have uncovered evidence which shows that "modern" blade production was also an element of Amudian industry during the late Lower Paleolithic period, 200,000-400,000 years ago as part of the Acheulo-Yabrudian cultural complex, a geographically limited group of hominins who lived in modern-day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Prof. Avi Gopher, Dr. Ran Barkai and Dr. Ron Shimelmitz of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations say that large numbers of long, slender cutting tools were discovered at Qesem Cave, located outside of Tel Aviv, Israel. This discovery challenges the notion that blade production is exclusively linked with recent modern humans.

The blades, which were described recently in the Journal of Human Evolution, are the product of a well planned "production line," says Dr. Barkai. Every element of the blades, from the choice of raw material to the production method itself, points to a sophisticated tool production system to rival the blade technology used hundreds of thousands of years later.

An innovative product

Though blades have been found in earlier archaeological sites in Africa, Dr. Barkai and Prof. Gopher say that the blades found in Qesem Cave distinguish themselves through the sophistication of the technology used for manufacturing and mass production.

Evidence suggests that the process began with the careful selection of raw materials. The hominins collected raw material from the surface or quarried it from underground, seeking specific pieces of flint that would best fit their blade making technology, explains Dr. Barkai. With the right blocks of material, they were able to use a systematic and efficient method to produce the desired blades, which involved powerful and controlled blows that took into account the mechanics of stone fracture. Most of the blades of were made to have one sharp cutting edge and one naturally dull edge so it could be easily gripped in a human hand.

This is perhaps the first time that such technology was standardized, notes Prof. Gopher, who points out that the blades were produced with relatively small amounts of waste materials. This systematic industry enabled the inhabitants of the cave to produce tools, normally considered costly in raw material and time, with relative ease.

Thousands of these blades have been discovered at the site. "Because they could be produced so efficiently, they were almost used as expendable items," he says.

Prof. Cristina Lemorini from Sapienza University of Rome conducted a closer analysis of markings on the blades under a microscope and conducted a series of experiments determining that the tools were primarily used for butchering.

Modern tools a part of modern behaviors

According to the researchers, this innovative industry and technology is one of a score of new behaviors exhibited by the inhabitants of Qesem Cave. "There is clear evidence of daily and habitual use of fire, which is news to archaeologists," says Dr. Barkai. Previously, it was unknown if the Amudian culture made use of fire, and to what extent. There is also evidence of a division of space within the cave, he notes. The cave inhabitants used each space in a regular manner, conducting specific tasks in predetermined places. Hunted prey, for instance, was taken to an appointed area to be butchered, barbequed and later shared within the group, while the animal hide was processed elsewhere.

"Ghostwriting" the Torah?
10/11/2011

In both Jewish and Christian traditions, Moses is considered the author of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Scholars have furnished evidence that multiple writers had a hand in composing the text of the Torah. Other books of the Hebrew Bible and of the New Testament are also thought to be composites. However, delineating these multiple sources has been a laborious task.

Now researchers have developed an algorithm that could help to unravel the different sources that contributed to individual books of the Bible. Prof. Nachum Dershowitz of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Science, who worked in collaboration with his son, Bible scholar Idan Dershowitz of Hebrew University, and Prof. Moshe Koppel and Ph.D. student Navot Akiva of Bar-Ilan University, says that their computer algorithm recognizes linguistic cues, such as word preference, to divide texts into probable author groupings.

By focusing exclusively on writing style instead of subject or genre, Prof. Dershowitz and his colleagues sidestepped several methodological hurdles that hamper conventional Bible scholarship. These issues include a potential lack of objectivity in content-based analysis and complications caused by the multiple genres and literary forms found in the Bible — including poetry, narrative, law, and parable. Their research was presented at the 49th Annual Conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Portland.

A keen eye for detail

According to Prof. Dershowitz, the software searches for and compares details that human scholars might have difficulty detecting, such as the frequency of the use of "function" words and synonyms. Such details have little bearing on the meaning of the text itself, but each author or source often has his own style. This could be as innocuous as an author's preference for using the word "said" versus "spoke."

To test the validity of their method, the researchers randomly mixed passages from the two Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and asked the computer to separate them. By searching for and categorizing chapters by synonym preference, and then looking at usage of common words, the computer program was able to separate the passages with 99 percent accuracy. The software was also able to distinguish between "priestly" materials — those dealing with issues such as religious ritual — and "non-priestly" material in the Torah, a categorization that is widely used by Bible scholars.

While the algorithm is not yet advanced enough to give the researchers a precise number of probable authors involved in the writing of the individual books of the Bible, Prof. Dershowitz says that it can help to identify transition points within the text where a source changes, potentially shedding new light on age-old debates.

Categorizing the unknown

Part of a new field called "digital humanities," computer software like Prof. Dershowitz's is being developed to give more insight into historical sources than ever before. Programs already exist to help attribute previously anonymous texts to well-known authors by writing style, or uncover the gender of a text's author. But the Bible presents a new challenge, says Prof. Dershowitz, as there are no independently attributed works to which to compare the Biblical books.

The Torah algorithm may also provide new information about other enigmatic source material, such as the many pamphlets and treatises of unknown composition that are scattered throughout history. And because the software can identify subtle linguistic cues, it is able to uncover differences within mere percentage points, a feat that has never before been possible. "If the computer can find features that Bible scholars haven't noticed before, it adds new dimensions to their scholarship. That would be gratifying in and of itself," says Prof. Dershowitz.

Seaside Fortress Was a Final Stronghold of Early Islamic Power
9/15/2011

Ancient harbor at Yavneh-Yam was used for hostage exchange, says TAU researcher

Archaeologists have long known that Yavneh-Yam, an archaeological site between the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast, was a functioning harbor from the second millennium B.C. until the Middle Ages. Now Tel Aviv University researchers have uncovered evidence to suggest that the site was one of the final strongholds of Early Islamic power in the region.

According to Prof. Moshe Fischer of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures and head of the Yavneh-Yam dig, the recent discovery of a bath house from the Early Islamic period which made use of Roman techniques such as heated floors and walls, indicates that Arabic rulers maintained control of the site up until the end of the Early Islamic period in the 12th century AD. Considered alongside other datable artefacts — such as pottery, oil lamps and rare glass weights — this architectural feature demonstrates that Arabic control was maintained in Yavneh-Yam at a time when 70 percent of the surrounding land was in the hands of Christian crusaders.

The fortress was inhabited by military officers but not by high powered rulers, explains Prof. Fischer. Written Arabic sources from the same period, identifying Yavneh-Yam as a harbour, suggest that those who inhabited the fortress were responsible for hostage negotiations between the Arabic powers and the Christian crusaders, and the harbor itself served as a port for hostages to be transferred to their captors or returned home.

Roman bath technology, Arabic adaptation and style

Working with Itamar Taxel, Ph.D., Director of Excavations, Prof. Fischer has been excavating the site of Yavneh-Yam for the past twenty years. Among the earliest finds were two glass weights, dating from the 12th century and which bore the name of the then-ruling Arabic power, the Fatimid dynasty. The weights themselves were of interest and certainly indicated an Arabic presence at the site, the excavators say. But the extent of this presence has been illuminated by the discovery of a bath dating to this period and built according to Roman principles.

This year for the first time, researchers completed an in-depth analysis of the site's promontory, the piece of land protruding into the sea that made the site a natural harbor. The main structures, a series of fortification systems including a tower and strong walls that encircle the upper part of the hill, were discovered to be built in the distinctly Early Islamic style. The Roman baths uncovered within the fortress, says Prof. Fischer, leave little doubt that in the 12th century, the fortress was still inhabited by Arabs rather than Christian crusaders.

"This is an outstanding and rare find," he says, describing the baths as a scaled-down version of traditional Roman baths, heated by hot air circulating between double floors and pipes along the walls. The crusaders did not build these types of baths, and after the end of the Early Islamic period, they disappear altogether. "You don't see these installations again until the revival of such techniques by modern technology during the 19th century," explains Prof. Fischer. "This marked the finale of the use of a traditional Roman bath house in 12th century architecture."

Most likely, the fortress played host to a changing roster of military captains and their men, installing the baths to provide these men with additional creature comforts. Although the baths themselves are largely destroyed now, researchers found large marble slabs that adorned the walls, and ascertained that the view from the baths overlooked the sea.

A place of business?

The fortress served as more than a strategic look-out point to protect fragile Arab strongholds against the invasion of crusaders. Sources indicate that Yavneh-Yam, like the ports of Ashdod and Yaffa, was a place where Christian crusaders and Arabs haggled over hostages.

During this period, both the crusaders and Arabs took prisoners from the other side, who would later be exchanged, either for ransom or other prisoners-of-war who had been captured. The crusaders would have come over in boats to negotiate with Arab officials, then send word to the Ramla, the Arabic capital, waiting for orders and to conduct the required transaction.

Researchers will continue to excavate the site, now a national park, says Prof. Fischer. By connecting these new archaeological findings with historical evidence, "We get a nice picture of the complex relationship that existed in the Holy Land between a handful of Muslim enclaves, connected with the Arab rule in Cairo, surrounded by crusaders."


2000-Year-Old Burial Box Could Reveal Location of the Family of Caiaphas
8/29/2011

In Jerusalem and Judah, ancient limestone burial boxes containing skeletal remains — called ossuaries — are fairly common archaeological finds from the 1st century BCE to the 1st century AD period. Forgers have also added inscriptions or decorations to fraudulently increase their value. So three years ago, when the Israel Antiquities Authority confiscated an ossuary with a rare inscription from antiquities looters, they turned to Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology to authenticate the fascinating discovery.

Prof. Goren, who worked in collaboration with Prof. Boaz Zissu from Bar Ilan University, now confirms that both the ossuary and its inscription are authentic. The ossuary's inscription, which is unusually detailed, could reveal the home of the family of the biblical figure and high priest Caiaphas prior to their exodus to Galilee after 70 AD. Caiaphas is infamous for his involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Prof. Goren's finding has been reported in the Israel Exploration Journal.

The ossuary marks the spot

Ossuaries have recently been in the news — an ossuary marked with a fraudulent inscription claiming the deceased to be James son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus, made worldwide headlines. Taking this recent hoax into account, it was imperative to establish whether the Caiaphas-related ossuary and its inscription represented a genuine artefact, Prof. Goren says.

Most ancient ossuaries are either unmarked or mention only the name of the deceased. The inscription on this ossuary is extraordinary in that the deceased is named within the context of three generations and a potential location. The full inscription reads: "Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphus, priest of Maaziah from Beth Imri."

The Maaziah refers to a clan that was the last mentioned order of 24 orders of high priests during the second temple period, Prof. Goren explains. While there are some records of the clan in Talmudic sources that detail their lives after they spread into the Galilee in 70 AD, the reference to Beit Imri gives new insight into the family's location prior to their migration. Though it is possible that Beit Imri refers to another priestly order, say the researchers, it more probably refers to a geographical location, likely that of Caiaphus' family's village of origin.

The ossuary is thought to come from a burial site in the Valley of Elah, southwest of Jerusalem, the legendary location of the battle between David and Goliath. Beit Imri was probably located on the slopes of Mount Hebron.

A genuine among fakes

In the Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology, Prof. Goren conducted a thorough examination of the limestone box, which boasts decorative rosettes in addition to the inscription. "When a rock is deposited in the ground for millennia, it is affected by the surrounding environment and affects the surrounding environment," he notes. Processes such as erosion by acidic ground water and the accumulation of calcareous or siliceous coatings, biological activity such as the development of bacteria, algae, lichens, and the nearby activity of flora and fauna lead to a coating of the stone. Most of these features are impossible to replicate in the lab.

Conclusive evidence of these natural processes was found not only on the stone of the ossuary, but also above and below the inscriptions. "Beyond any reasonable doubt, the inscription is authentic," says Prof. Goren.


Scanning Antiquity Underfoot
3/8/2011

According to rough estimates, there are some 20,000 undiscovered archaeological sites in Israel waiting to be explored. Currently buried under highways or beneath cities, some could reveal historic monuments from the biblical past and give us clues to the expansion and settlement of modern man as he made his way through the Fertile Crescent.

But where to begin? Who decides which sites should be "dug" — at considerable financial cost — and which should remain unexplored until a later date? A new tool from Prof. Lev Eppelbaum of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences may provide the answer.

Prof. Eppelbaum's new tool combines advanced analyses from many geophysical methods and provides the most conclusive evidence ever produced about what's below the ground's surface. His tool is already being applied at many archaeological sites in Israel — and it's ready to be used in the United States and at other sites around the world.

An overland use for nuclear submarines

Reported recently in the journal Advances of Geosciences, Prof. Eppelbaum's new tool gathers data from a number of sources — including radio transmitters used to communicate with nuclear submarines and detailed magnetic field observations — and applies an original algorithmic approach to the measurements to make sense of what lies below the earth's surface at depths of up to several dozen yards. His tool can help people "see" meaningful objects, artefacts or civilizations — and lay them out in a four-dimensional chart.

While methods exist for scanning sites of potential archaeological and geological importance, such tools produce significant background noise or inconclusive readings, Prof. Eppelbaum says.

"Inspired by Israel, where we have so many archaeological records underfoot, my tool can also help Americans locate old native burial grounds, and determine minerals and elements several yards below the surface," he continues.

A faster road into the past

His tool can be used to evaluate the possible archaeological significance of any given area under scrutiny. Providing rapid results within days or even hours, the algorithm can "read" extensive data before any digging or exploration begins. Financially, technically and ecologically, this tool offers an optimal way to localize and classify ancient buried objects and estimate the potential of the further archaeological investigations, he says.

Prof. Eppelbaum's solution is called the "multi-PAM," which stands for "physical – archaeological models." The tool first interprets what it "sees" by recognizing image targets; then the interpretation can be used to develop a four-dimensional model which can be presented to archaeologists hoping to explore a particular region.

Placed in a small unmanned airplane hovering several yards off the ground and scanning wide tracts of land along the earth's surface, Prof. Eppelbaum says, the tool can reveal unexplored sites of historical and archaeological significance.

Prof. Eppelbaum's work currently receives grants from USAID, NATO and Framework 7 in the EU.


World's First Skyscraper Was a Monument to Intimidation
2/17/2011

Discovered by archaeologists in 1952, a 28-foot-high stone tower discovered on the edge of the town of Jericho has puzzled scientists ever since. Now, eleven millennia after it was built, Tel Aviv University archaeologists at the ancient site Tel Jericho are revealing new facts about the world's first skyscraper."

Recent computer-based research by doctoral student Roy Liran and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at the Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities sheds light on who built the 28-foot-high tower — and why.

The researchers note that this is the first instance of human beings erecting such a tall structure, even before the transition to agriculture and food production in the region. Liran and Dr. Barkai now believe that the tower, which required about ten years to build, is an indication of power struggles at the beginning of the Neolithic period, and that a particular person or people exploited the primeval fears of Jericho's residents in persuading them to build it. The new revelations about the ancient tower were recently published in the journal Antiquity.

"In the newly published article, we present a new and exciting discovery," Liran and Dr. Barkai said in a joint statement, "which is connected to the exact position of the tower on the edges of the village of Jericho, and the shadow that covers the site when the sun sets on the longest day of the year."

A stairway (and tower) to Heaven

"Reconstruction of the sunset revealed to us that the shadow of the hill as the sun sets on the longest day of the year falls exactly on the Jericho tower, envelops the tower and then covers the entire village," the researchers explained. "For this reason, we suggest that the tower served as an earthly element connecting the residents of the site with the hills around them and with the heavenly element of the setting sun." Its construction may be related to the primeval fears and cosmological beliefs of the villagers, they note.

Tel Jericho, located in modern day Jericho in the West Bank, is one of the most ancient sites in the world. The eight and half meter tower, which was built with a steep flight of stairs approximately one meter wide, rises above a four-meter wall that probably encompassed the city. The existence of the tower led to Jericho's identification as the first city in the world, even though it was in fact a settlement of pre-agricultural hunter gatherers.

"This was a time when hierarchy began and leadership was established," Dr. Barkai told the Jerusalem Post. "We believe this tower was one of the mechanisms to motivate people to take part in a communal lifestyle."

Debunking old theories

Some researchers have proposed that the tower and wall together comprised a system of fortification and a defense against flooding. Others have suggested the tower and wall as a geographical marker, defining the territory of the early residents of Jericho, and a symbol of the wealth and power of the ancient village.

In a 2008 article, the Tel Aviv University researchers proposed that the tower and wall of Jericho should be seen as cosmological markers, connecting the ancient village of Jericho with the nearby Mount Qarantal and sunset on the longest day of the year. The new paper fortifies their hypothesis.

This idea is based on the fact that the axis of the flight of stairs in the tower was built at a precise angle to the setting of the sun on the longest day of the year behind the highest peak overlooking Jericho, Mount Qarantal. They believe that it is humanity's first skyscraper, however small, and also the world's first public building.

Read the recent publication in Antiquity on this research here:
http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/barkai327/

 


Was Israel the Birthplace of Modern Man?
12/30/2010

It has long been believed that modern man emerged from the continent of Africa 200,000 years ago. Now Tel Aviv University archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Homo sapiens roamed the land now called Israel as early as 400,000 years ago — the earliest evidence for the existence of modern man anywhere in the world.

The findings were discovered in the Qesem Cave, a pre-historic site located near Rosh Ha'ayin that was first excavated in 2000. Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, who run the excavations, and Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the university's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Sackler School of Medicine, together with an international team of scientists, performed a morphological analysis on eight human teeth found in the Qesem Cave.

This analysis, which included CT scans and X-rays, indicates that the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. The teeth found in the Qesem Cave are very similar to other evidence of modern man from Israel, dated to around 100,000 years ago, discovered in the Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. The results of the researchers' findings are being published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Reading the past

Qesem Cave is dated to a period between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and archaeologists working there believe that the findings indicate significant evolution in the behavior of ancient man. This period of time was crucial in the history of mankind from cultural and biological perspectives. The teeth that are being studied indicate that these changes are apparently related to evolutionary changes taking place at that time.

Prof. Gopher and Dr. Barkai noted that the findings related to the culture of those who dwelled in the Qesem Cave — including the systematic production of flint blades; the regular use of fire; evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat; mining raw materials to produce flint tools from subsurface sources — reinforce the hypothesis that this was, in fact, innovative and pioneering behavior that may correspond with the appearance of modern man.

An unprecedented discovery

According to researchers, the discoveries made in the Qesem Cave may overturn the theory that modern man originated on the continent of Africa. In recent years, archaeological evidence and human skeletons found in Spain and China also undermined this proposition, but the Qesem Cave findings because of their early age is an unprecedented discovery.

Excavations at Qesem Cave continue and the researchers hope to uncover additional finds that will enable them to confirm the findings published up to now and to enhance our understanding of the evolution of mankind — especially the emergence of modern man.


Secrets of an Ancient Tel Aviv Fortress Revealed
12/28/2010

Tel Qudadi, an ancient fortress located in the heart of Tel Aviv at the mouth of the Yarkon River, was first excavated more than 70 years ago — but the final results of neither the excavations nor the finds were ever published. Now, research on Tel Qudadi by archaeologists at Tel Aviv University has unpeeled a new layer of history, indicating that there is much more to learn from the site, including evidence that links ancient Israel to the Greek island of Lesbos.

"The secrets of this ancient fortress are only beginning to be revealed," Dr. Alexander Fantalkin and Dr. Oren Tal of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology say. Their new research was recently published in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly and BABESH: Annual Papers on Mediterranean Archaeology.

Well developed laws at sea

It was previously believed that the fortress was established during the 10th century B.C.E. at the behest of King Solomon, in order to protect the approach from the sea and prevent possible hostile raids against inland settlements located along the Yarkon River. The establishment of the fortress at Tel Qudadi was taken then as evidence of the existence of a developed maritime policy in the days of the United Monarchy in ancient Israel.

In another reconstruction, it was suggested that the fortress was erected sometime in the 9th century B.C.E. and could be attributed to the Kingdom of Israel. Now a careful re-assessment of the finds conducted by Tel Aviv University researchers indicates that the fortress cannot be dated earlier than the late 8th – early 7th centuries B.C.E., much later than previously suggested.

What this means is that the fortress, although maintained by a local population, was an integral part of a network that served the interests of the Assyrian empire in the region. The Assyrians, once rulers of a mighty empire centred in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), ruled Israel in the late 8th and most of the 7th centuries B.C.E.

From Lesbos to Tel Aviv

One of the key finds, say researchers, is an amphora (a large jar used to transport oil or wine) which hails from the Greek island of Lesbos. The existence of the artefact, together with a re-assessment of the local ceramic assemblage of Tel Qudadi, has helped researchers to re-calculate the timeline of the site's operation. Amazingly, it seems to be the earliest example of the Lesbian amphorae discovered so far in the Mediterranean, including the island of Lesbos itself.

While a single find cannot prove the existence of trade between ancient Israel and Lesbos, the finding has much to say about the beginnings of the island's amphora production and has implications for understanding trade routes between different parts of the Mediterranean.

What remains a mystery, say the researchers, is how the Lesbian amphora arrived at Tel Qudadi in the first place. It's probable that it was brought as part of an occasional trade route around the Mediterranean — possibly by a Phoenician ship.

An important sea-route for commerce and trade

Now that the site can be dated from the late 8th – early 7th centuries B.C.E., the fortress at Tel Qudadi may be considered an important intermediate station on the maritime route between Egypt and Phoenicia, serving the Assyrian interests in the Levantine coast rather than a part of the Israelite Kingdom.

The Assyrian interest in the coastal area is known to have stemmed from their desire to be involved in the international trade between Phoenicia, Philistia and Egypt. The fortress should be seen then as part of a network of fortresses and trading posts along the coast. It demonstrates that the Assyrian officials invested a great deal of effort in the routing of commerce and its concomitant taxes.


Warring Greeks Find Peace in Ancient Egypt
12/6/2010

Naukratis, a Greek trade emporium on Egyptian soil, has long captured the imagination of archaeologists and historians. Not only is the presence of a Greek trading settlement in Egypt during the 7th and 6th century B.C.E. surprising, but the Greeks that lived there in harmony hailed from several Greek states which traditionally warred amongst themselves.

Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology is delving deeper into this unique piece of ancient history to come up with a new explanation for how Naukratis developed, and how its inhabitants managed to operate on foreign soil and create a new sense of common identity.

The Greeks that inhabited Naukratis, explains Dr. Fantalkin, may have come from warring city states at home, but they formed a trade settlement in Egypt under the protection of powerful Eastern empires. This link not only brought them together as a culture, but explains how they were allowed to operate in the midst of Egyptian territory. Dr. Fantalkin's theory was recently presented at the Cultural Contexts in Antiquity conference in Innsbruck, Austria, and will soon be published in the proceedings of the conference.

Making the best of oppression

Naukratis is remarkable for two main reasons, Dr. Fantalkin says. First, the Egyptian empire allowed Greeks to operate a lucrative trade emporium at the delta of the Nile, complete with special privileges. Second, the Greeks who lived there, though from different tribes, lived and worshipped together, pointing to the emergence of a national Greek identity. The city also acted as a symbiotic nexus for the interchange of Greek and Egyptian art and culture.

How this arrangement came to be has always puzzled researchers, Dr. Fantalkin notes, explaining his new theory about Naukratis. In Eastern Greece, the Greeks were plagued by powerful Eastern empires such as Lydia, which was located in the central and western parts of current day Turkey. The Greeks were forced to operate under the Lydian regime, paying tribute to their overlords.

Despite this situation, the so-called Eastern Greeks continued to lead advances in material culture and intellectual achievements. They were also politically savvy, Dr. Fantalkin says, when it came to economics. At the time Naukratis was created, Lydia had a formal alliance with the Egyptian empire. A select group of Greek businessmen used this connection to set up a trade emporium — they paid tribute to their Lydian benefactors and were guaranteed rights and freedoms as Greek representatives of the Lydian empire. Thus, they made the best of an oppressive regime.

The land of the free?

Previous theories suggested that the Greek traders settled in Naukratis of their own free will, creating a brotherhood of merchants in the process, indifferent to interstate rivalries at home and bound firmly by a common interest in trade. In reality, Prof. Fantalkin speculates, they operated as formal representatives of the Lydian power.

"On one hand," he continues, "the Greeks were given new opportunities for trade. On the other, they owed taxes to the empire that ruled over them. This was not a free settlement of Greek merchants as was previously thought, but an organized move on behalf of a more formidable empire."

Naukratis, in his opinion, should be considered a unique and particularly important instance of "contact zones" in antiquity, in which Greek trade, although controlled by the Egyptians and mediated to a certain extant by the Lydians, both contributed to and profited from the imperial ambitions of others.


Paradise Lost -- And Found
10/28/2010

Ancient gardens are the stuff of legend, from the Garden of Eden to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Heidelberg University in Germany, have uncovered an ancient royal garden at the site of Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem, and are leading the first full-scale excavation of this type of archaeological site anywhere in the pre-Hellenistic Levant.

According to Prof. Oded Lipschits and graduate student Boaz Gross of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, this dig is an unparalleled look into the structure and function of ancient gardens. "We have uncovered a very rare find," says Prof. Lipschits, who believes that this excavation will lead to invaluable archaeological knowledge about ancient royal gardens in the Middle East.

The discovery, which dates back to the 7th century B.C.E., was recently reported in Quadmoniot, the journal of the Israel Exploration Society, and another paper on the dig is forthcoming in Near Eastern Archaeology.

Flower power in the ancient world

According to Gross, such gardens were once the ultimate symbol of power. It makes an obvious statement of status, he explains, to have a massive and lush green space surrounding one's palace, especially when the surrounding area is bare, as it would have been in the dry climate of the Judean Hills only two miles from the Old City of Jerusalem. In fact, he says, the garden would have been the most prominent feature of Ramat Rachel, visible from the west, north and south.

One of the dig's most important aspects is water management. In ancient times, control over water indicated political strength, says Gross. A main feature of the Ramat Rachel gardens is its intricate irrigation system, the likes of which have never been seen before outside of Mesopotamia. Features include open channels and closed tunnels, stone carved gutters and the framework for elaborate waterfalls.

In similar Assyrian gardens, trees and plants would have been brought in from all over the empire, explains Prof. Lipschits, who says that this type of garden, also in the Babylonian or Persian kingdoms, would have also served a spiritual function as a place of peace, tranquillity and connection to nature.

A global village?

Preliminary results show that while Ramat Rachel was built by the Judeans, the people of the ancient kingdom of Judah, it was commissioned by foreign powers. These results may reveal information about a wide variety of empires that ruled in Israel at one time. This site, says Gross, was in use from the 7th to the 4th century B.C.E., a time period which saw many wars and exchanges of power with the garden evolving under each civilization.

Researchers are excited about what more this unique dig will be able to tell them. There has never been anything like it, explains Gross, who says that the TAU team will be pioneering a method for excavating gardens. "Proper excavation will provide an essential tool to future researchers," he says. "We are carefully deciphering what we have in front of us. There are no parallels to it."

The team hopes to delve deeper into the history of the garden with a close analysis of soil and other findings to determine what kind of plant life would have grown there, and which, if any, animals called the garden home.


The World's First Steak Knife
8/26/2010

A Tel Aviv University-led dig has recently uncovered what is thought to be the world's oldest known cutlery — tiny stone knives that would have been used to cut meat during a meal.

Ran Barkai, the leader of the dig, says that while the knives may only be about the size of a quarter, their two sharp edges and two dull edges would have made them easy to hold between fingers and safe to bring close to the mouth.

Discovered around a central fireplace along with burned animal bones, these flint knives would have been the ancient equivalent of disposable cutlery, scientists say, easy to make and discarded when dulled.

According to Barkai, marks on the tiny utensils indicate that they were used to make delicate cuts through soft meat. Researchers replicated the tiny tool and noted that it easily sliced through muscles, skin and tendons.

For the full story about TAU’s discovery of the world’s oldest cutlery, see the AOLNews story:

http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/researchers-in-israel-find-worlds-first-steak-knives/19563689


Reading the Zip Codes of 3,500-Year-Old Letters
8/5/2010

Unfortunately, when ancient kings sent letters to each other, their post offices didn't record the sender' return address. It takes quite a bit of super-sleuthing by today's archaeologists to determine the geographical origin of this correspondence — which can reveal a great deal about ancient rulers and civilizations.

Now, by adapting an off-the-shelf portable x-ray lab tool that analyzes the composition of chemicals, Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations can reveal hidden information about a tablet's composition without damaging the precious ancient find itself. These x-rays reveal the soil and clay composition of a tablet or artefact, to help determine its precise origin.

But Prof. Goren's process, based on x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, can go much further. Over the years, he has collected extensive data through physical "destructive" sampling of artefacts. By comparing this data to readouts produced by the XRF device, he's built a table of results so that he can now scan a tablet — touching the surface of it gently with the machine — and immediately assess its clay type and the geographical origin of its minerals.

The tool, he says, can also be applied to coins, ancient plasters, and glass, and can be used on site or in a lab. He plans to make this information widely available to other archaeological researchers.

Preserving artefacts for the future

Prof. Goren's field intersects the worlds of geology, mineralogy and ancient technology as he tries to understand where ancient tablets and pots are made, based on the crystals and minerals found in the materials of these artefacts.

Traditionally archaeological scientists have had to take small samples of an artefact — a chip or a slice — in order to analyze its soil and clay composition. But as more and more museums and archaeology sites ban these destructive means of investigating archaeological finds, Prof. Goren's new tool may help save archaeological structures while solving some of its deepest mysteries.

"It's become a big ethical question," says Prof. Goren. "Many museums will not allow any more physical sampling of artefacts, and it's especially problematic for small tablet fragments and stamps which cannot be broken in the process. I had to find another way to know what these artefacts were made of."

Records from a Jesubite King

In his recent study published in the Israel Exploration Journal, Prof. Goren and his colleagues investigated a Late Bronze Age letter written in the Akkadian language and found among the Ophel excavations in Jerusalem.

Its style suggests that it is a rough and contemporary tablet of the Amarna letters — letters written from officials throughout the Middle East to the Pharaohs in Egypt around 3,500 years ago, pre-biblical times. Using his device, Prof. Goren was able to determine that the letter is made from raw material typical to the Terra Rossa soils of the Central Hill Country around Jerusalem. This determination helped to confirm both the origin of the letter and possibly its sender.

"We believe this is a local product written by Jerusalem scribes, made of locally available soil. Found close to an acropolis, it is also likely that the letter fragment does in fact come from a king of Jerusalem," the researchers reported, adding that it may well be an archival copy of a letter from King Abdi-Heba, a Jesubite king in Jerusalem, to the Pharaoh in nearby Egypt.

Prof. Goren is also an expert at uncovering archaeological forgeries and has worked on the alleged ossuary, or bone box, of Jesus' brother James.


Celebrating a Rare Species
5/18/2010

Rare species are needed to fill the displays of a natural history museum — but it takes an even rarer one to recognize what preserving those treasures can mean for the State of Israel.

It takes Michael Steinhardt.

The legendary hedge fund founder, philanthropist, and friend of Israel developed his vision for a national natural history museum on the campus of Tel Aviv University over the last decade. And on Thursday, May 6, thanks to a $5 million gift from the Steinhardt family, the cornerstone for the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History building was laid. It will become the home for Israel's first national natural history institution, an open-to-the-public exhibition center that will also provide much-needed space for teaching facilities and sophisticated research.

At the cornerstone ceremony, Knesset member Ze'ev Binyamin Begin applauded Steinhardt's unwavering support for Israel and the Jewish people, as well as his committed vision for the natural history project. "Other fields like high-tech might have more glitter, glamour, and clout," he said, so "we commend you for lending a hand to this special project." Steinhardt is a past chairman of Tel Aviv University's Board of Directors, and received an honorary doctorate in 2006.

In the presence of family, close friends, government officials, and university researchers, officers and students, Michael and his wife Judy poured cement and laid the cornerstone. Located on the southeast corner of the Tel Aviv University campus adjacent to the I. Meier Segals Garden for Zoological Research, the building will house rare species of fossils, animals and plants from Israel and its environs.

From a twinkling to a reality

When the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History building is completed, the natural history collection will continue to be curated by director Prof. Tamar Dayan, providing an active, updated, and comprehensive record of the biodiversity of Israel and its neighboring regions. With millions of specimens, the collection will also reflect the vision of the late Prof. Heinrich Mendelssohn, one of the founding fathers of Tel Aviv University, a zoologist and nature lover whose work supported education about the terrestrial, aquatic, and marine life in Israel and the region.

"Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to fully appreciate the treasures within," said Prof. Dayan, who led the ceremony. "Michael and Judy Steinhardt pledged a generous foundational gift towards building the home to the national collections, and waited with patience and vision for over a decade. We will do our best to repay you."

"It's been a long time coming," said Steinhardt in his address, invoking the late Prof. Mendelssohn as a spiritual guide. "A twinkling in our eye now becomes realized. If Tel Aviv University is the mother of this project, then Tamar Dayan is the fairy godmother."

Steinhardt's love for the natural world is evident in his 51-acre estate in Bedford, New York, with its dense rare plantings and zoo-sized collection of animals including zebras, camels and albino wallabies.

A jewel in the State crown

The new building will not only house an impressive collection of specimens, it will be a research hub for the Faculties of Life Sciences, Medicine and Humanities at Tel Aviv University. It will also be open to all Israeli scientists, and to researchers from abroad. The center is expected to impact environmental science in areas such as climate change, helping researchers isolate new compounds from the Mediterranean Sea for medicinal purposes, for instance.

The treasures at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History will certainly add luster and value to Israel's leading university, as well as a new dimension to the State itself.

"The collection preserves Israel's natural heritage for future generations," said Tel Aviv University president Prof. Joseph Klafter at the ceremony, noting that the inauguration coincided with the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. "The building will be a home for a national collection, which enriches our community at large. It will become a great source of pride for TAU, Israel and the scientific community."

Among those celebrating the Steinhardt family's achievement were Knesset member Meir Sheetrit, chair of the Knesset's Science and Technology Committee, and Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of TAU's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology, who aptly invoked Noah in the book of Genesis.

From hedge funds to hedgehogs

Fabled as a pioneer in hedge fund investing, Michael Steinhardt stunned the financial world when he closed Steinhardt Partners in 1995 to devote his time and fortune to the causes of the Jewish world. He is now one of the leading donors to Jewish causes worldwide. He calls the future of the Jewish people "unclear," and says its survival is linked to the Jewish value of learning.

Together, he and Charles Bronfman founded the paradigm-changing Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has brought hundreds of thousands of young Jews from all corners of the world to Israel. In 2001, he and several other investors founded the late New York Sun newspaper, known for its unflinching support of Israel.

Steinhardt established The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, and serves on the board of trustees of several educational organizations including the Wildlife Conservation Society in the United States.

For more about the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, visit http://www.mnh.tau.ac.il/en/.


A 200,000-Year-Old Cut of Meat
10/14/2009

Contestants on TV shows like Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen know that their meat-cutting skills will be scrutinized by a panel of unforgiving judges. Now, new archaeological evidence is getting the same scrutiny by scientists at Tel Aviv University and the University of Arizona.

Their research is providing new clues about how, where and when our communal habits of butchering meat developed, and they're changing the way anthropologists, zoologists and archaeologists think about our evolutionary development, economics and social behaviors through the millennia.

Presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, new finds unearthed at Qesem Cave in Israel suggest that during the late Lower Paleolithic period (between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago), people hunted and shared meat differently than they did in later times. Instead of a prey's carcass being prepared by just one or two persons resulting in clear and repeated cutting marks — the forefathers of the modern butcher — cut marks on ancient animal bones suggest something else.

Different rules of the game

"The cut marks we are finding are both more abundant and more randomly oriented than those observed in later times, such as the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods," says Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU's Department of Archaeology. "What this could mean is that either one person from the clan butchered the group's meat in a few episodes over time, or multiple persons hacked away at it in tandem," he interprets. This finding provides clues as to social organization and  structures in these early groups of hunters and gatherers, he adds.

Among human hunters in the past 200,000 years, from southern Africa to upstate New York or sub-arctic Canada, "there are distinctive patterns of how people hunt, who owns the products of the hunt, how carcasses are butchered and shared," Prof. Gopher says. "The rules of sharing are one of the basic organizing principles of hunter-gatherer cultures. From 200,000 years ago to the present day, the patterns of meat-sharing and butchering run in a long clear line. But in the Qesem Cave, something different was happening. There was a distinct shift about 200,000 years ago, and archaeologists and anthropologists may have to reinterpret hunting and meat-sharing rituals."

Meat-sharing practices, Prof. Gopher says, can tell present-day archaeologists about who was in a camp, how people dealt with danger and how societies were organized. "The basic logic of butchering large animals has not changed for a long time. Everyone knows how to deal with the cuts of meat, and we see cut marks on bones that are very distinctive and similar, matching even those of modern butchers. It's the more random slash marks on the bones in Qesem that suggests something new."

Where's the beef?

The Qesem Cave finds demonstrate that man was at the top of the food chain during this period, but that they shared the meat differently than their later cousins. The TAU excavators and Prof. Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona (Tucson) hypothesize that the Qesem Cave people hunted cooperatively. After the hunt, they carried the highest-quality body parts of their prey back to the cave, where the meat was cut using stone-blade tools and then cooked on the fire.

"We believe this reflects a different way of butchering and sharing. More than one person was doing the job, and it fits our expectations of a less formal structure of cooperation," says Prof. Gopher. "The major point here is that around 200,000 years ago or before, there was a change in behavior. What does it mean? Time and further excavations may tell."

Qesem, which means "magic" in Hebrew, was discovered seven miles east of Tel Aviv about nine years ago during highway construction. It is being excavated on behalf of TAU's Department of Archaeology by Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai in collaboration with an international group of experts. The cave contains the remains of animal bones dating back to 400,000 years ago. Most of the remains are from fallow deer, others from wild ancestors of horse, cattle, pig, and even some tortoise. The data that this dig provides has been invaluable: Until now there was considerable speculation as to whether or not people from the late Lower Paleolithic era were able to hunt at all, or whether they were reduced to scavenging, the researchers say.


Exploring Israel's Own Atlantis
7/22/2009

Beneath the Bay of Atlit, about six miles south of Haifa, marine archaeologists have discovered a 9,000-year-old prehistoric village, perfectly preserved under water. A multidisciplinary team led by the Israel Antiquities Authority is examining the physical condition of the village's inhabitants as well as their way of life, and Tel Aviv University researchers are taking part.

Prof. Israel Herskovitz of TAU's Sackler School of Medicine has identified certain inner ear abnormalities in these skeletons, indicating that the villagers dove for fish. His conclusion provides more evidence that the village was a thriving maritime community, rich in resources. Researchers theorize that the submersion of the village happened slowly, possibly because of the gradual rising of the Mediterranean Sea.

Other discoveries include the presence of tuberculosis within the village. TB was originally thought to be passed from cow to human, but evidence suggests that the villagers did not keep cattle. This counteracts the theory that human TB evolved from bovine TB later on in history, after animals were domesticated.

To read more about Israel's Atlantis and Tel Aviv University's contribution to understanding the mysteries of the past, see this article from a recent issue of The Jerusalem Post:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1242212435540&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull


Was a "Mistress of the Lionesses" a King in Ancient Canaan?
4/6/2009

The legend is that the great rulers of Canaan, the ancient land of Israel, were all men. But a recent dig by Tel Aviv University archaeologists at Tel Beth-Shemesh uncovered possible evidence of a mysterious female ruler.

Tel Aviv University archaeologists Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations have uncovered an unusual ceramic plaque of a goddess in male dress, suggesting that a mighty female “king” may have ruled the city. If true, they say, the plaque would depict the only known female ruler of the region.

The plaque itself depicts a figure dressed as royal male figures and deities once appeared in Egyptian and Canaanite art. The figure’s hairstyle, though, is womanly and its bent arms are holding lotus flowers -- attributes given to women. This plaque, art historians suggest, may be an artistic representation of the “Mistress of the Lionesses,” a female Canaanite ruler who was known to have sent distress letters to the Pharaoh in Egypt reporting unrest and destruction in her kingdom.

“We took this finding to an art historian who confirmed our hypothesis that the figure was a female,” says Dr. Lederman. “Obviously something very different was happening in this city. We may have found the ‘Mistress of the Lionesses’ who’d been sending letters from Canaan to Egypt. The destruction we uncovered at the site last summer, along with the plaque, may just be the key to the puzzle.”

A lady ruler in pre-exodus Canaan

Around 1350 BCE, there was unrest in the region. Canaanite kings conveyed their fears via clay tablet letters to the Pharaoh in Egypt, requesting military help. But among all the correspondence by kings were two rare letters that stuck out among the 382 el‑Amarna tablets uncovered a few decades ago by Egyptian farmers. The two letters came from a “Mistress of the Lionesses” in Canaan. She wrote that bands of rough people and rebels had entered the region, and that her city might not be safe. Because the el-Amarna tablets were found in Egypt rather than Canaan, historians have tried to trace the origin of the tablets.

“The big question became, ‘What city did she rule?’” Dr. Lederman and Prof. Bunimovitz say. The archaeologists believe that she ruled as king (rather than “queen,” which at the time described the wife of a male king) over a city of about 1,500 residents. A few years ago, Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Nadav Naaman suggested that she might have ruled the city of Beth Shemesh. But there has been no proof until now.

“The city had been violently destroyed, in a way we rarely see in archaeology,” says Prof. Bunimovitz, who points to many exotic finds buried under the destruction, including an Egyptian royal seal, bronze arrowheads and complete large storage vessels. They suggest a large and important city-state, well enmeshed within East Mediterranean geo-political and economic networks.

Time for a new interpretation of Biblical history?

Tel Aviv University archaeologists say that the new finds might turn the interpretation of pre-biblical history on its head. The people of the time were pagans who had a very elaborate religious system.

“It was a very well-to-do city,” says Lederman. “Strangely, such extensive destruction, like what we found in our most recent dig, is a great joy for archaeologists because people would not have had time to take their belongings. They left everything in their houses. The site is loaded with finds,” he says, adding that the expensive items found in the recent level points to it as one the most important inland Canaanite cities.

The discovery of the plaque, and the evidence of destruction recorded in the el-Amarna tablets, could confirm that the woman depicted in the figurine was the mysterious “Mistress of the Lionesses” and ruled Canaanite Beth Shemesh. “There is no evidence of other females ruling a major city in this capacity,” Lederman and Bunimovitz say. “She is the only one. We really hope to find out more about her this summer.”


TAU Welcomes Volunteers from Around the World to Ramat Rachel Archaeological Dig
12/5/2008

Dozens of Christians, Jews and travelers from all over the world were welcomed at Ramat Rachel, a Tel Aviv University archeological dig, where they enthusiastically unearthed unique coins, pottery and artifacts from the Iron Age and the early Christian era. "I knew I had to expose my kids to this opportunity," said one volunteer, who brought his children with him last month.

AFTAU previously reported on Ramat Rachel here:

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7523

See Chris Mitchell's report, which ran on the CBN television network on November 24, 2008:

http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/486700.aspx


Archaeologists Strike It Rich in Jerusalem
8/7/2008

This July, archeologists from Tel Aviv University unearthed a ceramic cooking pot from the 1st century at Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, reports the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The pot contained 15 large silver coins, appearing as though they were concealed in a hurry. "It's very exciting," says dig director Prof. Oded Lipschits. "We discovered the hoard with a metal detector, and then we went down into the niche and found this small cooking pot inside it."

According to Prof. Lipschits, coins like these were brought to the Jewish Temple, and adds that these particular coins originate from the Second Temple period (535 B.C.E-70 C.E.). Prof. Lipschits surmises that the coins were buried after the Temple was destroyed.

This hoard of coins is one of a number of finds uncovered during four years of excavations at Ramat Rachel, conducted under the joint aegis of Tel Aviv University and Germany's Heidelberg University. A larger hoard of about 380 coins from the Byzantine period (4th or 5th century C.E.) was also discovered, and sheds light on the mysterious origins of the archeological site.

Some believe it was a palace belonging to the kings of Judaea, but Prof. Lipschits contests the popular belief. "I'm dubious of that," he says. "The palace lacks any Judean characteristics, and there is no reason that a royal palace would have been built here, when the City of David is not far away."

For the full story, see this article in Haaretz:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1008504.html


Long Lost Sisters
5/15/2008

The human race was divided into two separate groups within Africa for as much as half of its existence, says a Tel Aviv University mathematician. Climate change, reduction in populations and harsh conditions may have caused and maintained the separation.

Dr. Saharon Rosset, from the School of Mathematical Sciences at Tel Aviv University, worked with team leader Doron Behar from the Rambam Medical Center to analyze African DNA. Their goal was to study obscure population patterns from hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Rosset, who crunched numbers and did the essential statistical analysis for the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project, said the team was trying to understand the timing and dynamics of the split into at least two separate groups.

“We wanted to look into the ancient history of our species. How did we live throughout most of our existence as a species?  Did we live as one — or were we fractured into small groups? Until now, it wasn’t really clear,” says Rosset.

A picture of the ancient past

Researchers believe that about 60,000 years ago, modern humans started their epic journeys to populate the world. This time period has been the primary focus of anthropological genetic research. However, relatively little is known about the demographic history of our species over the previous 140,000 years in Africa.

The current study returns the focus to Africa and thereby refines the understanding of early modern Homo sapiens history.

Rosset, who is also affiliated with IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in New York, says the study provides insight into the early demographic history of human populations before they moved out of Africa. “These early human populations were small and isolated from each other for many tens of thousands of years,” says Rosset.

The team’s research was based on a survey of African mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and is the most extensive survey of its kind. It included over 600 complete mtDNA genomes from indigenous populations across the continent.

How old was “Mitochondrial Eve”?

MtDNA, inherited down the maternal line, was used in 1987 to discover the age of the famous “Mitochondrial Eve,” the most recent common female ancestor of everyone alive today. This work has since been extended to show unequivocally that “Mitochondrial Eve” was an African woman who lived sometime during the past 200,000 years.

Recent data suggests that Eastern Africa went through a series of massive droughts between 90,000 and 135,000 years ago. It is possible that this climate shift contributed to the population splits. What is surprising is the length of time the populations were separate  — for as much as half of our entire history as a species.

Dr. Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, said, "This new study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history. Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Adds Rosset, “Israelis and Jews are always curious about looking into their roots. Just in this study, we were digging deeper than we normally do.”


Is Globalization as Old as the Earth?
4/2/2008

Dr. Oded Lipschits, from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology, directs Ramat Rachel, an archaeological dig two miles from the Old City of Jerusalem. Until now archaeologists believed the site was a palace of an ancient Judean king, probably King Hezekiah, who built it around 700 BCE.

But evidence points to foreign rule, says Dr. Lipschits, who believes the site was likely an ancient local administrative center — a branch office — of Assyrian rulers. "They were wise rulers," he says, "using a good strategy for keeping control, stability and order in the region.”

As today's corporations know well, the strategy was all about location. Explains Lipschits, “Between 700 BCE to about 70 CE, Jerusalem was home to various Judean cults and at times a center for religious fanaticism. The Assyrians understood that they could gain better control of their vassal kingdom — and continue collecting taxes — by maintaining a safe distance.”

Where did they set up their branch offices? In the "suburbs." The Assyrians built their economic hub for the region two miles south of Jerusalem at Ramat Rachel. They created elaborate gardens, stocked their cellars with the wine and olive oil they collected in taxes, and quietly but carefully monitored Jerusalem.

“You can see Jerusalem from Ramat Rachel, but when you’re inside Jerusalem’s City of David, you can’t see Ramat Rachel at all,” says Lipschits. “The Assyrians kept a watchful eye, but didn’t let the locals feel a dominant foreign presence.

“It was smart for the Assyrian managers to take a few steps back, and not appear to be interfering with the city’s religious center and local culture. Businesses today could be advised to adopt similar strategies with their branch offices in foreign locations,” he surmises.

Lipschits is currently writing a book about this precursor to today's corporate strategies with Boston College’s Prof. David S. Vanderhooft. He is also the author of the popular book The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem(Eisenbrauns 2005).

For more about Ramat Rachel, please visit http://www.tau.ac.il/~rmtrachl/index.html.


Digging Biblical History, or The End of the World
10/31/2007

Some come to dig the Tel Aviv University-directed archeological site at Tel Megiddo because they are enchanted by ancient stories of King Solomon. Others come because they believe in a New Testament prophecy that the mound of dirt will be the location of a future Judgment Day apocalyptic battle. Hence the second, rather more chilling name for the site: "Armageddon."

Tel Megiddo has been the subject of a number of decisive battles in ancient times (among the Egyptian, Hebrew and Assyrian peoples) and today it holds a venerated place in archaeology, explains site co-director and world-renowned archeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein.

Says Prof. Finkelstein, from the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University, "Megiddo is one of the most interesting sites in the world for the excavation of biblical remains. Now volunteers and students from around the world can participate in the dig which lets them uncover 3,000 years worth of history -- from the late 4th millennium B.C.E. to the middle of the first millennium C.E."

Prof. Finkelstein, who belongs to the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, has been co-directing the site with Prof. David Ussishkin, also of Tel Aviv University, since 1994.

Prof. Finkelstein has co-authored a best-selling book on archaeology and biblical history (The Bible Unearthed, 2001). Earlier this month he released a book (written with A. Mazar) that contains surprising commentary on biblical archaeology and history, The Quest for Biblical Archeology, published by the Society of Biblical Literature in the United States. He is also the recipient of the prestigious international Dan David Prize in the category of Past Dimension (2005).

Likened to a "lightening rod" by the journal Science (2007), Prof. Finkelstein is famous for his unconventional way of interpreting biblical history: he puts emphasis on the days of the biblical authors in the 7th century B.C.E. and theorizes that ancient rulers such as David and Solomon, who lived centuries earlier, were "tribal chieftains ruling from a small hill town, with a modest palace and royal shrine."

Yet, "new archaeological discoveries should not erode one's sense of tradition and identity," he states.

Prof. Ze’ev Herzog, who heads the archaeology institute at Tel Aviv University, says, "There has been an important revolution in biblical history in the last decades. We are now uncovering the difference between myth and history, and between reality and ideology of the ancient authors. This is the role of our generation of archaeologists -- to unearth the real historical reality to find out why and how the biblical records were written."

The archeologists aren't the only ones looking for answers. More than one hundred volunteers come from all corners of the world to dig Megiddo alongside Prof. Finkelstein every year. They are teachers, journalists, actors, construction workers, professors and housewives, as well as archaeology, history and divinity students who dig for credit.

The Megiddo dig is offered as a three-week, four-week or seven-week program. As part of the experience, volunteers live in a nearby kibbutz and are exposed to lectures and debates about their findings. The dig is partnered with the George Washington University, represented by Prof. Eric Cline, the American associate director of the dig. This makes it an ideal stomping ground for Americans who want a hands-on education in archaeology.

"Team and staff members come from all around the world for many reasons: the adventure of foreign travel in a safe yet educational environment, intellectual stimulation, and -- yes -- even a love of digging in the dirt,” notes Prof. Finkelstein.

And those with no prior knowledge or degrees are welcome, he stresses. "We cater to all of the volunteers' backgrounds and teach them field methods, archeological techniques as well as the history of biblical archeology. It is truly a wonderful experience."

For more information about the dig, visit http://megiddo.tau.ac.il/.


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