Category Archives: ISRAEL

Roman soldier’s 1,900-year-old payslip uncovered in Masada

Roman soldier’s 1,900-year-old payslip uncovered in Masada

Roman soldier’s 1,900-year-old payslip uncovered in Masada

During excavations at Masada, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities (IAA) uncovered a papyrus payslip dated to 72 BC belonging to a Roman soldier.

Masada is a rugged crag in the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.  Herod, the first-century BCE Judean king best known for constructing Jerusalem’s Temple Mount complex, built a fortress and palace on the mountain.

Jewish rebels entrenched themselves at Masada a century later, from 66 to 74 CE, during the Jewish Revolt against Rome. A Roman army besieged the last holdouts nearly four years after the fall of Jerusalem.

The only historical account of the conflict is Josephus Flavius, who claims that the Jewish rebels all committed mass suicide before Roman troops stormed the battlements. However, archaeologists dispute that account’s historical accuracy.

The IAA discovered a detailed military paycheck (one of only three legionary paychecks discovered throughout the Roman Empire) issued to a Roman legionary soldier during the First Jewish-Roman War in AD 72.

The paycheck is one of 14 Latin scrolls found at Masada by archaeologists – 13 of which was written on papyrus, and one on parchment paper.

An aerial view of Masada Mountain in the desert near the Dead Sea.

Although the papyrus was damaged over time and therefore very fragmentary, it contains valuable information about the management of the Roman army and the status of the soldiers.

The document provides a detailed summary of a Roman soldier’s salary over two pay periods (out of three he would receive annually), including the various deductions that he was charged. The army supplied the soldiers with basic equipment, but, as today, some soldiers chose to add and upgrade their equipment.

“This soldier’s paycheck included deductions for boots and a linen tunic, and even for barley fodder for his horse,” says Dr. Oren Ableman, senior curator-researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Unit.

“Surprisingly, the details indicate that the deductions almost exceeded the soldier’s salary. Whilst this document provides only a glimpse into a single soldier’s expenses in a specific year, it is clear that in the light of the nature and risks of the job, the soldiers did not stay in the army only for the salary.

According to Dr. Ableman, “The soldiers may have been allowed to loot on military campaigns. Other possible suggestions arise from reviewing the different historical texts preserved in the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Laboratory.

For example, a document discovered in the Cave of Letters in Nahal Hever from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE) sheds some light on some side hustles Roman soldiers used to earn extra cash.

This document is a loan deed signed between a Roman soldier and a Jewish resident, the soldier charging the resident with interest higher than was legal.

This document reinforces the understanding that the Roman soldiers’ salaries may have been augmented by additional sources of income, making service in the Roman army far more lucrative.”

3,600-year-old hoards may contain the earliest silver currency in Israel and Gaza

3,600-year-old hoards may contain the earliest silver currency in Israel and Gaza

3,600-year-old hoards may contain the earliest silver currency in Israel and Gaza
A collection of hacksilber from Tel el-Ajjul in Gaza.

A team of Israeli archaeologists has discovered the earliest evidence of silver being used as currency in the Levant, dating back more than 3,600 years, which is 500 years prior to previous estimates.

“This is the earliest evidence of hoarded silver,” the University of Haifa’s Dr. Tzilla Eshel told The Times of Israel.

Uncovered in excavations around Israel and the Gaza Strip, the proto-coinage’s silver dates to the Middle Bronze Age and originated in either ancient Anatolia or in the area of ancient Greece, researchers from the University of Haifa and Hebrew University said on Sunday.

“This means that we are witnessing the first evidence that there was continuous and long-term trade of metals between the Levant and Anatolia, already 1,700 years before the common era,” said Eshel. “We know for sure that in the Iron Age this kind of trade existed, but our findings move the beginning of this type of trade in metals to 500 years earlier,” she said.

The discovery, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, shows that ancient cities in the region had a much more developed long-distance trade relationship and local economy than previously believed.

The silver hoards were found in Israel’s Megiddo, Gezer and Shiloh, as well as Tel el-‘Ajjul in the Gaza Strip. Their different origins were discovered through isotope analysis. The current study also examined previously discovered samples from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Rockefeller Museum, and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Pieces of hacksilber discovered at Tel Gezer, before cleaning.

“The use of silver [as currency] indicates a society that used scales, and indicates a society that used writing to write down the transactions,” explained Eshel. “It also means you need to have silver flowing into the area constantly, so the volume of trade has to be larger, and you can see something bigger is happening in economic terms.”

People in the Levant didn’t begin using minted coins until almost 1,000 years after these pieces of broken silver were used as currency, said the researchers. For major purchases, these crudely cut pieces of silver acted as currency through the weight of the precious metal.

“Before there were coins there were a kind of proto-coins. In fact, people, before they would make coins, they first used the idea of taking silver, breaking it up into pieces and weighing them on a scale or balance,” then-head of the Israel Antiquities Authority coin department Donald Ariel told The Times of Israel in a video interview in 2020. “They are lumps of broken jewelry,” said Ariel.

The silver hoards are what is called hacksilber, a German term that means silver that has been cut to specific weights. The team of researchers determined that the fact that there were multiple hoards of these hacksilber discovered throughout the Holy Land — sometimes inside pottery or wrapped in fabric — pointed to the fact that they were widely used.

In fact, the biblical currency of the “shekel” was originally a weight measurement. According to the Babylonians, 1 shekel was approximately 16.83 grams.

“This is the way Abraham paid for the Cave of the Patriarchs — he weighed 400 shekels. There were no coins at the time. He weighed pieces of silver,” said Ariel.

Follow the silver brick road

There were no known silver mines in the Levant, so researchers set out to determine where the pieces of silver originated. Using isotopic testing that examines the chemical composition of lead in the silver, the researchers were able to match it to silver mined from an area in Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey. In the excavated hoards, the silver was also accompanied by other objects from Anatolia, such as the head of an ax and a pendant, confirming Anatolia as the likely origin of the silver.

Eshel calls isotopic testing “an amazing and very powerful tool,” which allowed researchers to pinpoint the geographic area where the silver was likely mined based on its unique chemical composition. She noted that the test isn’t always conclusive and there are some academic debates about its implementation. In some cases researchers can pinpoint the exact spot where a silver object was mined, though the current findings confirmed a more general geographic region.

A location where pieces of silver were discovered at Tel Gezer

“Before, archaeologists tracked trade routes using ceramics, but not every trade route has ceramic evidence,” Eshel said. “This is the first time we are doing it for silver in the Bronze Age.”

Silver first reached the Levant in the 4th millennium BCE, used for figurines and jewelry. Only in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BCE, were pieces of silver used as currency, Eshel said.

“We know that the silver was the main means of value and exchange in Mesopotamia for a long time, even before the Levant,” explained Eshel. “Everything was valued by silver shekel.”

Because silver was so precious, it was only used for large purchases, such as land. Day-to-day currency more likely used grain, pegged to the shekel weight, such as 2 shekels for a bag of grain, noted Eshel. Eshel said she read that a half gram of silver was equal to a day and a half of work.

A silver hoard of pieces used for currency prior to coin minting

Eshel said that hacked silver is often overlooked by archaeologists because it’s fairly ugly. Oftentimes, such as at Tel el-Ajjul in Gaza near the Egyptian border, hacksilber is found with more beautiful or flashier objects that hold more attention. But Eshel said that the irregular lumps of silver can reveal just as much, if not more, about daily life in the ancient Levant.

“This raw material doesn’t have a nice shape and doesn’t look so great in photos,” she said. “But I think it’s beautiful.”

Mysterious handprint found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem defensive moat

Mysterious handprint found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem defensive moat

Mysterious handprint found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem defensive moat
The mystery handprint was discovered on an ancient moat wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A mysterious hand imprint was discovered carved into a 1,000-year-old dry moat that surrounded Jerusalem’s Old City during excavations of defensive fortifications, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement Wednesday.

The archaeological work, carried out as part of an infrastructure project along Sultan Suleiman Street, which runs adjacent to the city walls, revealed a deep rock-hewn moat likely dating from the 10th century, or possibly even earlier, the IAA said.

At one point along the moat’s wall was a handprint carved into the stone, leaving archaeologists baffled as to its purpose.

“Does it symbolize something? Does it point to a specific nearby element? Or is it just a local prank? Time may tell,” researchers said in the statement.

The moat, at least 10 meters wide (approximately 33 feet) and two to seven meters deep (6-23 feet), encircled the whole of Jerusalem at the time, explained Zubair Adawi, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director.

“People are not aware that this busy street is built directly over a huge moat, an enormous rock-hewn channel,” he said. “Its function was to prevent the enemy besieging Jerusalem from approaching the walls and breaking into the city.”

Zubair Adawi, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director, points to a carved hand imprint discovered in an ancient moat wall around the Old City of Jerusalem.

Unlike moats surrounding many European castles, the Jerusalem moat was left dry, but its depth and breadth would still have slowed down an approaching army.

So strong were the defenses that it took the Crusader army that arrived in June 1099 some five weeks to cross the moat as Jewish and Muslim defenders fought back, said Amit Re’em, Jerusalem regional director at the IAA.

The stone walls of the Old City that are visible today were built in the sixteenth century by Turkish Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent.

However, earlier fortifications around the ancient city were much stronger.

“In the eras of knights’ battles, swords, arrows, and charging cavalry, the fortifications of Jerusalem were formidable and complex, comprising walls and elements to hold off large armies storming the city,” Re’em said. “Armies trying to capture the city in the Middle Ages had to cross the deep moat and behind it two additional thick fortification walls, while the defenders of the city on the walls rained fire and sulfur down on them.”

Burning sulfur, which produces noxious fumes, was used to deter invaders.

The moat also had secret tunnels enabling defenders to rush out and attack the approaching army before slipping back behind the fortifications. Such tunnels have been uncovered in previous excavations.

Excavations along Sultan Suleiman Street in Jerusalem.

“Many dreamed about and fought for Jerusalem, and the city fortifications are a silent testimony,” said IAA director Eli Escuzido.

“The archaeological finds enable us to visualize the dramatic events and the upheavals that the city underwent,” he said.

Escuzido said the IAA will try to make the discoveries available for public viewing.

Moses DID part Red Sea – shock ‘proof’ revealed by scientists

Moses DID part Red Sea – shock ‘proof’ revealed by scientists

According to the stories of Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy in the Bible, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt after God cursed the country with the ten plagues. Moses’ biblical exodus saw him save the Israelites and lead them to Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments.

But proof of the exodus and Moses’ miracle has never been proved despite theologists and archaeologists desperately searching for proof of the Red Sea parting – until now.

Professors at the University of Arizona claim they have found the exact location of the Exodus using revolutionary technology.

Using hi-resolution, radiocarbon dating – a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material, by using the properties of radiocarbon – the team claims it can pinpoint where the miracle took place.

The scientists believe the Thera volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini – which archaeologists believe happened in the 16th Century BC – actually took place around a century earlier.

The new findings were backed up after experts performed carbon testing on an olive branch which was found beneath a lava flow, Breaking News Israel reports.

Scientists believe they can pinpoint where and when Moses parted the Red Sea in the story of Exodus
There is no definitive proof that Exodus took place

The evidence suggests the eruption coincided with the date theologists believe Exodus took place.

It would confirm Egyptologist Hans Goedicke’s theory that a number of events that occurred during the Egypt Exodus could be explained by the Mount Thera eruption.

Scientists claim a tsunami from the Mount Thera eruption may have caused the Red Sea to “part”

Mr Goedicke’s theory suggested the parting of the Red Sea – and its crashing down on the Egyptian army – could actually have been a tsunami caused by the Thera eruption.

But Dr Charlotte Pearson, was reluctant to say if the University’s findings could confirm the Exodus’ exact date.

Speaking to the Times of Israel, Dr Pearson said: “All I can say is that continued work to improve chronological frameworks is essential for the study of past civilisations.

“No definitive calibrated radiocarbon range or the Thera eruption is currently possible, but the altered position of the 14C plateau indicates that improved calibration has much to offer chronological synchronisation of human and environmental timelines in this period.”

Ostrich eggs up to 7,500 years old found next to ancient fire pit in Israel

Ostrich eggs up to 7,500 years old found next to ancient fire pit in Israel

A well-known riddle compares an egg to treasure, asking: A box without hinges, key or a lid, yet inside golden treasure is hid. What am I?

And for archaeologists in Israel, eight prehistoric ostrich eggs – thought to be between 4,000 and 7,500 years old – proved as valuable as treasure when they were discovered near an ancient fire pit in the Negev, a desert region in the south of the country.

They were discovered during an archaeological excavation in the agricultural fields of Be’er Milka, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Thursday.

The eggs’ proximity to the fire pit suggests that they were collected intentionally by the prehistoric desert nomads who used the campsite, according to a press release from IAA, although further lab analysis will provide more information about their uses and age.

“We found a campsite, which extends over about 200 sq. m (2,153 square feet) that was used by the desert nomads since prehistoric times,” Lauren Davis, the IAA excavation director, said in the release.

“At the site we found burnt stones, flint and stone tools as well as pottery sherds, but the truly special find is this collection of ostrich eggs. Although the nomads did not build permanent structures at this site, the finds allow us to feel their presence in the desert.”

Davis added that the campsites were covered over by the dunes, keeping the eggs exceptionally well-preserved.

The IAA, which told CNN on Thursday the site had been excavated in the last week, said that ostriches were common in the region until they became extinct in the wild during the 19th century.

Their eggs were ornately decorated and were prized items among the elite circles of Mediterranean civilizations during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The ostrich eggs were discovered near an ancient firepit.

As well as being used as decorative items, ostrich eggs were also used in funerals, as water canteens and as a source of food.

“We find ostrich eggs in archaeological sites in funerary contexts, and as luxury items and water-canteens. Naturally, they were used as a source of food: one ostrich egg has the nutritional value of about 25 normal chicken eggs,” said Amir Gorzalczany, senior research archaeologist from IAA, in the release.

“It is interesting, that whilst ostrich eggs are not uncommon in excavations, the bones of the large bird are not found. This may indicate that in the ancient world, people avoided tackling the ostrich and were content with collecting their eggs.”

Byzantine monk chained with iron rings unearthed near Jerusalem

Byzantine monk chained with iron rings unearthed near Jerusalem

Byzantine monk chained with iron rings unearthed near Jerusalem

A skeleton chained with iron rings was discovered at Khirbat el-Masani, about four kilometers northwest of Jerusalem, along the ancient route connecting Lod with Jerusalem via Nebi Samuel/Nabi Samwil.

The 1500-year-old skeleton, chained with iron rings, belonged to a Byzantine monk. No doubt, he wanted to achieve a very special goal and he indeed did it.

In the pursuit of salvation, atonement for sin, or spirituality, ascetic monks led a life marked by abstinence from sensual pleasures.

More extreme forms of asceticism included self-inflicted pain and voluntary suffering, chaining the body to rocks or keeping it in a cell, praying seated on a pillar in the elements, and solitary confinement.

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority previously discovered a tri-apsidal Byzantine-era church at Khirbat el-Masani, which was once a part of a monastery with a road inn for passing pilgrims.

The church is partly rock-cut and built using limestone ashlars (finely dressed stone), which may have been dedicated to Saint Zachary by the priest Sabinus.

In the past, the site was surveyed in the Jerusalem Survey Map, and a small excavation was conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Gaby Mazor, exposing the front part of two of the apses.

An extensive excavation carried out at the site in 2017, directed by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Zubair Adoi and Kafir Arbiv and funded by Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, uncovered a large architectural complex, comprising the monastery and road-inn and, most prominently, the church, enabling an understanding of the plan, construction methods and the date of the church.

Archaeologists recently found the skeleton of a monk, chained with iron rings around his neck, hands, and feet, was discovered in a cist grave next to two small niche-like closed cells in the central apse of the church.

The interred was probably an ascetic monk living in or near the church compound, who bore the chains as part of his devotion.

The practice originated in Syria in the 4th or 5th century AD, but the discovery of the burial shows that during the Byzantine period, this form of extreme asceticism spread as far south as the Jerusalem region.

While the discovery of a chain-clad skeleton is extremely rare in the region, an Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Elena Kogan-Zehavi made a similar discovery in 1991 at Khirbat Tabaliya (Givat Ha-Matos), located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Remains of Byzantine monastery found near Jerusalem

Remains of Byzantine monastery found near Jerusalem

Remains of what archaeologists believe is a Byzantine monastery found near Beit Shemesh.

Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the remains of a Byzantine monastery outside the city of Beit Shemesh west of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday.

During the expansion of the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood, archaeologists conducted a survey of the location and found the remnants of an ancient walls and cisterns. Subsequent excavations of the site unearthed an oil press, wine press and mosaics.

The size and scale of the installations indicate that production was on an industrial scale, and that the residents relied upon the sale of wine and olive oil for their livelihood.

One of the mosaics found at the site bears colorful geometric designs, a cluster of grapes and flowers.

Although a church or inscription has yet to be found in the complex, archaeologists posit that the site was a Byzantine monastery, dating back some 1,500 years, based on the site’s style and dating.

Remains of Byzantine monastery found near Jerusalem
A mosaic found at what archaeologists believe is a Byzantine monastery found near Beit Shemesh.

“The impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window, and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” IAA excavation directors Irene Zilberbod and Tehila Libman said in a statement.

“Thus it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.”

The new neighborhood will be constructed around the site and the archaeological remains will be preserved and developed as a landmark, the IAA said.

Aerial photo of remains that archaeologists believe were a Byzantine monastery found near Beit Shemesh.

Earlier this year archaeologists unearthed a Byzantine monastery near the entrance to the Bedouin village of Hura in the Negev Desert adorned with stunning mosaic floors.

For the first time in 2000 years, Biblical site where Jesus healed blind man to be excavated for public view

For the first time in 2000 years, the Biblical site where Jesus healed blind man to be excavated for public view

Several Biblical sites have been identified through archaeology over the course of history. They hold huge historical importance and are often tied to a theological significance.

Most of the sites were in their natural state when found by archeologists. But have locations been unearthed? Apparently not.

In the coming days, a new location will be opening to the public for the first time in 2,000 years.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel National Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation have announced that a site, cherished by the Christians and Jews, which is allegedly the place where Jesus miraculously healed a blind man will be opened to the public.

The Pool of Siloam is located in the southern part of the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem.

“The Pool of Siloam, located at the southern end of the City of David, and within the Jerusalem Walls National Park, is an archaeological and historical site of national and worldwide importance.

According to the Bible, the pool was first built in the 8th century BCE in the reign of King Hezekiah, some 2,700 years ago, as part of Jerusalem’s water system,” Israel Antiquities Authority wrote on Facebook.

It has always been referred to as a number of rock-cut pools on the southern slope of the Wadi Hilweh, considered by some archaeologists to be the original site of Jerusalem.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus sent the “man blind from birth” to the pool in order to complete his healing. A simpler and more popular belief is that Jesus applied mud to the eyes of the man before telling him to wash it off in the Pool. When he followed his instructions, he was able to see for the first time.

The story makes the Pool of Siloam an important historical site for Christians as well as Jews.

“The Pool of Siloam’s excavation is highly significant to Christians around the world. It was at this site that Jesus healed the blind man (John:9), and it is at this site that, 2,000 years ago, Jewish pilgrims cleansed themselves prior to entering the Second Temple.” American pastor John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel, told Fox News Digital.

“The Pool of Siloam and the Pilgrimage Road, both located within the City of David, are among the most inspiring archaeological affirmations of the Bible,” he added.

Ze’ev Orenstein, director of international affairs for the City of David Foundation in Jerusalem, told Fox News Digital that the site ‘will be made fully accessible for the first time in 2,000 years’.

As of now, a small section of the pool has been fully excavated to be made accessible to the public. However, the vast majority of the pool will be opened later once the entire site is unearthed.

Reports have claimed that some tourists have already been able to visit the site. But full access will only be granted when the excavation is complete.

“The Pool of Siloam in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem is a site of historic, national and international significance. After many years of anticipation, we will soon merit being able to uncover this important site and make it accessible to the millions of visitors visiting Jerusalem each year,” said Jerusalem’s mayor Moshe Lion.