Category Archives: ISRAEL

How researchers unearthed 20 cities – ‘welcome to Armageddon’

How researchers unearthed 20 cities – ‘welcome to Armageddon’

Researcher Eric H. Cline has studied the excavation sites of Israel for decades, and writes in his book ‘Digging up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon’ of the fascinating finds made in a historic region.

The most revealing excavations were made between 1925-1939, when Egyptologist James Henry Breasted went to Israel in search of artefacts linked to the legend of Armageddon.

In the New Testament, Armageddon witnesses the ultimate battle between the forces of good and evil before the Day of Judgement — evolving into its use today as a term describing the end of the world.

At the site of Tel Megiddo, located just southwest of Nazareth, the remains of more than 20 cities have been unearthed. Megiddo is the Hebrew word for Armageddon, and is home to a mound in Northern Israel on which ancient forts were built.

The region according to some was built by King Solomon, and in 1928, researcher Breasted claimed he found stables belonging to the legendary king.

He cited the Old Testament, which states that Solomon had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen stationed in “chariot cities”.

Mr Cline acknowledged in his book that today tour guides will welcome visitors to the site saying “welcome to Armageddon”.

How researchers unearthed 20 cities - ‘welcome to Armageddon’
The excavation site in Megiddo
An ancient church being discovered at the same site

The Tel Meggido site remains date back from about 5000 BC to the fourth century BC, and tourists often go to the region to pray and sing hymns. But the discoveries made there have also sparked debate between historians.

The stables of King Solomon were no different, as no remains from horses such as bones or conclusive evidence of grains have ever been shown.

Some excavators think the structure is not stable, but storehouses or barracks. Overall, Cline cautions: “Solomonic Megiddo has been extremely difficult to find.”

Some also believe the construction date of the stables was in the first half of the eighth century BC. Even the destruction of the city of Meggido has caused debate, as some scholars have proposed that Alexander the Great destroyed the city.

Megiddo is the Hebrew word for ‘Armageddon’

However, Cline highlights in his book that there is “no evidence for such a cinematic finale.”

Another revealing excavation site in Israel lies at Tel Lachish, where between 2013 and 2017, archaeologists were overwhelmed with stunning discoveries as they dug through a Canaanite temple from 12th century BC.

Among the artefacts was a pair of “smiting gods”, which took the form of unhewn standing stones representing temple deities.

According to the project report titled ‘The Level VI North-East Temple at Tel Lachish’, they were discovered inside the temple’s inner sanctum.

Over 20 cities have been discovered
Engraving by Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) of King Solomon

The author of the report, archaeologist Professor Yosef Garfinkel, tells of how the figurines are commonly identified with two Canaanite gods, Baal or Resheph, who are both known as war gods.

Mr Garfinkel said: “They are made of bronze with remains of a silver coating, especially on their faces.

“Both figurines represent a male figure in a marching stance with his right hand raised.

“Figurine A’s arm was preserved; it holds a weapon that seems to be a mace or club that is attached to the figure’s forehead. Both figurines wear a short kilt and a tall hat.

“Below their feet are pegs that were used to attach the figurines to wooden stands, as attested by the remains of wood.”

Fish fossils show first cooking may have been 600,000 years earlier than thought

Fish fossils show first cooking may have been 600,000 years earlier than thought

Early human ancestors living 780,000 years ago liked their fish well done, Israeli researchers have revealed, in what they said was the earliest evidence of fire being used for cooking.

Fish fossils show first cooking may have been 600,000 years earlier than thought
The skull of a modern carp is housed at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv. The scientists’ claims are based on 16 years of work at a site near the Jordan River.

Exactly when our ancestors started cooking has been a matter of controversy among archaeologists because it is difficult to prove that an ancient fireplace was used to prepare food, and not just for warmth.

But the birth of the culinary arts marks an important turning point in human history because, by making food easier to chew and digest, it is believed to have greatly contributed to our eventual expansion across the world.

Previously, the first “definitive evidence” of cooking was by Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens 170,000 years ago, according to a study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on Monday.

The study, which pushes that date back by more than 600,000 years, is the result of 16 years of work by its first author, Irit Zohar, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

During that time she catalogued thousands of fish remains found at a site called Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in northern Israel.

The site near the banks of the Jordan River was once home to a lake, where a treasure trove of ancient fish fossils helped the team of researchers investigate exactly when the first cooks started getting inventive in the kitchen.

“It was like facing a puzzle, with more and more information until we could make a story about human evolution,” Zohar told AFP.

The first clue came in an area that contained “nearly no fish bones” but lots of teeth, she said.

This could point to cooking because fish bones soften and disintegrate at temperatures under 500C (930F), but their teeth remain.

In the same area, a colleague of Zohar’s found burnt flints and other evidence that it had previously been used as a fireplace.

And most of the teeth belonged to just two particularly large species of carp, suggesting they had been selected for their “succulent” meat, the study said. Some of the carp were over two metres (6.5 feet) long.

The “decisive” proof came from studying the teeth’s enamel, Zohar said.

The researchers used a technique called X-ray powder diffraction at the Natural History Museum in London to find out how heating changes the structure of the crystals that make up the enamel.

Comparing the results with other fish fossils, they found that the teeth from the key area of the lake were subjected to a temperature of between 200-500C (400-930F). That is just the right range for well-cooked fish.

Whether our forerunners baked, grilled, poached or sautéd their fish remains unknown, though the study suggested they may have used some kind of earth oven.

Fire is thought to have first been mastered by Homo erectus some 1.7 million years ago. But “because you can control fire for warming, that does not mean you control it for cooking – they could have eaten the fish next to the fire”, Zohar said.

Then the human ancestors might have thrown the bones in the fire, said Anaïs Marrast, an archaeozoologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the study.

“The whole question about exposure to fire is whether it is about getting rid of remains or a desire to cook,” she said.

Sentence of Canaanite language found in Israel for the first time on the ivory comb

Sentence of Canaanite language found in Israel for the first time on the ivory comb

The alphabet was invented around 1800 BCE and was used by the Canaanites and later by most other languages in the world. Until recently, no meaningful Canaanite inscriptions had been discovered in the Land of Israel, save only two or three words here and there.

Sentence of Canaanite language found in Israel for the first time on the ivory comb
The letters on the comb translate to “may this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard”.

Now an amazing discovery presents an entire sentence in Canaanite, dating to about 1700 BCE. It is engraved on a small ivory comb and includes a spell against lice.

The comb was unearthed at Tel Lachish in Israel by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and Southern Adventist University in the United States, under the direction of Professors Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil. The inscription was deciphered by semitic epigraphist Dr Daniel Vainstub at Ben Gurion University (BGU). The ivory was tested by HU Prof. Rivka Rabinovich and BGU Prof. Yuval Goren and was found to originate from an elephant tusk. Their findings were published in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.

The letters of the inscription were engraved in a very shallow manner. It was excavated in 2017 but the letters were noticed only in subsequent post-processing in 2022 by Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu. It was cleaned and preserved by Miriam Lavi.

The ivory comb is small, measuring roughly 3.5 by 2.5 cm. The comb has teeth on both sides. Although their bases are still visible, the comb teeth themselves were broken in antiquity. The central part of the comb is somewhat eroded, possibly by the pressure of fingers holding the comb during haircare or the removal of lice from the head or beard. The side of the comb with six thick teeth was used to untangle knots in the hair, while the other side, with 14 fine teeth, was used to remove lice and their eggs, much like the current-day two-sided lice combs sold in stores.

There are 17 Canaanite letters on the comb. They are archaic in form — from the first stage of the invention of the alphabet script. They form seven words in Canaanite, reading: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

“This is the first sentence ever found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites in Ugarit in Syria, but they write in a different script, not the alphabet that is used today. The Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, the Amarna letters that were written in Akkadian, and in the Hebrew Bible.

The comb inscription is direct evidence of the use of the alphabet in daily activities some 3700 years ago. This is a landmark in the history of the human ability to write,” shared Garfinkel.

Ancient combs were made from wood, bone, or ivory. Ivory was a very expensive material and likely an imported luxury object. As there were no elephants in Canaan during that time period, the comb likely came from nearby Egypt — factors indicating that even people of high social status suffered from lice.

The research team analyzed the comb itself for the presence of lice under a microscope and photographs were taken of both sides. Remains of head lice, 0.5-0.6 mm in size, were found on the second tooth. The climatic conditions of Lachish, however, did not allow the preservation of whole head lice but only those of the outer chitin membrane of the nymph stage head louse.

Despite its small size, the inscription on the comb from Lachish has very special features, some of which are unique and fill in gaps and lacunas in our knowledge of many aspects of the culture of Canaan in the Bronze Age.

For the first time, we have an entire verbal sentence written in the dialect spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Lachish, enabling us to compare this language in all its aspects with the other sources for it. Second, the inscription on the comb sheds light on some hitherto poorly attested aspects of the everyday life of the time, haircare and dealing with lice.

Third, this is the first discovery in the region of an inscription referring to the purpose of the object on which it was written, as opposed to dedicatory or ownership inscriptions on objects. Further, the engraver’s skill in successfully executing such tiny letters (1-3 mm wide) is a fact that from now on should be taken into account in any attempt to summarize and draw conclusions on literacy in Canaan in the Bronze Age.

Lachish was a major Canaanite city-state in the second millennium BCE and the second most important city in the Biblical Kingdom of Judah. To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found in Lachish, more than at any other site in Israel.

The city was the major centre for the use and preservation of the alphabet for some 600 years, from 1800-1150 BCE. The site of Tel Lachish is under the protection of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

‘Extremely rare’ Rameses II-era burial cave found in Israel

‘Extremely rare’ Rameses II-era burial cave found in Israel

'Extremely rare' Rameses II-era burial cave found in Israel
The cave was filled with bowls, chalices and cooking pots to accompany the dead to the afterlife.

A mechanical digger has uncovered a burial cave from the time of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II at an Israeli beach.   The square, man-made cave was found last week at Palmahim National Park when the digger hit its roof. 

In a video released by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), archaeologists shine flashlights on pottery that dates back to the reign of the ancient Egyptian king, who died in 1213 BC.

It showed bowls — some containing bones — chalices, cooking pots, storage jars, lamps and bronze arrows or spearheads.

The objects were burial offerings to accompany the dead on their journey to the afterlife, untouched since they were put there about 3,300 years ago.

At least one relatively intact skeleton was also found in two rectangular plots in the corner of the cave.

“The cave may furnish a complete picture of the Late Bronze Age funerary customs,” said Eli Yannai, an IAA Bronze Age expert.

He said it was an “extremely rare … once-in-a-lifetime discovery”.

The provenance of the vessels — from Cyprus, Lebanon, northern Syria, Gaza and Jaffa — showed “lively trading activity that took place along the coast”, Dr Yannai said.

Rameses II controlled Canaan, a territory encompassing modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Another IAA archaeologist, David Gelman, said the people buried there may have been warriors. 

The contents are believed to be evidence of “lively trading activity”.

“The fact that these people were buried along with weapons, including entire arrows, shows that these people might have been warriors, perhaps they were guards on ships — which may have been the reason they were able to obtain vessels from all around the area,” he said.

“Burial caves are rare as it is, and finding one that hasn’t been touched since it was first used 3,300 years ago is something you rarely ever find.

“It feels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie: just going into the ground and everything is just laying there as it was initially — intact pottery vessels, weapons, vessels made out of bronze, burials just as they were.”

The cave has been resealed and is under guard while archaeologists develop a plan to excavate it, the IAA said.

It said, “a few items” had been looted between its discovery and when it was closed.

Byzantine gold coins hidden in a wall in the 7th century were uncovered by Israeli archaeologists

Byzantine gold coins hidden in a wall in the 7th century were uncovered by Israeli archaeologists

Byzantine gold coins hidden in a wall in the 7th century were uncovered by Israeli archaeologists

Archaeologists in Israel say 44 pure gold coins dating to the 7th Century have been found hidden in a wall at a nature reserve.

Weighing about 170g, the hoard found at the Hermon Stream (Banias) site was hidden during the Muslim conquest of the area in 635, experts estimated.

They said the coins shed light on the end of the Byzantine rule in the area.

The Byzantine Empire was the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which survived for more than 1,000 years.

“We can imagine the owner concealing his fortune in the threat of war, hoping to return one day to retrieve his property,” said Yoav Lerer, director of the excavation.

“In retrospect, we know that he was less fortunate.”

Dr Gabriela Bijovsky says the coins help document the life of Emperor Heraclius’s family

Apart from the gold coins, the excavation – in a residential quarter of the ancient city – also uncovered the remains of buildings, water channels and pipes, bronze coins and much more, Israeli authorities said.

Dr Gabriela Bijovsky, a numismatic (currency) expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said some of the coins were of Emperor Phocas (602-610), but most were of his successor Heraclius.

Banias has a particular place in Christian tradition, being the site where Jesus is said to have told the apostle Peter, “on this rock, I will build my church”.

Ancient Islamic mosaics uncovered on the shores of Kinneret

Ancient Islamic mosaics uncovered on the shores of Kinneret

Ancient mosaics belonging to an early Islamic settlement have been uncovered by archaeologists from a German university in the Kinneret.

A VIEW of the Kinneret with the Hermon in the background. The view that inspired Rachel the Poetess, among others.

The mosaics, found near Khirbat al-Minya, are believed to have acted as a contact point for Umar and local Arab tribes dating to the fifth century BCE.

Khirbat al-Minya may have also served as a caravanserai, known to some as a caravan inn. Travellers coming through the region at the time would be able to rest there and recharge before heading back on their long, often strenuous journey.

Archaeologists from Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) discovered these ancient mosaics along the Kinneret’s shoreline after geomagnetic surface surveys and subsequent excavations were done in the surrounding area.

According to JGU archaeologists, this discovery was made possible by the geomagnetic surface surveys themselves. Through this process, along with specifically-mapped “exploratory cuts,” archaeologists from the Mainz team were able to prove that the caliph, which was the title of the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, strategically planned his palace. This residence was complete with a mosque and a high gate tower close to a nearby settlement.

At the time of construction of this palace, the shoreline was believed to have been almost completely deserted.

Ancient Islamic mosaics uncovered on the shores of Kinneret
THE WONDERFULLY watery Kinneret, photo snapped while barefoot on the rocks.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Kuhnen of JGU uncovered remarkable details from their discoveries. “Our most recent excavations show that Caliph Walid had his palace built on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in an already carefully structured landscape that had long been inhabited.”

“It was here that considerable money was subsequently made through the cultivation of sugar cane, sadly causing lasting damage to the ecosystem,” he said. What started generations ago as a money-maker would in turn have a  cost that would never be repaid.

 “Our research has brought this settlement adjacent to the caliph’s palace to light again, putting it in its rightful context among the history of human settlement of the Holy Land,” Kuhnen said. “Over the centuries, it experienced alternating periods of innovation and decline, but there was no real disruption to its existence during its lifetime.”

The Mainz archaeologists involved with the project found stone buildings from different periods made of basalt with plastered walls, a cistern and colored mosaic floors.

The tiles were found decorated with blossom designs, along with pictures of the animal and plant world of the Nile Valley.

The art found in the mosaics was believed to have symbolized “the life-giving power of the great river, which ensured Egypt’s fertility through the annual Nile flood.”

What can we learn from this discovery?

Archaeologists from JGU are confident this discovery shows that though life in Israel may have gone through major changes throughout the years, it never really made a full stop, which allows it to thrive today. 

 “With this research, we give the settlement in front of the threshold of the caliph’s palace a place on the stage of the settlement history of the Holy Land, which over the centuries has experienced a change of innovation and decline, but never real breaks,” a JGU representative said.

The Discovery of Jesus Christ’s Childhood Home

The Discovery of Jesus Christ’s Childhood Home

The 1st-century house at the Sisters of Nazareth site. It may have been the childhood home of Jesus Christ.

An English archaeologist may have just made one of the most intriguing discoveries of the last two millennia: the childhood home of Jesus Christ.

Ken Dark, an archaeologist at the England’s University of Reading, has published his findings in a new book, The Sisters of Nazareth Convent: A Roman-Period, Byzantine, and Crusader Site in Central Nazareth.

The story begins with a dig by non-archaeologists: nuns who, in 1881, happened upon an ancient cistern while building the Sisters of Nazareth convent, but didn’t know what they had stumbled upon. Dark describes it as “one of the first examples of an archaeological project directed by a woman.”

“In many ways, they were way ahead of their time,” Dark told Artnet News. “They conducted a perfectly reasonable rescue excavation or salvage excavation.”

Records from their exploration, as well as another, by a Jesuit priest in the mid-20th century, were key to Dark’s research. The site had otherwise long languished, ignored by scholars, he said.

The location was home to several structures and uses over two millennia, Dark said, all of which are essential for his conclusion.

First, there was a 1st-century building, partly cut out of rock, that may have been a dwelling. The site was then used as a quarry, and then for a tomb. Later, it was home to a cave church, possibly one mentioned by the pilgrim Egeria, who wrote an account of her travels to the Holy Land in about AD 380.

Later, a Byzantine church was built on the ground above. Dark suspects it may be the previously lost Church of the Nutrition, which was built to commemorate the place where Christ was raised and was mentioned by Irish abbott and historian Adomnán in his book De Locis Sanctis (Concerning Sacred Places) in the late 7th century.

The 1st-century house at the Sisters of Nazareth site.

The church burned down around the year 1200 and was not in religious use until the Sisters of Nazareth began to build their convent there in the 1880s.

“The Byzantine church Sisters of Nazareth seems as though it was almost certainly the building described by Adomnán,” Dark said. “It was very large, very elaborately decorated, and probably from the 5th century.

“It overlay a crypt, which is also described in his book. In the crypt, just as he says, there are two Roman-period tombs, and between them, there’s a house—and that house, Adomnán says, is the place where Jesus was brought up.

“So, we found the church, we found the crypt, we found the house.”

Is it a slam dunk? Dark is quick to say no. But, he said, people historically much closer to Jesus felt it was: “I can be confident that it’s the house that the Byzantines believed, and was probably believed in the 4th century, to be Jesus’s childhood home.”

Dark was hardly out to uncover what he may have found.

“Primarily, I was there to look at the emergence of the Byzantine pilgrimage centre of Nazareth,” he said. “To have found the Sisters of Nazareth in itself seemed to be an amazing discovery.”

He hardly expected to find a 1st-century house, and possibly such an interesting one, underneath.

“So,” he said, “it comes as a bit of a surprise.”

Evidence of Opium Use by Canaanites in 14th Century BC Found

Evidence of Opium Use by Canaanites in 14th Century BC Found

A new study by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University, and The Weizmann Institute of Science has revealed the earliest known evidence of the use of the hallucinogenic drug opium, and psychoactive drugs in general, in the world.

The opium residue was found in ceramic vessels discovered at Tel Yehud, in an excavation conducted by Eriola Jakoel on behalf of the Antiquities Authority.

The vessels that contained the opium date back to the 14th century BC, and they were found in Canaanite graves, apparently having been used in local burial rituals. This exciting discovery confirms historical writings and archaeological hypotheses according to which opium and its trade played a central role in the cultures of the Near East.

One of the 14th-century-BC Canaanite burials at Tel Yehud was associated with vessels containing traces of opium.

The research was conducted as part of Vanessa Linares’s doctoral thesis, under the guidance of Professor Oded Lipschits and Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archeology and Professor Ronny Neumann of the Weizmann Institute, in collaboration with Eriola Jakoel and Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the study was published in the journal Archaeometry.

In 2012, the Antiquities Authority conducted a salvage excavation at the Tel Yehud site, prior to the construction of residences there.

A number of Canaanite graves from the Late Bronze Age were found in the excavation, and next to them were burial offerings—vessels intended to accompany the dead into the afterlife. Among the pottery, a large group of vessels made in Cyprus and referred to in the study as “Base-Ring juglets,” stood out.

Because the vessels are similar in shape to the poppy flower when it is closed and upside down, the hypothesis arose already in the 19th century that they were used as ritual vessels for the drug. Now, an organic residue analysis has revealed opium residue in eight vessels, some local and some made in Cyprus. This is the first time that opium has been found in pottery in general, and in Base-Ring vessels in particular. It is also the earliest known evidence of the use of hallucinogens in the world.

Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority says, “In the excavations conducted at Tel Yehud to date, hundreds of Canaanite graves from the 18th to the 13th centuries BC have been unearthed. Most of the bodies buried were those of adults, of both sexes.

The pottery vessels had been placed within the graves were used for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members.

The dead were honoured with foods and drinks that were either placed in the vessels, or consumed during a feast that took place over the grave, at which the deceased was considered a participant. It may be that during these ceremonies, conducted by family members or by a priest on their behalf, participants attempted to raise the spirits of their dead relatives in order to express a request, and would enter an ecstatic state by using opium. Alternatively, it is possible that the opium, which was placed next to the body, was intended to help the person’s spirit rise from the grave in preparation for the meeting with their relatives in the next life.”

Linares of Tel Aviv University explains: “This is the only psychoactive drug that has been found in the Levant in the Late Bronze Age. In 2020, researchers discovered cannabis residue on an altar in Tel Arad, but this dated back the Iron Age, hundreds of years after the opium in Tel Yehud.

Because the opium was found at a burial site, it offers us a rare glimpse into the burial customs of the ancient world. Of course, we do not know what the opium’s role was in the ceremony—whether the Canaanites in Yehud believed that the dead would need opium in the afterlife, or whether it was the priests who consumed the drug for the purposes of the ceremony. Moreover, the discovery sheds light on the opium trade in general.

One must remember that opium is produced from poppies, which grew in Asia Minor—that is, in the territory of current-day Turkey—whereas the pottery in which we identified the opium were made in Cyprus. In other words, the opium was brought to Yehud from Turkey, through Cyprus; this of course indicates the importance that was attributed to the drug.”

Be’eri adds, “Until now, no written sources have been discovered that describe the exact use of narcotics in burial ceremonies, so we can only speculate what was done with opium. From documents that were discovered in the Ancient Near East, it appears that the Canaanites attached great importance to ‘satisfying the needs of the dead’ through ritual ceremonies performed for them by the living, and believed that in return, the spirits would ensure the health and safety of their living relatives.”

According to Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “New scientific capabilities have opened a window for us to fascinating information and have provided us with answers to questions that we never would have dreamed of finding in the past. One can only imagine what other information we will be able to extract from the underground discoveries that will emerge in the future.”