Category Archives: ISRAEL

Lost civilization: Ancient Golan rock art sheds light on the mysterious culture around Israel

Lost civilization: Ancient Golan rock art sheds light on the mysterious culture around Israel

The chance discovery of lines carved into the boulders of an ancient tomb in what is now the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights could offer new insight into an enigmatic culture that thrived thousands of years ago.

Uri Berger, a regional archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, displays engravings in a rock bearing images of animals inside a dolmen from the intermediate Bronze age, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights

In a small clearing in the Yehudiya nature reserve, between yellow weeds and shaded by eucalyptus trees, huge dark basalt boulders and slabs form a small roofed chamber that opens to the east.

The megalithic structure is one of the thousands of so-called dolmens scattered around northern Israel and the wider region, burial tombs erected some 4,000-4,500 years ago in the Intermediate Bronze Era.

This megalithic structure is one of the thousands of dolmens scattered around northern Israel and the region, burial tombs erected some 4000-4500 years ago in the Intermediate Bronze Era

Today, on the plateau captured in 1967 from Syria, with Israeli soldiers securing the frontier just 23 kilometres (14 miles) away, scientists seek to shed light on the region’s distant past. The identity and beliefs of those who built the monuments remain largely unknown. But a recent serendipitous finding of rock art might change that.

About two years ago, “when one of the rangers here in the park walked her daily walk, she looked inside and saw something carved in the walls,” recalled Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ranger contacted the IAA, and “when we looked inside we saw this is not just lines carved or some stains on the wall, this is rock art,” Berger said. The lines form the shapes of six horned animals of varying sizes, three facing east and three facing west, with two of them — likely a male and female — directly facing each other.

Another horned animal is carved into the interior of one panel, facing the other six. The zoomorphic depictions, hidden in plain sight since the study of the dolmens began 200 years ago, were the first to be discovered in the region and a major development for Berger and his research partner, Gonen Sharon.

Sharon, an archaeology professor at the Tel-Hai college in northern Israel, is responsible for a previous landmark discovery. Just north of the nature reserve, outside the northern Galilee Kibbutz Shamir, Sharon was hiking with his children in 2012 on a field with some 400 dolmens spread across it.

Uri Berger, regional archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, stands amid an ancient structure near Kibbutz Shamir in the upper Galilee area of northern Israe

Crawling into the shade of the largest monument, Sharon sat down, looked up at the huge slab roof of the dome and said he noticed “weird shapes” that didn’t look like natural formations.

“It looked like someone made them,” he recalled.

The markings were found to be a series of man-made carvings resembling tridents.

“It turned out this was the first artwork done in the context of dolmens in the Middle East,” Sharon said. The Shamir carvings, unnoticed by generations of researchers, reinvigorated archaeological study in the area.

One of the sites revisited was inside an industrial zone near Kiryat Shmona, a town northwest of Shamir, where three small megalithic structures that survived the zone’s development a few decades ago are surrounded by circles of stones.

On the relatively rounded capstone of the largest dolmen there, two sets of short parallel lines are carved into each side of the rock, with a longer line carved below creating the image of closed eyes and a grimacing mouth facing the sky.

“The grooves don’t seem to be functional,” said Sharon. “To us, they look like a face.”

The stone monuments have “altered the landscape” of northern Israel, said Berger. But their prominence has also made them targets for antiquities theft, which largely stripped remains that could provide clues to their creators. Small pieces of ceramics, metal spearheads and daggers, bits of jewellery and beads and some bones are found at the sites from time to time, Sharon said. “But it’s very rare to find” anything, and such finds are very scattered.

“We know very little of the actual culture of the people who built them.”

With the discovery of the art carved into the stones, “we can say something that is much more than what we knew for 200 years,” said Berger.

The rock art findings — published in a recent article by Sharon and Berger in the journal Asian Archaeology — display the animal drawings in this ancient culture for the first time and present the larger pattern of visual presentation in the region. Berger said the drawings raise new questions about the people who created them.

“Why those animals? Why in these dolmens and not others? What made this one special?”

The slow but steady accumulation of artistic finds brings scholars “closer and closer” to the subjects of their research, “to the civilisation you’re looking to know about,” Berger said.

To Sharon, “this is like a letter from the past starting to suggest what was the world of culture and symbolism beyond just building and erecting very large stones.”

Mystery of the Copper Scroll: How biblical relic could lead to secret $3TRILLION treasure

Mystery of the Copper Scroll: How biblical relic could lead to secret $3TRILLION treasure

When an archaeologist named Henri de Contenson was leading a team of ten Bedouin in a hillside cave a few kilometres from Qumran in 1952, he uncovered two enigmatic scrolls known as the Copper Scroll in a highly oxidized state.

It had separated into two small rolled up pieces side by side on a stone when it was first discovered in the cave. One larger part contained two similar sheets riveted together end to end while the other roll is a single sheet of hammered copper.

The Copper Scroll are part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, unlike other scrolls which are literary work and written on papyrus, these scrolls contain several locations of hidden treasures and written on thin copper.

On March 14, 1952, the Copper Scroll was found in cave 3 near Khirbet Qumran. Because the scrolls were the last of 15 Dead Sea Scrolls, it is referred to as 3Q15. The original state of the scroll is measured 2.4 m in length, 0.3 m in width and 1 mm thick.

At that time, no one dares to open the scroll without damaging the text inside it. Several years later in 1955, with great care, one of the Copper Scroll finally opened by H. Wright Baker, a Professor at Manchester College of Science and Technology (UMIST). The other scroll also opened a year later in 1956.

Because the corroded metal couldn’t be unrolled easily, Professor Baker cut the scroll into 23 parts. The language itself was a big puzzle for scholars. It was written in a square form script (an early form of Hebrew script) while other Dead Sea Scrolls were written in square form Aramaic script or ‘Paleo-Hebrew’ script.

The style of the script and the spelling in the Copper Scroll is very different from other texts of the time, from Qumran or from elsewhere. But still, It has been almost unanimously classified as one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

John Allegro is the first person who translated the Copper Scroll into English. And he realizes that the scroll is a list of around 64 locations of magnificent hidden treasures including massive quantities of jewellery, precious gems, other scrolls, gold and silvers.

However, the Jerusalem team advised him to not publish his findings publicly, because it can attract treasure hunters around the world and disturb the Qumran site.

At the end of 1959 and in March 1960, Allegro decided to lead two archaeological expeditions in search of the Copper Scroll’s treasures. For several months of expeditions, he wandered around in the desert and found nothing. A few months later, he decided to publish the English translation of the scroll (The Treasure of the Copper Scroll) in 1960.

Various reactions came from the scholars after reading Allegro’s translation. Father Joseph Milik, one of the member of the original Dead Sea Scrolls translation team and Father P’ere de Vaux, the head of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jerusalem, denounced it as defective and even cast doubts on the authenticity of the Copper Scroll’s contents. While others were not so sure, and today the generally accepted view is the Copper Scroll contains a genuine list of real treasures.

The mysterious relic may reveal a great treasure under Jerusalem

In 1962 the Jerusalem team published the official Copper Scroll’s translation with the title ‘Les “Petites Grottes” de Qumran, in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series. In conventional translations of the Copper Scroll, the weight of gold mentioned in various locations is generally given as adding up to a staggering 26 tonnes and silver 65 tonnes.

The weights of the treasures item in the Copper Scrolls are Gold (1285 Talents), Silver (666 Talents), Gold and Silver (17 Talents), Gold and silver vessels (600 Talents), Mixed precious metals (2,088 Talents).

Items with unspecified weights are as follows: Gold ingots (165), Silver bars (7), Gold and Silver vessels (609).

One Talent is estimated to be about 76 lb or 34.47 kg and it is estimated that the Copper Scroll treasure worth around over $2 billion at current prices. The origins of the treasures listed in the Copper Scroll also led to controversy and have not been resolved until now. Several theories have been proposed by scholars.

According to the Copper Scroll Project, the treasures listed on the scroll probably span the history of Israel from the Exodus to the Babylonian captivity. The talents of precious metals and gems may very well be the excess materials called for by Moses and Aaron to build the Tabernacle.

Then there are the supplies stored away by King David for the 1st Temple. Yet on the scroll, it speaks of tithes and offerings of silver. Those could easily be from the Temple built by King Solomon and stored away for repairs and upkeep on the House of God stored in the remote treasury at Qumran. The treasury described in the document is, the long sought after treasury of Hakkoz known for centuries to be in the area of Qumran. However, it is unclear when the treasury was built.

More significant is the fact none of the conventional theories has led to the discovery of any of the treasures listed in the Copper Scroll. Until now the Copper Scroll’s treasure is still hidden somewhere while the Copper Scroll itself is housed at the Jordan Museum in Amman, Jordan

Dead Sea Scroll Analyzed With Artificial Intelligence

Dead Sea Scroll Analyzed With Artificial Intelligence

According to a statement released by the University of Groningen, Mladen Popović, Lambert Schomaker, and Maruf Dhali used a computer algorithm to analyze the Great Isaiah Scroll, which was discovered in Qumran Cave 1 in 1947.

Dead Sea Scroll Analyzed With Artificial Intelligence
The Great Isaiah Scroll is over 7 metres long and the most complete of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

However, since the scribes are anonymous, scholars have been unable to identify the individuals behind the scrolls. The University of Groningen researchers have cracked the code, allowing them to uncover the scribes behind the scrolls, by combining science and the humanities. On April 21, they published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

The scribes who created the scrolls did not sign their work. Scholars suggested some manuscripts should be attributed to a single scribe based on handwriting. ‘They would try to find a “smoking gun” in the handwriting, for example, a very specific trait in a letter which would identify a scribe’, explains Mladen Popović, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen.

Two 12×12 Kohonen maps (blue colourmaps) of full character aleph and bet from the Dead Sea Scroll collection. Each of the characters in the Kohonen maps is formed from multiple instances of similar characters (shown with a zoomed box with red lines). These maps are useful for chronological style development analysis. In the current study of writer identification, Fraglets (fragmented character shapes) were used instead of full character shapes to achieve more precise (robust) results.

He is also director of the university’s Qumran Institute, dedicated to studying the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, these identifications are somewhat subjective and often hotly debated.


That is why Popović, in his project The Hands that Wrote the Bible which was funded by the European Research Council, teamed up with his colleague Lambert Schomaker, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Schomaker has long worked on techniques to allow computers to read handwriting, often from historical materials. He also performed studies to investigate how biomechanical traits, like the way in which someone holds a pen or stylus, would affect handwriting.

In this study, together with PhD candidate Maruf Dhali, they focused on one scroll in particular: the famous Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) from Qumran Cave 1. The handwriting in this scroll seems near-uniform, yet it has been suggested it was made by two scribes sharing a similar writing style. So how could this be decided? Schomaker: ‘This scroll contains the letter aleph, or “a”, at least five thousand times. It is impossible to compare them all just by eye.’ Computers are well suited to analyse large datasets, like 5,000 handwritten a’s. Digital imaging makes all sorts of computer calculations possible, at the microlevel of characters, such as measuring curvature (called textural) and whole characters (called allographic).

Authors of the new paper Mladen Popovic (far left) and Maruf A Dhali (middle) with other collaborators at the Qumran Caves, where the scroll was found.(Supplied)

Neural network

‘The human eye is amazing and presumably takes these levels into account too. This allows experts to “see” the hands of different authors, but that decision is often not reached by a transparent process,’ Popović says. ‘Furthermore, it is virtually impossible for these experts to process the large amounts of data the scrolls provide.’ That is why their results are often not conclusive.

The first hurdle was to train an algorithm to separate the text (ink) from its background (the leather or the papyrus). For this separation, or ‘binarization’, Dhali developed a state-of-the-art artificial neural network that can be trained using deep learning. This neural network keeps the original ink traces made by the scribe more than 2,000 years ago intact as they appear on digital images. ‘This is important because the ancient ink traces relate directly to a person’s muscle movement and are person-specific, Schomaker explains.


Dhali performed the first analytical test of this study. His analysis of textural and allographic features showed that the 54 columns of text in the Great Isaiah Scroll fell into two different groups that were not distributed randomly through the scroll, but were clustered, with a transition around the halfway mark.

With the remark that there might be more than one writer, Dhali then handed the data to Schomaker who then recomputed the similarities between the columns, now using the patterns of letter fragments. This second analytical step confirmed the presence of two different. Several further checks and controls were performed. Schomaker: ‘When we added extra noise to the data, the result didn’t change. We also succeeded in demonstrating that the second scribe shows more variation within his writing than the first, although their writing is very similar.’


In the third step, Popović, Dhali, and Schomaker have produced a visual analysis. They created ‘heat maps’ that incorporate all the variants of a character across the scroll. Then they produced an averaged version of this character for the first 27 columns and the last 27 columns. Comparing these two average letters by eye shows that they are different. This links the computerized and statistical analysis to human interpretation of the data by approximation because the heatmaps are neither dependent nor produced from the primary and secondary analyses.

Certain aspects of the scroll and the positioning of the text had led some scholars to suggest that after column 27 a new scribe had started, but this was not generally accepted. Popović: ‘Now, we can confirm this with a quantitative analysis of the handwriting as well as with robust statistical analyses. Instead of basing judgment on more-or-less impressionistic evidence, with the intelligent assistance of the computer, we can demonstrate that the separation is statistically significant.’

New window

In addition to transforming the palaeography of the scrolls – and potentially other ancient manuscript corpora – this study of the Great Isaiah Scroll opens up a totally new way to analyse the Qumran texts based on physical characteristics. Now, researchers can access the microlevel of individual scribes and carefully observe how they worked on these manuscripts.

Popović: ‘This is very exciting because this opens a new window on the ancient world that can reveal much more intricate connections between the scribes that produced the scrolls. This study found evidence for a very similar writing style shared by the two Great Isaiah Scroll scribes, which suggests a common training or origin. Our next step is to investigate other scrolls, where we may find different origins or training for the scribes.’

In this way, it will be possible to learn more about the communities that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. ‘We are now able to identify different scribes’, Popović concludes. ‘We will never know their names. But after seventy years of study, this feels as if we can finally shake hands with them through their handwriting.’

Additional information:

Digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of the Great Isaiah Scroll were kindly provided by Brill Publishers and the Israel Antiquities Authority (the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library).

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in jars like this.

From 6-8 April 2021, an international online conference took place, Digital Palaeography and Hebrew/Aramaic Scribal Culture, organized by the University of Groningen. A link to presentations will appear soon on this page:

Reference: Mladen Popović, Maruf A. Dhali, and Lambert Schomaker, Artificial Intelligence Based Writer Identification Generates New Evidence for the Unknown Scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exemplified by the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)

The ancient helmet was worn by a soldier in the Greek-Persian wars found in Israel

The ancient helmet was worn by a soldier in the Greek-Persian wars found in Israel

A well-preserved Greek ancient helmet near the Israeli city of Haifa was discovered in 2007 by the crew of a dutch ship crossing the Mediterranean Sea. As required by local law, the dredging vessel’s owner promptly handed the find over to archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Now, reports the Greek City Times, researchers have offered new insights on the object, which is the only intact helmet of its kind found along Israel’s coast.

Crafted in the sixth century B.C., the Corinthian armour was likely used during the Persian Wars, which pitted Greek city-states against the Persian Empire in a series of clashes between 492 and 449 B.C.

The ancient helmet was worn by a soldier in the Greek-Persian wars found in Israel
This bronze helmet was likely worn by a soldier fighting in the Greek-Persian wars.

“[It] probably belonged to a Greek warrior stationed on one of the warships of the Greek fleet that participated in the naval conflict against the Persians who ruled the country at the time,” says Kobi Sharvit, director of the IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit, in a statement.

After spending 2,600 years on the seafloor, the helmet’s cracked surface is heavily rusted. But scholars could still discern a delicate, peacock-like pattern above its eyeholes. This unique design helped archaeologists determine that craftsmen made the armour in the Greek city-state of Corinth.

According to Ancient Origin’s Nathan Falde, metalworkers would have fashioned the piece to fit tightly around the head of a particular person—but not so tightly that it couldn’t be swiftly and safely removed in the heat of battle.

“The helmet was expertly fabricated from a single sheet of bronze by means of heating and hammering,” notes the statement. “This technique made it possible to reduce its weight without diminishing its capacity for protecting the head of a warrior.”

As Owen Jarus wrote for Live Science in 2012, archaeologists excavated a similar helmet near the Italian island of Giglio, which is about 1,500 miles from where the crew found the recently analyzed artefact, during the 1950s.

That headgear—also around 2,600 years old—helped modern scholars determine when craftspeople manufactured the Haifa Bay armour.

Depiction of Greek hoplite and Persian warrior fighting during the Persian Wars

Experts speculate that the headpiece’s owner was a wealthy individual, as most soldiers wouldn’t have been able to afford such elaborate gear.

“The gilding and figural ornaments make this one of the most ornate pieces of early Greek armour discovered,” wrote Sharvit and scholar John Hale in a research summary quoted by UPI.

One theory raised by researchers speculates that the helmet belonged to a mercenary who fought alongside the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, per the Express’ Sebastian Kettley.

Another explanation posits that a Greek soldier stationed in the Mediterranean donned the headpiece, only to drop it into the water or lose it when his ship sank.

Though archaeologists aren’t sure exactly who owned the artefact, they do know that the warrior sailed the seas at a time when Persia controlled much of the Middle East.

As Live Science’s Jarus explains in a more recent article, the Persians attempted to invade Greece around 490 B.C. but were defeated near Athens during the Battle of Marathon.

A second attack by the Persians culminated in the Battle of Thermopylae, which saw a heavily outnumbered group of Spartans led by King Leonidas mount a doomed last stand against Xerxes’ Persian forces. (The 480 B.C. clash is heavily dramatized in the film 300.) But while Thermopylae ended in a Greek loss, the tides of war soon turned, with the Greeks forcing the Persians out of the region the following year.

In the decades after the Persians’ failed invasions, the Greek military continued the fight by campaigning against enemy troops stationed in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Ancient Origins notes that the helmet’s owner was likely active during this later phase of the war—“when the Persians were often on the defensive” rather than offensive—and may have served on either a patrol ship or a battleship.

Archaeologists Discover Additional Dead Sea Scroll Fragments In Desert Caves

Archaeologists Discover Additional Dead Sea Scroll Fragments In Desert Caves

Archaeologists in Israel have found new fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll for the first time in 60 years. The parchment fragments, which number in the hundreds, were most likely buried in a desert cave between 132 and 136 A.D., during the unsuccessful Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans.

Archaeologists Discover Additional Dead Sea Scroll Fragments In Desert Caves
Part of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll, written in Greek.

The 80 or so fragments are inscribed with Greek translations of verse from the biblical books of Zechariah and Nahum, according to Ilan Ben Zion of the Associated Press (AP).

Researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) found the nearly 2,000-year-old scrolls in the Cave of Horror, a site in the Judean Desert that derives its name from the 40 skeletons discovered there during excavations in the 1960s.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts penned between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D., include the oldest known fragments of the Hebrew Bible. Modern researchers first learned of the texts’ existence in the 1940s, when local Bedouin shepherds happened upon a set of the scrolls in the Qumran Caves.

According to Haaretz’s Ruth Schuster and Ariel David, the newly discovered bits of parchment appear to be missing sections of a scroll found in the Cave of Horror in 1952. Like the fragments, that scroll bears lines from the Twelve, a book of the Hebrew Bible that contains the writings of 12 minor prophets.

Archaeologists found the scroll fragments at a site known as the Cave of Horror.

Aside from the name of God, which appears in Hebrew, the new scroll fragments are written entirely in Greek. Scholars say the find sheds light on the evolution of biblical texts from their earliest forms.

“When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static. It wasn’t static. There are slight differences and some of those differences are important,” Joe Uziel, head of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls unit, tells the AP. “Every little piece of information that we can add, we can understand a little bit better.”

The discovery was part of an Israeli government project launched in 2017 to survey the caves of the Judean Desert and recover artefacts before looters could steal them. Per an IAA statement, researchers had to rappel down a sheer cliff to reach the Cave of Horror, which is surrounded by gorges and located some 260 feet below a clifftop.

“The desert team showed exceptional courage, dedication and devotion to purpose, rappelling down to caves located between heaven and earth, digging and sifting through them, enduring thick and suffocating dust, and returning with gifts of immeasurable worth for mankind,” says IAA Director Israel Hasson in the statement.

As part of the new research, archaeologists explored a number of desert caves in the area. In addition to the scroll fragments, reports Amanda Borschel-Dan for the Times of Israel, they found an array of artefacts dating to the Bar Kokhba revolt, which saw Jewish rebels using the caves as hideouts.

Highlights of the discovery include a cache of coins bearing Jewish symbols like a harp and a date palm, arrowheads and spear tips, sandals, fabric, and lice combs.

Cache of coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome.
Cache of coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome.
An archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) shows ancient lice comb from the Bar Kochba Jewish revolt period, excavated from an area in the Judean Desert, after conservation work is done at the IAA’s Dead Sea conservation laboratory in Jerusalem, March 16, 2021.

The team found far older items, too. Youth volunteers participating in the exploration of one of the Muraba’at Caves, for instance, discovered a huge, 24- to 26-gallon basket made 10,500 years ago. As Ella Tercatin writes for the Jerusalem Post, experts think the woven vessel is the oldest of its kind found to date.

Researchers working in the Cave of Horrors also found the 6,000-year-old remains of a child whose body was naturally mummified in the dry cave. Based on a CT scan, they estimate that the individual, likely a girl, was between 6 and 12 years old. They were buried in the fetal position in a shallow pit, with cloth tucked around their body.

“It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped [them] up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath [them], just as a parent covers [their] child in a blanket,” says IAA prehistorian Ronit Lupu in the statement. “A small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child’s hands.”

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves along the coast of the Dead Sea in what’s now Israel and the West Bank, date to between the second century B.C. and second century A.D. Per the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, the scrolls have helped scholars understand different Jewish sects that were active during that period.

As Andrew Lawler reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2010, researchers found around 15,000 scroll fragments between the late 1940s and early 1960s.

Some of the scrolls include texts that are remarkably similar to later versions of biblical books, but with some subtle differences and additional material. Others set out regulations, forming the basis for legal commentaries in the Talmud.

Hasson says that the discoveries point to the importance of putting resources into a continued exploration of the caves.

“We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves before the robbers do,” he adds in the statement. “Some things are beyond value.”

Oldest woven basket in the world found in Israel dates back 10,000 years

Oldest woven basket in the world found in Israel dates back 10,000 years

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered several 2,000-year-old biblical scroll fragments, a 6,000-year-old skeleton, ancient coins and what is thought to be the world’s oldest woven basket in a cave, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Tuesday.

The basket was found empty and closed with a lid. Only a small amount of soil was retrieved in it and the researchers hope it will help identify what the vessel contained.

A perfectly preserved large woven basket dating back some 10,500 years was unearthed in the Judean Desert, the Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The 10,500-year-old basket as found in Muraba‘at Cave.

Experts believe the artefact is probably the oldest of its kind ever uncovered. It was excavated in a Judean Desert cave by the IAA in cooperation with the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Department.
“This is the most exciting discovery that I have encountered in my life,” Dr Haim Cohen said during a press briefing at the IAA lab in Jerusalem.

Materials from four different parts of the basket were analyzed to date. The researchers concluded that the object was manufactured around 10,500 years ago during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.

“The basket has a capacity of some 92 litres,” Cohen said. “We do not know yet which type of plant was used to make it, but we are looking into it. However, we can already say that two people wove it and that one of them was left-handed.”

The basket was found empty and closed with a lid. Only a small amount of soil was retrieved in it, and the researchers hope it will help identify what the vessel contained.

According to Cohen, the ancient people who manufactured it probably did not live in the cave but rather used it for storage.

The archaeologists found evidence that antiquities looters had probably arrived some 10 km. from the artefact, but they stopped excavating just before reaching it.

The rescue operation aims at surveying hundreds of caves in the Judean Desert to trace and preserve the antiquities that are still hidden there before they are retrieved and sold on the private market, as has happened in the past.

“Organic materials usually do not have the ability to survive for such long periods,” Dr Naama Sukenik from the IAA’s Organic Material Department told The Jerusalem Post. “However, the special climatic condition of the Judean Desert, its dry weather, have allowed for dozens of artefacts to last for centuries and millennia.”

Among other items, the archaeologists have found fragments of textiles still carrying their bright colours dating back to the Roman period, parts of sandals, a small comb with 2,000-year-old lice stuck between its teeth, seeds and pieces of rope.

Dozens of scroll fragments from a biblical scroll dating back some 2,000 years were also unearthed in the first discovery of its kind in decades.

About half of the area still remains to be surveyed and shed further light into life in Israel over the course of millennia.

Sunken treasure? Divers stumble upon a priceless ancient gold

Sunken treasure? Divers stumble upon a priceless ancient gold

The biggest cache of gold coins ever uncovered off Israel’s Mediterranean coast has been discovered by scuba diving, with around 2,000 pieces dating back over 1,000 years, according to the country’s antiquities authority.

A scuba diver holds some of the gold coins recently found on the seabed in the ancient harbour in the Israeli town of Caesarea.

“The largest treasure of gold coins discovered in Israel was found on the seabed in the ancient harbour in Caesarea,” the authority said in a statement.

It was by pure chance that members of a diving club in the Roman-era port had come across the coins, which the authority said weighed 9kg but described as “priceless”.

The largest hoard of gold coins found in Israel was discovered in the seabed of a harbour in the Mediterranean Sea port of Caesarea National Park.

“At first they thought they had spotted a toy coin from a game and it was only after they understood the coin was the real thing that they collected several coins and quickly returned to the shore in order to inform the director of the dive club about their find,” it said.

Experts from the authority called to the site uncovered “almost 2,000 gold coins in different denominations” circulated by the Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled much of the Middle East and North Africa from 909 to 1171.

Kobi Sharvit, director of the marine archaeology unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said excavations would be carried out in the hope of shedding more light on the origin of the treasure.

“There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected,” said Sharvit.

“Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city.

“Another theory is that the treasure was money belonging to a large merchant ship that traded with the coastal cities and the port on the Mediterranean Sea and sank there,” he said.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority declined to put a cash value on the coins, which it said had been exposed as a result of winter storms.

The find was “so valuable that its priceless,” spokeswoman Yoli Schwartz said, adding the haul was now the property of the state, and that there was no finder’s fee.

Byzantine-Period Mosaic Map of Ancient Egyptian City Uncovered in Israel

Byzantine-Period Mosaic Map of Ancient Egyptian City Uncovered in Israel

A mosaic map of an ancient Egyptian settlement is going on display where it was found — in an industrial-park parking lot in Israel.

Byzantine-Period Mosaic Map of Ancient Egyptian City Uncovered in Israel
A 1,500-year-old church mosaic shows a maplike cityscape of Chortaso, Egypt, where early Christian tradition suggests the minor Hebrew prophet Habakkuk was buried.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the first public display of the elaborate mosaic, which was discovered two years ago.

Dating back to the Byzantine period, the mosaic shows streets and buildings arranged like a map. A Greek inscription reveals that the map shows Chortaso, Egypt, the site of the burial of Habakkuk, a prophet in the Hebrew Bible.

This mosaic graced a church floor some 1,500 years ago, archaeologists said in a statement. Today, it sits in the midst of an industrial park in the city of Kiryat Gat (also spelled Qiryat Gat) in Israel.

“The appearance of this Egyptian city on the floor of the public building in Qiryat Gat might allude to the origin of the church’s congregation,” Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Sa’ar Ganor and Rina Avner said in the statement.

1,500-year-old mosaic map of Chortaso.
A section of the 1,500-year-old mosaic. 

The church structure itself is long gone, but the floor mosaic remained. With funding from the company that manages the industrial park where it was discovered, archaeologists carefully excavated and removed the mosaic for conservation two years ago.

Now, they have returned the ancient artwork to its original place. It will open for public display during a “Factories from Within” festival at the industrial park.

The mosaic is made of 17 different colours of tile. It depicts birds, a rooster and a deer in one surviving fragment, as well as a goblet filled with red fruit.

The Byzantine mosaic also shows birds, animals and red fruit in a goblet.

The second fragment shows the Egyptian settlement, complete with roads, buildings and a boat with a sail. Each building is two or three stories tall and carefully detailed; galleries, balconies, windows and even roof tiles are depicted.

“The investment in the raw materials and their quality is the best ever discovered in Israel,” the archaeologists wrote.

Though Christian tradition places Habakkuk’s resting place in Chortaso, the final burial place of this minor prophet is unknown — both Israel and Iran now claim sites said to be the prophet’s tomb.

The Byzantine period of Israel, however, was a time of elaborate church construction. Intricate floor mosaics are often part of the designs of these houses of worship.

The Byzantine Empire stretched from the “toe” of the boot of Italy through modern-day Greece and Turkey and down into today’s Syria, Lebanon and Israel. It flourished from the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire (often estimated to be around A.D. 476) until 1453.