Category Archives: ISRAEL

‘Beautiful’ 900-year-old Crusader sword discovered by a diver off the coast of Israel

‘Beautiful’ 900-year-old Crusader sword discovered by diver off the coast of Israel

A man diving off the coast of northern Israel, not far from his home, recently stumbled onto a 900-year-old sword dated to the time of the Crusades.

'Beautiful' 900-year-old Crusader sword discovered by diver off the coast of Israel
A diver discovered the 900-year-old sword in a natural cove off the coast of northern Israel.

Shlomi Katzin, a resident of the town of Atlit, spotted the sword and other centuries-old artefacts on the sea bed off the Carmel coast, where shifting sands had apparently made them suddenly visible, reports Nicky Blackburn for Israel21c.

The four-foot-long sword was covered in shells and other remnants of sea life. Katzin reported the discovery to the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) robbery prevention unit.

“The sword, which has been preserved in perfect condition, is a beautiful and rare find and evidently belonged to a Crusader knight,” says IAA inspector Nir Distelfeld in a statement.

“It was found encrusted with marine organisms but is apparently made of iron. It is exciting to encounter such a personal object, taking you 900 years back in time to a different era, with knights, armour and swords.”

Archaeologists had already been monitoring the area, a natural cove that offered shelter to ships for millennia, before Katzin’s find, reports Stuart Winer for the Times of Israel. Earlier discoveries have shown that the site was active as long as 4,000 years ago.

Shlomi Katzin discovered the sword while diving near his hometown.

Unpredictable conditions in the ocean often bring artefacts to the surface; a rise in the number of people diving recreationally in the area means that more of these objects have reemerged in recent years, says Koby Sharvit, director of the IAA’s marine archaeology unit, in the statement.

“Even the smallest storm moves the sand and reveals areas on the seabed, meanwhile burying others,” Sharvit adds.

In addition to the sword, Katzin spotted pottery fragments and stone and metal anchors, per the Jerusalem Post’s Rossella Tercatin.

Starting in the 11th century, leaders of European nations and the Roman Catholic Church sent Crusader armies to the Middle East to seize sites considered holy by Christians from Muslim rulers.

After the Muslim sultan Saladin retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, England’s Richard I led an army against him, travelling south along Israel’s coast from Acre to Jaffa and winning what Richard Spencer of the London Times deems a “great but ultimately pyrrhic victory.”

The sword is encrusted with shells and marine organisms.

Since the sword is still covered in encrustations, it’s impossible to say much about it, Sa’ar Nudel, an archaeologist who studies weapons from the Crusades, tells Haaretz’s, Ruth Schuster. The Crusaders and their Muslim Ayyubid and Mamluk opponents all typically used straight swords of similar size and shape, archaeologist Rafi Lewis adds.

“The basic shape of the weapon, a straight sword, didn’t evolve much from the time of the Vikings to the 14th century,” he tells Haaretz.

According to Sharvit, the fact that the sword was found more than 600 feet from the coast suggests it was a Crusader’s weapon. Muslim forces built fortifications along the coast as defences against arriving Christian forces but didn’t travel by sea themselves.

“They destroyed the coastal cities so the Crusaders couldn’t return and reconquer the Holy Land,” the archaeologist says to Haaretz.

The sword is now in the hands of the IAA’s National Treasures Department, per Israel 21c. IAA scientists plan to clean and study the weapon before putting it on display to the public.

Gold and Amethyst Ring Discovered at Byzantine Winery

Gold and Amethyst Ring Discovered at Byzantine Winery

In the huge excavation conducted at Yavne by the Israel Antiquities Authority​, as part of the Israel Land Authority’s initiative to expand the city, a spectacular gold ring was recently uncovered, with an inlay of a purple stone.

An examination of the ring by Dr Yotam Asher at the analytical laboratory of the Israel Antiquities Authority showed that the stone is mostly made of silica – a material from which many gemstones are composed. This examination ruled out the possibility that the purple inlay is made simply of glass. The ring weighs 5.11 grammes.

Dr. Amir Golani, an expert on ancient jewellery at the Israel Antiquities Authority, who examined the find, said that “the person who owned the ring was affluent, and the wearing of the jewel indicated their status and wealth.

Such rings could be worn by both men and women”. Golani adds that, “a semi-precious stone, called an amethyst, was placed in the ring.

Amethysts are mentioned in Bible as one of the 12 precious stones worn by the high priest of the Temple on his ceremonial breastplate.  Many virtues have been attached to this gem, including the prevention of the side effect of drinking, the hangover”.

Gold and Amethyst Ring Discovered at Byzantine Winery
The spectacular gold ring with the inlaid semi-precious amethyst stone

This characteristic attributed to the stone is particularly interesting, given the context in which the ring was discovered, at a site where a huge winery operated, the largest in the world known from the Byzantine period.

“Did the person who wore the ring want to avoid intoxication due to drinking a lot of wine? We probably will never know,” says Dr. Elie Haddad, the director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr. Jon Seligman, adding “the ring was found just 150 metres from the remains of a long warehouse, which was used to store wine jars (amphorae)”.

Some of the jars were found upside down on their mouths and it may have been a warehouse full of empty jars before they were taken to the winepresses, to fill with wine”.

It is possible that the splendid ring belonged to the owner of the magnificent warehouse, to a foreman, or simply to an unlucky visitor, who dropped and lost their precious ring, until it was finally discovered by us.”

Researchers are debating the date of the ring. It was found in a fill dated to the end of the Byzantine period and the beginning of the Early Islamic period – the 7th century CE, but it is possible that the ring, due to its beauty and prestige, was transmitted from generation to generation over the centuries.

READ ALSO: POSSIBLE CRUSADER CAMPSITE FOUND IN ISRAEL

Gold rings inlaid with amethyst stone are known in the Roman world, and it is possible that the ring’s find belongs to the elites who lived in the city as early as the 3rd century CE.

According to Eli Eskozido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The small, everyday finds that are discovered in our excavations tell us human stories and connect us directly to the past.

It is exciting to imagine that the man or woman to whom the ring belonged, walking right here, in a different reality to what we know in today’s city of Yavne”.

2,000-Year-Old Amethyst Seal Found in Israel

2,000-Year-Old Amethyst Seal Found in Israel

An amethyst gemstone seal from the Second Temple period has a unique engraving: a bird and a branch with five fruits, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The 2,000-year-old seal was discovered in the bedrock foundations of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.

The tiny artefact has a hole for the attachment of a metal wire enabling it to be worn as a ring.

2,000-Year-Old Amethyst Seal Found in Israel
The 2,000-year-old amethyst seal was found in Jerusalem, Israel.

It was examined by IAA archaeologist Dr Eli Shukron, Professor Shua Amorai-Stark from Kaye Academic College of Education, Dr Malka Hershkovitz from Jewish Institute of Religion, and their colleagues.

“Seals were used to sign documents and could also be fashionable items serving as jewellery,” the researchers said.

The amethyst seal is approximately 1 cm (0.4 inches) long and 0.5 cm (0.2 inches) wide.

It is engraved with a dove next to a thick, long, and fruit-bearing branch.

“The plant engraved on the stone may be the well-known persimmon plant mentioned in the Bible, Talmud, and historical sources,” the scientists said.

“The Biblical persimmon, which is not related to today’s orange persimmon fruit, is known from Biblical and historical sources.”

During the Second Temple period, the plant was used as one of the more expensive ingredients for producing the Temple incense, perfume, medicines, and ointments.

“This is an important find because it may be the first time a seal has been discovered with an engraving of the precious and famous plant, which until now we could only read about in historical descriptions,” Dr Shukron said.

“This impressive seal provides a glimpse into the daily lives of the people who lived in the days of the Second Temple.”

Amethyst Seal Showing Biblical Persimmon and Maybe an Ibis Found in Jerusalem

Amethyst Seal Showing Biblical Persimmon and Maybe an Ibis Found in Jerusalem

Archaeologists working in the Old City of Jerusalem have discovered an ancient seal carved out of amethyst, which may show the biblical persimmon plant, one of the ingredients in the incense offered in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

Amethyst Seal Showing Biblical Persimmon and Maybe an Ibis Found in Jerusalem
Amethyst seal that may show biblical persimmon, not the fruit, and a dove. Or an ibis

Until now we had not known what that looked like. We may still not, but that is what the archaeologists excavating the site think the seal may show.

Also known as bosem, balsam, or the “Balm of Gilead,” the plant is not related to the orange persimmon fruit that we are familiar with today. It was used during the Second Temple period in the production of expensive perfumes, medicines and ointments, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Many scholars believe this plant, Commiphora gileadensis, the Arabian balsam tree, a shrub, is the legendary Biblical persimmon plant, which was medicinal and used to make incense.

“If it is indeed the famous and expensive biblical persimmon, then it is likely that the seal owner was a Jew with means since the production and trade that took place around the persimmon plant was tightly controlled at the time by Jews living in the Dead Sea basin, where the fruit was grown,” said Prof. Shua Amorai-Stark, the co-author of an upcoming paper on the find.

Seal that may show biblical persimmon may have belonged to a well-to-do Jewish resident of Jerusalem

The seal also bears the image of a bird, which may be a dove, she says. “The dove is also a positive motif in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish world. It symbolizes wealth, happiness, goodness and success,” said Prof. Shua Amorai-Stark, the co-author of an upcoming paper on the find.

Or, judging by the shape of its beak, perhaps the seal shows an ibis, a bird the ancient Egyptians associated with the god Thoth, who among other things, judged the dead.

While thought to be about 2,000 years old, the seal’s dating cannot be categorical but the use of gems and semi-precious stones, not only in jewellery but in seals, was relatively common in the late Second Temple period. Its location is also telling.

The amethyst seal was found at the Emek Tzurim National Park, operated by the City of David Foundation, where soil from Israel Antiquities Authority excavations conducted along the foundation stones of the Western Wall was being sifted.

The City of David Foundation says it had been in a drainage system along the street connecting the Siloam pool and the Temple Mount, which at the time housed the Second Temple, erected by King Herod, though some believe he didn’t live to finish the job.

Supporting the notion that the amethyst seal shows biblical persimmon, some Biblical commentators believe that King Solomon gifted the precious plant to the Queen of Sheba, the IAA points out, adding that the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote that Mark Antony presented persimmon orchards that formerly belonged to King Herod, to his beloved, Cleopatra.

READ ALSO: ARCHAEOLOGISTS FIND A 2,700-YEAR-OLD TOILET IN A LUXURIOUS PALACE IN JERUSALEM

“This is an important find because it may be the first time a seal has been discovered in the entire world with an engraving of the precious and famous plant, which until now we could only read about in historical descriptions,” archaeologist Eli Shukron, who conducted the excavation at the foundations of the Western Wall on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the City of David, said in a statement.

“The research that takes place around the finds allows us to get a glimpse into the daily lives of the people who lived in the days of the Second Temple, the glory days of Jerusalem.”

Other seals made of gems or semi-precious stones like amethyst have been found in Jerusalem. Just months ago archaeologists excavating the so-called City of David just south of the Temple Mount found a gem carved with the face of Apollo. That was also tentatively dated to about 2,000 years ago, the Second Temple period, and was also discovered in the ancient Jerusalem sewer system. The god’s image was shown featuring flowing long hair, a small but firm chin and a large nose.

Possible Crusader Campsite Found in Israel

Possible Crusader Campsite Found in Israel

A Crusader campsite was discovered by an Israeli archaeological team near the Tzipori Springs in Galilee, marking the first time a Crusader encampment has been discovered in the field.

Aerial view of the excavations at Ein Tzipori during the 2012 season. Looking east, with Field I to the left and Field II to the right of Road 79.
Aerial view of the excavations at Ein Tzipori during the 2012 season. Looking east, with Field I to the left and Field II to the right of Road 79.

Their findings were published this year in the book Settlement and Crusade in the Thirteenth Century.

Pursuing the idea of liberating the holy sites from Muslim rule and encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, European powers and sometimes peoples initiated several military campaigns in the Middle East between the 11th and 13th centuries, which led to the establishment of a number of Christian states in the area of modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

For a certain period, it placed Jerusalem under Christian rule, a period documented by a vast corpus of historical sources as well as massive structures such as castles and fortresses left by the Crusaders in the region. However, very little remains to testify moments of transitions, such as battles and encampments.

In recent years, while workers were expanding Route 79 that connects the coast with Nazareth, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Nimrod Getzov and Ianir Milevski from the Prehistory Department conducted the required salvage excavation.

Arrowhead found at the springs of Tzipori.

“The area along Route 79 was known as the site of the Frankish encampment ahead of the battle of Hattin in 1187, as well as for other encampments by both the Crusaders and the Muslims during a period of 125 years,” said Dr Rafael Lewis, a senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College and a researcher at Haifa University. “For this reason, I was brought on board to focus on the remains from that era. It was a very exceptional opportunity to study a medieval encampment and to understand their material culture and archaeology.”

According to chronicles from the time, the Christian army stationed in the area of the Tzipori Springs for around two months before the crucial battle that allowed the troops led by Sultan Saladin to reconquer much of the region, including Jerusalem.

The archaeologists unearthed hundreds of metal artefacts and were able to study their relations to the landscape.

“We used a discipline known as ‘artefact distribution analysis’,” he noted. “We started by reconstructing the landscape as it approximately looked like at the time; we considered where the artefacts were found, and compared what we learned to historical records.”

Lewis said that although all of the troops at the time fought under the king, they did not serve in a centralized army – different groups of knights would fight together, each having their own camp and each following the orders of their commander.

The remains mirrored this reality.

“In the site, we found different clusters of artefacts,” he said.

The majority of artefacts the archaeologists uncovered were horseshoe nails, both of a local type and of a more sophisticated European type, which was prevalent closer to the springs.

“We saw that the closer we got to the water, the richer the material culture became,” Lewis said. “We can probably deduce that those who belonged to a higher socio-economic status encamped by the spring. Changing those nails probably represented the main activity in the camp. Nobody wanted to find himself in the battle on a horse with a broken shoe.”

Coin of Baldwin III (1143–1163 CE), Jerusalem, obverse.

The archaeologists were surprised to find very little remains of other activities that might have been expected in relation to the life at the encampment, such as cooking pots. However, this also suggests what objects were brought back to castles and permanent settlements when the encampment was packed up.

Based on the findings in Tzipori, researchers in the future will be able to examine other sites to look for archaeological remains.

“I’m intrigued to understand more about Crusader encampments,” Lewis said. “I believe that the study of military camps has the potential to allow us to understand much more about the period and its culture.”

Scuba diver finds 900-year-old Crusader sword off the coast of Israel

Scuba diver finds 900-year-old Crusader sword off the coast of Israel

An amateur diver off the Mediterranean coast has discovered a sword dating back to the Middle Ages. Experts believe the site is home to several archaeological treasures. An Israeli scuba diver discovered an ancient sword believed to have belonged to a Medieval Crusader, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday.

The meter-long blade was lying on the Mediterranean seabed off the Carmel coast in five-meter-deep (5.5-yard deep) water, encrusted with marine organisms.

The man, identified as Shlomi Katzin, was on a weekend dive in northern Israel when he noticed its distinctive hilt and handle after the undercurrent shifted the sand that concealed it.

Worried that his discovery might be buried or stolen, he took the sword and gave it to government experts.

“The sword, which has been preserved in perfect condition, is a beautiful and rare find and evidently belonged to a Crusader knight,” said Nir Distelfeld, an inspector in the authority’s robbery prevention unit.

The sword’s blade is three feet long.

“It is exciting to encounter such a personal object, taking you 900 years back in time to a different era, with knights, armour, and swords,” he said.

Home to archaeological treasures

Besides the near-millennium-old sword, the diver found a trove of ancient artefacts, including anchors and pottery.

The location of the discovery was a natural cove near the port city of Haifa that, experts say, served as a shelter for seafarers. 

The sword was really heavy, Kobi Sharvit says

“These conditions have attracted merchant ships down the ages, leaving behind rich archaeological finds,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the authority’s marine archaeology unit.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said they have monitored the site since June, but “the finds are very elusive since they appear and disappear with the movement of the sands.”

READ ALSO: 2,400-YEAR-OLD FRUIT BASKETS FROM THONIS-HERACLEION FOUND OFF THE COAST OF EGYPT

The sword will be cleaned, restored, and further analyzed before it is put on display.

The sword will be cleaned of encrusted stones and shells.

Katzin, who handed it over to the authorities, received a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship.

Israel winery: 1,500-year-old Byzantine wine complex found

Israel winery: 1,500-year-old Byzantine wine complex found

A 1,500-year-old wine-making complex, said to have been the world’s largest at the time, has been discovered in Israel, archaeologists say.

Five presses were unearthed at the huge Byzantine-era winery at Yavne, south of Tel Aviv, which is estimated to have produced two million litres a year.

After a sophisticated production process, it was exported around the Mediterranean.

The wine was aged in clay jars known as Gaza Jars, many of which were found intact at the site

Those working at the site said they were surprised by its size. There are plans to make the complex a visitor attraction once preservation work is completed.

The site contains five wine presses spread over a square kilometre (0.4 sq miles), warehouses for ageing and bottling the wine, and kilns for firing the jars used for storing it.

The end product was known as Gaza and Ashkelon wine, after the ports through which it was exported to Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor.

The site is spread over a square kilometre

It had a reputation for quality throughout the Mediterranean region, but at that time wine was also a staple for many.

“This was a major source of nutrition and this was a safe drink because the water was often contaminated,” said Jon Seligman, one of the excavation’s directors.

Decorative niches in the shape of a conch indicate that the factory owners were very wealthy
Tens of thousands of fragments have been found at the site

Prehistoric hooks and sinkers show early humans used advanced fishing techniques

Prehistoric hooks and sinkers show early humans used advanced fishing techniques

Courthouse News Service reports that a 13,000-year-old collection of 19 bone fishhooks and six grooved pebbles thought to have been used as sinkers has been unearthed on the banks of the Jordan River in northern Israel by a team of researchers led by Antonella Pedergnana of the Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioral Evolution.

A reconstruction of a hook and a small grooved pebble on a line. Note the sophisticated knot.
Prehistoric hooks and sinkers show early humans used advanced fishing techniques

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. It’s some of the earliest evidence of complex fishing technology. Fish remains have been found at sites inhabited by human ancestors dating back to nearly 2 million years. But studying what technology early humans used to acquire fish is difficult because the fishing gear was typically made from perishable materials like wood and plant fibres, and they’re only preserved in unusual conditions.

The waterlogged Jordan River Dureijat site was discovered in 1999 as a result of a drainage operation. But back in the Levantine Epipaleolithic periods, it was a short-term encampment that was intermittently occupied over a span of about 10,000 years, according to an earlier study published in the PaleoAnthropology journal. It was never used for habitation, but rather it was a place that people repeatedly visited fish and hunt and take advantage of other natural resources.

In addition to the fish hooks and pebbles — the largest collection of early fishing technology to be found — arrowheads and limestone axes have also been found at the site. And because the site has been covered in water, tiny rodents and fish bones are well-preserved.

In Wednesday’s study, a team of archaeologists – led by Antonella Pedergnana of the Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution in Mainz, Germany – found plant residue on the hooks and stones that indicate the use of fishing line.

They also found a wide variety of hook shapes, suggesting they were used for catching a variety of fish sizes, and grooved lines and fibre residues on some hooks indicate the use of artificial lures.

“A look at the [the Jordan River Dureijat] fishing gear reveals that all fishing techniques and knowledge already existed some 13,000 years ago,” the study’s authors wrote in a statement. 

The innovations coincide with the beginning of the transition to agriculture, and the use of lures and a wide variety of hook shapes “suggests the humans of this time were not only hunting a broad spectrum of fish but also that they had a profound knowledge of fish behaviour and ecology,” researchers note.

Based on the size of the hooks and their grooves and the remains of captured fish at the site, researchers estimate the lines used in fishing were likely strong enough to pull a 2-pound, “and possibly even heavier,” fish out of the water, according to the study.

But the hooks don’t have any eyes or holes in the shank through which to thread the line, something researchers note was likely because it weakened the narrow shank. Instead, they have grooves or knobs on the shaft, and traces of wear indicate the line wasn’t connected by a single twist but by a “complex method of binding, wrapping and tying.”

Archaeologists also found residual evidence of an adhesive being used to secure the line.

The use of artificial bait was confirmed by the presence of deep grooves, adhesives and animal hair on the end of two hooks. These lures may have included “shell flutters,” or pieces of shiny mother-of-pearl that spin in the water and attract fish.

READ ALSO: PRESERVED IN POOP: 1,000-YEAR-OLD CHICKEN EGG FOUND IN ISRAEL

Modern anglers still use shiny lures today, and the use of lightweight lures are used with specific casting techniques, such as fly fishing.

“Given the small dimensions of the hooks likely to have been equipped with artificial lures at [Jordan River Dureijat], the possibility that a similar angling method was already in use during the Natufian [era] should not be ruled out,” the study authors note.

“Except for the use of metal and plastic, modern fishing has not invented anything new since the Natufian,” they added in a statement.