Category Archives: ISRAEL

Magnificent 2,000-year-old ‘city hall’ unearthed near Western Wall in Jerusalem

Magnificent 2,000-year-old ‘city hall’ unearthed near Western Wall in Jerusalem

During ongoing excavations beneath Jerusalem’s Old City, researchers discovered what may have been a 2,000-year-old city council structure – just a few hundred meters from its modern counterpart. The grand structure is a new feature on the revamped Western Wall Tunnels Tour, which allows tourists to visit the millennia-old city that exists in a time warp under today’s thriving capital.

“This is, without doubt, one of the most magnificent public buildings from the Second Temple period that has ever been uncovered outside the Temple Mount walls in Jerusalem,” said excavation director Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach in an IAA press release on Thursday.

Built circa 20 CE, the Roman-era structure stood off the main drag leading to the Temple Mount and was used as a triclinium, or dining room, for notable members of society on their way to worship, according to the IAA release. Originally constructed with an ornate water fountain and decorative Corinthian capitals, the striking edifice underwent a series of structural changes in its 50 years of use prior to the 70 CE destruction of the Second Temple, Weksler-Bdolach told The Times of Israel.

The new visitors’ route in the Western Wall Tunnels.
Magnificent 2,000-year-old 'city hall' unearthed near Western Wall in Jerusalem
Remains of the 2000-year-old building are due to be opened to the public

The massive structure will soon be open to the public as part of the Western Wall Tunnels Tour, which has been rejigged to create different paths and experiences, based on several new routes that cut through thousands of years of history, through today’s modern use of part of the tunnels as prayer and event halls.

According to Weksler-Bdolach, originally archaeologists had thought the “city hall” was constructed during the earlier Hasmonean period. Located to the west of Wilson’s Arch, just off the prayer pavilion for men at the Western Wall, one of the chambers was discovered and documented in the 19th century by Charles Warren. Other archaeologists also studied the room in the 20th century.

However, after taking up some of the ancient floorings and performing carbon-14 dating on organic materials from the building’s base, as well as discovering coins and pottery sherds, archaeologists place the opulent building’s timeframe at no earlier than 20 CE. She noted that because the site is only partially excavated — to preserve other important subterranean structures from other eras — it is more challenging to precisely date and study it. “Every building is important; we cannot take all the buildings apart,” she said.

What archaeologists do know is that during its 50 years of occupation, said Weksler-Bdolach, the large public structure was separated into three different spaces, the fountain was taken out of use, and what appears to be a ritual bath or mikveh was added, just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Despite the clear Roman influence in the structure’s architecture, Jerusalem at this time was still a culturally Jewish city, said Weksler-Bdolach. The decorations discovered in the spaces — a sculpted cornice bearing pilasters (flat supporting pillars) — didn’t include graven images, banned by the Torah.

She said the hall was likely used by city, versus Temple, officials who wanted to impress their guests.

“Visitors to the site can now envisage the opulence of the place: the two side chambers served as ornate reception rooms and between them was a magnificent fountain with water gushing out from lead pipes incorporated in the midst of the Corinthian capitals protruding from the wall,” said Weksler-Bdolach in the press release.

There are still several puzzles to work out surrounding the building. For one, what was the water source for the fountain? Weksler-Bdolach laughed and said that is the “million-dollar question,” but the researchers’ working hypothesis is that since clean, fresh water would likely have been used, it was hand filled through an intricate system of lead water piping. The fountain, she said, was likely only used to make a splash with, especially important VIPs.

Two ‘living’ cities in parallel

To reach the Western Wall Tunnels Tour, visitors descend beneath noisy, living Jerusalem and go back in time, entering a well-preserved subterranean ancient city.

“In Jerusalem, there are several cities under the city,” said Weksler-Bdolach, “especially under the Old City.”

According to Shachar Puni, architect for the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Conservation Department, one of the interesting and unique features of ancient Jerusalem is that many whole sections were left completely intact under the ground.

In most cases, new construction was performed on top of older structures, he, said, with domed ceilings serving as building bases, and still intact chambers underneath used as basements or cisterns, or even hideaway living spaces.

Now, with the rerouted paths, said Puni, visitors can experience different elements, time periods, and purposes of the underground city. For example, tourists purely interested in ancient archaeology will no longer brush up against today’s prayer halls — and vice versa.

“There is a feeling of a whole underground world that it is in parallel with the ‘living world’ above ground,” said Puni. Unlike visits to other “open-air” archaeological sites in Israel such as Caesarea or Megiddo, in Jerusalem’s underground universe, “for the visitor, there is the feeling of a whole world that didn’t exactly get destroyed.”

Mordechai Soli Eliav, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, says, “It is exciting to reveal such a magnificent structure from the Second Temple period while we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and pray for its restoration.” The new section of the Tunnels Tour should be open by the Hebrew month of Elul, just ahead of Rosh Hashana, in time for traditional selichot, or penitential prayers.

“What’s fantastic is that there’s a living city moving about aboveground, and in parallel, a whole world that was frozen, but still lives, in the archaeological realm, one under the other,” said Puni. PJC

Cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

Cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the complete skeleton of a piglet in a place and time where you wouldn’t expect to find pork remains: a Jerusalem home dating to the First Temple period.

The 2,700-year-old porcine remains were found crushed by large pottery vessels and a collapsed walls during excavations in the so-called City of David, the original nucleus of ancient Jerusalem. The team of archaeologists behind the discovery reported their find in a study published in the June edition of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

The find of swine adds to previous research showing that pork was occasionally on the menu for the ancient Israelites and that biblical taboos on this and other prohibited foods only came to be observed centuries later, in the Second Temple period. It also ties into broader questions about when the Bible was written and when Judaism as we know it was born.

This little piggy wasn’t bacon

The animal’s skull clearly identifies it as a domestic pig, as opposed to a wild swine, and its presence indicates that pigs were raised for food in the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, says Lidar Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoologist at Tel Aviv University and at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

The fact that the skeleton was found intact suggests that this specific piglet, less than seven months old, was not eaten, but died accidentally when the building was destroyed at some point in the eighth-century B.C.E, Sapir-Hen and colleagues report.

First Temple period structures near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem’s City of David, where the pig skeleton was found along with the “butchered” remains of many other types of animals.

But there can be little doubt of what the piglet’s ultimate fate would have been having its home not collapsed for as yet unclear reasons. In addition to large storage jars and smaller cooking vessels, the room where the pig was unearthed also hosted dozens of animal bones from sheep, goats, cattle, gazelles, as well as fish and birds, the archaeologists report.

Most of these remains were burnt or showed signs of butchery, meaning the animals had long been dead and eaten when the building was destroyed, Sapir-Hen says.

This suggests that this room was where meals were prepared or eaten,” she says. “So this pig was just waiting for its turn.”

We don’t know the cause of the building’s collapse, as there is no known major destruction event in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.E., says Joe Uziel, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who led the dig. It may have been destroyed by an earthquake or a more localized event, he speculates.

In any case, the structure was rebuilt and continued to be in use until around 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple, Uziel says. The building had at least four rooms and was located in a fairly central area near the Gihon spring, the main source of water for the city at the time. Constructed with rough fieldstones, it was probably a private home, although the fact that bullae, or seal impressions, were unearthed in another room suggests it may have also had an additional, administrative function, Uziel says.

An archaeologist retrieves the skull of a piglet from a First Temple period building in Jerusalem’s City of David at the site where the “articulated” pig skeleton was also found.

The excavation also yielded an elegantly carved bone pendant and a human figurine. Together with the great variety of animals found alongside the pig, all of this indicates the house was occupied by an upper-class family, the archaeologist says.

The importance and central location of the house suggest that pig husbandry and pork consumption may have been a rare treat, but still very much part of “mainstream” food habits, he says. In other words, it doesn’t look like this was something done secretively by, say, a poorer household that may have been desperately in need of a quick meal.

At this point, we have to wonder how to square the idea that pigs were infrequently but openly raised in Jerusalem with the biblical injunction that: “The swine, though he divides the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:7-8

It’s the Levantine economy, stupid

While domesticated pig bones are rarely found in Jerusalem and in most of the Levant, they are not entirely absent, Sapir-Hen notes. In excavations from the First Temple period in Jerusalem and in other sites from the Kingdom of Judah, swine bones constitute up to 2 per cent of the animal remains unearthed, she says.

Already back in the 1990s, archaeologists also observed that pig bones were much more frequent in the coastal strip that was inhabited by the Philistines. Scholars thus concluded that a dearth of pig bones identified a site as Israelite and that the biblical ban on partaking in pork was already known and observed in the First Temple period.

But more recent research by Sapir-Hen and others has shown that the picture is much more complex. For one thing, the near absence of pig bones is not unique to Israelite sites of the Iron Age, the period that roughly corresponds to the First Temple era. Swine is equally scarce in most of Canaan during the preceding era, the Late Bronze Age, a time before the writing of the Bible or the formation of ancient Israel.

This dearth then continues in the Iron Age, not only in Judah but in many of its neighbours, including sites linked to the Canaanites, Phoenicians and Arameans, Sapir-Hen notes. Even when it comes to the supposedly pork-loving Philistines, the situation is actually more nuanced.

While the diet of Philistine city-dwellers did include a larger proportion of pigs, which were seemingly imported from Greece, swine bones are almost absent from their rural settlements, in keeping with the dietary habits of the rest of the Levant. Equally puzzling is the fact that in the Kingdom of Israel, Judah’s northern neighbour, a pig is rare in the early Iron Age, but it increases to up to 8 per cent of the animal mix at urban sites in the eighth century B.C.E.

All of this indicates that the tendency to eschew pork in the Iron Age cannot be linked to a specific ethnic identity or to the biblical prohibition, Sapir-Hen concludes. Pigs were only a small part of the Levantine diet most probably because other animals, especially goats, sheep and cattle, were more suited to the local environment and economy.

Pigs can be raised in an urban environment, as they require less space, but they also need a nearby water source: it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Jerusalem piglet was found near the city’s spring. This may explain why, throughout the Levant, swine occurrences only tend to rise at times and in places where populations increase and are concentrated in larger urban settlements, whether in Philistia, in the Kingdom of Israel or, to a lesser extent, in the more built-up sections of Judah’s capital, Jerusalem.

Gods, figurines and shrimp

Figurine and bone pendant found in the building where the piglet’s remains were found

This also gels with a growing body of research on the Israelite religion in the First Temple period. While scholars believe that parts of the Bible were already compiled at the tail end of this era, it is generally agreed that the holy text we know today only reached its final form after the Babylonian exile, in the Second Temple period.

Whenever the Bible was actually written, archaeological finds have shown that, in practice, First Temple-period Judaism was very different from the religion it would later become. While the ancient Israelites believed in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, they also worshipped other deities, including Asherah, who was thought to be God’s wife. They liberally made figurines and other graven images, ostensibly banned by the Second Commandment.

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Additionally, a study published just last month in the Tel Aviv journal of archaeology looked at the finding, at archaeological sites throughout Israel, of bones from scaleless and finless fish, which are also prohibited by the Bible’s dietary rules. The research showed that catfish, sharks and other non-kosher fish were commonly consumed in Jerusalem and Judah during the First Temple period, and only for the late Second Temple period is there clear evidence that Jews were eschewing such banned seafood.

In other words, biblical prohibitions that are considered signposts of the Jewish faith today were unknown, unheeded or non-existent back in the First Temple period. And it seems that, from time to time, the ancient Israelites were not averse to literally bringing home the bacon.

Smashed pottery vessels in the room where the pig was found

3,000-Year-Old Inscription Found in Israel

3,000-Year-Old Inscription Found in Israel

An inscription from the time of the Biblical Judges, linked to the Book of Judges, has been discovered for the first time at Khirbat er-Ra‘i, near Kiryat Gat, during excavations.

The rare inscription bears the name ‘Jerubbaal’ in alphabetic script and dates from around 1,100 BCE. It was written in ink on a pottery vessel and found inside a storage pit that was dug into the ground and lined with stones.

The site, which is located at the Shahariya forest of the KKL-JNF, has been excavated every summer since 2015 and the current excavation season is it’s seventh.

The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel.

The excavations are being conducted on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, under the direction of Prof. Yossef Garfinkel, Sa‘ar Ganor, Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davies.

The program is funded by Joseph B. Silver and the Nathan and Lily Silver Foundation, the Roth Families Sydney, Aron Levy, and the Roger and Susan Hartog Center for Archaeology at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. ​

The inscription was written in ink on a jug – a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one litre, and may well have contained a precious liquid such as oil, perfume or medicine. Apparently, much like today, the vessel’s owner wrote his name on it to assert his ownership.

The inscription has been deciphered by epigraphic expert Christopher Rolston of George Washington University, Washington DC. It clearly shows the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, lamed, and remnants of other letters indicate that the original inscription was longer.

Prof. Garfinkel and Ganor explain, “The name Jerubbaal is familiar from biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash. Gideon is first mentioned as combatting idolatry by breaking the altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole.

In biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.

According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod. In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to judge Gideon. In any event, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”

Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology. Only a handful of inscriptions found in the past bear a number of unrelated letters. This is the first time that the name Jerubbaal has ever been found outside the Bible in an archaeological context – in a stratum dated to around 1,100 BCE, the period of the Judges. 

“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” say the archaeologists.

“The name Jerubbaal only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it has also been discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period. In a similar manner, the name Ishbaal, which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, has been found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.

The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.” 

The Jerubbaal inscription also contributes to our understanding of the spread of alphabetic script in the transition from the Canaanite period to the Israelite period. The alphabet was developed by the Canaanites under Egyptian influence in around 1,800 BCE, during the Middle Bronze Age. In the Late Bronze Age (1,550–1,150 BCE), only a few such inscriptions are known in Israel, most from Tel Lachish near present-day Moshav Lachish.

The Canaanite city of Lachish was probably the centre where the tradition of writing the alphabet was maintained and preserved. Canaanite Lachish was destroyed around 1,150 BCE and remained abandoned for about two centuries. Until now, there was considerable uncertainty as to where the tradition of the alphabetic script was preserved after the fall of Lachish.

The newly-discovered inscription shows that the script was preserved at Khirbat er-Ra‘i — roughly 4 km from Lachish and the largest site in the area at the time of the Judges — during the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite and Judahite cultures.

Additional inscriptions, from the time of the monarchy (tenth century BCE onwards), have been found in the Shephelah, including two from Khirbat Qeiyafa and others from Tel es-Safi (Tel Tzafit) and Tel Bet Shemesh.

cache of 80-million-year-old shark teeth found in Solomon-era site in Jerusalem

Cache of 80-million-year-old shark teeth found in Solomon-era site in Jerusalem

Scientists have found an unexplained cache of fossilized shark teeth in an area where there should be none—in a 2,900-year-old site in the City of David in Jerusalem. This is at least 80 km from where these fossils would be expected to be found.

Cache of 80-million-year-old shark teeth found in Solomon-era site in Jerusalem
Fossilised Squalicorax tooth Nr. #07815 from the Jerusalem site.

There is no conclusive proof of why the cache was assembled, but it may be that the 80 million-year-old teeth were part of a collection, dating from just after the death of King Solomon. The same team has now unearthed similar unexplained finds in other parts of ancient Judea.

Presenting the work at the Goldschmidt Conference, lead researcher, Dr. Thomas Tuetken (the University of Mainz, Institute of Geosciences) said:

“These fossils are not in their original setting, so they have been moved. They were probably valuable to someone; we just don’t know why, or why similar items have been found in more than one place in Israel”.

The teeth were found buried in the material used to fill in a basement before conversion to a large Iron-Age house. The house itself was situated in the City of David, one of the oldest parts of Jerusalem, found nowadays in the largely Palestinian village of Silwan.

They were found together with fish bones thrown away as food waste 2,900 years ago, and other infill material such as pottery. Intriguingly, they were found together with hundreds of bullae—items used to seal confidential letters and packages—implying a possible connection with the administrative or governing class at some point.

Normally archaeological material is dated according to the circumstances where it is found, and so at first, it was assumed that the teeth were contemporary with the rest of the finds. Dr Tuetken said:

“We had at first assumed that the shark teeth were remains of the food dumped nearly 3,000 years ago, but when we submitted a paper for publication, one of the reviewers pointed out that one of the teeth could only have come from a Late Cretaceous shark that had been extinct for at least 66 million years. That sent us back to the samples, where measuring organic matter, elemental composition, and the crystallinity of the teeth confirmed that indeed all shark teeth were fossils. Their strontium isotope composition indicates an age of about 80 million years.

This confirmed that all 29 shark teeth found in the City of David were Late Cretaceous fossils—contemporary with dinosaurs. More than that, they were not simply weathered out of the bedrock beneath the site, but were probably transported from afar, possibly from the Negev, at least 80 km away, where similar fossils are found”.

Artist’s impression of a Squalicorax shark.

Since the first finds, the team have found other shark teeth fossils elsewhere in Israel, at the Maresha and Miqne sites. These teeth are also likely to have been unearthed and moved from their original sites.

Dr. Tuetken said:

“Our working hypothesis is that the teeth were brought together by collectors, but we don’t have anything to confirm that. There are no wear marks that might show that they were used as tools, and no drill holes to indicate that they may have been jewellery. We know that there is a market for shark’s teeth even today, so it may be that there was an Iron Age trend for collecting such items. This was a period of riches in the Judean Court. However, it’s too easy to put 2 and 2 together to make 5. We’ll probably never really be sure”.

The shark teeth which have been identified come from several species, including from the extinct Late Cretaceous group Squalicorax. Squalicorax, which grew to between 2 and 5 meters long, lived only during the Late Cretaceous period (which was the same period as the late dinosaurs), so acts as a reference point in dating these fossils.

Commenting, Dr. Brooke Crowley (University of Cincinnati) said:

“This research by Dr. Tuetken and colleagues is an excellent example of why it is so important to approach a research question with as few assumptions as possible, and how sometimes we have to revisit our initial assumptions.

It also highlights how beneficial it can be to apply multiple tools to answer a research question. In this case, the authors used both strontium and oxygen isotopes, as well as X-ray diffraction and trace element analysis to establish most likely age and origin of the fossil teeth.

It was a monumental of work but these efforts have revealed a much more interesting story about the people who lived in this region in the past. I am very excited by this work and hope that one day, we might be able to unravel the mystery of why these fossil teeth are being recovered from cultural deposits”.

New early human discovered in 130,000-year-old fossils at Israeli cement site

New early human discovered in 130,000-year-old fossils at Israeli cement site

New early human discovered in 130,000-year-old fossils at Israeli cement site
Tel Aviv University Professor Israel Hershkovitz, holds what scientists say are two pieces of fossilised bone of a previously unknown kind of early human discovered at the Nesher Ramla site in central Israel.

Researchers in Israel have discovered a previously unknown type of ancient human who coexisted with our species around 100,000 years ago.

They believe the remains discovered near Ramla are those of one of the “final survivors” of a long-extinct human race. 

A team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem excavated prehistoric remains near the city of Ramla that could not be matched to any known species of the Homo genus, which includes contemporary humans (Homo sapiens). 

A partial skull and jaw from a person who lived between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago were discovered. 

The fragments of a skull and a lower jaw with teeth were about 130,000 years old and could force a rethink of parts of the human family tree, the researchers said.

University of Tel Aviv anthropologists and archaeologists led by Yossi Zaidner called the discovery the “Nesher Ramla Homo type” after the place where the bones were discovered in a paper published in the journal Science. 

Dating to between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago, “the morphology of the Nesher Ramla humans shares features with both Neanderthals… and archaic Homo,” the researchers said in a statement.

“At the same time, this type of Homo is very unlike modern humans — displaying a completely different skull structure, no chin, and very large teeth.”

Along with the human remains, the dig uncovered large quantities of animal bones as well as stone tools.

“The archaeological finds associated with human fossils show that ‘Nesher Ramla Homo’ possessed advanced stone-tool production technologies and most likely interacted with the local Homo sapiens,” archaeologist Zaidner said.

“We had never imagined that alongside Homo sapiens, archaic Homo roamed the area so late in human history”.

The researchers believe that early Nesher Ramla Homo group members were already present in the Near East 400,000 years ago.

The new discoveries bear resemblances to ancient “pre-Neanderthal” European populations, according to the researchers. 

Study Suggests Neanderthals and Modern Humans Met in Israel

Study Suggests Neanderthals and Modern Humans Met in Israel

Chronological research at the Boker Tachtit site in Ein Avdat National Park, in Israel’s Negev desert, provides the first proof of the two cultures’ coexistence in the Negev and pinpoints the time when modern humans left Africa – 50,000 years ago.

Where and when did modern humans and Neanderthal man meet? Groundbreaking research based on re-excavation of the important prehistoric site of Boker Tachtit in Ein Avdat National Park has identified a clearly defined area where the two populations existed at the same time, determining that the species met in the Negev, 50,000 years ago.

The research, published on Wednesday in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS, is led by Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Genetic studies have shown that modern humans and Neanderthals met in the distant past in the geographical region of Eurasia (which includes Israel) and even exchanged genes. However, the exact time and place of these encounters have remained unknown, until now.

New research based on renewed excavations at the important prehistoric site of Boker Tachtit in Ein Avdat National Park identified the earliest evidence of modern human activity in the Negev in the same time frame Neanderthal man inhabited the region. The study provides the first concrete proof for the coexistence of the two cultures in the Middle East.

The research, published on Wednesday in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS and led by Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority, ascertains that modern man (Homo sapiens) migrated from Africa to Israel 50,000 years ago.

“Boker Tachtit is the first known site reached by a modern man outside Africa, which is why the site and its precise dating are so important,” says Dr. Omry Barzilai, excavation director at the Boker Tachtit site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The dating of the site to 50,000 years ago proves that modern man lived in the Negev at the same time as Neanderthal man, who we know inhabited the region in the same period.

There is no doubt that, as they dwelt in and moved around the Negev, the two species were aware of each other’s existence. Our research on the Boker Tachtit site places an important, well-defined reference point on the timeline of human evolution.”

the excavation was funded by the Max Planck-Weizmann Center for the Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology. As part of the study, dozens of carbon samples from the renewed excavation were analyzed using radiocarbon dating in Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto’s laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Prehistorian Dr. Omry Barzilai inspecting a flint tool from Boker Tachtit

According to Dr. Barzilai, “For the first time in prehistoric research, the results of the dating prove the hypothesis that there was definitely a spatial overlap between the late Mousterian culture, identified with Neanderthal man, and the Emiran culture, which is associated with the emergence of modern man in the Middle East.”

In the period known as the Middle Palaeolithic, 250,000–50,000 years before present, two humanoid species lived in the Old World simultaneously: Neanderthal man and modern man (Homo sapiens).

Neanderthal man lived in Europe and Central Asia, whereas modern man lived in Africa. In particular, the Middle East and the region of Israel were at the limits of the distribution of these two species. They, therefore, also contain remnants of the two populations at different times.

DNA studies show that about 60,000 years ago, groups of modern humans began a widespread migration process from Africa to Asia and Europe and from there to the rest of the world, which ultimately led to the disappearance of Neanderthals and their assimilation into the modern human population.

Therefore, the research hypothesis is that there was short-term interaction between the ancient peoples and cultures along the migration routes, including genetic exchange. The present study is the first to confirm this hypothesis, proving that at least one of these intercultural encounters occurred in Negev some 50,000 years ago.

“What was the nature of the encounter we have identified between the two human species? Did Neanderthals throughout the country become naturally extinct, merging with modern man, or did they disappear in violent ways? These questions will continue to concern us as researchers in the coming years,” concludes Dr. Barzilai.

Israel discovers 7,000-year-old seal impression

Israel discovers 7,000-year-old seal impression

Israeli archaeologists unveiled a 7,000-year-old clay seal impression used for commerce and protection of property, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) said.

Israel discovers 7,000-year-old seal impression

A team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) made a rare discovery when they unearthed a small clay seal impression dating back some 7,000 years.

The impression, with two different geometric stamps imprinted on it, was discovered in Tel Tsaf, a prehistoric village located in Israel’s Beit She’an Valley in the country’s north.

The finding was uncovered as part of an excavation headed by HU’s Professor Yosef Garfinkel and two of his students, Professor David Ben Shlomo and Dr Michael Freikman, both of whom are currently researchers at Ariel University, between 2004 and 2007.

One hundred and fifty clay sealings were originally found at the site, with one being particularly rare and of distinct, historic importance. The object was published in the journal the Levant.

Sealings, also known as bulla, are little pieces of clay that were used in ancient times to seal and sign texts, preventing others from reading their contents.

The sealing discovered at Tel Tsaf is important because it is the first indication of the employment of seals to identify shipments or shutter silos or barns. When a barn door was opened, its seal impression would break – a telltale sign that someone had been there and that the contents inside had been touched or taken.

Tel Tsaf seal and a modern impression.

“Even today, similar types of sealing are used to prevent tampering and theft,” explained Garfinkel. “It turns out that this was already in use 7,000 years ago by landowners and local administrators to protect their property.”

The shard, which was less than a millimetre across, was discovered in excellent condition due to the dry environment of the Beit She’an valley. Symmetrical lines denote the sealing.

While many sealings discovered in the First Temple Jerusalem (about 2,600 years ago) incorporate a personal name and occasionally biblical figures, the sealing from Tel Tsaf dates from a time before writing was invented.

Instead of lettering, their seals were embellished with geometric designs. The presence of two separate stamps on the seal imprint may suggest a type of business operation in which two separate persons were participating.

The found fragment underwent extensive analysis before researchers could determine that it was indeed a seal impression.

According to Garfinkel, this is the earliest evidence that seals were used in Israel approximately 7,000 years ago to sign deliveries and keep store rooms closed. While seals have been found in that region dating back to 8,500 years ago, seal impressions from that time have not been found.

Based on a careful scientific analysis of the sealing’s clay, the researchers found it wasn’t locally sourced but came from a location at least ten kilometres away. Other archaeological finds at the site reveal evidence that the Tel Tsaf residents were in contact with populations far beyond ancient Israel.

“At this very site we have evidence of contact with peoples from Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt and Caucasia,” Garfinkel added. “There is no prehistoric site anywhere in the Middle East that reveals evidence of such long-distance trade in exotic items as what we found at this particular site.”

The site also yielded clues that the area was home to people of considerable wealth who built up large stores of ingredients and materials, indicating considerable social development.

This evidence points to Tel Tsaf as having been a key position in the region that served both local communities and people passing through.

“We hope that continued excavations at Tel Tsaf and other places from the same time period will yield additional evidence to help us understand the impact of a regional authority in the southern Levant,” concluded Garfinkel.

Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Israel

Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Israel

Archaeologists discover an almost fully intact but nearly empty egg and three rare Islamic-period bone dolls in the excavation of settlement dating from the Byzantine period.

Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Israel
Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a fully intact 1,000-year-old chicken egg

During recent digs in the central village of Yavne, archaeologists unearthed an exceedingly unusual, almost fully intact 1,000-year-old chicken egg, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The unexpected discovery was made during an IAA salvage excavation of a historic cesspit going back to the Islamic period, which was carried out ahead of a new neighbourhood construction.

Archaeologists were astounded to uncover a fragile ancient chicken egg that had been perfectly preserved a millennium ago by being originally pillowed in soft human dung within a cesspit, according to an IAA news statement.

“The egg’s unique preservation is evidently due to the conditions in which it lay for centuries, nestled in a cesspit containing soft human waste that preserved it,” IAA archaeologist Alla Nagorsky, the site’s excavation director, said. “Even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons. It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find!”

Since the shell was slightly cracked, most of its contents leaked out, but part of the yoke was still inside, which will allow further analysis in the future.

The egg from the excavation

Chicken has been raised in Israel for consumption of eggs and meat for some 2,300 years since the Hellenist period and early Roman period.

Bone assemblages in the land indicate that from the 7th century when the Islamic period began, pork consumption drastically decreased compared to previous centuries.

Three 1,000-year-old Islamic-period bone dolls from the cesspit in Yavne

“Families needed a ready protein substitute that does not require cooling and preservation, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat,” Perry Gal said.

The egg further cracked when it was removed from the site, but was restored to its original state in the IAA organics lab.

The cesspit also contained some other objects, including three bone dolls from the same period.