Category Archives: ISRAEL

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.


“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.”


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.


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. 

Archaeologists find a 2,700-year-old toilet in a luxurious palace in Jerusalem

Archaeologists find 2,700-year-old toilet in luxurious palace in Jerusalem

Archaeologists in Israel have unearthed a private toilet dating from the seventh century B.C.E., a time when such a luxury would have been unheard of. According to Amy Spiro of the Times of Israel, the crew discovered the carved limestone fixture ahead of construction in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighbourhood.

Archaeologists find 2,700-year-old toilet in luxurious palace in Jerusalem
The rare stone toilet is 2700 years old. Most likely used by one of the dignitaries of Jerusalem.

“A private toilet cubicle was very rare in antiquity, and to date, only a few have been found, mostly in the City of David,” says Yaakov Billig, who directed the dig for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), in a statement.

“Only the rich could afford toilets. In fact, a thousand years later, the Mishnah and the Talmud discuss the various criteria that define a rich person, and Rabbi Yossi [suggests that] to be rich is [to have] a toilet near his table.’”

As Haaretz’s Ruth Schuster reports, a cubicle surrounding the toilet and a deep septic tank beneath it were both carved out of limestone bedrock. The bathroom measured about 5 by 6.5 feet.

The researchers are unsure whether the toilet was carved from bedrock or made out of a finer stone, Billig tells Haaretz.

Inside the toilet cubicle, the team found 30 to 40 bowls. Billig says it’s possible the vessels may have held aromatic oils or incense—early air fresheners for those making use of the facility.

Archaeologists have previously found a number of other toilets in Jerusalem, including one at a building known as the House of Ahiel. In 2016, experts announced the discovery of a separate commode in the ancient city of Tel Lachish, about 40 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

They suggested that ancient Israeli forces may have installed the toilet as a way of intentionally desecrating a pagan shrine. According to Haaretz,  this interpretation is a matter of considerable debate.

Prior to the invention of the modern flush toilet in 1596 and its widespread adoption in the 19th century, people relied on a variety of toilet technologies, reported Jimmy Stamp for Smithsonian magazine in 2014. Most used communal outhouses, chamber pots or humble holes in the ground.

Some Mesopotamians had simple toilets as early as the fourth millennium B.C.E., wrote Chelsea Wald for Nature in 2016. About 1,000 years later, wealthy Minoans developed a system that used water to wash waste from their toilets into a sewer system. And, in ancient Greece and Rome, public latrines connected bench seats to drainage systems.

The excavation of the royal estate was discovered in Jerusalem. In the background is the City of David and the Temple Mount.

The newly identified toilet was not connected to a larger system, so servants would probably have had to empty it periodically, per Haaretz.

Researchers found it in the ruins of an ancient palace discovered last year. The team has also unearthed stone capitals and columns, as well as evidence of an ancient garden with orchids and aquatic plants, at the large estate, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

Inside the septic tank, archaeologists found remnants of pottery and animal bones and human waste, reports Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post. They plan to analyze these discoveries to find out more about dietary habits in the ancient city. 

The estate offered a view over the Temple Mount, and, according to Billig, it may have been a residence of a king of Judah. 

The team will present its findings at the conference “Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Surroundings,” which is scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday both in Jerusalem and online.

A Knights Templar’s secret tunnel has been hidden for 700 years

A Knights Templar’s secret tunnel has been hidden for 700 years

Crusaders from the Latin West left an unmistakable imprint on the cities of the Near East throughout the Middle Ages, building castles and fortresses that could resist waves of conquest.

Many of these castles still stand today, and in some cases, remain in use. Krak des Chevaliers, perhaps the most iconic crusader castle, was even occupied and used as a military base in the recent Syrian conflict.

However, many of these impressive structures have yet to give up all of their secrets. Even in the late 20th century, crusader structures were still being discovered in the Levant, the most notable of which was the 350 meters (985 feet) “Templar tunnel” running underneath the modern city of Acre. These discoveries continue to shed light on this fascinating period of Middle Eastern history.

Remains of the Crusader-period Pisan Harbour.

The Templars were a military religious order, originally founded to ensure the safety of the regular stream of pilgrims that made the arduous and dangerous journey from Western Europe to the Holy Land.

According to historian Dan Jones, they were so named because their original headquarters stood next to the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, and in the 12th and 13th century they played an important role in defining the political and military successes (and failures) of the crusader states in the Levant.

In 1187, however, the city of Jerusalem was lost after a decisive victory by the Ayyubid leader Salah ad-Din (otherwise known as Saladin) at Hattin.

The crusader states had lost their capital, and their shock defeat at the hands of a powerful Muslim army launched what would later be known as the Third Crusade.

According to Jones, several large armies set out from England and France to provide aid to the beleaguered crusader kingdoms, with the goal of reconquering Jerusalem.

This was a vain hope, and the armies of the Third Crusade, led (amongst others) by Richard the Lionheart, would eventually leave without reclaiming Jerusalem. However, they did manage to recover the important port city of Acre.

Following a long siege led by the king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, the Muslim inhabitants of the city surrendered, and Acre became the new capital of the crusader states.

Portrait of Guy de Lusignan.

Ever fearful of a renewed attack by Saladin and his successors, the Templars set about constructing an impressive fortress at Acre. The settlement was already well protected by high walls and the surrounding sea, but the new Christian occupants proceeded to construct seemingly impenetrable defences.

According to Jones, Acre was a strategically significant Mediterranean port and controlling it was key to controlling access to the rest of the region. However, this meant that it was constantly under threat, both from enemies outside its walls and from infighting amongst those within.

This may explain why the Templars decided to construct a secret underground tunnel, leading from the fortress to the port. This would ensure a quick, easy escape for any inhabitants in case the city was overthrown and could provide a useful, secret channel for supplies if the city was besieged.

Underground Knights Templar citadel of Acre, Israel.

However, in 1291, disaster struck. Acre was attacked and taken by the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, and he ordered that the city be razed to the ground to prevent further Christian reoccupation. This once-pivotal, strategic port fell into insignificance.

However, in 1994, over 700 years after the fall of the fortress, a startling discovery was made by a woman living in the modern city of Acre.

When she sent a local plumber to investigate the cause of her blocked drains, he stumbled into a medieval tunnel running right underneath her house.

Further excavations revealed that the tunnel had been constructed in the Crusader period, and ran all the way from the fortress to the port. This was an extremely significant discovery, as it’s one of the rare pieces of Crusader architecture in Acre to have survived the invasion of the Mamluks.

Today, it’s even possible to visit the tunnel, which has been fully restored, cleaned and drained. Although the Templar fortress may be long gone, modern tourists can still walk in the footsteps of these crusading knights, 700 years after their deaths.

Possible evidence for biblical earthquake found in City of David

Possible evidence for biblical earthquake found in City of David

Archaeologists have found evidence of an earthquake that hit the City of David in Jerusalem about 2,800 years ago and that could be a major event described in the Hebrew Bible.

Possible evidence for biblical earthquake found in City of David
The 2,800-year-old earthquake was so severe that it was mentioned in the bible, archaeologists say.

During their excavations, the archaeological team, from the Israel Antiquities Authority, discovered a layer of destruction dating to that time in the City of David National Park. Inside the layer was “a row of shattered vessels, including bowls, lamps, cooking utensils, storage and storage jars, which were smashed as [a] building’s walls collapsed,” the archaeological team said in a statement from the IAA.

Archaeologists also found no signs of a fire, and they are doubtful that the city was attacked by an invading force. 

Other sites in the region had similar destruction around 2,800 years ago, the researchers found, adding that the signs of destruction from several sites in the southern Levant could be evidence for a biblical earthquake.

The books of Amos and Zechariah both mention an earthquake that happened around this time when Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Judah and was ruled by a king called Uzziah. “You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah,” Zechariah 14:5 reads. 

Shown here, part of the area in Jerusalem that the team is excavating. Their finds reveal that the area was hit by an earthquake 2,800 years ago.

“It seems likely that although Jerusalem was not the epicentre [of the earthquake], it was significantly affected,” Joe Uziel, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority who is one of the team leaders, told Live Science.

The observation that Jerusalem was likely not the epicentre of the earthquake is based on the damage found in Jerusalem and other sites in the region. 

Excavations reveal that after the destruction, people rebuilt the destroyed buildings and walls, Uziel said. The fact that the earthquake is mentioned in the bible is “a sign that [the earthquake] was likely quite traumatic,” Uziel said.

Did it really happen?

Scholars not involved with the team’s research were cautiously supportive of the team’s conclusions. “The interpretation of the archaeologists sounds possible,” said Israel Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

The team’s study, including the interpretation of the pottery, has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Finkelstein cautioned; the team used that pottery to help date the earthquake.

Finkelstein also said that the area in Jerusalem that was excavated needs to be studied by seismologists to firm up the case for a past earthquake. 

Finkelstein noted that evidence for a large eighth-century B.C. earthquake can also be found at other sites in the region, including at Megiddo — a spot investigated by Finkelstein.

About 15 years ago, a team of seismologists and archaeologists documented evidence for the earthquake at Megiddo, which “included tilted and fractured walls,” said Finkelstein. 

“I haven’t seen the excavations, but it was quite expected that some damage triggered by the mid-eighth century [B.C.] earthquake would be found in Jerusalem,” said Shmuel Marco, a professor of geophysics at Tel Aviv University who took part in the Megiddo earthquake study 15 years ago.

“We found it in the ruins of the same age at Megiddo, and others reported it in other excavations and in the deep Dead Sea drilling.” which suggests that the earthquake impacted a wide area.

The Jerusalem team’s “interpretation seems reasonable to me,” said Jason Radine, who is chair of the Department of Global Religions at Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

He noted that the Hebrew Bible mentions that Jerusalem was attacked around the 790s or 780s B.C. by Israel (which at the time was a separate kingdom from Judah). However, “such an attack might leave a burn layer, which the excavators point out is not present in their find,” suggesting that an earthquake is the more likely cause of the destruction, Radine said. 

Thomas Levy, who is a distinguished professor of Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego, also thought the damage was likely caused by an earthquake and that a strong case can be made that this earthquake is the same one mentioned in the bible.

“When the biblical data is coupled with the archaeological and paleo-seismic data from the southern Levant, a strong correlation is clearly seen between the Book of Amos, a prophet in the Hebrew Bible, and the archaeological record,” Levy told Live Science. 

The team’s research will be presented in September at the “City of David Research” conference.