Category Archives: ISRAEL

High school student discovered a 1500-year-old ancient Magical Mirror

High school student discovered a 1500-year-old ancient Magical Mirror

High school student discovered a 1500-year-old ancient Magical Mirror

A High school student discovered an ancient “magical mirror” meant to ward off the evil eye in an archaeological excavation in northern Israel.

A few days ago, seventeen-year-old Aviv Weizman from Kiryat Motskin, near Haifa, took part in an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological excavation at the ancient site of Usha and uncovered an exceptional find from the Byzantine period—a 1,500-year-old “magical mirror.”

Usha (also known as Osha) was a jewish village in Galilee, located about 8 kilometers southwest of the city of Nazareth. Remains of the city founded by rabbis fleeing Roman persecution in Judea were recently uncovered, revealing roads, stunning mosaic floors, ritual baths and oil and wine presses.

As part of a “Survival Course” run by the Shelah branch in the Ministry of Education, 500 high-school pupils participated in archaeological excavations around the country together with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An almost complete mirror plate was used as a demonstration. Previously found in a Nitsana excavation.

During the Survival Course, the young leaders take part in a 90-km survival trek from Mount Meron to Mount Hermon. During the trek, the youth participate in Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological excavations at sites located around the country that will be opened to the public in the future.

One of the places where the youth dug was the site of Usha close to Kiryat Ata, directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Hanaa Abu Uqsa Abud.

This week, the excavation produced a special find: an unusual pottery sherd that peeped out of the ground between the walls of a building. Aviv uncovered the sherd and picked it up, and showed it to Dr. Einat Ambar-Armon, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Northern Education Center, who recognized the find as the plaque of a magical mirror.

According to Navit Popovitch, Israel Antiquities Authority Curator of the classical Periods, “The fragment is part of a “magical mirror” from the Byzantine period, the 4th–6th centuries CE.

A glass mirror, for protection against the Evil Eye was placed in the middle of the plaque: the idea was that the evil spirit, such as a demon, who looked in the mirror, would see his own reflection, and this would protect the owner of the mirror.

Similar mirror plaques have been found in the past as funerary gifts in tombs, to protect the deceased in their journey to the world to come.”

Crusader sword found in Holy Land was bent, possibly in naval battle, X-rays reveal

Crusader sword found in Holy Land was bent, possibly in naval battle, X-rays reveal

A sword studded in seashells and caked in sand, found at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea near Israel, was likely dropped there by a Crusader during battle between 800 and 900 years ago, a new analysis reveals.

Crusader sword found in Holy Land was bent, possibly in naval battle, X-rays reveal
The sword as seen during a diving expedition off the coast of Israel.

Divers discovered the medieval weapon, whose blade measures nearly 3 feet (88 centimeters) long and 1.8 inches (4.6 cm) wide, in 2021 during an underwater expedition. Because the sword was heavily coated in concretions, archaeologists were initially limited in what they could learn about the artifact.

However, those very same caked-on deposits also preserved the weapon. With the help of X-rays, researchers were able to “visually penetrate the layers of marine concretion and glimpse the original outline of the sword,” according to a July 23 Facebook post by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The X-ray revealed that the blade was bent. Swords damaged during battle can be bent back into shape at a later date, so the fact that this 12th- to 13th-century weapon — dubbed the Newe-Yam sword — remained bent and was not in a sheath known as a scabbard led archaeologists to conclude that it was likely damaged during the Crusades, according to a new study published in the July issue of the journal ‘Atiqot.

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims that unfolded between A.D. 1095 and 1291.

“The sword was used by a Crusader warrior who settled in the country after the First Crusade and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099,” co-author Jacob Sharvit, director of the marine archaeology unit of the IAA, wrote in the Facebook post.

“Considering the bloody battles that took place in the country between the Crusaders and the Muslims, known from several historical sources, we could expect to find more such swords. In practice, we mostly find fragments, very few whole swords.”

He added, “So far, seven swords from this period have been found in the country, most of them discovered in the sea. Swords were not usually discarded, but over the years, once they were no longer in use, the metal was recycled for other uses.”

Swords were considered valuable weaponry at that time, and they would’ve been among a Crusader’s prized possessions. So losing one to the sea during a naval battle would have been detrimental, or even fatal.

“The sword was part of a knight’s or warrior’s personal equipment,” lead author Joppe Gosker, an archaeologist with the IAA, wrote in the Facebook post. “It was the main weapon in face-to-face combat in those days.

Swords required a lot of quality iron and were therefore expensive. In addition, sword fighting required training and practice, and therefore, only the nobility and professional soldiers fought with swords.”

While scans of the seafloor near the sword’s resting place didn’t reveal any human remains, researchers wouldn’t be surprised if the soldier were also buried there.

“The warrior may still lie undiscovered in the depths, to be revealed one day by the shifting sands,” the researchers wrote in the Facebook post

A rare 2,500-year-old marble disc, designed to protect ancient ships and ward off the evil eye discovered near Palmachim Beach

A rare 2,500-year-old marble disc, designed to protect ancient ships and ward off the evil eye discovered near Palmachim Beach

A rare 2,500-year-old marble disc designed to protect ancient ships and ward off the evil eye was discovered by a lifeguard diving at sea and turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A rare 2,500-year-old marble disc, designed to protect ancient ships and ward off the evil eye discovered near Palmachim Beach

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced from social media on July 18 that the object the lifeguard turned over was a 2,500-year-old, eye-shaped marble disc that was attached to ships to ward off the evil eye.

Experts say the relic, found during a dive by lifeguard David Shalom at the Yavne-Yam archaeological site near Palmachim Beach, dates back to the 5th to 4th centuries BC.

Yaakov Sharvit, Director of the Marine Archaeology Unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains: “From drawings on pottery, mosaics, and ancient coins, as well as from historical sources from the 5th century BCE, we learn that this design was common on ships’ bows and served to protect against the evil eye and envy, aided navigation, and acted as a pair of eyes looking ahead and warning of danger.

This decoration is still common today on modern ships in Portugal, Malta, Greece, and the far east.”

The large white marble disc, 20 cm in diameter, is flat on one side and curved on the other, and it has a central cavity with traces of paint appearing as two circles around the center.

It is identified as an eye motif, in Greek “ophtalmoi,” and such discs adorned the bows of ancient warships and merchant’s vessels.

Lead or bronze nails attached the center of the disc to the ship’s hull. Archaeologists have turned up a wealth of artifacts in the same area.

Although this artifact was once common and one would expect to find many similar artifacts, it is, in fact, rare. So far, only four similar ancient items have been discovered in the Mediterranean: two from the wreck of an ancient merchant ship found at the Tektaş Burnu site off the western coast of Turkey, between the islands of Samos and Kios, dating to 440–425 BCE, and two on the Mediterranean coast of Israel—one from the Carmel Beach and the other, just discovered, on the Yavneh-Yam coast.

In water surveys conducted by the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority since the 1980s, finds from shipwrecked ships testifying to extensive commercial activity at the site were discovered.

Researchers Use AI to Read Ancient Mesopotamian Texts

Researchers Use AI to Read Ancient Mesopotamian Texts

Researchers Use AI to Read Ancient Mesopotamian Texts

Scholars at Tel Aviv University and Ariel University, in Israel, have used artificial intelligence to translate fragments of ancient cuneiform texts on stone tablets into English with what they say is a high degree of accuracy.

They call the project “another major step toward the preservation and dissemination of the cultural heritage of ancient Mesopotamia.”

The scholars presented the first neural machine translation from Akkadian into English in the May issue of PNAS Nexus. Their results are “on par with those produced by an average machine translation from one modern language to another,” noted Arkeonews.

In the last 200 years, archaeologists have found hundreds of thousands of texts that tell the history of ancient Mesopotamia, most of them written in Sumerian or Akkadian, explained the authors. But most remain untranslated because of their vast quantity and the small number of experts who can read them, as well as the fact that most of the texts are fragmentary.

Furthermore, cuneiform signs are polyvalent, there are many different kinds of texts, and even the names of people and places can be written as complex sentences.

“First, let me state that we believe that A.I. will not replace philological work,” said Luis Sáenz, of the Digital Pasts Lab in the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Ariel University, one of the authors, in an email to Artnet News.

“We want to speed up the process. Our hope is that A.I. will eventually be able to help both Assyriologists and non-Assyriologists read cuneiform texts in the future.”

This is just the latest example of scientists using the newest tools to work with the oldest materials.

The University of Kentucky researchers developed an A.I. system to read scrolls that were incinerated when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79, and archaeologists in Italy are working on a robot that uses A.I. to reconstruct ancient relics from their scattered shards.

“There are, of course, limitations to the model,” says Sáenz. “The lack of context makes ancient languages difficult to translate since we only have fragments of texts. Fragments with only one or two lines are extremely difficult to work with for A.I.

The future will require more tools to digitize data published in papers in order to keep training the model and to improve the results. Also, a user-friendly web-based platform for the public is important.”

Storms uncover precious marble cargo from a 1,800-year-old Mediterranean shipwreck in Israel

Storms uncover precious marble cargo from a 1,800-year-old Mediterranean shipwreck in Israel

Storms uncover precious marble cargo from a 1,800-year-old Mediterranean shipwreck in Israel

Numerous rare marble artifacts have been found at the site of a 1,800-year-old shipwreck in shallow waters just 200 meters off the coast of the Israeli coastal town of Beit Yanai.

Approximately three weeks ago while swimming, recreational sea swimmer Gideon Harris took a dive of about four meters and stumbled upon a treasure trove of marble columns.

This is the oldest sea cargo of its kind ever discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean, dating back to the time of the Roman Empire.

The huge haul includes approximately 44 tons of Roman-period marble architectural pieces, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement.

The raw materials were most likely from Turkey and were on their way to a port in the southern Holy Land; archaeologists hope to find ship wood remains during excavations next week.

The marble blocks may have been intended to become part of an elaborate public building—perhaps a temple or theater.

An Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist checks out pieces of 1,800-year-old marble from a shipwreck off the shore of Beit Yanai in central Israel. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit

The IAA believes that this shipwrecked cargo, which was exposed during winter storms that swept away centuries of sand, is the oldest of its kind known in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The merchant ship was probably destined for a port along the coast of the southern Levant, but ran into trouble en route, Koby Sharvit, director of the underwater archaeology unit at the IAA, said in the statement.

Initial underwater site investigations have uncovered decorated Corinthian capitals, additional partially carved capitals, as well as a massive 6-meter marble architrave or door lintel in the ship’s hold.

An Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist checks out pieces of 1,800-year-old marble from a shipwreck off the shore of Beit Yanai in central Israel. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit

“From the size of the architectural elements, we can calculate the dimensions of the ship; we are talking about a merchant ship that could bear a cargo of at least 200 tons,” said Sharvit.

“These fine pieces are characteristic of large-scale, majestic public buildings. Even in Roman Caesarea, such architectural elements were made of local stone covered with white plaster to appear like marble. Here we are talking about genuine marble,” Sharvit explains.

Sharvit, the IAA’s underwater archaeology unit director, confirmed that there are no visible remains of the ship on the sea floor. He stated that the IAA will begin an underwater excavation with students from the University of Rhode Island next week in the hopes of discovering waterlogged wood from beneath the massive marble blocks, or a nearby underwater sand dune that may have buried and preserved parts of the ship.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit

Israeli researchers create AI to translate ancient cuneiform Akkadian texts

Israeli researchers create AI to translate ancient cuneiform Akkadian texts

Israeli researchers create AI to translate ancient cuneiform Akkadian texts

Israeli experts have created a program to translate an ancient language that is difficult to decipher, allowing automatic and accurate translation from cuneiform characters into English.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Ariel University have developed an artificial intelligence model that can automatically translate Akkadian text written in cuneiform into English.

Experts in Assyriology have spent years studying cuneiform, one of the earliest known writing systems, in order to comprehend ancient Mesopotamian texts.

Dr. Shai Gordin of Ariel University and Dr. Gai Gutherz, Dr. Jonathan Berant, and Dr. Omer Levy of TAU trained two versions of the AI model – one that translates Akkadian from representations of cuneiform signs in Latin script and another that translates from unicode representations of the signs.

With a score of 37.47 on the Best Bilingual Evaluation Understudy 4 (BLEU4), the first version—which uses Latin transliteration—produced better results in this study.

This means that the model can produce translations that are on par with those produced by an average machine translation from one modern language to another.

Given that there is a cultural gap of more than 2,000 years in translating ancient Akkadian, this is a noteworthy accomplishment.

An ancient Assyrian tablet with writing in cuneiform from the Library of Ashurbanipal.

Researchers’ findings were published in the journal PNAS Nexus.

This new technology has the potential to revolutionize the study of ancient history by making it more accessible and open to a wider audience. In 2020, the same group of researchers created an AI model called “the Babylonian Engine.” The contemporary model is supposedly a better and reworked version of it.

Historians note that hundreds of thousands of clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, written in cuneiform, have been found by archaeologists, far more than can be translated by the limited number of experts who can read them.

Assyria was named after the god Ashur, the highest in the Assyrian pantheon. It was located in the Mesopotamian Plain (modern-day Iraq).

Assyria conquered the northern part of what is now Israel in 721 BC, capturing the Ten Tribes. These Jewish exiles coexisted with the Assyrians and used cuneiform writing.”

White grape pips found in the Negev dated may be the oldest of its kind worldwide

White grape pips found in the Negev dated may be the oldest of its kind worldwide

White grape pips found in the Negev dated may be the oldest of its kind worldwide

Researchers from the University of York, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Copenhagen provide new insight into the mystery of ancient Gaza wine.

Grape pips discovered in an excavated Byzantine monastery in Israel provide clues to the origins of the mysterious Gaza wine and the history of grapevine cultivation in desert conditions.

One of the seeds, which was most likely from a white grape, has been dated to the eighth century and maybe the oldest specimen of its kind ever found and recorded.

It is thought it could be linked to the sweet white wine – the Gaza wine – that archaeologists have seen references to in historical records but a lack of evidence of white varieties from the period has left uncertainty over its true origins, until now.

Researchers used genetic analyses to identify several different grape cultivars that were grown in Negev vineyards including both white and black grapes.

Dr. Nathan Wales from the University of York’s archaeology department commented that “this is the first time that genetics has been used to identify the color of an ancient grape and gives us a glimpse into the internationally famous Gaza wine during the period. It also gave us the opportunity to link ancient seeds with modern varieties that are still grown around the Mediterranean today.”

The wine was produced in the Negev and shipped across the Byzantine Empire.

“The modern winemaking industry is heavily reliant on a limited number of European grape cultivars that are best suited for cultivation in temperate climates.

Global warming emphasizes the need for diversity in this high-impact agricultural crop. Grapevine lineages bred in hot and arid regions, often preserved over centuries, may present an alternative to the classic winemaking grape cultivars,” the team wrote.

“Our study of a legacy grapevine variety from the Negev Highlands desert of southern Israel sheds light on its genetics, biological properties, and lasting impact.”

Since the wild vine’s domestication in Southwest Asia over 6,000 years ago, it has been primarily grown for wine.

The team wrote that viticulture (grape growing) and viniculture (winemaking) evolved along multiple historical pathways in various wine regions, producing a plethora of legacy cultivars.

Grapevines produced some of the highest profits of any crop in Byzantine times, and trade from the Negev, for example, with Lebanon and Crete, gave rise to modern varieties of red wine that are still produced in these areas today.

Arrowhead from the Biblical Battle Discovered in the Hometown of the Giant Goliath’s

Arrowhead from the Biblical Battle Discovered in the Hometown of the Giant Goliath’s

Arrowhead from the Biblical Battle Discovered in the Hometown of the Giant Goliath’s

A bone arrowhead discovered in the ancient Philistine city of Gath might have been used and fired off by the city’s defenders as part of the last stand described in the Bible.

According to the Hebrew Bible, a king named Hazael), who ruled the kingdom of Aram from around 842 B.C. to 800 B.C., conquered Gath (also known as Tell es-Safi) before marching on Jerusalem. “Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem,” the Book of Kings says (2 Kings 12:17). 

Archaeological investigations in Gath, in what is now Israel, have revealed that major damage occurred in the late ninth century B.C., when the Bible claims Hazael destroyed Gath, which was home to the Philistines (Israel’s foes). Goliath, the giant warrior killed by King David, was born in Gath, according to the Hebrew Bible.

Archaeologists found a bone arrowhead in the ruins of a street in the lower city in 2019 that may have been shot by the city’s defenders in a desperate attempt to halt Hazael’s army from conquering Gath, according to an article published recently in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

The army of King Hazael of Aram may have passed through the lower city (shown here) while conquering Gath.

The arrowhead has an impact fracture on its tip, and the arrowhead “had been broken close to the mid-shaft, perhaps as a result of this impact,” the archaeologists said The damage suggests the arrowhead hit a target, they added. 

Desperate manufacturing in Gath

This arrowhead might have been made in a Gath workshop that was feverishly trying to make as many bone arrowheads for the city’s defenses as possible.

The workshop, which was discovered in 2006, is located roughly 980 feet (300 meters) away from where the bone arrowhead was found.

Inside this workshop, archaeologists uncovered several bones from the lower forelimbs and hind limbs of domestic cattle, suggesting that people in the workshop were in the process of making bone arrowheads.

“The assemblage represents bones at different stages of working — from complete bones, waste, to almost finished products,” the researchers wrote in the article. 

The defenders may have chosen cattle bone because the material was readily available and crafting a good arrowhead from it didn’t take long. One of the researchers, Ron Kehati, a zooarchaeologist with the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project made a replica of the bone arrowhead in about an hour, study co-author Liora Kolska Horwitz, who is also a zooarchaeologist with the project, told Live Science. 

This workshop “may have functioned as an emergency, ad hoc production center to supply arrowheads to fight the forces of Hazael of Aram, who put the site under siege,” the researchers wrote in the article.

The team plans to resume excavations at the site this summer and future discoveries may provide more clues to the fall of Gath.