Earthquake damages rare artifacts - and no one knew
Around two weeks ago, a group of visitors wanted to see the museum displaying artifacts from Tel Hatzor, one of the most important archeological sites in Israel, which is located at Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar. Guides from the Tel Hatzor National Park arrived specially to open the museum, which today can only be visited after making arrangements in advance. They were shocked to discover that some 80 of the 760 artifacts in the museum had fallen on the floor and were damaged to differing degrees. In addition, exhibition cases and various displays in the museum mounted on glass panels were also damaged.
At first, the guides did not understand why the vessels had fallen and even suspected that a lost and frightened cat had somehow gotten inside. But after an inquiry by a team of investigators, it became clear that some of the museum's displays fell to the floor because of the earthquake of two weeks ago. No one knew because the museum, a popular site in the past, remains closed most of the year due to a shortage of visitors.
Among the findings that were damaged were a figurine of an Egyptian goddess; a 3,300-year-old bronze figurine of a bull, whose four legs were shattered; beautiful, imported Greek vessels that fell and shattered; and a 2,800-year-old vessel apparently used for drinking beer. Fourteen artifacts were taken to the labs of the Israel Antiquities Authority for restoration work.
"Clearly some of the artifacts will not be restored to their original condition prior to the earthquake and there are some that will be impossible to restore," says Dr. Zvika Tzuk, the chief archeologist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, "but I'm certain that most of the damage can be repaired once the necessary budget for it is found."
The inauguration of the museum across from Tel Hatzor 42 years ago was a rare, but necessary move. From the 1950s and early 1960s, the tel became the main archeological excavation site in Israel. According to Tzuk, "Israel's best archeologists excavated there. It was a thorough excavation, the ultimate excavation of all the archeologists at the forefront of archeology in Israel. This is a very important excavation with great power." Prof. Yigal Yadin of the Hebrew University headed the excavations and uncovered findings there dating from the third to the first millennium BCE, from the various Bronze eras, the Israelite period and the Persian period. Yadin even published a fascinating book about Tel Hatzor and obtained a donation to help set up the museum. Israel Prize laureate in architecture, David Resnick, designed the actual structure.
But, over the years, the Israeli public lost interest in the findings from the site. Only 20,000 people visit the tel each year, and very few visit the museum, which according to Tzuk contains findings that are of "huge historical importance." This lack of interest led to the museum's permanent closing.
Once the restoration of the damaged vessels is completed, it is unclear whether it will be worthwhile to return them to the museum. As if to make its isolation tangible, around a year ago a road bypassing Tel Hatzor from the west was paved and cuts the museum off from the main road. A metal sculpture of a soldier that was placed atop the tel in order to draw the attention of those passing by remains lonely and far from sight.
"I wouldn't want to see the museum closed and the artifacts going back into boxes and warehouses," says Tzuk. "It is sad that in the State of Israel a sufficient budget for opening and publicizing museums such as the Hatzor museum was not found. In this respect alone, perhaps it is worthwhile to place the artifacts in storage. Perhaps future generations will recognize their public and educational value and significance."