The Best of Israel Archaeology in 5776

Finds include lost cities rediscovered, fabulous jewels and ancient technologies that were a lot more advanced than expected.

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Pit burials in the first Philistine graveyard found in Israel, in ancient Ashkelon, June 28, 2016.
Pit burials in the first Philistine graveyard found in Israel, in ancient Ashkelon, June 28, 2016. Credit: Menahem Kahana, AFP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Cheshvan: Greek fortresses and animal seals

After the Lord knows how many decades of digging in Jerusalem, archaeologists finally found the fabled Akra, a Hellenistic citadel erected in the heart of Jerusalem by the Seleucid conquerors after they destroyed the city in 168 BCE. The fortified compound was torn down by the Maccabee rebels in the 2nd century BCE, but excavators in the Givati parking lot by the City of David, found fortifications, weapons, ceramics and coins from Epiphanes' lost compound.

The Akra, Epiphanes' lost stronghold in Jerusalem, November 3, 2015.Credit: IAA, courtesy

A 3,000-year old seal with crude animal inscriptions was found in rubble evacuated from Temple Mount in Jerusalem, by a 10-year old tourist participating in the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The artifact adds to finds showing that Jerusalem in the Davidic period, early Iron Age II, was an important city, not a mere village, archaeologists claim.

Limestone seal, about 3,000 years old, found in the rubble of Temple Mount by Matvei Tcepliaev, a 10-year old volunteer to the Sifting ProjectCredit: Zachi Dvira

Kislev: King Hezekiah's seal, Ben Carson's delusion

A 2,700-year-old seal impression bearing the name of King Hezekiah was discovered in situ in excavations by Temple Mount. The oval impression on the clay seal, which was most likely set in a ring, states in ancient Hebrew: "Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah." It also shows a pagan two-winged sun, with wings turned downward, flanked by two ankh symbols symbolizing life.

An LMLK stamp on a jar handle. Jars with stamps marked by LMLK seals are believed to have all come from King Hezekiah's reign.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

No, Egypt's pyramids were not built as grain silos, archaeologists explained to ex-Republican candidate Benjamin Carson. It is true that Carson had claimed as much back in 1998, but when confronted with the absurdity, the candidate doubled down. Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Deborah Sweeney explains why Carson's theory is beyond unlikely, and they were indeed tombs. She also debunked Carson's argument that the grain storage pyramids had been built by Joseph. They hadn't been.

Who will buy the pieces of these pyramids? Aspiring pharaohs may emerge.Credit: AP

Tevet: Giant farmhouses and beetles

A huge farmhouse from the First Temple period, an ornate Byzantine church built over a thousand years later and a lime kiln dated to the Ottoman era were found by Rosh HaAyin, during archaeological surveying ahead of building a new neighborhood. The 2,700-year old farmhouse had no less than 24 rooms around a central courtyard and a huge grain silo.

A bird's-eye view of the 2,700-year old, 24-room farmhouse found by Rosh HaAyin, which features walls still standing up to 2 meters in height.Credit: Griffin Aerial Photography

An Israeli hiker found a 3,500-year-old Egyptian seal featuring a dung beetle scarab on the Horns of Hattin in the Galilee. The scarab represents Pharaoh Thutmose III [1481-1425 B.C.E.] sitting on his throne, with a cartouche – an oval shape that contains symbols representing his name in hieroglyphic, experts said.

The ancient scarab seal found on the Horns of Hattin in the Galilee, January 2016.Credit: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority

Shvat: A filthy rich nonentity with a big boat dies

A huge 60-foot wooden boat, preserved by the sands of the Sahara for over 4,500 years, has been found in the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Abusir. Even though the wood had to have been imported and the whole thing had to have been prohibitively expensive, the boat was found in the grave of a commoner. Apparently, a very rich one.

The 60-foot long boat dating to ca. 2550 BCE found inside the Old Kingdom cemetery at Abusir - in a magnificent state of preservation.Credit: Martin Frouz, Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology

Adar I: Vast Canaanite necropolis found in Bethlehem, church in Gaza

1.707191 A vast prehistoric necropolis over 4,000 years old has been found near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, proving for the first time that the city had existed and thrived in Canaanite times. The site, Khalet al-Jam'a, had more than 100 tombs dating from around 2200 BCE to 650 BCE. Unfortunately, many of the 100-plus tombs have already been destroyed by modern construction, or looted in the past.

Construction workers in Gaza found ruins, as happens in these parts, that archaeologists think were from a 1500-year-old Byzantine church. The findings include segments of marble pillars with ornate Corinthian capitals, one nearly three meters long, and a 90-centimeter foundation stone bearing, tellingly, a Greek symbol for Christ.

Palestinian archaeologist Hyam al-Betar looks at artefacts excavated during the construction of a commercial building in Gaza City, on April 4, 2016. Credit: AFP

Adar II: Oldest biblical texts dated using new technology

A collection of letters written on clay in the Kingdom of Judah some 2,500 years ago is shedding new light on the age of the oldest biblical texts, with the help of sophisticated imaging tools and complex software: they're from the First Temple era, scientists concluded. Tel Aviv University says the findings prove that ancient Judah had a high literacy rate and a sophisticated educational system.

Ostracons found by Arad from around 2,500 years ago prove to have been written by multiple people, indicating that in the Kingdom of Judah, literacy was widespread, not a luxury of the elites.Credit: Michael Kordonsky, Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University

Nisan: King Tut glass beads, ancient trading ties

Bright blue glass beads found in Danish Bronze Age burials dating to 3400 years ago turn out to have come from ancient Egypt – in fact, from the workshop that made the beads buried with the famous boy-king Tutankhamun. The discovery proves that there were established trade routes between the far north and Levant as early as the 13th century BCE.

An elaborate glass bead with amber embedding found in a 3400-year old Danish grave turns out to have come from ancient Egypt. Credit: Roberto Fortuna and Kira Ursem

Spectacular green glass rods dug up in the ancient Egyptian city of Akhetaten and glass beads found in graves in Scandinavia, northern Germany and Romania, all originated in Mesopotamia, a new study has proven. The glass further proves the existence of a vast trading system 3400 years ago.

The green glass rods from Amarna, Egypt, which show the chemical trace element signature of Mesopotamian glass. Credit: Flemming Kaul

Iyyar: 3600-year-old Swedish tools use Levant copper

Bronze tools found in Sweden dating from 3,600 years ago were made using copper from the Mediterranean, archaeologists have shown. They now also believe that rock carvings of ships found in Bohuslän, Sweden were visual documentation of trade between ancient Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

The remains of a vast Bronze Age town dating to 3600 years ago has been discovered in Gaza, and has now been shown to be a rich trading hub. The prosperity of its Canaanite inhabitants is evident in discoveries of elaborate gold jewelry, vast amounts of imported pottery and an unprecedented number of scarabs.

Excavating at Tel el-Ajjul, GazaCredit: Peter M. Fischer

Sivan: Canaanite animal imports, Philistines and garbage

The ancient Canaanites living in Gath some 5,000 years ago weren't sacrificing their own livestock to appease the gods. They were importing animals from ancient Egypt, archaeologists have now proven, based on the grave of a donkey.

A donkey sacrificed in Canaanite ritual, found in situ at Tell es-Safi (Gath). Analysis of its teeth showed that it was born and bred in ancient Egypt.Credit: Richard Wiskin

Israeli archaeologists have stumbled upon the mother of all garbage dumps: a massive landfill from early Roman times in Jerusalem that may have been the result of the most sophisticated trash collection system in antiquity. The dump was in use 70 years and rose 70 meters in height in 70 CE – really.

Archaeologists standing in the dig of Jerusalem's Roman era landfill.Credit: Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquity Authority

A human foot and 86 tortoise shells were just some of the extraordinary finds discovered in the prehistoric grave of a female shaman in the Galilee, in northern Israel, dating back 12,000 years. She herself may have been a dwarf.

The bones of a 1.5 meter-tall woman lying in situ at her burial site, surrounded by tortoise shells and myriad other bones and objects, at Hilazon Cave.Credit: Naftali Hilger

The first Philistine cemetery ever found, some 3000 years old has been found in Ashkelon. The manner of the burials proves that the Philistines had to have come from the Aegean Sea region, and had close ties with Phoenicians.

Tammuz: Priests lived well in Jerusalem, and probably in Bethsaida

Geshur wasn't some piddling backwater, it was a mighty kingdom, archaeologists announce after finding monumental towers and massive fortifications around its capital, Bethsaida.

The city gate of Bethsaida, capital of the Kingdom of Geshur. Middle-upper-left: A standing stele shows a bull figure that archaeologists believe represents the moon god.Credit: Hanan Shafir

The system ancient Romans used to cool down chariot racing horses in ancient Carthage has been found, and was startlingly sophisticated.

Archaeologists excavating in the heart of ancient Jerusalem have begun to uncover the neighborhood that housed the elite 2,000 years ago, probably priests, and lo: at least one had a bathtub.

The bathtub found on Mt. Zion, carved out of the bedrock. It had been covered by a stone brick roof that remained intact these 2,000 years. Credit: Zion Excavation

Av: Philistines, we're starting to know ye

Philistine cities in ancient Israel turn out to have been laid out like anciet Cypriot cities, not like haphazard Canaanite towns; also, Philistine metal-smelting technologies were alien to Canaanite traditions, but akin to techniques found in Cyprus of thousands of years ago

Israel has been given back a hand grenade from the Crusader era and other artifacts by a family whose father, working for the Electric Corporation, had found them by the sea over the years. The oldest piece found by the late Marcel Mazliah is about 3,500 years old

The ancient hand grenade: Most believe these were used like modern grenades, to toss fire or explosive material, for centuries. Somethink they were perfume pots.Credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority

Elul: Jewish mark found in Abila, Jordan

A menorah carved on a stone block, found in a 1400-year-old Byzantine church in Abila, Jordan is the first tangible evidence of a Jewish presence in the ancient Hellenistic city that been assumed, but not proven.

The seven-branched menorah with tripod base, inscribed on a reused stone in the basilica.Credit: Derrick Heldenbrand

Excavations in the volcanic desert of Jordan have uncovered three surprisingly advanced fortified settlements with artificially irrigated terraced gardens, dating to 6,000 years ago – a millennia before the earliest pyramids, and well before anybody had been thought able to achieve such things.

Section of the double-face fortification wall in JawaCredit: B. Müller-Neuhof / Dai-Orientabteilung

While surveying natural limestone caves in the Galilee, scientists from Safed Academic College discovered hundreds of limestone caves in which Jews hid when Roman troops came marching through 2,000 years ago, during the Great Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE).

The sanctuaries in which Jewish rebels hid from the Roman forces 2000 years ago in the Galilee were natural caves in the chalky cliffsCredit: Yinon Shavtiel