Tag Archives: archaeology

Humphrey, ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East, vol. 2 (1999)

H. Humphrey, ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East: Some Recent Archaeological Research, vol. 2 (1999)

1. Elise A. Friedland, “Graeco-Roman Sculpture in the Levant: The Marbles from the Sanctuary of Pan at Caesarea Philippi (Banias)”: Marble statues are foreign to the Levant; most Levantine sculpture is made of limestone or basalt, and the foreign-style statues represent “the varying degree of assimilation to and/or adoption of mainstream Graeco-Roman culture from province to province and site to site” (8). The Banias marbles were most likely carved in western Anatolia and then brought to Banias. They were not part of a single installation; rather, they were installed over time, as donors provided funds, thus attesting to a trade route linking Anatolia and Banias and the Hellenization at Banias.

2. Zeev Weiss, “Adopting a Novelty: The Jews and Roman Games in Palestine”: More than 30 theaters probably existed in Roman and Byzantine Palestine. Entertainment there consisted mostly of mime and pantomime performances. Hippodromes first appeared in the Herodian period, but most were built in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The hippodromes housed games in honor of Caesar and local deities, chariot racing, combat sports (“wrestling, boxing, and pankration (a combination of the two)” [38]). Games typically involved foot races, jumping, discus, javelin, and the pentathlon. Amphitheaters were first built in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. They housed gladiatorial games. The rabbis condemned games and spectacles and the buildings where they took place. However, the rabbis represent the minority view; based on archaeological and textual evidence, “it is clear that Jews did frequent games and spectacles from the 2nd c. onwards” (44).

3. Stephen Tracy, “The Dedicatory Inscription to Trajan at the ‘Metropolis’ of Petra”: A new edition of the inscription to Trajan at Petra, accompanied by an epigraphical commentary. It named Petra a metropolis, making Petra “the titular first city of the province” (56) and showing how important Syria and Arabia were to Trajan.

4. Leah Di Segni, Gideon Foerster, and Yoram Tsafrir, “The Basilica and an Altar to Dionysos at Nysa-Scythopolis”: The basilica was one of the first buildings in the settlement in the Naḥal ‘Amal valley, which began in the late 1st century BCE or 1st century CE. The altar is a portable “polygonal monolithic block altar” (69); it has six sides, three of which bear the face of a deity. It also carries an inscription dated to 141/2 CE, showing that the altar was a votive offering to Dionysus, the patron god of Scythopolis. The top of the altar was subsequently broken away and the base was used as a statue by Christians in Late Antique Scythopolis.

5. David Kennedy, “Greek, Roman and Native Cultures in the Roman Near East”: A review of Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East 31 BC – AD 337 (1993).

6. Garth Fowden, “’Desert Kites’: Ethnography, Archaeology, and Art”: The “desert kites” here are maṣāyid (sg. miṣyada), large stone traps that the Syrian Bedouin used to hunt gazelles. Similar structures first entered use around the 7th millennium BCE. A Safaitic inscription, dating to the 1st century BCE or 1st century CE, shows one in use. An 8th-century CE fresco from Quṣayr ‘Amra (located near a large group of maṣāyid) also shows a similar scene.

7. Zvi Uri Ma’oz, “The Synagogue at Capernaum: A Radical Solution”: The Capernaum synagogue, which is lavishly decorated and built of imported stone, does not fit its first-century context, which was a poor part of town. Instead, it is possible that the synagogue was purpose-built near Peter’s house in the 5th century, as a pilgrimage site, using stone imported from synagogues elsewhere in Galilee.

8. Leah Di Segni, “Epigraphic Documentation on Building in the Provinces of Palaestina and Arabia, 4th-7th c.”: Lists different building projects attested epigraphically for Late Antique Palestine and Arabia:

  • Sacred buildings
  • Defensive works and forts
  • Public inns and burgi (guarded roadhouses)
  • Fortifications in cities
  • Baths
  • Waterworks
  • Stoas and piazzas
  • Civil basilicas

9. Benjamin Isaac, “Inscriptions and Religious Identity on the Golan”: A review of Robert C. Gregg and Dan Urman, Jews, Pagans and Christians in the Golan Heights: Greek and Other Inscriptions of the Roman and Byzantine Eras (1996).

10. Jodi Magness, “Redating the Forts at Ein Boqeq, Upper Zohar, and other sites in SE Judaea, and the Implications for the Nature of the Limes Palaestinae”: Based on pottery finds and coins, “the forts at Upper Zohar and Ein Boqeq were constructed and initially occupied around the middle of the 6th c.” (198), not the 4th or 5th. The structures on the east side of Mount Hebron date from the 1st century BCE–2nd century CE. The 4th-century limes, then, was an administrative area, not a fortified border.

11. Mark Whittow, “Rome and the Jafnids: Writing the History of a 6th-c. Tribal Dynasty”: A review of Irfan Shahīd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, parts 1 and 2 (1995).

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Arrowheads and Human Intellect

Archaeologists working at South Africa’s Pinnacle Point cave site uncovered a collection of tiny blades, about an inch big, that resemble arrow points, likely belonging to prehistoric bow and arrows or spear-throwers. The researchers say the discovery is further evidence that humans (Homo sapiens) started to act and think like modern people early in their evolution. …

The new study, however, goes one step further. The researchers say the blades were found throughout a geological section of Pinnacle Point that spans roughly 11,000 years (71,000 to 60,000 years ago), indicating people could communicate complicated instructions to build intricate tools across hundreds of generations. This instance of long-term maintenance of a cultural tradition early in human history is evidence that the capacity for modern culture began early and slowly built up, Brown and colleagues say. Previous suggestions that complex culture came and went in the early days of humans is probably an artificial result, they say, because so few African sites have yet been excavated.

“Early Bow and Arrows Offer Insight Into Origins of Human Intellect” | Hominid Hunting

Very cool stuff! Go on and check out the whole article.


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Report: Excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has released preliminary findings from the 2011 excavation season at Khirbat Qeiyafa. Of the 6 strata uncovered at the sites, the most important are those from the late Persian to early Hellenistic era and from Iron Age IIA. In the Persian-Hellenistic era, the site seems to have been an administrative center. In Iron IIA, the site seems to have been a pretty thriving urban center. Here’s the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s list of important findings in the Iron IIA stratum:

1. A town plan characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites, e.g., Bet Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim and Be’er Sheva‘. A casemate wall was built at all of these sites and the city’s houses next to it incorporated the casemates as one of the dwelling’s rooms. This model is not known from any Canaanite, Philistine or Kingdom of Israel site.
2. Massive fortification of the site, including the use of stones that weigh up to eight tons apiece.
3. Two gates. To date, no Iron Age cities with two gates were found in either Israel or Judah.
4. An open space for a gate plaza was left near each gate. In Area C an area was left open parallel to three casemates and in Area D, the area was parallel to four casemates.
5. The city’s houses were contiguous and built very close together.
6. Some 500 jar handles bearing a single finger print, or sometimes two or three, were found. Marking jar handles is characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah and it seems this practice has already begun in the early Iron Age IIA.
7. A profusion of bronze and iron objects were found. The iron objects included three swords, about twenty daggers, arrowheads and two spearheads. The bronze items included an axe, arrowheads, rings and a small bowl.
8. Trade and imported objects. Ashdod ware, which was imported from the coastal plain, was found at the site. Basalt vessels were brought from a distance of more than 100 km and clay juglets from Cyprus and two alabaster vessels from Egypt were discovered.

Thus, they conclude,

The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the late eighth century BCE or at some other later date.

I’m not yet an archaeologist, but I think their conclusion might be reaching a bit far. It is one thing to say that the excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa show the an urban society existed at this particular place or in this particular region in the late eleventh century BCE. It is another thing entirely, though, to extend that claim to the entire Kingdom of Judah, even if Khirbat Qeiyafa is close to Jerusalem.

(N.B.: I’m not saying their conclusion is false, because it may very well be that all of the Kingdom of Judah was an urbane society by the late 11th century BCE. I’m just saying that it seems difficult to me to support an argument about the nature of the entire ancient Kingdom of Judah on the excavations at one fortress.)

(HT: Joel Watts)

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