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Posts Tagged ‘Archeology’

Archeology,Physics

A match made in Megiddo

How the chemistry between archaeology and physics researchers led to groundbreaking discoveries about biblical history

Sometimes when you’ve stopped looking for a solution is exactly when it pops up. Israel Finkelstein, Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages, Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, discovered a very interesting finding in 1998, at the archaeological excavation of Megiddo. He noticed a dig participant who did not quite fit the profile of a typical university undergraduate. 

“I sniffed around and learned that this particular student was actually a TAU professor flying under the radar. He turned out to be a very important ‘find,’” smiles Finkelstein. That student, incumbent of the Wolfson Chair in Experimental Physics Eli Piasetzky, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, was pursuing a degree in archaeology. Prof. Finkelstein pulled him aside to talk, and so began a research partnership that is still active two decades later.  

When were early Biblical texts written?

The archaeological issue of the day was mapping the chronology of the Iron Age in ancient Israel. Finkelstein challenged Piasetzky to improve the dating of remains from biblical times by using the radiocarbon method. The findings, published in professional and lay publications worldwide, rendered a new timeline of ancient Israel with lasting ramifications for biblical studies.

“Until then, the dating of texts was based on Biblical considerations,” explains Prof. Finkelstein, adding, “You can say that Biblical history was the path of the researchers, and archeology was used as a tool to prove the Bible stories were true.” He said. His article caused an uproar among researchers around the world, and he realized that he needed a more accurate dating tool and a talented mathematician to help him. Prof. Finkelstein presented his friend with a challenge – to accurately date the findings discovered in the excavations and to prove his claims.

Using the radiocarbon dating method on hundreds of items collected and tested, Prof. Piasetzky and Prof. Finkelstein presented a new and more accurate timeline in the history of ancient Israel, which was published in the New York Times, and had long-term implications for the study of the Biblical period since then.

 

The excavation site at Tel Megiddo, where it all began

Algorithms for reading ancient inscriptions

Prof. Piasetzky and Prof. Finkelstein continue their quest to reconstruct ancient history. As reported by The New York Times, they are conducting analyses to help better decipher ink inscriptions on potsherds, known as ostraca that were unearthed at an ancient fortress in the deep desert of Arad in southern Israel.

“The citadel of Arad stands like a time capsule: Active about 2,600 years ago, it was a relatively short-lived, godforsaken outpost, a five-day journey from Jerusalem, populated by maybe 30 soldiers,” describes Finkelstein. “Who inscribed the potsherds found there? Who read them? The ostraca teach us about government and about literacy in ancient Judah. If we determine when writing became a tool used by a wide swathe of society, we can shed light on when early Biblical texts were written.”

A shopping list from thousands of years ago

Prof. Piasetzky and Prof. Finkelstein have put together a team of archaeologists, historians, physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists to analyze handwriting and determine just how many hands penned the Arad ostraca.

To do so, they employ physics techniques of multispectral imaging to reveal inscriptions and improve readability. Next, they compare handwriting by using algorithms specially developed by the team. What they found there was surprising: the new lines discovered were a letter requesting the issuance of wine and food from the warehouses of the Tel Arad fortress to one of the military units in the area. The recipient of the letter was the warehouse clerk, while the address was an officer from Beersheba.

Beyond the information about what people used to eat and drink during that time, the researchers revealed that even quartermasters knew how to read and write, and also learned a few new words that don’t appear in the Bible. “From the content of the letters we learn that literacy permeated even the low ranks of the military administration of the kingdom. If we extrapolate this data to other areas of Judea, and assume that this was the case in the civil administration and among the clergy, the level of literacy is considerable. This level of literacy is a reasonable background for the composition of Biblical texts,” explains Prof. Finkelstein.

Facing the future

After studying the past, Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Piasetzky explain what can be done with these special technologies in the 2000s. “One may ask why a student of mathematics would be interested in developing tools for handwriting analysis of ancient inscriptions,” Prof. Piasetzky says. “But this type of analysis is also acutely needed today by, say, lawyers, banks, and the police. Furthermore, we’re finding solutions for the challenges of deciphering ink inscriptions found on uneven clay surfaces with faded markings and missing pieces. If our algorithms can analyze decayed inscriptions, think what they can do with modern-day handwriting on flat clean paper surfaces.”

Prof. Finkelstein adds: “With handwriting we face a problem of subjectivity. Scholars – all of us – come with preconceptions. We can convince ourselves that we see this or that particular letter. The computer does not have preconceptions. It measures length of strokes and angles, making numerical comparisons. Our next step is to integrate multispectral imaging at digs. This could dramatically improve excavation methodologies by determining on site if a potsherd is treasure or junk. One inscription can change the way we understand history.”

Featured image: Prof. Eli Piasetzky and Prof. Israel Finkelstein talk about how it all started

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Archeology

The Four species of Sukkot explained

TAU Archaeologist Dafna Langgut on the origins of the Etrog, Lulav and more

The Etrog (citron fruit), Lulav (frond of date palm) Hadass (myrtle bough) and Aravah (willow branch) – are the four species the Jewish people are commanded to bind together and wave in the sukkah, a temporary booth constructed for use during the week-long festival of Sukkot. Every Jewish child knows them, and likes to declare which of the four is noted for its excellent flavor and fragrance, which has either no fragrance or no flavor, and which has neither.

The four species are certainly the most distinguished items in the sukkah. The Torah commands us in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 23 verse 40: “And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of thick trees and willows of the brook and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.”

According to Dr. Dafna Langgut of Dr. Dafna Langgut of TAU’s The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, “this mitzvah includes a reference to two known species of plants –branches of palm trees and willows of the brook, but scholars were undecided as to whether the terms “fruit of goodly hadar trees” and “boughs of thick trees” (etz avot) refer to specific plants or simply give general instructions.”

Enter the Etrog

“Commentaries from the 1st century CE began to identify the species noted in Leviticus as specific plants: date palm, willow, citron and myrtle,” explains Dr. Langgut. “At this time, the Etrog (citron) became established in the Sukkot tradition, in both relevant texts and visual representations. Together with the willow it appeared on coins from the Great Revolt (the first Jewish–Roman War -66–73 CE) as well as on coins from the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE(. It must be noted, however, that while the myrtle, date and willow are native to our region, the Etrog is not.”

Journey of the Etrog to the Holy Land

According to Dr. Langgut “the Etrog originates from east India and the south of China. In fact, it is one of the three early ancestors of the citrus trees we know today – the other two being the pomelo and the mandarin.  All other citrus fruits were created through crossbreeding of these three species. The name Etrog hints at its origins: in Hindi it is called Turange, and in Persian Turunge, and later Etrunge.

An interesting discovery made several years ago at an archaeological excavation at kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem, sheds light on the Etrog’s arrival and early cultivation in Judea. TAU archaeologists Prof. Oded Lipschits and Dr. Yuval Gadot unearthed a royal garden located at the front of a large, magnificent palace. Studying one of the water pools in this garden, dated around the 5th-4th centuries BCE Dr. Dafna Langgut was able to identify fossilized citron pollen preserved in the pool’s plaster coating.

The fossilized pollen enabled the researchers to precisely determine the botanical makeup of the ancient garden. The pollen belonged to vegetation typical of Mediterranean woodlands, as well as domesticated fruit trees and ornamental plants, including the willow and the myrtle. Some of the trees identified, such as the walnut and the Cedar of Lebanon do not grow in our region, and had apparently been imported from afar. One of these was the Etrog – certainly the most surprising find in the royal garden of Ramat Rachel. This is in fact the earliest archaeo-botanical evidence of the cultivation of the Etrog in the Land of Israel specifically, and throughout the Mediterranean Basin in general.

So how did the imported Etrog end up as one of our four species?          

“The idea of cultivating the Etrog seems to have trickled slowly into Jewish tradition from the Royal Garden at Ramat Rachel – the seat of the representative of the Persian Empire to which our area belonged about 2,500 years ago,” explains Dr. Langgut. “At first it was considered an exotic plant, to be found only in splendid gardens. About 200 years later than the Ramat Rachel garden, it began to appear in the gardens of nobles in Rome and Pompeii. And at some point, probably around the 1st century CE, it was established in Jewish tradition as one of the four species we are commanded to wave in the Sukkah – together with the willow, the myrtle and the palm.”

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Archeology

Lemons: exclusive luxury food?

Citrus fruits were the clear status symbols of the nobility in the ancient Mediterranean, Tel Aviv University researcher says

New research from Tel Aviv University reveals that citrons and lemons were clear status symbols for the ancient Roman ruling elite and plots the route and evolution of the citrus trade in the ancient Mediterranean.

The study is based on a collection of ancient texts, art, artifacts, and archaeobotanical remains such as fossil pollen grains, charcoals, seeds, and other fruit remnants. It was led by archaeobotanist Dr. Dafna Langgut of TAU’s The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and recently published in HortScience.

Until the first century AD, the only citrus produce available to the ancient Romans were the extremely rare and inordinately expensive citrons and lemons. “Today, citrus orchards are a major component of the Mediterranean landscape and one of the most important cultivated fruits in the region. But citrus is not native to the Mediterranean Basin and originated in Southeast Asia,” Dr. Langgut said.

“My findings show that citrons and lemons were the first citrus fruits to arrive in the Mediterranean and were status symbols for the elite. All other citrus fruits most probably spread more than a millennium later for economic reasons.”

The first Roman lemon?

At first the Romans only had access to rough-skinned citrons, also known as etrogim — mostly rind and dry, tasteless flesh. The citron arrived in Rome from what is now Israel. The earliest botanical remains of the citron were identified in a Persian royal garden near Jerusalem and dated to the 5th-4th centuries BC. It is presumed that it spread from there to other locations around the Mediterranean.

“The first remains of the earliest lemon, found in the Roman Forum, date to right around the time of Jesus Christ, the end of the first century BC and early first century AD,” said Dr. Langgut. “It appears that the citron was considered a valuable commodity due to its healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor and rarity. Only the rich could have afforded it. Its spread therefore was helped more by its high social status, its significance in religion and its unique features, rather than its culinary qualities.”

According to Dr. Langgut, sour oranges, limes and pomelos were introduced to the West by Muslim traders via Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula much later, in the 10th century AD.

Muslim trade routes

“It is clear that Muslim traders played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe,” Dr. Langgut said. “It’s also evident because the common names of many of the citrus types were derived from Arabic, following an earlier diversification in Southeast Asia. Muslims controlled extensive territory and commerce routes from India to the Mediterranean.”

According to the research, the sweet orange associated with Israel today only dates as far back as the 15th century and was the product of a trade route established by the Genoese and, later, the Portuguese. The sticky-sweet mandarin was introduced to the Mediterranean only in the beginning of the 19th century.

“It wasn’t until the 15th century that the sweet orange arrived on European tables. By the time mandarins appeared in the 19th century, citrus fruits were considered commonplace,” said Dr. Lanngut. “They were cash crops rather than luxury items.”

 The researcher is currently determining which plants were grown in the gardens of Herod the Great’s palaces, with the support of the Israel Science Foundation.

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Archeology

3,000-Year-Old Textiles Are Earliest Evidence of Chemical Dyeing in The Levant

Discovery provides insight into society and copper production in the Timna region at the time of David and Solomon, TAU researchers say

Tel Aviv University archaeologists have revealed that cloth samples found in the Israeli desert present the earliest evidence of plant-based textile dyeing in the region. They were found at a large-scale copper smelting site and a nearby temple in the copper ore district of Timna in Israel’s Arava desert and are estimated to date from the 13th-10th centuries BCE.

The wool and linen pieces shed light on a sophisticated textile industry and reveal details about a deeply hierarchical society dependent on long-distance trade to support its infrastructure in the unforgiving desert.

The study was published in PLOS ONE. It was led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures and Dr. Naama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority; and conducted in collaboration with Vanessa Workman of TAU’s Department of Archaeology, Dr. Orit Shamir of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Zohar Amar, Dr. Alexander Varvak and Dr. David Iluz of Bar-Ilan University.

Textiles suggest significant social stratification

“This was clearly a formative period, with local kingdoms emerging and replacing Egyptian hegemony in Canaan,” Dr. Ben-Yosef said. “These beautiful masterpieces of weaving and dyeing — the first evidence of industrial dyeing at the time, of wash-resistant color on textile — support the idea of a strong, hierarchical Edomite Kingdom in Timna at the time. “It is apparent that there was a dominant elite in this society that took pains to dress according to their ‘class,’ and had the means to engage in long-distance trade to transport these textiles — and other materials and resources — to the desert.”

The research suggests a sophisticated dyeing process involving cooking colorful plants in water, then adding fleece fixed with alum to create a chemical bond between fabrics and dye. The result is a wash-resistant colorful fabric.

The researchers radiocarbon-dated the textile pieces and harnessed gas chromatography to identify the cloth’s organic molecules. They found “red” molecules produced from the madder plant and “blue” molecules from the woad plant.

“Both plants were known in antiquity as sources of organic dyes,” said Dr. Ben-Yosef. “We know that these plants were used to create elaborate costumes during the Roman period, more than a thousand years later. Now we have evidence in the region of an Edomite society wearing textiles produced the same way, versus an earlier ‘primitive’ smearing of color on fabric.”

“We can make many inferences according to this discovery,” Dr. Ben-Yosef continued. “To force a large group of people to work in dangerous mines in the desert, you need a strong ruling party — an elite that probably wore exquisite clothes to further distinguish themselves. The smelters, working in furnaces, were considered ‘magicians’ or even priests, and they probably wore fine clothing too. They represented the highest level of society, managing a sensitive and complex process to produce copper from rock.”

 

Evidence of long-distance trade

The textile dye presents evidence of long-distance trade, Dr. Ben-Yosef noted. “Clearly this is not local. These plants require a lot of water and probably hail from the Mediterranean regions. The dyeing required special craftspeople, an entire industry that could not have subsisted in the desert. If Jerusalem was indeed opulent in the time of King Solomon, and the Temple covered in copper, we can assume a link to that kingdom.”

The textiles are currently being stored in special facilities at the Israel Antiquities Authority and will one day be presented in museums in Israel and elsewhere.

 

Photos caption: Fine wool textiles found at Timna. The textile used the various colors of natural animal hair to create black and orange-brown colors for decorative bands. Photos by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

This article was originally published by AFTAU.

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Archeology

New tech reveals inscription invisible for 50 years

Military correspondence from the First Temple period discovered with multispectral imaging on a well-studied artifact at The Israel Museum, TAU researchers say

Using advanced imaging technology, Tel Aviv University researchers have discovered a hitherto invisible inscription on the back of a pottery shard that has been on display at The Israel Museum for more than 50 years.

The ostracon (ink-inscribed pottery shard) was first found in poor condition in 1965 at the desert fortress of Arad. It dates back to ca. 600 BCE, the eve of the kingdom of Judah’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. The inscription on its front side, opening with a blessing by Yahweh, discusses money transfers and has been studied by archaeologists and biblical scholars alike.

“While its front side has been thoroughly studied, its back was considered blank,” said Arie Shaus of TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics, one of the principal investigators of the study published today in PLOS ONE

“Using multispectral imaging to acquire a set of images, Michael Cordonsky of TAU’s  Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy noticed several marks on the ostracon’s reverse side. To our surprise, three new lines of text were revealed,” Shaus said.

The researchers were able to decipher 50 characters, comprising 17 words, on the back of the ostracon. “The content of the reverse side implies it is a continuation of the text on the front side,” said Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, another principal investigator of the study.

The multidisciplinary research was conducted by Faigenbaum-Golovin, Shaus, and Barak Sober, all doctoral students in TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics, and by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of TAU’s The Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. Additional collaborators include Prof. David Levin and Prof. Eli Turkel of TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics, Prof. Benjamin Sass of TAU’s Department of Archaeology, as well as Michael Cordonsky and Prof. Murray Moinester of TAU’s School of Physics. The research team was co-led by Prof. Eli Piasetzky of TAU’s School of Physics and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU’s Department of Archaeology.

“Using multispectral imaging, we were also able to significantly improve the reading of the front side, adding four ‘new’ lines,” said Sober.

A request for more wine

“Tel Arad was a military outpost — a fortress at the southern border of the kingdom of Judah — and was populated by 20 to 30 soldiers,” said Dr. Mendel-Geberovich. “Most of the ostraca unearthed at Arad are dated to a short time span during the last stage of the fortress’s history, on the eve of the kingdom’s destruction in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar. Many of these inscriptions are addressed to Elyashiv, the quartermaster of the fortress. They deal with the logistics of the outpost, such as the supply of flour, wine, and oil to subordinate units.”

“The new inscription begins with a request for wine, as well as a guarantee for assistance if the addressee has any requests of his own,” said Shaus. “It concludes with a request for the provision of a certain commodity to an unnamed person, and a note regarding a ‘bath,’ an ancient measurement of wine carried by a man named Ge’alyahu.”

“The newly revealed inscription features an administrative text, like most of the Arad inscriptions,” said Dr. Mendel-Geberovich. “Its importance lies in the fact that each new line, word, and even a single sign is a precious addition to what we know about the First Temple period.”

“On a larger scale, our discovery stresses the importance of multispectral imaging to the documentation of ostraca,” said Faigenbaum-Golovin. “It’s daunting to think how many inscriptions, invisible to the naked eye, have been disposed of during excavations.”

“This is ongoing research,” concluded Sober. “We have at our disposal several additional alterations and expansions of known First Temple-period ostraca. Hence, the future may hold additional surprises.”

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