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Archaeologists Dig – in Their Own Backyard (2002)

The Rockefeller Museum was established in 1927 in East Jerusalem, just north of the walls of the Old City. The building is known as the museum for antiquities found in Israel up to 1967. It displays some of the most important finds ever found in the country, such as the inscription forbidding non-Jews to go in to the Jewish temple precinct; the reconstructed bath house of Hisham’s palace from Jericho; the Crusader period decorations that used to be over the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, and more. The Museum is also the headquarters for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). One of the main tasks of the IAA is to conduct salvage excavations at any site inIsrael where antiquities are found during modern construction projects. All antiquities in Israel are protected by law, and it is the IAA’s task to enforce it. A few months ago the IAA had to stop its own construction of a new pipeline for the Rockefeller Museum, for exactly the same reason—in the course of digging the trench, the workmen found antiquities! This dig is causing parking problems for the IAA employees, since it slows down the work of putting the new pipe line under the road. But since everybody is obliged to obey the law which protects antiquities, the archaeologists have no excuses!

Archaeologists digging in construction site

Male Fertility Figurine Found In A Burial Cave

One of the largest sources of salvage excavations for the IAA in the last few years has been the Trans-Israel Highway project (Road 6). About every 10 km along its route, a new archaeological site has been revealed, excavated by the IAA, documented, and cleared to allow the construction of the highway to continue. One of the sites recently excavated was a Chalcolithic period cemetery (c. 4000 BCE) spread over a length of two kilometers. It was discovered after one of its burial caves was broken open and damaged by construction equipment.

In the burial caves, archaeologist Yanir Milevski found several ossuaries (small clay coffins), small objects, bowls and other items. Some of the ossuaries bore relieves of horned animals and anthropomorphic figures with prominent noses. But the most unusual object was a 20cm high ceramic figure found in one of the ossuaries. It was clearly a male fertility figure whose genitalia had been broken off. The figurine was found broken in four pieces, and one hand is missing, but after restoration it now stands almost complete. The missing hand probably held the genitalia.

Male Fertility Figurine Found In A Burial Cave
Male Fertility Figurine Found In A Burial Cave


Statue of a Nymph Found Near the Temple

The Southern wall archaeological park is the largest archaeological site in Jerusalem. It was excavated during the 1970s-1980s, but recent analysis of its finds is still revealing exciting material. The new research is being conducted by Dr. Eilat Mazar, granddaughter of Prof. B. Mazar, who headed the excavations a generation ago. Dr. Eilats’ aim is to complete the publication of the finds made by the previous expedition, and hopefully to renew the excavations in more areas.

In analyzing the sculptured fragments found in the dig, she is being assisted by Orit Peleg, an archaeologist specializing in art history and archaeology. Recently Oritpublished the results of her investigations of the marble fragments. Her careful study revealed that some fragments found in the bath house next to the Temple Mountwere of a nymph with holes in her breasts, from which the water jetted out. All the marble and sculptured finds from the site indicate that the various facilities in the area were decorated lavishly and made Roman Jerusalem look totally pagan, in sharp contrast to its Jewish identity during the Second Temple period which preceded it.

Statue of a Nymph Found Near the Temple
Two chest marble fragments found in the excavations next to the southern wall. Holes in the chest indicate water jetted out through the breasts, suggesting the sculpture decorated a local bath-house which was found nearby

Orit Peleg holding the fragments of the nymph which once decorated a Roman Bath-house near the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
Orit Peleg holding the fragments of the nymph which once decorated a Roman Bath-house near the southern wall of the Temple Mount.