Revealed by the Waves (and Nehemiah)
Recent Storm Damages Antiquity Sites, but exposes surprising finds.
December 16, 2010
“Since I was a child I use to walk along this shore line, enjoying the sound of the waves, and hoping to find something interesting” said Nehemiah “After all this is a 4000 year old site. So obviously after the big storm I expected to find something. But this, I admit, was beyond my expectations!”.
Most of the news for the last few days, both global and local, related to the weather. Many parts of Europe and North America are experiencing snow blizzards, and temperatures dropping to minus 20 degrees Celsius. And winter finally reached Israel too. Starting this Saturday (December 10th), temperatures dropped, and most of the country experienced showers of rain mixed with dust. The Hermon Mountain finally got covered with snow, and the Sea of Galilee is beginning to rise, filling with fresh rain water.
This storm also generated strong winds, and unusually high waves. These waves damaged several sites along the shore, and especially at sites of antiquities.
In Caesarea, a major city and port founded 2000 years, the waves wrecked a building on the jetty, and completely dismantled a cement wall in front of it. This cement wall was built in 1953-4, but its foundations are from Roman times. Now the surface of the Jetty is broken in two sections. The extent of the damage below the surface in not known yet.
North of the ancient port, where a famous section of an aqueduct to Caesarea is preserved for centuries, the recent storm undermined the foundation of the arches holding the aqueduct.
And down south, some 50 km south of Tel-Aviv, the storm damaged another major site of antiquities – ancient Ascalon. Founded about 4000 years ago, Ascalon is continuously inhabited to this day, and it was an important city in most of the historical periods.
The erosion of the Ascalons’ port by storms was known already in antiquity, and in the Middle Ages Roman period granite pillars were recycled into a protective wall against the raging sea. This protective wall was weathered over time, and when it was first documented in the 19th century, the granite pillars were found already half exposed. The prevent further erosion, the Israel antiquities authority added another protective wall two 2008, but the recent storm damaged parts of it too.
Yet surprisingly the storm proved also to be beneficial for archaeological research in some cases.
In Ashdod the storm exposed an ancient structure right along the shore line, that was not known before. Its date and function are unknown, and hopefully excavations of the rest of the structure would provide that information.
But the biggest reward was traced 3 km north of the Tel of Ascalon.
Nehemiah Inbar is a veteran resident of Ascalon, and is well acquainted of its shore line. As soon as the storm calmed enough, he went to see its aftermath.
“I first went to the shore under the ancient site and next to the public swimming area. The hut of the life guard was completely blown away, and modern and ancient debris were spread all over.”
“The next day I scouted the shore towards the north. About three km north of the tell, under the cliff where Holiday inn Hotel is, I climbed on the rocks supporting the top of the cliff. Among the stones I noticed fragments of a mosaic
floor and an edge of a round Marble stone. Intrigued by what I saw, I started removing the sand and debris, and was amazed to discover it was an almost complete marble sculpture!”.
Nehemiah called a friend, and the police. The police directed him to call the Israel Antiquities Authority. It took a few hours before representative of the Israel antiquities authority arrived, but once he verified the authenticity of the discovery, the story became public, and was broadcasted that evening in all the news channels.
Short clip Nehemiah made of his discovery
(The silly audio editing is mine..)
“So where is the sculpture now?” I asked him.
“They took it away, for “further study” they said, in their laboratories”, he answered. “I only hope that eventually it will be displayed in our local archaeological museum of Ascalon” he added.
Did Nehemiah Inbar find a remnant of ancient “Maiumas”?
But can we guess what is the context of this discovery?.
Ancient sources tell us that near Ascalon was a site called “Maiumas”. Several sites in the Roman times were by that name, and they all had the same function – a center for water and fertility celebrations. A big site called “Maiumas” was known in Antioch, and one was active also near Caesarea, Gaza, and Ascalon. The activities in these festivals were regarded as very immoral by Christian standards, and they were gradually shut down during Byzantine period (4th to 7th century CE).
Was the site of the discovery within the vicinity of ancient “Maiumas of Ascalon”?. This was not proven till now, but above that cliff remains of a Byzantine period church were recovered in 1967 and can be seen to this day. Perhaps the church was deliberately built there, demonstrating another triumph of Christianity over pagan cults?.
Only proper excavations of the area of the cliff could possibly answer these questions.
And such an excavation should better be done soon, before future storms damage more of the coast line and its antiquities.
Post Script: Nehemiah found another Marble artifact!
Two days later Nehemiah called me, excited, stating he traced another marble item. He could not reach it beacuse of the waves, but made a video clip of it! – take a look..
I think this is a Corinthian capital.. any other thoughts?