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A 2003 satellite image of the region, with the boundaries between modern-day nation-states shown in light gray
Dwelling foundations unearthed at Tell es-Sultan in Jericho

Syro-Palestinian archaeology is a term used to refer to archaeological research conducted in the southern Levant. Palestinian archaeology is also commonly used in its stead,[1][2] particularly when the area of inquiry centers on ancient Palestine.[3] Besides its importance to the discipline of biblical archaeology, the region of ancient Palestine is one of the most important to an understanding of the history of the earliest peoples of the Stone Age.[4]

The geographical scope of Syro-Palestinian archaeology includes ancient southern-central Syria and Palestine, both west and east of the Jordan River, or what was once known as ancient "Greater Canaan".[5] In modern-day terms, this comprises Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria.[5][6] The southern Levant's geographical location on the land bridge connecting Asia and Africa and its proximity to the "cradle of humankind" in Africa and the ancient civilizations of the Near East has played a key role in determining the prehistory and history of social change in the region dating back over one million years.[7] Though the term Syro-Palestinian archaeology "is commonly employed by archaeologists in the southern Levant, it is rarely used by specialists in Syria itself."[8]

Syro-Palestinian archaeology is marked by a degree of acrimony not shared in other area studies in the field. Archaeologists who consider Biblical scriptures to be legitimate historical documents have been attacked by mainstream scientific archaeologists who see the hard data from excavations as being incompatible with the Biblical "historical" record.[9] The dispute led to a definitive split between biblical archaeologists and Syro-Palestinian archaeologists in the 1970s, and continues to rage within the field(s) of Syro-Palestinian and biblical archaeology today.


Terminology and scope

Syro-Palestinian archaeology is one of the terms used to refer to archaeological research conducted in the southern Levant. As an aspect of archaeology, it encompasses excavations, salvage, conservation and reconstruction efforts, as well as off-site research, interpretation, and other scholarship.

The terminology for archaeology in the southern Levant has been defined in various, often competing or overlapping ways. Prior to and during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine (1920–1948), archaeology of the region was typically described as Palestinian archaeology or biblical archaeology. Under the influence of William F. Albright (1891–1971), biblical inquiry and narratives became increasingly important; indeed, Albright conceived of Palestinian archaeology or Syro-Palestinian archaeology as a sub-field of biblical archaeology. "The archaeology of ancient Israel," is described by Franken and Franken-Battershill as, "but a small part of the far greater study of Palestinian archaeology [...]" in A Primer of Old Testament Archaeology (1963).[10]

According to William G. Dever, the leading proponent of the term "Syro-Palestinian" archaeology, biblical archaeology blossomed as a movement in the 1950s. By the 1970s, national archaeological schools took the lead — prominently in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and, to a lesser extent, in Jordan and Syria. Palestinians were late to join the field, but since the 1990s the term Palestinian archaeology can also been used to refer to archaeological studies of the region conducted by Palestinians, largely by the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, and the Department of Antiquities in Gaza.

Dever defines the geographical scope of Syro-Palestinian archaeology as the southern Levant, comprising "ancient Canaan; modern coastal and southern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel." [11] While Dever does not mention the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Walter G. Rast does include them in his definition of the geographical scope of Palestinian archaeology, though he omits Lebanon and parts of Syria. Further describing the field, its emergence, and its relationship to other related disciplines, Dever writes: "For at least the past 20 years, the branch of Near Eastern archaeology that deals with ancient Palestine has been known chiefly as 'Syro-Palestinian', or sometimes simply 'Palestinian', rather than 'biblical archaeology' (the other branches being Anatolian, Mesopotamian, Iranian, Egyptian, and occasionally Cypriot archaeology)."[2] For both scientific and political reasons, the geographic (or geomorphological) boundaries of archaeological research and interpretation are not set rigidly within the discipline.[12]

While both biblical archaeology and Syro-Palestinian archaeology deal with the same general region of study, the focus and approach of these interrelated disciplines differs. Even scholars who have continued to advocate a role for biblical archaeology have accepted the existence of a general branch of Palestinian archaeology or Syro-Palestinian archaeology.[1] One key difference is that Syro-Palestinian archaeology may examine the post-Biblical period. In addition, Biblical archaeology may cover areas relevant to the Bible outside of the southern Levant (e.g., Egypt or Persia) and it tends to focus more on the use and explanation of Biblical texts. Beyond its importance to the discipline of biblical archaeology, the region of the southern Levant is critical for an understanding of the history of the earliest peoples of the Stone Age.

In academic, political, and public settings, the region's archaeology can also be described in terms of ancient or modern Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. Archaeologists may define the geographic range more narrowly, especially for inquiries that focus on 'Israel' or 'Palestine,' whether construed as ancient or modern territories.[13] The shifting terminology over the past 50 years reflects political tensions that operate within and upon the field. For instance, a scholar writing on "biblical archaeology" for a 2007 encyclopedia states:

So as to stay on the straight and narrow politically correct path, this author hereby declares that this article uses the terms 'Palestine,' 'Israel,' and 'Southern Levant' interchangeably; that the term 'Israel' -- except when utilized in a modern political context -- is used in the biblical sense; and that the use of 'Palestine' and 'Israel' in no ways implies a judgment about the rights of any modern political entity to any territory and/or the borders of any such entity -- past present, or future.[14]

Archaeologists seeking a neutral orientation that is neither biblical nor national have utilized terms such as Syro-Palestinian archaeology and archaeology of the southern Levant.[11][14]


Temporal scope

From prehistoric times through the Iron Age, chronological periods are usually named in keeping with technological developments that characterized that era. From the Babylonian era onward, naming is based on historical events. Scholars often disagree on the exact dates and terminology to be used for each period.[15] Some definitions for the temporal scope, particularly earlier on tended to exclude events after the Byzantine Period,[15] but the temporal scope of Syro-Palestinian archaeology has expanded over the years. In 1982, James A. Sauer wrote that the Islamic periods (630-1918 CE) were part of Syro-Palestinian archaeological research, and that while some periods had been "ignored, neglected, or even discarded for the sake of other periods," it is now "an almost universally accepted principle that archaeological evidence from all periods must be treated with equal care."[16]

Leslie J. Hoppe, writing in 1987, submits that Dever's definition of temporal scope of Syro-Palestinian archaeology excludes the Early Arab period (640-1099), the Crusader period (1099–1291), the Mamluk period (1250–1517) and the Ottoman period (1517-1918).[17] However, Dever's definition of the temporal scope of the field in What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and When Did They Know It? (2001), indicates that Hoppe's critique is no longer valid. There, Dever writes that the time-frame of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, "extends far beyond the 'biblical period,' embracing everything from the Lower Paleolithic to the Ottoman period."[5]

The list below, from the Paleolithic Age to the Byzantine period, is drawn from the definitions provided by the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible.[15] For periods thereafter, the terminology and dates come from Sauer and Hoppe.


Modern Palestinian archaeology began in the late 19th century. Early expeditions lacked standardized methods for excavation and interpretation, and were often little more than treasure-hunting expeditions.[18] A lack of awareness of the importance of stratigraphy in dating objects led to digging long trenches through the middle of a site that made work by later archaeologists more difficult.[18]

Edward Robinson identified numerous sites from antiquity and published his findings with Eli Smith in a pivotal three-volume study entitled, Biblical Researches in Palestine and the Adjacent Regions: Journal of Travels in the Year 1838. In Syria, Ernest Renan carried out research in the 1860s and Howard Crosby Butler of Princeton University carried out surveys of Byzantine Christian sites (1904–1909).[11] In the early 1900s, major projects were set up at Samaria, Gezer, Megiddo and Jericho.[11]

An early school of modern Palestinian archaeology was led by William F. Albright, whose work focused on biblical narratives.[9] Albright himself held that Frederick Jones Bliss (1857–1939) was the father of Palestinian archaeology, although Bliss is not well-known in the field. Jeffrey A. Blakely attributes this to Bliss' successor at the Palestine Exploration Fund, R.A.S. Macalister (1870–1950), who underplayed his predecessor's achievements.[19]

Excavated ruins at Ras Shamra in Syria

While the importance of stratigraphy, typology and balk grew in the mid-twentieth century, the continued tendency to ignore hard data in favour of subjective interpretations invited criticism. Paul W. Lapp, for example, whom many thought would take up the mantle of Albright before his premature death in 1970, wrote:

"Too much of Palestinian archaeology is an inflated fabrication [...] Too often a subjective interpretation, not based on empirical stratigraphic observation, is used to demonstrate the validity of another subjective interpretation. We assign close dates to a group of pots on subjective typological grounds and go on to cite our opinion as independent evidence for similarly dating a parallel group. Too much of Palestinian archaeology's foundation building has involved chasing ad hominem arguments around in a circle."[20]

In 1974, William Dever established the secular, non-biblical school of Syro-Palestinian archaeology and mounted a series of attacks on the very definition of biblical archaeology. Dever argued that the name of such inquiry should be changed to "archaeology of the Bible" or "archaeology of the Biblical period" to delineate the narrow temporal focus of Biblical archaeologists.[1] Frank Moore Cross, who had studied under Albright and had taught Dever, emphasized that in Albright's view biblical archaeology was not synonymous with Palestinian archaeology, but rather that, "William Foxwell Albright regarded Palestinian archaeology or Syro-Palestinian archaeology as a small, if important section of biblical archaeology. One finds it ironical that recent students suppose them interchangeable terms."[1] Dever agreed that the terms were not interchangeable, but claimed that "'Syro-Palestinian archaeology' is not the same as the 'biblical archaeology'. I regret to say that all who would defend Albright and 'biblical archaeology' on this ground, are sadly out of touch with reality in the field of archaeology."[21]

Towards the end of the twentieth century, Palestinian archaeology and/or Syro-Palestinian archaeology became a more interdisciplinary practice. Specialists in archaeozoology, archaeobotany, geology, anthropology and epigraphy now work together to produce essential environmental and non-environmental data in multidisciplinary projects.[7]

Foci in Syro-Palestinian archaeology

Ceramics analysis

A central concern of Syro-Palestinian archaeology since its genesis has been the study of ceramics. Whole pots and richly decorated pottery are uncommon in the Levant and the plainer, less ornate ceramic artifacts of the region have served the analytical goals of archaeologists, much more than those of museum collectors.[22] The ubiquity of pottery sherds and their long history of use in the region makes ceramics analysis a particularly useful sub-discipline of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, used to address issues of terminology and periodization. Awareness of the value of pottery gained early recognition in a landmark survey conducted by Edward Robinson and Eli Smith,[22] whose findings were published in first two works on the subject: Biblical Researches in Palestine (1841) and Later Biblical Researches (1851).[23]

An ancient Phoenician coin

Ceramics analysis in Syro-Palestinian archaeology has suffered from insularity and conservatism, due to the legacy of what J.P Dessel and Alexander H. Joffe call "the imperial hubris of pan-optic 'Biblical Archaeology.'" The dominance of biblical archaeological approaches meant that the sub-discipline was cut off from other branches of ancient Near Eastern studies, apart from occasional references to Northwest Semitic epigraphy and Assyriology,[24] as exemplified in the Mesha Stele, the Sefire Stelae, and the Tel Dan Stele.[25]

As a result, widely varying principles, emphases, and definitions are used to determine local typologies among archaeologists working in the region. Attempts to identify and bridge the gaps made some headway at the Durham conference, though it was recognized that agreement on a single method of ceramic analysis or a single definition of a type may not be possible. The solution proposed by Dessel and Joffe is for all archaeologists in the field to provide more explicit descriptions of the objects of they study. The more information provided and shared between those in related sub-disciplines, the more likely it is that they will be able to identify and understand the commonalities in the different typological systems.[26]

Defining Phoenician

Syro-Palestinian archaeology also includes the study of Phoenician culture, cosmopolitan in character and widespread in its distribution in the region. According to Benjamin Sass and Christoph Uehlinger, the questions of what is actually Phoenician and what is specifically Phoenician, in Phoenician iconography, constitute one well-known crux of Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Without answers to these questions, the authors contend that research exploring the degree to which Phoenician art and symbolism penetrated into the different areas of Syria and Palestine will make little progress.[27]



Jewish interest in archaeology dates to the beginnings of the Zionist movement and the founding of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society in 1914. Excavations at this early stage focused on sites related to the Bible and ancient Jewish history and included Philistine sites in Afula and Nahariya, as well as a second to fourth century village at Beth She'arim and a synagogue in Bet Alpha.[28] Early archaeological pioneers in 1920s and 1930s included Nahman Avigad, Michael Avi-Yonah, Ruth Amiran, Immanuel Ben-Dor, Avraham Biran, Benjamin Mazar, E.L. Sukenik, and Shmuel Yeivin.

By the 1950s, in contrast to the religious motivations of Biblical archaeologists, Israeli archaeology developed as a secular discipline motivated in part by the nationalistic desire to affirm the link between the modern, nascent Israeli nation-state and the ancient Jewish population of the land. Paleolithic archaeology was of little interest, as was archaeology of Christian and Muslim periods.[29] Yigael Yadin, the pioneer of the Israeli School of archaeology, excavated some of the most important sites in the region, including the Qumran Caves, Masada, Hazor and Tel Megiddo. Yadin’s world view was that the identity of modern Israel was directly tied to the revolutionary past of the ancient Jewish population of the region. He therefore focused much of his work on excavating sites related to previous periods of Israelite nationalistic struggles: Hazor, which he associated with the conquest of Canaan by Joshua in c. 1250 BCE, and Masada, the site where Jewish rebels held out against the Romans in 72-73 CE.[30] Masada was extensively excavated by a team led by Yadin from 1963 to 1965 and became a monument symbolizing the will of the new Israeli state to survive.[29]

Today, Israeli universities have respected archaeology departments and institutes involved in research, excavation, conservation and training. Israeli archaeologists frequently achieve a high profile, both at home and internationally. Eilat Mazar, granddaughter of the pioneering Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, has emerged as a frequent spokesperson for concerns regarding the archaeology of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

North American

Apart from Israeli archaeologists, Americans make up the largest group of archaeologists working in Israel.[31] Joint American-Jordanian excavations have been conducted, but Nicolo Marchetti, an Italian archaeologist, says they do not constitute genuine collaboration: "[...] you might find, at a site, one hole with Jordanians and 20 holes with Americans digging in them. After the work, usually it's the Americans who explain to the Jordanians what they've found."[32]

British and European

The excavation site at Ebla in Syria

European archaeologists also continue to excavate and research in the region, with many of these projects centered in Arab countries, primary among them Jordan and Syria, and to a lesser extent in Lebanon. The most significant British excavations include the Tell Nebi Mend site (Qadesh) in Syria and the Tell Iktanu and Tell es-Sa'adiyah sites in Jordan. Other notable European projects include Italian excavations at Tell Mardikh (Ebla) and Tell Meskene (Emar) in Syria, French participation in Ras Shamra (Ugarit) in Syria, French excavations at Tell Yarmut and German excavations at Tell Masos (both in Israel), and Dutch excavations Tell Deir 'Alla in Jordan.[31]

Italian archaeologists were the first to undertake joint missions with Palestinian archaeologists in the West Bank, which were only possible after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The first joint project was conducted in Jericho and coordinated by Hamdan Taha, director of the Palestinian Antiquities Department and the University of Rome "La Sapienza", represented by Paolo Matthiae, the same archeologist who discovered the site of Ebla in 1964. Unlike the joint missions between Americans and Jordanians, this project involved Italians and Palestinians digging at the same holes, side by side.[32]


After the creation of independent Arab states in the region, national schools of archaeology were established in 1960s. The research focus and perspective differs from that of Western archaeological approaches, tending to avoid both biblical studies and its connections to modern and ancient Israel, as well as its connections to the search for Western cultural and theological roots in the Holy Land. Concentrating on their own perspectives which are generally, though not exclusively oriented toward Islamic archaeology, Arab archaeologists have added a "vigorous new element to Syro-Palestinian archaeology."[31]


The involvement of the Palestinian people as practitioners in the study of Palestinian archaeology is relatively recent. The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land notes that, "The 1990s have seen the development of Palestinian archaeological activities, with a focus on tell archaeology on the one hand (H. Taha and M. Sadeq) and on the investigation of the indigenous landscape and cultural heritage on the other (K. Nashef and M. Abu Khalaf)."[33]

The Palestinian Archaeology Institute at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah was established in 1987 with the help of Albert Glock, who headed the archaeology department at the University at the time.[34] Glock's objective was to establish an archaeological program that would emphasize the Palestinian presence in Palestine, informed by his belief that, "Archaeology, as everything else, is politics, and my politics [are those] of the losers."[35] Glock was killed in the West Bank by unidentified gunmen in 1992. The first archaeological site excavated by researchers from Bir Zeit University was undertaken in Tell Jenin in 1993.[36]

Panorama of Birzeit University's campus (2007)

Glock's views are echoed in the work of Khaled Nashef, a Palestinian archaeologist at Bir Zeit and editor of the University's Journal of Palestinian Archaeology, who writes that for too long the history of Palestine has been written by Christian and Israeli "biblical archaeologists", and that Palestinians must themselves re-write that history, beginning with the archaeological recovery of ancient Palestine.[37] Such a perspective can also be seen in the practices of Hamdan Taha, the director of the Palestinian National Authority's Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, responsible for overseeing preservation and excavation projects that involve both internationals and Palestinians. Gerrit van der Kooij, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who works with Taha says that, "It doesn't surprise me that outsiders become frustrated [... Taha] sticks by his policy of equal partnership. That means Palestinians must be involved at every step," from planning and digging to publishing. In Van der Kooij's opinion, this policy is "fully justified and adds more social value to the project."[38]

Dever submits that the recent insistence that Palestinian archaeology and history be written by "real Palestinians" stems from the influence of those he terms the "biblical revisionists", such as Keith W. Whitelam, Thomas L. Thompson, Phillip Davies and Niels Peter Lemche. Whitelam's book, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History (1996) and Thompson's book, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (1999) were both translated into Arabic shortly after their publication. Dever speculates that, "Nashef and many other Palestinian political activists have obviously read it." Harshly critical of both books, Dever describes Whitelam's thesis that Israelis and "Jewish-inspired Christians" invented Israel, thus deliberately robbing Palestinians of their history, as "extremely inflammatory" and "bordering on anti-Semitism," and Thompson's book as "even more rabid."[37]

Dever cites an editorial by Nashef published in the Journal of Palestinian Archaeology in July 2000 entitled, "The Debate on 'Ancient Israel': A Palestinian Perspective," that explicitly names the four "biblical revisionists" mentioned above, as evidence for his claim that their "rhetoric" has influenced Palestinian archaeologists.[37] In the editorial itself, Nashef writes: "The fact of the matter is, the Palestinians have something completely different to offer in the debate on 'ancient Israel,' which seems to threaten the ideological basis of BAR (the American popular magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review, which turned down this piece - WGD): they simply exist, and they have always existed on the soil of Palestine ..."[37]

According to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip there are 12,000 archaeological and cultural heritage sites, 60,000 traditional houses, 1,750 major sites of human settlement, and 500 sites which have been excavated to date, 60 of which are major sites.[39]

Archaeology in Gaza

The Via Maris (purple), King's Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BC

For the last 3,500 years, Gaza's history has been shaped by its location on the route linking North Africa to the fertile land of the Levant to the north. First strategically important to the Egyptian Pharaohs, it remained so for the many empires who sought to wield power in the region that followed. Gerald Butt, historian and author of Gaza at the Crossroads explains that, "It's found itself the target of constant sieges - constant battles [...] The people have been subject to rule from all over the globe. Right through the centuries Gaza's been at the centre of the major military campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean."[40] Gaza's main highway, the Salah al-Din road, is one of the oldest in the world, and has been traversed by the chariots of the armies of the Pharaohs and Alexander the Great, the cavalry of the Crusaders, and Napoleon Bonaparte.[40]

Having long been overlooked in archaeological research, the number of excavations in the Gaza Strip has multiplied since the establishment in 1995 of the Department of Antiquities in Gaza, a branch of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Palestinian National Authority.[39][40] Plans to build a national archaeological museum also promise to highlight the rich history of Gaza city, which has been described as, "one of the world's oldest living cities."[40] Rapid urban development makes the need for archaeological research all the more urgent to protect the region's archaeological heritage.[39] Population pressure in the tiny Gaza Strip is intense, which means that numerous potential archaeological sites may have been built over and lost. According to specialists, there is much more under ground and under the sea than what has been discovered to date.[40]

Notable findings and sites


Joint archaeological excavations by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and the École Biblique et Archéologique Française began in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza in 1995. Various artifacts dating back as far as 800 BCE include high walls, pottery, warehouses and mud-brick houses with colorful frescoed walls. Archaeologists believe the site may be Anthedon (Antidon), a major Hellenistic seaport on the Mediterranean which connected Asia and Africa to Europe.[39][40]

Christian sites

A 6th century Byzantine church was discovered in 1999 by an Israeli archaeologist on the site of an IDF military installation in the northwestern tip of the Gaza Strip. The well-preserved 1,461-year-old church contains three large and colorful mosaics with floral-motifs and geometric shapes.[41] The most impressive of these is a multi-colored medallion at the entrance to the church. Inscribed therein is the name of the church, St. John, (named for John the Baptist), the names of the mosaic's donors, Victor and Yohanan, and the date of the laying of the church's foundations (544 CE).[41] Also found nearby were a Byzantine hot bath and artificial fishponds.[41]

Palestinian archaeologists have also discovered a number of sites of significance to Christianity. At Tell Umm Amer in 2001, a Byzantine era mosaic was unearthed. Experts believe it forms part of the oldest monastic complex ever to be discovered in the Middle East, likely founded in the 3rd century by Saint Hilario.[42] While the archaeologists working at the site are Muslim Palestinians, they see nothing unusual about their desire to protect and promote a Christian shrine in an area inhabited by only 3,500 Christians today. Said Yasser Matar, co-director of the dig: "This is our history; this is our civilisation and we want our people to know about it [...] First we were Christians and later we became Muslims. These people were our forefathers: the ancient Palestinians."[43] Dr. Moin Sadeq, director general of the Department of Antiquities in Gaza,[41] has submitted an application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to assign it World Heritage Site status and fund the site's protection, restoration and rehabilitation for visitors.[43] Another Byzantine era monastery and mosaic, since named the 'Jabalya Mosaic', was excavated by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities after its discovery by labourers working on Salah ad-Din road in Gaza City.[39]

Tell es-Sakan

Tell es-Sakan is the only Early Bronze Age site in Gaza discovered to date. Located five kilometers south of Gaza City, the site was discovered by chance in 1998 during construction for a new housing complex, and work was halted to allow archaeological soundings to be conducted.[39] The site spans an area of eight to twelve hectares and shows evidence of continuous habitation throughout the Early Bronze Age (3,300 BCE to 2,200 BCE).[44] Joint Franco-Palestinian excavations with UNDP support began in August 2000, covering an area of 1,400 square meters and revealed two main phases of occupation. Four strata at the base of the site reveal Protodynastic Egyptian settlement dating towards the end of the 4th millennium BCE, while middle and upper strata reveal Canaanite settlement during the 3rd millennium BCE.[39][44]

Challenges posed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In 1974, the IAA removed a sixth-century Byzantine mosaic from Gaza City, dubbed 'King David Playing the Lyre', which is now in the synagogue section of the Israel Museum.[41] According to Jerusalem Post, it is illegal for an occupying power to remove ancient artifacts from the land it occupies, but Israel maintains that the Palestinians have not been able to safeguard antiquities in the areas under their control, where looting is common. In the past, looted items have been sold to Israelis. Hananya Hizmi, deputy of Israel's Department of Antiquities in Judea and Samaria, explained, "Probably it was done to preserve the mosaic. Maybe there was an intention to return [the mosaic] and it didn't work out. I don't know why."[41]

Archaeology in Israel

Excavation in Israel continues at a relatively rapid pace and is conducted according to generally high standards. Excavators return each year to a number of key sites that have been selected for their potential scientific and cultural interest. Current excavated sites of importance include Ashkelon, Hazor, Megiddo, Gamla and Rehov.

Recent issues center on the veracity of such artifacts as the Tel Dan Stele, the Jehoash Inscription and the James Ossuary, as well as the validity of whole chronological schemes. Amihai Mazar and Israel Finkelstein represent leading figures in the debate over the nature and chronology of the United Monarchy.

Notable findings and sites


Archaeological excavation in Ashkelon began in 1985, led by Lawrence Stager[45] The site contains 50 feet of accumulated rubble from successive Canaanite, Philistine, Phoenician, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and Crusader occupation. Major findings include shaft graves of pre-Phoenician Canaanites, a Bronze Age vault and ramparts, and a silvered bronze statuette of a bull calf, assumed to be of the Canaanite period.[46]

Beit Alfa

One of the earliest digs by Israeli archaeologists, Beit Alfa is the site of an ancient Byzantine-era synagogue, constructed in the fifth century CE, with a three-paneled mosaic floor. An Aramaic inscription states that the mosaic was made at the time of Justin (apparently Justin I), who ruled from 518 to 527 CE. The mosaic is one of the most important discovered in Israel. Each of its three panels depicts a scene - the Holy Ark, the zodiac, and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. The zodiac has the names of the twelve signs in Hebrew. In the center is Helios, the sun god, being whisked away in his chariot by four galloping horses. The four women in the corners of the mosaic represent the four seasons.[47]

Carmel Caves

Misliya Cave, southwest of Mt. Carmel, has been excavated by teams of anthropologists and archaeologists from the Archaeology Department of the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University since 2001. In 2007, they unearthed artifacts indicative of what could be the earliest known prehistoric man. The teams uncovered hand-held stone tools and blades as well as animal bones, dating to 250,000 years ago, at the time of the Mousterian culture of Neanderthals in Europe. A human skeleton was not found.[48]

Beth She'arim

Beth She'arim is an archeological site of a Jewish town and necropolis, near the town of Kiryat Tiv'on, 20 km east of Haifa in the southern foothills of the Lower Galilee. Beth She'arim was excavated by Benjamin Mazar[49] and Nahman Avigad in the 1930s and 1950s. Most of the remains date from the 2nd to 4th century CE and include the remains of a large number of individuals buried in the more than twenty catacombs of the necropolis. Together with the images on walls and sarcophagi, the inscriptions show that this was a Jewish necropolis.[50]


Tel Gezer is a strategically located archaeological site which sits on the western flank of the Shephelah, overlooking the coastal plain of Israel, near the junction between Via Maris and the trunk road leading to Jerusalem. The tel consists of two mounds with a saddle between them, spanning roughly 30 acres. A dozen inscribed boundary stones found in the vicinity verify the identification of the mound as Gezer, making it the first positively identified Biblical city. Gezer is mentioned in several ancient sources, including the Hebrew Bible and the Amarna letters. The biblical references describe it as one of Solomon's royal store cities.[51]. Gezer was excavated by R.A.S. Macalister in 1902 and 1907. Major findings include a soft limestone tablet, named the Gezer calendar, which describes the agricultural chores associated with each month of the year. The calendar is written in paleo-Hebrew script, and is one of the oldest known examples of Hebrew writing, dating to the 10th century BCE. Also found was a six-chambered gate similar to those found at Hazor and Megiddo, and ten monumental megaliths.


Mamshit , the Nabatean city of Memphis (also known as Kurnub in Arabic), was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO on June 2005. The archaeological excavation at Mamshit uncovered the largest hoard of coins ever found in Israel : 10500 silver coins in a bronze jar, dating to the 3rd century CE[52]. Among the Nabatean cities found in the Negev (Avdat, Haluza, Shivta) Mamshit is the smallest (10 acres), but the best preserved and restored. Entire streets have survived intact, and numerous Nabatean buildings with open rooms, courtyards, and terraces have been restored. Most of the buildings were built in the late Nabatean period, in the 2nd century CE, after the Nabatean kingdom was annexed to Rome in 106 CE.


A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, Masada is the site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel on top of an isolated rock plateau, or large mesa, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish-Roman historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. Josephus also writes that in 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Judaic extremist rebels called the Sicarii took Masada from the Roman garrison stationed there.[53] The site of Masada was identified in 1842 and extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archeologist Yigael Yadin. Due to the remoteness from human habitation and the arid environment, the site has remained largely untouched by humans or nature during the past two millennia. Many of the ancient buildings have been restored, as have the wall-paintings of Herod's two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. A synagogue thought to have been used by the Jewish rebels has also been identified and restored.[54] Inside the synagogue, an ostracon bearing the inscription ma'aser kohen ("tithe for the priest") was found, as were fragments of two scrolls.[55] Also found were eleven small ostraca, each bearing a single name. One reads "ben Yair," possibly referring to Eleazar ben Yair, the commander of the fortress.[56] Excavations also uncovered the remains of 28 skeletons.[53] Carbon dating of textiles found in the cave indicate they are contemporaneous with the period of the Revolt.[57] The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries CE, have also been excavated on the top of Masada.

Old City of Acre

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001[58], Acre's Old City has been the site of extensive archeological excavation since the 1990s. The major find has been an underground passageway leading to a 13th century fortress of the Knights Templar. The excavated remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291 CE, are well preserved, and are on display above and below the current street level.


Rehov is an important Bronze and Iron Age archaeological site approximately five kilometers south of Beit She'an and three kilometers west of the Jordan River. The site represents one of the largest ancient city mounds in Israel, its surface area comprising 120,000 m² in size, divided into an "Upper City" (40,000 m²) and a "Lower City" (80,000 m²). Archaeological excavations have been conducted at Rehov since 1997, under the directorship of Amihai Mazar. The first eight seasons of excavations revealed successive occupational layers from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I (12th - 11th centuries BCE).[59] The Iron Age II levels of the site have emerged as a vitally important component in the current debate regarding the chronology of the United Monarchy of Israel.[60] In September 2007, 30 intact beehives dated to the mid-10th century BCE to the early 9th century BCE were found.[61] The beehives are evidence of an advanced honey-producing beekeeping (apiculture) industry 3000 years ago in the city, then thought to have a population of about 2000. The beehives, made of straw and unbaked clay, were found in orderly rows of 100 hives. Organic material (wheat found next to the beehives) was dated using carbon-14 radiocarbon dating at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Also found alongside the hives was an altar decorated with fertility figurines.

Tel Arad

Tel Arad is located west of the Dead Sea, about ten kilometers west of modern Arad. Excavations at the site conducted by Israeli archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni in 1962[62] have unearthed an extensive early Bronze Age settlement that was completely deserted and destroyed by 2700 BCE.[63] The site was then apparently deserted until a new settlement was founded on the southeastern ridge of the ancient city during the Iron Age II.[63] The major find was a garrison-town known as 'The Citadel', constructed in the time of King David and Solomon.[64] A Judean temple, the earliest ever to be discovered in an excavation, dates back to the mid-10th century BCE.[63] An inscription was found on the site by Yohanan Aharoni mentioning a 'House of Yahweh', which William G. Dever suggests may have referred to the temple at Arad or the temple at Jerusalem.[65].[66] However, the temple was probably demolished around 700 CE, which is before the date of the inscription.[67]

Tel Be'er Sheva

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005, Tel Be'er Sheva is an archaeological site in southern Israel, believed to be the remains of the biblical town of Be'er Sheva. Archaeological finds indicate that the site was inhabited from the Chalcolithic period, around 4000 BCE[68][69], to the 16th century CE. This was probably due to the abundance of underground water, as evidenced by the numerous wells in the area. Excavated by Yohanan Aharoni and Ze'ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University, the settlement itself is dated to the early Israelite period.[70] Probably populated in the 12th century BCE, the first fortified settlement dates to 1000 BCE.[71] The city was likely destroyed by Sennacherib in 700 BCE, and after a habitation hiatus of three hundred years, there is evidence of remains from the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Early Arab periods.[71] Major finds include an elaborate water system and a huge cistern[72] carved out of the rock beneath the town, and a large horned altar which was reconstructed using several well-dressed stones found in secondary use in the walls of a later building. The altar attests to the existence of a temple or cult center in the city which was probably dismantled during the reforms of King Hezekiah.[73]

Tel Dan

Tel Dan, previously named Tell el-Qadi, is a mound where a city once stood, located at the northern tip of modern-day Israel. Finds at the site date back to the Neolithic era circa 4500 BCE, and include 0.8 meter wide walls and pottery shards. The most important find is the Tel Dan Stele, a black basalt stele, whose fragments were discovered in 1993 and 1994. The stele was erected by an Aramaean king and contains an Aramaic inscription to commemorate his victory over the ancient Hebrews. It has generated much excitement because the inscription includes the letters 'ביתדוד', Hebrew for "house of David".[74] Proponents of that reading argue that it is the first time that the name "David" has been recognized at any archaeological site, lending evidence for the Bible account of David's kingdom. Others read the Hebrew letters 'דוד' as "beloved," "uncle" "kettle," or "a god named Dod," (all of which are possible readings of vowel-less Hebrew), and argue this is not a reference to Biblical David.[74]

Tel Hazor

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005, Tel Hazor has been excavated repeatedly since 1955. Findings include an ancient Canaanite city, which experienced a catastrophic fire in the sometime in the 13th century BCE. The date and causes of the violent destruction of Canaanite Hazor have been an important issue ever since the first excavations of the site. One school, represented by Yigael Yadin, Yohanan Aharoni, and Amnon Ben-Tor, dates the destruction to the later half of the 13th century, tying it to biblical descriptions in Joshua which hold the Israelites as responsible for this event. The second school, represented by Olga Tufnell, Kathleen Kenyon, P. Beck and Moshe Kochavi, and Israel Finkelstein, tends to support an earlier date in the first half of the 13th century, in which case, there is no necessary connection between the destruction of Hazor and the process of Israelite Tribes settlement in Cannan.[75] Other findings at the site include a distinctive six chambered gate dating to the Early Iron Age, and pottery features as well as administration buildings dating to the early 9th century BCE, during the reign of the Omrides.

Tel Megiddo

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005, Tel Megiddo comprises twenty-six stratified layers of the ruins of ancient cities in a strategic location at the head of a pass through the Carmel Ridge, which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel from the west. Megiddo has been excavated three times. The first excavations were carried out between 1903 and 1905 and a second expedition was carried out in 1925. During these excavation it was discovered that there were twenty levels of habitation, and many of the remains uncovered are preserved at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Yigael Yadin conducted a few small excavations in the 1960s. Since 1994, Megiddo been the subject of biannual excavation campaigns conducted by The Megiddo Expedition of Tel Aviv University, directed by Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin, together with a consortium of international universities. A major find from digs conducted between 1927 and 1934 were the Megiddo Stables – two tripartite structures measuring 21 meters by 11 meters, believed to have been ancient stables capable of housing nearly 500 horses.


Excavations in Tzippori, in the central Galilee region, six kilometers north-northwest of Nazareth, have uncovered a rich and diverse historical and architectural legacy that includes Assyrian, Hellenistic, Judean, Babylonian, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, Arabic and Ottoman influences. The site is especially rich in mosaics belonging to different periods. Major findings include the remains of a 6th century synagogue, evidence of an interesting fusion of Jewish and pagan beliefs. A Roman villa, considered the centerpiece of the discoveries, which dates to the year 200 CE, was destroyed in the earthquake of 363 CE. The mosaic floor was discovered in August 1987 during an expedition led by Eric and Carol Meyers, of Duke University digging with Ehud Netzer, a locally trained archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[76]. It depicts Dionysus, the god of wine, socializing with Pan and Hercules in several of the 15 panels. In its center is a life-like image of a young woman, possibly Venus, dubbed the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee." Additional finds include a Roman theater on the northern slope of the hill, and the remains of a 5th century public building with a large, intricate mosaic floor.

Archaeology, history and modern Arab-Israeli politics

Nineteenth-century Zionism was founded on the fact that Jews had lived in the land of "Israel" for at least 3,000 years, and that the migration of European Jews was thus a return to an ancestral homeland. The role of early Zionist and then Israeli archaeology was thus to assist in creating a sense of national identity: its most wide-ranging expression in the post-World War I era was the joint project of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society and the Va‘adat Shemot (Names Committee) to rename Arab Palestine according to the template of biblical Israel, replacing all Arabic place-names with Jewish names.[77] Today this attitude, while present in the wider Israeli community (both secular and religious), finds its most vehement expression in the settler movement, which justifies its encroachments on Palestinian lands with the argument (inter alia) that God's promise of the “Land of Israel” to Abraham, provides the Jews a “divine right” to Judea and Samaria.[78] Israeli (and Jewish) scholar Nachman Ben-Yehuda, quoting Y. Shavit, lists the following aspects of archaeology that have been placed in the service of Zionism: (1) confirming the essence of the biblical narrative; (2) proving the continuity of Jewish settlement in Israel as well as its size; (3) “to emphasize the attitude of Jewish settlers to the land”; (4) emphasizing the practical side of life in the land; (5) providing the contemporary Jewish presence with a deep “structural-historical” meaning; and (6) “to provide the new Jewish presence with concrete symbols from the past which can be transformed into symbols of historical legitimization and presence.”[79]

Some Palestinians have argued that they, not modern Jews, are the genuine descendants of the ancient inhabitants of the land. Some have been, in essence, offering the world a reading erasing ancient Israel from the region's history.[80] As a practical expression of these views the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly sought to demonstrate that the Israelites had no place in Jerusalem or on the Temple Mount in either the First and Second Temple periods, with results that have alarmed serious archaeologist: for example, renovations on the Temple Mount conducted by the Islamic Religious Authority, especially in the area adjoining and underlying the El-Aqsa Mosque, have dumped debris and fill without investigating for evidence of an ancient Israelite presence, and have contributed to the bulge in the southern wall of the Temple.[81]

The political dispute has repercussions for scholars. Keith Whitelam's "The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History" (1996), for example, argues that not only have traditional biblical scholars constructed an imaginary “ancient Israel,” (i.e., one which owes its shape to an uncritical acceptance of the bible), they and some Israeli scholars have conspired to deprive the Palestinians of their history. Whitelam goes on to point out how Israeli archaeological surveys of the West Bank are also expressions of land claims by the contemporary Israeli settlers. The Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, who conducted some of these surveys, has explicitly rejected the identification of the ancient inhabitants of the land as “proto-Israelites”, but Whitelam and others maintain that he has played into the hands of the present-day right-wing settler movement. On the other side of the debate, conservative scholars have accused Whitelam and other like him who question the historicity of the Old Testament of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Archaeology of the Old City of Jerusalem

Sovereignty dispute

Proposals to internationalize the Old City of Jerusalem have been rejected by all parties in the Israeli-Arab conflict, each insisting on exclusive sovereignty.[82] Neil Silberman, an Israeli archaeologist, has demonstrated how legitimate archaeological research and preservation efforts have been exploited by Palestinians and Israelis for partisan ends.[82] Rather than attempting to understand "the natural process of demolition, eradication, rebuilding, evasion, and ideological reinterpretation that has permitted ancient rulers and modern groups to claim exclusive possession," archaeologists have become active participants in the battle. Silberman writes that archaeology, a seemingly objective science, has exacerbated, rather than ameliorated the ongoing nationalist dispute: "The digging continues. Claims and counterclaims about exclusive historical 'ownership' weave together the random acts of violence of bifurcated collective memory." [82]

An archaeological tunnel running the length of the western side of the Temple Mount, as it is known to Jews, or the Haram al-Sharif, as it is known to Muslims, sparked a serious conflict in 1996. The tunnel had been in existence for years, but the government of Benjamin Netanyahu decided to open a new entrance from the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. Palestinians and the Islamic Waqf authorities were outraged over this decision, claiming the work threatened the foundations of the compound and houses in the Muslim quarter. They maintained that the real objective was to dig under the holy compound to find remains of Solomon's Temple. As a result, rioting broke out in Jerusalem and spread to the West Bank, leading to the deaths of 86 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.[83]

Damage to archaeological sites

The Old City of Jerusalem in the early 20th century. The Jewish quarter is at the bottom of the image. The two large domes are the Hurva Synagogue and the Tiferes Yisrael Synagogue, both of which were destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and throughout the period of Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem which ended in 1967, Jordanian authorities and military forces undertook a policy described by their military commander as "calculated destruction,"[84], aimed at the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Jordanian actions were described in a letter to the United Nations by Yosef Tekoa, Israel's permanent representative to the organization at the time, as a "policy of wanton vandalism, desecration and violation,"[84] which resulted in the destruction of all but one of 35 Jewish houses of worship. Synagogues were razed or pillaged. Many of them were demolished by explosives, and others subjected to ritual desecration, through the conversion to stables.[85]. In the ancient historic Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives, tens of thousands of tombstones, some dating from as early as 1 BCE, were torn up, broken or used as flagstones, steps and building materials in Jordanian military installations. Large areas of the cemetery were levelled and turned into parking lots and gas stations.[86]

The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls were added to the List of World Heritage Sites in danger in 1982, after it was nominated for inclusion by Jordan.[87] Noting the "severe destruction followed by a rapid urbanization," UNESCO determined that the site met "the criteria proposed for the inscription of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger as they apply to both 'ascertained danger' and 'potential danger'."[87]

The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound

Work carried out by the Islamic Waqf since the late 1990s to convert two ancient underground structures into a large new mosque on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif damaged archaeological artifacts in Solomon's Stables and Huldah Gates areas.[88][89][90] From October 1999 to January 2000, the Waqf authorities in Jerusalem opened an emergency exit to the newly renovated underground mosque, in the process digging a pit measuring 18,000 square feet (1,672 m2) and 36 feet (11 m) deep. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) expressed concern over the damage sustained to Muslim-period structures within the compound as a result of the digging. Jon Seligman, a Jerusalem District archaeologist told Archaeology magazine that, "It was clear to the IAA that an emergency exit [at the Marwani Mosque] was necessary, but in the best situation, salvage archaeology would have been performed first."[91] Seligman also said that the lack of archeological supervision "has meant a great loss to all of humanity. It was an archeological crime."[89].

Some Israeli archaeologists also charged that archaeological material dating to the First Temple Period (ca. 960-586 BC) was destroyed when the thousands of tons of ancient fill from the site were dumped into the Kidron Valley, as well as into Jerusalem's municipal garbage dump, where it mixed with the local garbage, making it impossible to conduct archaeological examination.[90] They further contended that the Waqf was deliberately removing evidence of Jewish remains.[92] For example, Dr. Eilat Mazar told Ynet news that the actions by the Waqf were linked to the routine denials of the existence of the Jerusalem Temples by senior officials of the Palestinian Authority. She stated that, "They want to turn the whole of the Temple Mount into a mosque for Muslims only. They don't care about the artifacts or heritage on the site."[93] However, Seligman and Gideon Avni, another Israeli archaeologist, told Archaeology magazine that while the fill did indeed contain shards from the First Temple period, they were located in originally unstratified fill and therefore lacked any serious archaeological value.[91]

Archaeology in Jordan

Compared to western Palestine, archaeological knowledge about Transjordan (today Jordan) is limited.[94] Two universities, the University of Jordan and Yarmuk University, offer archeology studies. Apart from the work of the official antiquities department, there are many foreign-educated professional archaeologists in Jordan, working on dozens of field projects. Findings have been published in the four-volume Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan (1982–1992).[11]

Archaeology in the West Bank

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the West Bank was annexed by Jordan (1950), and archaeological excavations in the region were carried out by its Department of Antiquities, as had been the case throughout the British Mandate in Palestine. Made up of Muslim and Christian officials and headed by the British archaeologist Gerald Lankaster Harding until 1956, field archaeology was conducted primarily by foreigners.[95] Large-scale expeditions included those of the American Schools of Oriental Research at Tell Balata (1956–1964), the British School of Archaeology at Jericho (1952–1958), and the École Biblique at Tell el-Farah (1946–1960) and Khirbet Qumran (1951–1956). Rising nationalistic pressures led to Harding's dismissal in 1956 and thereafter, the Department of Antiquities was headed by Jordanian nationals.[95]

After Israel's military occupation of the West Bank in the 1967 war, all antiquities in the area came under the control of the Archaeological Staff Officer.[96] Though the Hague Convention prohibits the removal of cultural property from militarily occupied areas, both foreign and Israeli archaeologists mounted extensive excavations that have been criticized as overstepping the bounds of legitimate work to protect endangered sites.[96] Vast amounts of new archaeological data have been uncovered in these explorations, although critics say that "relatively little effort was made to preserve or protect archaeological remains from the later Islamic and Ottoman periods, which were of direct relevance to the areas Muslim and Christian inhabitants."[96]

In the early 20th century, Palestinians focused on investigating Palestinian folklore and customs. In 1920, the Palestine Oriental Society was founded by Muslim and Christian Palestinians, most prominently among them Tawfiq Canaan. The work of this society was more ethnographic and anthropological than archaeological.[95] Interest in archaeological fieldwork increased as West Bank universities emerged in the 1980s and cultivated a new approach to Palestinian archaeology. A new generation of Palestinian graduate students and foreign archaeologists, like Albert Glock, introduced innovations to the field by studying Islamic and Ottoman period ruins in village contexts.[96] Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian archaeologists have been able to conduct their own fieldwork and digs at sites located within Area A of the West Bank, though access to Areas B and C remains restricted.

Notable findings and sites


Belameh, located a little over one mile south of Jenin, is an important Bronze Age site identified with the ancient city of Ibleam, one of the Palestinian cities mentioned in the Egyptian Royal Archive that was conquered by Thutmose III in the 15th century BCE.[97][98] Excavations in Khirbet Belameh, led by Hamdan Taha of the Palestinian Antiquities Department, began in 1996.[39][98] These have focused on a water tunnel carved out of rock sometime in the Late Bronze or Early Iron Age that connected the city at the top of the hill to its water source at the bottom, a spring known as Bir es-Sinjib.[98] The tunnel allowed inhabitants to walk through it undetected, particularly useful during times of siege.[39] There is evidence that the tunnel fell into disuse in the 8th century BCE, and that the entrance was subsequently rehabilitated some time in the Roman period, while the site itself shows occupation into the medieval period.[98] Plans have been drawn up to turn the site into an archaeological park.[39] G. Schumacher had described the water tunnel in 1908, and a small-scale excavation was conducted by Z. Yeivin in 1973. The water passage of Belameh is important for the understanding of ancient water systems in Palestine.[98]


As of April 2007, the Palestinian Authority's Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage announced that it had initiated procedures to add Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity to the UNESCO World Heritage List.[99]

Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls, 800 parchments discovered in 11 caves in the hills above Qumran between 1947 and 1956, are the subject of an ownership debate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The discovery of the scrolls was dubbed "[u]nquestionably the greatest manuscript find of modern times" by William F. Albright, and the majority are transcribed in a unique form of Hebrew now known as "Qumran Hebrew", and seen as a link between Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew. Some 120 scrolls are written in Aramaic, and a few of the biblical texts are written in Ancient Greek.[100][101]

Israel purchased some of the parchments, believed to have been composed or transcribed between 1 BCE and 1 ACE, after they were first unearthed by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947. The remainder were seized by Israel from the Rockefeller Museum after the occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.[102]

When 350 participants from 25 countries gathered at a conference at the Israel Museum marking the fiftieth anniversary of their discovery, Amir Drori, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), said that the 2,000-year-old documents were legally acquired and an inseparable part of Jewish tradition. His Palestinian counterpart, Hamdan Taha, responded that Israel's capture of the works after the 1967 war was theft "which should be recitified now".[102] Ownership of the Scrolls was one of the issues in the 'final status' talks envisioned for the Oslo Accords seeking a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[102] Israel is now digitally photographing the thousands of fragments that make up the Dead Sea Scrolls in order to make them freely available on the Internet.[103]


The Old City of Nablus consists of seven quarters representing a distinctive style of traditional urban architecture in Palestine. Founded in 72 CE by the emperor Vespasian under the name Neapolis, the city flourished during the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, becoming the seat of a bishopric.[104] Monuments in the city include "nine historic mosques (four built on Byzantine churches and five from the early Islamic period), an Ayyubid mausoleum, and a 17th-century church, but most buildings are Ottoman-era structures such as 2 major khans, 10 Turkish bath houses, 30 olive-oil soap factories (7 of which were functioning), 2850 historic houses and exceptional family palaces, 18 Islamic monuments and 17 sabeel (water fountains)."[105] A few monuments within the Old City date back to the Byzantine and Crusader periods. A Roman-era aqueduct system runs under the city, part of which had recently been preserved by the municipality and opened for visitors.[105]

According to Hamdan Taha, great damage was inflicted on the historic core of the city during Israeli military incursions in 2002-2003.[104] Taha's claim was confirmed by a series of reports produced by UNESCO that noted that pursuant to military operations undertaken in April 2002, hundreds of buildings in the Old City were affected, sixty-four of which were severely damaged. Of these, seventeen were designated as being of particular significance to world heritage, as per an inventory of sites prepared by Graz University between 1997 and 2002. According to UNESCO, reconstruction costs are estimated at tens of millions USD, though "the loss of irreplaceable heritage damage cannot be determined financially."[106]

Tel es-Sultan

Tel es-Sultan (meaning the "Sultan's Hill") is located in Jericho, approximately two kilometers from the city center. Kathleen Kenyon's excavations at the site beginning in 1951, established that it was one of the earliest sites of human habitation, dating back to 9000 BCE. The mound contains several layers attesting to its habitation throughout the ages.[99]

Despite recognition of its importance by archaeologists, the site is not presently included on the World Heritage List. In April 2007, Hamdan Taha announced that the Palestinian Authority's Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage had begun the procedures for its nomination.[99]

Challenges posed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Separation barrier

Construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier has damaged and threatens to damage a number of sites of interest to Palestinian archaeology in and around the Green Line, prompting condemnation from the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) and a call for Israel to abide by UNESCO conventions that protect cultural heritage. In the autumn of 2003, bulldozers preparing the ground for a section of the barrier that runs through Abu Dis in East Jerusalem damaged the remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine era monastery. Construction was halted to allow the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to conduct a salvage excavation that recovered a mosaic, among other artifacts. Media reported that an IAA official media blamed the IDF for proceeding without procuring the opinion of the IAA.[107]

Archaeology in Lebanon

Notable findings and sites

Sarcophagus of Ahiram in the National Museum of Beirut

Important sites in Lebanon dating to the Neanderthal period include Adloun, Chekka Jdidé, El-Masloukh, Ksar Akil, Nahr Ibrahim and Naame.[108] Jbail is a well-known archaeological site, also known as ancient Byblos (the name assigned by the Ancient Greeks and derived from the word biblio), a Phoenician seaport, where the tomb of Ahiram is believed to be located. An ancient Phoenician inscription on the tomb dates to between the 13th and 10th centuries BCE.[109] Byblos, as well as archaeological sites in Baalbek, Tyre, Sidon, and Tripoli, contain artifacts indicating the presence of libraries dating back to the period of Classical antiquity.[109]

Damage to archaeological sites

During the 2006 Lebanon war, a number of archaeological sites, including world heritage sites, were damaged as a result of Israeli aerial bombardments in Lebanon.[110] A survey of the damage to sites in Lebanon was launched by UNESCO after the international archaeological community, including the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, urged an investigation into the effects of bombing on "one of the planet's most heritage-rich countries."[111] UNESCO's team of experts found that the most serious damage resulting from the conflict was at the world heritage site of Byblos, where an oil spill resulting from the targeting of fuel tanks at the Jiyeh power plant had stained the stones at the base of the port's two Medieval towers, among other archaeological remains on the seashore.[110][111] Mounir Bouchenaki, Director-General of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) estimated that it would take twenty-five people eight to ten weeks to manually hand-clean the affected areas, placing the cost of the operation at some 100,000 USD.[110]

The mission also found that the main features of the world heritage site of Tyre, such as the Roman hippodrome and triumphal arch had escaped damage, but that frescoes in a Roman tomb at the site had come loose, likely because of vibrations caused by bombs.[110] It was also reported that the world heritage site of Baalbek was not damaged by bombs, with the exception of the fall of one block of stone and the widening of fissures on the lintels in the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus, likely due to vibrations from nearby bombings.[110] Also damaged by bombs, as noted by the mission, were the souk and some old houses in the Old City of Baalbek that were not part of the property inscribed on the World Heritage List.[110]

At a press conference revealing the results of the survey, Françoise Rivière, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, reported on UNESCO's efforts during and after the fighting to draw the attention of both parties to their obligations to spare cultural heritage, as protected by the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which both Lebanon and Israel are States Parties.[110]

Archaeology in Syria

Coastal, central and southern Syria (including modern Lebanon) "constitute the major part of ancient Canaan, or the southern Levant," and according to Dever, the area is "potentially far richer in archaeology remains than Palestine."[11] Yet, in the 19th century, Syria received significantly less archaeological exploration than Palestine. Beginning in the 1920s, large excavations have been conducted in such key sites as Ebla, Hama, and Ugarit. Albright envisioned Palestine and Syria within the same cultural orbit and, though best known for his pioneering work on biblical archaeology, he also foreshadowed contemporary scholars in using "Syro-Palestinian" to integrate the archaeology from Syria.[11]

Syria is often acknowledged to be a "crossroads of civilizations", "traversed by caravans and military expeditions moving between the economic and political poles of the Ancient Near Eastern world, from Egypt to Anatolia, from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia." While there is significant geographical and cultural overlap with its neighbouring regions, Akkermans and Schwartz note that specialists in Syria itself, rarely use the term "Syro-Palestinian archaeology" to describe their inquiries in the field. Syria can be seen as a distinct and autonomous geographical and cultural entity whose rainfall-farming plains could support larger scale populations, communities, and political units than those in Palestine and Lebanon.[8]

Following the program of the French Mandate, the Syrian school of archaeology has an official antiquities department, museums in Aleppo and Damascus, and at least two important scholarly journals.[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Davis, 2004, p. 146.
  2. ^ a b Dever, 2001, p. 61.
  3. ^ On page 16 of his book, Rast notes that the term Palestine is commonly used by archaeologists in Jordan and Israel to refer to the region encompassed by modern-day Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. On page ix, he defines "ancient Palestine" the same way but also includes the Gaza Strip.
  4. ^ Rast, 1992, p. xi.
  5. ^ a b c Dever, 2001, p. 62.
  6. ^ While Dever does not explicitly mention the West Bank and Gaza Strip in his definition, other scholars like Rast do explicitly name them and as such, for purposes of precision, they are mentioned here.
  7. ^ a b Levy, 1998, p. 5.
  8. ^ a b Akkermans and Schwartz, 2003, p. 2.
  9. ^ a b Henry, 2003, p. 143.
  10. ^ Franken and Franken-Battershill, 1963, p. 1.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Dever, William G. "Syro-Palestinian and Biblical Archaeology", pp. 1244-1253.
  12. ^ See Richard, Suzanne, "Archaeology of the Near East: The Levant" pp.834-848 as well as Bar-Yosef, Dever, Sharon and others.
  13. ^ For example, see Aharoni, Finklestein, Rast, and Silberman.
  14. ^ a b Sharon, Ilan "Biblical archaeology" in "Encyclopedia of Archaeology Elsevier.
  15. ^ a b c Mills and Bullard, 1990, p. 55.
  16. ^ James A. Sauer (Autumn, 1982). "Syro-Palestinian Archeology, History, and Biblical Studies". The Biblical Archaeologist 45 (4): 201–209. doi:10.2307/3209764.  
  17. ^ Leslie J. Hoppe (January-March 1987). "Archaeology and Politics in Palestine". The Link.  
  18. ^ a b Rast, 1992, pp. 1-2.
  19. ^ J.A. Blakely (20 May 1993). "Frederick Jones Bliss: Father of Palestinian Archaeology". The Biblical Archaeologist (American Schools of Oriental Research) 56 (3): 110–115. ISSN 0006-0895.  
  20. ^ Moorey, 1992, p. 131.
  21. ^ Davis, 2004, p. 147.
  22. ^ a b Philip and Baird, 2000, p. 31.
  23. ^ Millard, 1997, p. 23.
  24. ^ Philip and Baird, 2000, p. 36.
  25. ^ Mykytiuk, 2004, p. 275.
  26. ^ Philip and Baird, 2000, p. 45.
  27. ^ Sass and Uehlinger, 1993, p. 267.
  28. ^ Freedman, 2000, pp. 93-94.
  29. ^ a b A History of Archaeological Thought, Bruce G. Trigger, Cambridge University Press, p.273-274
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External links


  • Adam, Heribert; Moodley, Kogila (2005). Seeking Mandela: Peacemaking Between Israelis and Palestinians. Temple University Press. ISBN 1592133967.  .
  • Aharoni, Yohanan (1982). Miriam Aharoni. ed. The archaeology of the land of Israel: from the prehistoric beginnings to the end of the First Temple period. Westminster Press.  
  • Akkermans, Peter M. M. G.; Schwartz, Glenn M. (2003). The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-gatherers to Early Urban Societies (ca. 16,000-300 BC). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521796660.  .
  • Barton, John (2002). The Biblical World. Routledge. ISBN 0415161053.  .
  • Bar-Yosef, Ofer; Mazar, Amihai (February 1982). "Israeli Archaeology". World Archaeology 13 (3): 310–325.  
  • Bromiley, Geoffrey William (1995). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.  
  • Davis, Thomas W. (2004). Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195167104.  .
  • Dever, William G. (2001). What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and when Did They Know It?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 080282126X.  
  • Dever, William G. (2003). Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come from?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0802809758.  .
  • Dever, William G (1999-2001). Tim Murray. ed. "Syro-Palestinian and Biblical Archaeology" in Encyclopedia of archaeology. ABC-Clio Press. pp. 1244–1253.  
  • Ego, Beate; Lange, Armin; Pilhofer, Peter; Ehlers, Kathrin (1999). "Josephus' View on Judaism without the Temple in Light of the Discoveries at Masada and Murabba'at" in Gemeinde ohne Tempel: Community without Temple. Mohr Siebeck.  
  • Ferguson, Everett (2003). Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.  
  • Franken, Hendricus Jacobus; Franken-Battershill, C. A. (1963). A Primer of Old Testament Archaeology. E.J. Brill.  
  • Freedman, David Noel (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0802824005.  .
  • Gold, Dore (2007). The Fight for Jerusalem. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 159698029X.  
  • Kipfer, Barbara Ann (2000). Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology. Springer. ISBN 0306461587.  
  • Henry, Roger (2003). Synchronized Chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity. Algora Publishing. ISBN 0875861857.  .
  • Kletter, Raz (2006). Just past? The making of Israeli archaeology. Equinox. ISBN 1845530853.  
  • Levine, Lee I. (1998). Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity: Conflict Or Confluence. University of Washington Press.  
  • Levy, Thomas Evan (1998). Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826469965.  
  • Matthews, Roger; Roemer, Cornelia (2003). Ancient Perspectives on Egypt. Routledge Cavendish. ISBN 1844720020.  
  • Millard, Ralph (1997). Discoveries from Bible Times: Archaeological Treasures Throw Light on the Bible. Lion. ISBN 0745937403.  .
  • Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. ISBN 0865543739.  .
  • Moorey, Peter Roger Stuart (1992). A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 066425392X.  
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (1998). The Holy Land. Oxford University Press.  
  • Mykytiuk, Lawrence J. (2004). Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539. BRILL. ISBN 9004127240.  .
  • Negev, Avraham; Gibson, Shimon (2001). Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826485715.  
  • Philip, Graham; Baird, Douglas (2000). Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the Southern Levant. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 1841271357.  
  • Rast, Walter E. (1992). Through the Ages in Palestinian Archaeology: An Introductory Handbook. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 1563380552.  
  • Richards, Suzanne (2008). Deborah Pearsall. ed. "Archaeology of the Near East: The Levant" in Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Elsevier. pp. 834–848.  
  • Ross, Marc Howard (2007). Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521870135.  
  • Ryan, Donald (2003). Complete Idiot's Guide to the World of the Bible. Alpha Books.  
  • Sass, Benjamin; Uehlinger, Christoph (1993). Studies in the Iconography of Northwest Semitic Inscribed Seals. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 3525537603.  .
  • Shanks, Hershel; Mazar, Benjamin (1985). Recent Archaeology in the Land of Israel. Biblical Archaeology Society. ISBN 0961308923.  
  • Neil Asher Silberman, ed (1997). The Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present. Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 1850756503.  
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (2000). Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written & Archaeological Sources. BRILL. ISBN 9004119434.  
  • Wolff, Samuel R. (2001). Studies in the archaeology of Israel and neighboring lands in memory of Douglas L. Esse. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.  
  • Wedgeworth, Robert (1993). World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services. ALA Editions. ISBN 0838906095.  


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