Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ramat Rachel 9 - A beautiful collapse

Ramat Rachel Column
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana

“This is a beautiful collapse of a Byzantine church,” said Omer happily. We were getting the end of the week tour of the entire dig, so everyone got to see what the other groups had been doing. The reason Omer called it beautiful was that the big stones that made up the wall had fallen over so perfectly that anyone could have picked them up and put them back in place: in short, the fall was a diagram of the original wall.

Every day Oded and the other leaders selected a find of the day. Let me tell you about some of them. They were exploring a columbarium – a manmade cave whose walls were full of triangular niches for pigeons to lie in. Oded says pigeons were iron age chickens: used for eating, fertilizer, and as the smallest acceptable sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple. So, he said, if you were coming to the big city for the festival and realized you left your goat at home – don’t you hate it when that happens? – you could buy a pigeon to sacrifice instead.

One day in a bottom niche they found a small clay pot,, maybe the size of a softball. They gently removed the lid and found a cache of silver coins. That got us an article in Ha’aretz, one of the major Israeli newspapers. The dig has been getting good publicity – Oded’s phone keeps ringing, - and that has it’s good and bad sides. It brings in sponsors and other resources. It also encourages looters who think they can find “buried treasure.” (Ha’aretz probably didn’t help by calling the silver coins gold.

ANother cool find was a column base, or really about a quarter of the base (see photo.) Many column capitals (columns) have been found in Judah, but this is the first column base. It is about the size of a sofa ottoman and you can see the carving of a flower on the side. Someone had apparently dumped it into a hole on D1 a long time ago and it broke into several pieces. You can see several hands holding it together for the picture.

But I think the coolest thing we found was a red ball about the size of a grape, made of a half-expensive stone (okay, Oded meant “semi-precious,” but don’t you like it better his way?)

There is a hole drilled through the ball so you can hang it on a necklace. And on one surface there is a picture carved: it is a wordless seal. You put a little wax on a document, press the image onto it and you have a bulla, or seal impression, guaranteeing the official and confidential nature of a document.

Archaeologists love bulae, but seals are even better, because they are rarer and the bulla is an imperfect copy of the original.

Oded made a clay bulla and sent digital photos of seal and copy to two experts by email (incredible how much faster this stuff can happen than, say a decade ago). The experts independently offered the same tentative conclusion: the seal appeared to be from the second Parthian Empire.

Why is that cool? The Second Parthian Empire only ruled Judea for about a dozen years. That narrows down that particular level somewhat dramatically. (Okay, the seal could have been found during the empire and lost in a level 100s of years later, but you deal probabilities.)

Other finds of the day included a wall where no one expected it. But once they noticed it they found traces of the wall in several parallel holes. Yuval said: “This wall is our friend now. It follows wherever we go.”

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