Persistence pays. And pays, and pays. Just ask Avraham Biran, who has excavated at Tel Dan in northern Galilee for 27 years, making it the longest ongoing dig in Israel. His relentless quest at Dan has produced a steady stream of important discoveries, including an inscription identifying the site, a triple-arched gateway from the time of the Canaanites and an Israelite sacred area with a high place and priestly artifacts. The discoveries have yet to cease, however. Recent work uncovered five standing stones, an outer outer gate and—the crowning achievement—a fragment of a stela bearing the only extra-Biblical ancient inscription with King David’s name, as we describe in the article based on material supplied by Professor Biran, “‘David’ Found at Dan.”
Biran directs the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Israel, and chairs the Israel Exploration Society. From 1961 to 1974, he directed the Israel Department of Antiquities (now the Israel Antiquities Authority). Besides Tel Dan, he has dug in Transjordan; in Iraq; and at Tel Aroer, in Israel’s Negev desert. An avid photographer, Biran acts as his own official photographer for the Tel Dan dig.
Tourists from all over the world flock to Israel’s archaeological sites. The Israel Antiquities Authority, the protector of all antiquities found in the country, welcomes them: The Authority’s 3,000 workers have carefully restored ancient baths, theaters and other structures to help visitors experience the way things were. Ten years ago, however, this was not the case. The Authority, then known as the Department of Antiquities and Museums, struggled with a small staff and a low budget that severely limited the organization’s work.
But in 1988, General Amir Drori took over the directorship of the department and drastically altered its makeup. He pushed through the Knesset legislation that transformed the department into an independent authority with the power to raise funds from outside sources. This allowed Drori to increase staff and expand excavations. Some see the Authority’s recent development as a boon; others fear that the changes have put archaeology’s interests second to tourism and fund-raising. Abraham Rabinovich goes “Inside the Israel Antiquities Authority” to examine this conflict and the role of the organization today.
Born in New York City, Rabinovich worked for several New York papers, including Newsday, before he arrived in Israel in 1967, five days before the Six-Day War. After covering the war, he stayed. His reports on archaeology appear frequently in the Jerusalem Post, where he has worked since 1969.
In 1965, Egyptian archaeologists discovered buried in the sands of Gaza a sixth-century A.D. mosaic of King David playing a lyre. Two years later, when Israel took control of Gaza, Israeli archaeologists rushed to the site only to find that the head of David had been destroyed. To prevent further damage to the mosaic, Israel’s Department of Antiquities and Museums lifted the mosaic from the sand and brought it to Jerusalem. The work languished in museum storage until 1992, when the Israel Museum decided to restore the mosaic to prepare it for display. Their restoration incorporates all that the museum’s conservators know about the mosaic’s original appearance, culled from extant remains and from black-and-white photos taken before the mosaic was vandalized. The conservators steadfastly refused to make any irreversible changes to the mosaic or to add any speculative material. If early color photos come to light, however, the mosaic—and the conservators—will head back to the lab. In
Green, an objects conservator at the Israel Museum laboratories, graduated from Brandeis University and later attended Columbia University, where she received an M.A. in Middle East languages and cultures. She has also worked as conservator of mosaics and as an archaeological field and research assistant for the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums.
Can you imagine Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin handing over the Dead Sea Scrolls to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat? We can’t, and neither, we are certain, can Rabin. But Arafat can, at least according to a Palestinian scholar who says that when Palestinians achieve self-rule in Jericho and the Gaza Strip, they will demand the scrolls because Qumran, where they were found, is on the West Bank. The question of the scrolls is just one of several thorny archaeological problems that are emerging in the wake of the historic handshake on the White House lawn between Rabin and Arafat last September. In “Peace, Politics and Archaeology,” BAR editor Hershel Shanks explores the thorny issues that we are likely to hear more about in the future, especially in light of Israel’s recent agreement to return to Egypt the artifacts it excavated in Sinai.
Also raising political questions is Operation Scroll, Israel’s long-planned search last fall for more scrolls in the Judean desert on the West Bank. In addition to the discussion of Operation Scroll in “Peace, Politics and Archaeology,” Sam Wolff, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, gives us a first-hand account of the difficult conditions under which Operation Scroll was conducted and what the search found, in “An Inside View—After the Dust Settled.” Wolff has excavated at numerous sites in Israel, notably at Ashkelon and Gezer, and in Sardinia, Sicily and Carthage. He co-wrote, with Lawrence E. Stager, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage—Religious Rite or Population Control?” BAR 10:01.
Every Annual Meeting—the yearly gathering of professors of religion, Bible and archaeology—has its highlights, but the most recent Meeting was especially memorable for us at the Biblical Archaeology Society. Because it took place in our hometown, Washington, D.C. (for the first time in 19 years), we tried our best to make it a special event for the thousands of people who came to the nation’s capital. Chief among these was our organization of a Smithsonian exhibit of two priceless artifacts from Israel—the pomegranate scepter head from Solomon’s Temple and the bone box of Caiaphas, high priest at the time of Jesus. Much else went on besides—special seminars, receptions, and, oh yes, even the presentations of scholarly papers that are the purpose of the get-together to begin with. Hershel Shanks leads us through “Capital Archaeology.”
Harvard—no American university can match its mystique or its reputation for academic excellence. A bitter debate has broken out on the Cambridge campus, however, and Harvard’s image of quiet scholarship has been shaken by charges of mismanagement, backstabbing and even of anti-Semitism. The battle has been waged over how best to handle Harvard’s ancient Near Eastern artifacts, one of the most important archaeological collections in the country. Associate Editor Steven Feldman reports on the “Turmoil at the Harvard Semitic Museum.”
Persistence pays. And pays, and pays. Just ask Avraham Biran, who has excavated at Tel Dan in northern Galilee for 27 years, making it the longest ongoing dig in Israel. His relentless quest at Dan has produced a steady stream of important discoveries, including an inscription identifying the site, a triple-arched gateway from the time of the Canaanites and an Israelite sacred area with a high place and priestly artifacts. The discoveries have yet to cease, however. Recent work uncovered five standing stones, an outer outer gate and—the crowning achievement—a fragment of a stela bearing the only extra-Biblical ancient […]