Take Me to Your Leader
Restored Neolithic Statues Go on View in Washington
“The commuters,” one conservator calls the 8,500-year-old statues from Ain Ghazal (“The Spring of the Gazelles”), in Jordan. Their blank expressions remind her of the empty stares people adopt while waiting for the bus or riding the subway. To others, the statues may look disconcertingly like the extraterrestrial creatures depicted in alien abduction stories. Whatever they remind you of, these objects project an eerie power, a power made all the more striking because they are among the oldest statues ever found.
The statues date to the seventh millennium B.C. and were discovered in two batches, in 1983 and 1985, on the outskirts of Amman; they are being restored in London and Washington, respectively. Work on the Washington group is nearly complete and the statues will go on display starting July 28, 1996, through April 6, 1997, at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The restoration efforts in Washington are a great boon to Jordan because they cost the country nothing—the Smithsonian is paying the conservators’ salaries. With the current climate of federal budget cutting, a Smithsonian source told BAR, it is extremely unlikely that the Smithsonian would undertake such a project now.
BAR enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the statues as restoration work was winding up this spring. Our guide was Carol A. Grissom, head of the project and senior objects conservator of the Smithsonian’s Conservation Analytical Laboratory. Around her lab were arrayed the statues themselves—some upright on specially created “feet” (actually epoxy putty placed inside the statue’s hollow, stumpy torso), some lying flat on a spongy cushion atop work tables. Grissom joked that her team had nicknamed individual statues after summer interns who had worked on the project.
To the right of the entrance to Grissom’s lab stood the 4-foot by 5.5-foot crate in which 009the statues had been shipped en masse from Jordan to Washington. Because of the fragile state of the statues when they were discovered, the excavators decided to transport the entire block of earth in which the shattered statues were found, rather than to extricate them fragment by fragment. They cleared the area along the top and sides, placing aluminum foil over the statues; then they placed a crate around the earth in which the statues were embedded, leaving about a foot of air between the crate and the earth; next they poured polyurethane foam into the gap to protect the remains during shipment (the aluminum foil kept the foam from seeping onto the statues); then they placed the top on the crate. The most delicate stage followed—carefully digging underneath the finds, pushing a board beneath the block as they went. The crate was lifted and flipped over. Extra earth, now on top of the crate, was removed and replaced with foam before the crate was closed for shipment.
The conservators in Washington and London therefore not only reconstructed the statues but also excavated them in the lab. Seeing where the pieces lay greatly helped Grissom and her team determine how they fit together. Although the statues had originally been buried face down; because the finds had been flipped over during packing, the statues lay face up in the crate.
The Washington lab received two single statues about 3.5 feet tall, two double-headed statues about 3 feet tall, a double-headed statue only 18 inches tall, and a head 012and an extra eye that conservators have not been able to associate with the other pieces. Light brown paint is still visible in spots on at least two of the faces.
The statues are made of soft, yellowish-whitish calcium carbonate—lime plaster. Grissom explained that the people who made the statues heated the rock to between 650 and 900 degrees centigrade, allowed the rock to cool and then mixed it with water. The result was a wet paste, pliant enough to be workable but still tough and water resistant when dry. (A fragment immersed in water in the lab remained intact even after six weeks.) This technique, Grissom noted, is a precursor to ceramic technology, which explains the name applied to the civilization of that era—Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. The same technique was used to make walls and floors. Unfortunately, so many trees were consumed in the fires required to heat the limestone that deforestation led to the civilization’s downfall, according to some specialists.
Before making the statues, the ancient sculptors first fashioned a crude model of a torso from reeds and then spun string tightly around reeds and placed them where the head would go; the plaster was then applied to the reeds and string and worked into the desired shape. The reeds and string deteriorated long ago, leaving the hollow plaster shell vulnerable to collapse. Grissom pointed out the striations left by the string and reeds on the insides of several of the statue fragments. To complete their handiwork, the Ain Ghazal sculptors highlighted the eye sockets and irises on the statues with black bitumen.
Grissom next showed us three plaster burial masks from about 7000 B.C., also recovered from Ain Ghazal, but from a different pit from the one in which the statues were found. They, too, will be exhibited at the Sackler. Like the statues, the masks were found face down. The local practice (similar masks have been recovered in Jericho, about 30 miles to the southwest) was to allow dead bodies to deteriorate; after the jaw had decomposed, the skull would be removed and a mask placed over it. Grissom noted that the masks were made of a stronger plaster than the statues.
After our visit to the Smithsonian lab, we spoke to Kathryn W. Tubb, who heads the joint British Museum/University of London Institute of Archaeology team restoring the 1983 finds. Five statues that her group restored between 1983 and 1988 have been returned to Jordan. The London team resumed its work last September, and, in return for their efforts, the British Museum will be allowed to keep two of the restored statues.
Tubb believes there are 26 statues (or parts thereof) among the 1983 group, but because they are in worse condition than the Washington group she cannot be sure of the exact number. Tubb compared her task to completing “a humongous jigsaw puzzle.” The London group contains only single-headed figures with more paint than the Washington statues and with green copper ore around the eyes. The London remains are thought to be, based on radiocarbon dating, about 150 years older than those in Washington. The London and Washington teams are in general working along the same lines, though they are using different materials to hold the fragments together. Tubb and Grissom keep in close contact and have collaborated on a number of scientific papers on the statues.
Tubb’s team has three more years to complete its work, but she warns that “the material may not be as compliant as that.” She explains, “We have a lot of delicate unpicking to do.”
Q: How many coins have been discovered in Jerusalem excavations since 1967?
Q: How many of these coins have been published?
Archaeology in the Checkout Lane
“Invitation to Last Supper Found in Holy Land” declares the April 30, 1996, issue of the Weekly World News. It claims that a “well-worn paper” written in Hebrew was uncovered in Bethany; the text reads, “Come, partake at a supper of great importance … We will experience a final gathering in the room where we have met many times before.”
The tabloid quotes “archaeologist Guy Millet of Paris,” who says his team “tried not to jump to any conclusions.” But Millet adds, “Of course there is a possibility that Jesus actually wrote the invitations.”
Elsewhere in the same issue, the checkout-line mainstay announces, “Heaven Photographed by Hubble Telescope.” A subhead helpfully adds, “‘We found where God lives,’ says scientist!” “The pictures clearly show a vast white city floating eerily in the blackness of space,” the article says. The supermarket tabloid includes a chart showing the location of heaven beyond the edge of the universe. It quotes “author and researcher” Marcia Masson as saying that NASA scientists initially “couldn’t believe their eyes. After checking and rechecking the data, they concluded that the images were authentic … The only logical explanation was that the city was inhabited by the souls of the dead.”
We invite readers to keep us posted on articles of similar—or greater—ludicrousness.
Guess the Inscription, Win Fabulous Prizes
Our sources tell us that an important announcement will be made this November in New Orleans at the Annual Meeting of Bible and archaeology scholars—the discovery of a bulla impressed with the seal of one of ancient Israel’s rulers—the first time that a seal of an Israelite monarch has surfaced! The first reader who correctly answers all of the following questions will win our two-volume folio edition of Dead Sea Scroll pictures, published at $200, and five free gift subscriptions to BAR:
Who is the monarch?
Was the bulla found at a dig site or did it surface on the antiquities market?
What is the nationality of the scholar who will announce the find: American, English, French, Jordanian or Israeli?
Mail or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) us your responses—no phone calls, please.
Is a Stamp as Good as a Visit?
Israel has issued a souvenir sheet of three stamps highlighting the wall paintings from the Dura-Europos synagogue in Syria. The synagogue, one of the oldest known, can be securely dated to the mid-third century A.D.
When the Persian Empire threatened to besiege Dura-Europos, its Roman defenders erected a protective earthen rampart that buried a series of buildings alongside the city’s wall; this rendered the synagogue unusable but it preserved the paintings inside the sanctuary. The murals were rediscovered in the 1920s when soldiers from a modern-day empire—Great Britain—were digging military trenches in the area.
The recently issued stamps feature, from left to right, the prophet Samuel anointing David as king over Israel, a niche for the Torah, and the Temple and walls of Jerusalem; the full sheet shows a wider view of the wall murals. The stamps were issued as part of the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations, marking the anniversary of David’s capture of the city and his declaring it his capital. (To obtain copies, contact the Israel Philatelic Agency of North America, 535 Fifth Ave., Suite 300, New York, NY 10017; 1-800-607-2799.)
The Dura-Europos synagogue walls have been reconstructed and are on exhibit at the National Museum in Damascus (a replica is on view at Yale University). Because Israel and Syria do not have diplomatic relations, Israelis cannot travel to Dura-Europos to see the murals in person, but Americans can. The Biblical Archaeology Society tour of Syria and Jordan (September 29 to October 15, 1996) will include a day visiting the site and a trip to the National Museum. Call the BAS Travel/Study Program (1-800-221-4644) for details.
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—Theory No. 417
Geologists Zero In on Cause
It’s right up there with trying to find Noah’s Ark or Pharaoh’s chariot wheels in the Red Sea—finding ancient Sodom and Gomorrah and figuring out how they were destroyed. Two British geologists now in Canada recently added some scientific light to these questions.
Writing in the November 1995 Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology, Graham M. Harris and A. P. Beardow suggest that the twin cities (no offense to Minneapolis and St. Paul) were located on the Lisan Peninsula, a tongue of land that juts into the Dead Sea from the eastern shore. The two authors review evidence indicating that the peninsula was once wider than today, thanks to lower water levels. The area was a center for harvesting bitumen, a highly flammable material used in building and in mummification.
Reached at his home in Prince Edward Island, co-author Graham Harris told BAR that the land Sodom and Gomorrah would have been on is comparable to beach sand when the tide rolls out—extremely saturated. A shock would cause the sand to float in its own water. Such a shock could have been provided by an earthquake, a frequent occurrence near the Dead Sea because it sits along a fault line. With the earth underneath them buckling, Sodom and Gomorrah might then have been destroyed by fire from the ignited bitumen.
Harris acknowledged the speculative nature of his theory. The question will not be resolved, he jokingly told BAR, “until someone brings back the ‘No Parking’ sign from in front of the Sodom municipal hall.”
The World Monuments Fund has released its list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. On the list are the southern temple at Petra, Jordan;a the ancient city of Tyre, Lebanon; and ancient Chersonesus, near Sevastopol, Ukraine.b The Petra temple suffers from damage caused by floods and earthquakes; the Fund recommends scaffolding and conservation materials for “archaeological first aid” and an on-site conservation laboratory and artifact storage facility (the photo above shows the “Treasury of Pharaoh at Petra”).
Tyre is threatened by the proposed construction of an industrial marina and a commercial, tourist and industrial complex (the Fund’s report was published before the fighting in Lebanon this spring). The Fund recommends a master plan to ensure that the growth of modern Tyre does not come at the expense of its ancient remains.
Chersonesus contains Greek sculpture and the remains of what may have been a first-century A.D. synagogue. Again, expansion of a modern city, in this case Sevastopol, threatens to engulf the ancient remains.
Bed and Breakfast—and Blessings
Radiocarbon tests have confirmed the dating of an important roadside shrine in northern Sinai. Archaeologist Ze’ev Meshel dated the remains at Kuntillet Ajrud to the late ninth or early eighth century based on pottery found there.c The carbon dating, conducted at Israel’s Weizmann Institute and announced this spring, matches Meshel’s date exactly—between 830 and 760 B.C. The tests were performed on wood taken from support beams inside structures at the site.
Kuntillet Ajrud lay on a well-travelled route and served as a popular layover spot. It is thought that a small group of priests lived at the site, serving up benedictions in exchange for travellers’ donations. The site is best known for one of ancient Israel’s most enigmatic finds, a pottery sherd with three figures and an inscription referring to Yahweh and “his Asherah” (drawing above). Some archaeologists have seen this as proof that at least some Israelites believed that Yahweh had a female consort.
Who—Or What—Was Molech?
New Phoenician Inscription May Hold Answer
The earliest reference to human sacrifice has been found in Turkey and is expected to illuminate several puzzling Biblical passages regarding Molech, whoever he or it was.
The eighth-century B.C.E. inscription is written in Phoenician and appears on a 4-foot-high square stela inscribed on all four sides. It was commissioned by the king of the Cilicians and describes at least two battles in which both sides made offerings to Molech, the same whatever-it-is mentioned in the Bible. The Cilician king boasts that his sacrifices to Molech were accepted while those of his enemies were not.
In the Bible, Molech is either a non-Israelite god to whom some Israelites sacrificed their children in the Hinnom Valley of Jerusalem or it is the name of that sacrifice.d Most Bible translations render Molech as a foreign god. Thus, we are told that the Judahite King Josiah in the late seventh century B.C.E. destroyed a “Tophet, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10). Jeremiah, too, condemns the practice (Jeremiah 32:35). The law is explicit in Leviticus: “Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech” (Leviticus 18:21). The punishment is death: “Anyone among the Israelites, or among the strangers residing in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:2).
The Bible also relates that Mesha, king of Israel’s enemies the Moabites, offered his son as a sacrifice to turn the tide in a battle with the Israelites: The king of Moab “took his first-born son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering” (2 Kings 3:27).
Unfortunately, the inscription from Turkey is badly eroded so it is difficult to read. But it clearly relates to human sacrifice. This is the first time that a reference to human sacrifice has been found with so early a date; numerous Punic inscriptions contain such references, but they date to the fourth century B.C.E. and later.
The inscription was found by Professor Elizabeth Carter of the University of California at Los Angeles during an archaeological survey at the largely unexcavated site of Incirli, in south-central Turkey, and is being studied for publication by Professor Stephen Kaufman, of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In deference to the nation where the inscription was found, the first publication will appear in a Turkish journal. The leading inscription photographer, University of Southern California professor Bruce Zuckerman, has already photographed the inscription, but hopes to return to Turkey in September to take additional photographs to aid Kaufman in his decipherment. The inscription is in the Gaziantep Museum, also in south-central Turkey.
There’s Still Time!
Our Travel/Study Program Offers Something for Every Mind
You don’t have to remain in your armchair curled up with BAR. For 19 years the Biblical Archaeology Society has run travel/study programs attended by more than 2,200 people. That means 198,000 of you have not yet joined us, not yet made the lasting friendships, not yet talked for hours on end to a scholar traveling with you, not yet experienced that wonderful sense of recognition when you see for yourself the tiny silver amulet with the priestly blessing from Leviticus or when you marvel at the familiar but indescribable rock-hewn Treasury at Petra.
This fall BAS is roaming from Lake Nassar to Cairo, from Jerash in Jordan to Palmyra in Syria, from Pompeii to ancient Carthage. As always our guides are gifted teachers and wonderful travel companions. Join archaeologist Avner Goren in Egypt to explore its history, beginning with Memphis, ancient Egypt’s first capital, and ending with the modern wonder of the Aswan Dam. Follow archaeologist Peter Parr through Syria and Jordan, into the past and present of Damascus, Palmyra, Petra and Amman.
And on a brand-new BAS program, cruise the Mediterranean in search of the Phoenicians with Joseph Greene, assistant director of the Semitic Museum of Harvard University, who describes the Phoenicians as the “successors to the maritime Canaanites of Late Bronze Age Ugarit and contemporaries of the Biblical Israelites.” “Early in the first millennium B.C.E.,” Greene adds, “the Phoenicians helped build Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, while colonizing the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean. Carthage, their principal foundation, was an outpost of Near Eastern civilization in the west that grew into a deadly rival of Rome.” Greene will lead our BAS group in the wake of these ancient seafarers through their ports of call in Italy, Sicily, North Africa, Spain and southern France.
There’s still time. Rise from that chair, dial 1-800-221-4644 and ask for Janice Krause or Allison Dickens to sign up for a fall travel/study program. When you return, the latest issue of BAR will be waiting for you, supplementing your memories drawn from your experiences in ancient lands.
Food for Thought
Can you really have your cake and eat it too? You can if you’re archaeologist Gershon Edelstein. Edelstein, excavator of an agricultural settlement at Ein Yaele and founder of the site’s Living Museum—an open-air museum just 5 miles west of Jerusalem’s Old City, set up to demonstrate how people lived and cooked in ancient times—benefited twice from a unique fundraising idea, financially and gustatorily. He raised some money and ate some delicious food. As part of the Jerusalem 3000 celebration, the Jerusalem Foundation sponsored a 12-course kosher feast—at $600 a head—prepared by 13 of the world’s greatest chefs. The event, attended by 300 people, raised nearly $30,000 for Ein Yael’s Living Museum.
Although the chefs—from France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and the United States—had cooked some of the finest, most elegant dishes in the world, it was a challenge for most of them to prepare something kosher. All but one were newcomers to Jewish dietary laws, which, among other things, prohibit shellfish and pork and call for the separation of meat and milk. After some thought, however, each chef submitted two recipes, and from these the 12-course menu evolved. They substituted olive oil for butter, mango for cream, and, in stocks, smoked goose breast and fish bones for bacon and shellfish.
Some of the delectable delights included a local sea bass with the Biblical accompaniments of leeks, lemon, coriander, olives, sesame and garlic; foie gras-stuffed quail, one of the birds eaten in the desert during the Exodus; and roast veal with mango sauce.
The funds raised at the dinner will help reconstruct a four-room house from the Iron Age at Ein Yael and possibly contribute to other planned projects. Visitors to the Living Museum can learn what life was like on a typical farm in ancient Israel by spinning wool, weaving baskets, making clay pots and baking bread. Ein Yael is also a laboratory where researchers from all over the world come to recreate tools of the past and test their theories of how they were used.
Last year approximately 35,000 people visited Ein Yael. Volunteers are also invited for a minimum period of two weeks.
For additional information, contact Gershon Edelstein at Ein Yael Project, Israel Antiquities Authority, P.O. Box 586, Jerusalem 91911, Israel, or phone 011-972-2-638-421/2/3, or 2-864-488. The Living Museum is open by appointment only.
Mark Your Calendar
The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections
April 20 to August 11
Sixty Greek and Roman statues from ancient sanctuaries, temples and homes.
Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Cambridge, MA (617) 495-9400
Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa
May 4 to August 18
Statues, pottery, and adornments trace Nubia’s 3,500-year history (from 3100 B.C. to 400 A.D.).
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Minneapolis, MN (612)870-3131
Hero’s Quest: The Telephos Frieze from Pergamon
May 4 to September 8
Twelve blocks (mid-3rd to mid-2nd century B.C.) from the prosperous Pergamon citadel in northwest Turkey show the life of Telephos. Fifty additional works explain the frieze.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA (415) 863-3330
Ancient Art from the Shumei Family Collection
June 20 to September 1
Egyptian, early Chinese, Central Asian and ancient Iranian court and ritual arts.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY (212) 535-7710
The American Discovery of Ancient Egypt
July 13 to September 29
An 8-ton Ptolemaic gateway, jewelry and other artifacts exhumed from tombs.
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Indianapolis, IN (317) 923-1331
Egypt in Africa
July 13 to December 29
Ancient Egyptian objects in the context of African history.
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Indianapolis, IN (317) 923-1331
Archaeology for Teachers Class
July 16 to 19
Overview of the field of archaeology, provides specific classroom exercises for getting students interested in archaeology.
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center
La Crosse, WI (608) 785-8454
Field School for Precollegiate Instructors
July 22 to August 2
Training in archaeological field techniques and in ways to relate field experience to the classroom.
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center
La Crosse, WI (608) 785-8454
Preserving Statues from Jordan
July 28 to April 6, 1997
Neolithic statues and burial masks from Ain Ghazal. (See first story in this section.)
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Washington, DC (202) 352-2700
An Archaeological Journey Through Jerusalem’s Long History
August 4 to 16
Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer and Dan Bahat lead the lectures at St. Edmunds College, Great Britain. Visit the Ashmolean Musuem, London, Bath, Stonehenge. July 1 flexible deadline.
An Oxford University/BAS Study Tour
Oxford, England (202) 364-3300
Archaeological Conservation and Its Consequences
August 25 to 30
New perspectives on land and underwater site conservation are presented at the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
To submit material write to: BAR Calendar, 4710 41st St., NW, Washington, DC 20016.
The On-Line Academy
Want to know what’s happening in the academic world of archaeology and Bible studies? One click of your mouse while on the World Wide Web and you can be cybercruising through the home page of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). These three organizations, among others, can be reached at TELA—The Electronically Linked Academy—a site maintained on the Web by Scholars Press. You can check each organization’s calendar for upcoming meetings and lectures, read their journals, peruse on-line books and book reviews, and find out about grants and fellowships. Best of all, there are numerous links to other sites, so you can quickly zip over to other home pages on related topics. One snag: When we recently checked an organization’s calendar, almost every event had already taken place. (Keep it up-to-date, folks!) That caveat aside, we predict that many of our readers will “bookmark” TELA for fast and frequent future visits.
Old Scrolls in New Bottles
Hebrew University in Jerusalem has formed an academic center dedicated to the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Orion Center, headed by comparative religion professor Michael E. Stone, plans to sponsor seminars and public lectures. Of greater interest—and accessibility—to BAR readers will be the center’s on-line features. In addition to an Internet discussion group, a World Wide Web page provides updated textual and graphic material, including a bibliography of literature on the scrolls. Readers can join the discussion group by sending the message SUBSCRIBE ORION to email@example.com. (Be sure to leave the subject line blank.)
What Is It?
A. Child’s doll
B. Perfume flask and applicator
C. Scissors case
D. Medicine bottle with spoon attached
E. Souvenir spoon from Egypt World
What It Is, Is …
B. A perfume flask and applicator.
The skirts of this peculiar ivory lady form a narrow receptacle for perfumed oils. When tilted, this ingenious device dispenses a dab of perfume through a small hole in the spoon (a tube connects the flask and hole); excess drops pour back into the upright flask so that none of the precious unguent is lost. The spoon-shaped stopper at top may be removed to add more perfume. Dating to the 14th or 13th century B.C., the flask was discovered in a burnt temple at the Canaanite city of Lachish (note the black burn marks on the skirt).
Take Me to Your Leader
Restored Neolithic Statues Go on View in Washington