We all enjoy and appreciate being able to get food on the run. Fast food restaurants are a mainstay of modern life. If you thought they were unique to the modern world, however, you would be wrong. Pompeii, the famous city buried by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius exploded, had up to 80 fast food establishments! One of these establishments, the Thermopolium (snack bar) of Regio V, has recently been excavated in its entirety. The excavation revealed vivid art work. Furthermore, examining residues in food containers revealed the kind of food sold at the snack bar. Other discoveries included storage vessels, the bones of two humans, and the bones of a dog.
Ordering at Regio V in Pompeii
If you were hungry in ancient Pompeii and walked into Regio V for a snack, what would you find there? The photo of the snack bar above, offers a few ideas. Two mallard ducks hung by their feet (left panel), and a rooster (right panel), suggest some of the delicacies that a hungry client might choose from. In fact, examination of the containers, or dolium, lining the counter (see photo above), produced the following residues: goats, fish, swine, snails, and even a fragment of duck bone.
Was the menacing looking dog in the picture above, a warning to guests to beware of hassling the workers, or another item on the varied menu at Regio V? Another interesting feature of this picture is the graffiti in the black area above the dog’s head. If you blow up the picture, you can barely make out the words of an unsatisfied customer. I won’t quote here what the graffiti says. Suffice it to say, the customer had a real potty mouth (quite literally). For a translation of the graffiti, and additional information about the snack bar, see the article at pompeiisites.org. Speaking of dogs, archaeologists found the full skeleton of a small dog between the two doors of the Thermopolium. The dog was only eight to ten inches high, suggesting that the Romans were breeding pet dogs 2,000 years ago.
Pompeii is famous for preserving the images of dying people caught in the ash and poisonous gases of the Vesuvius eruption. The bones of two victims were identified inside the snack bar. Unfortunately, treasure hunters from the 17th century moved the bones around. Excavator’s identified the remains of one man in his fifties, who appears to have died on his bed (the residue of wood and nails still laid underneath the bones). The bones of another man were found inside one of the doliums. The treasure hunters apparently put them there.
Massimo Osanna, Interim Director General of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, states, “The possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.” For further information on this discovery consult the link above and also see Pompeii Fast Food Restaurant Uncovered. For interesting video footage click here and here (please be aware this video is in Italian but it gives a good overview of the shop). To read more about the Romans love of fish check out, Fish Sauces–The Food That Made Rome Great.
Capital Importance: Ancient Judean Capitals Discovered!
While COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on the 2020 archaeological season in Israel, a number of exciting discoveries continue to occur. Just yesterday (Sept. 3, 2020) the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of three 2700 year old capitals, along with other artifacts. According to the Jerusalem Post, “The capitals are linked to the Davidic Dynasty because such designs from the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea have only been found within the areas they ruled. The design has been found from later periods in other locations throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East (Davidic Dynasty Symbol Found in Jerusalem).
The Capitals, which are in perfect condition, were found buried, one on top of the other. It is not known why the capitals were buried. What is known is that they are from either a royal administrative building, or a royal estate. An in-depth interview conducted by Eric Stakelbeck of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) with Ze’ev Orenstein can be found here.
The capitals date from the period between the Assyrian oppression, which resulted in the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37), to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). Since the style of these capitals are linked to the Davidic dynasty, it has been memorialized on Israel’s 5 shekel coin (see image below).
A similar capital was discovered in Jerusalem during Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the City of David (1961-67). This discovery prompted Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar in 2005 to search and uncover what she believes is King David’s Palace. In a video showing a tour of the City of David the guide in the video sits in the building discovered by Mazar. Beginning at 3:30 in the video you can hear him talk about the palace and you can see a replica of the capital that was discovered. Watch the video here. Note the identical nature of this capital to the ones just discovered!
Among other items found were lavishly decorated window frames (seen in the picture above). These window frames, along with the capitals, can be seen in this short video interviewing the archaeologist who discovered them. Other items are currently being studied and investigated. A future announcement will detail what else has been discovered.
Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered
The IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) has recently uncovered a 2700 year old administrative site dating to the time of the biblical kings Hezekiah and Manasseh. This administrative site is located in a neighborhood of Jerusalem where the US Embassy now resides. The neighborhood, known as Arnona, is only 1.8 miles outside the Old City located between Talpiot and Ramat Rachel (where another ancient administrative site also exists). While preparing for a new residential complex two year ago, the discovery was made. As always in Israel, before any building activity can commence, an archaeological survey must be carried out by the IAA. Prior to excavation, the only ancient remains known consisted of a giant hill of flint stones. Excavating led to the discovery of a monumental concentric structure. The size of the site and the other objects discovered has led to the conclusion that it was an administrative site. The announcement about its discovery was released this past week (July 22, 2020).
An Administrative Site for Storage and Collecting Taxes
One of the discoveries includes a large collection of royal Judah seal impressions. The impressions on the handle of storage jars are known as LMLK seal impressions (see photo above). The letters LMLK in Hebrew mean “belonging to the king” (pronounced lam melech). About 120 of these stamped jars were found. Only about 1300 are known from various sites throughout Judah. The jars were normally used for tax collection purposes and included various agricultural items such as olive oil, and wine. The jars also include the names of four cities in Judah: Hebron, Socho, Ziph, and Memshat. Three of these are known from Scripture. The location of the fourth, Memshat, is still a bit of a mystery. These, and other finds, date the site to the eighth and seventh centuries–the time of Hezekiah and Manasseh, kings of Judah. One of the interesting observations to be made is that somehow this site survived the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC (Isaiah 37). It continued until the Babylonian destruction in 586 BC and began to be reused shortly after that up through the period of Persian rule.
What Else Was Discovered?
Seals impressions bearing the names of a number of individuals were also found. These individuals are believed to be governmental personnel or wealthy land owners who held economic clout in the area. None of the names are known from the Bible, but they are found on jar handles at other sites in Judah. For the stout of heart who don’t mind reading ancient Hebrew names, here is the list: Naham Abdi, Naham Hatzlihu, Meshalem Elnatan, Zafan Abmetz, Shaneah Azaria, Shalem Acha and Shivna Shachar. Among the other items found are female and animal figurines which the excavators equate with idolatrous practices. This is not a surprise, since this is a well-known feature of ancient Judah. Although Hezekiah sought to rid the land of idolatry (2 Kgs. 18:1-6), his son Manasseh brought it back with a passion (2 Kgs. 21:1-10).
It’s been awhile since I’ve written about the latest archaeological discoveries. This post will cover five recent archaeological discoveries announced in the past five months.
Royal Israelite Complex at Horvat Tevet
As frequently happens in modern Israel, new construction often reveals old treasures. Preparations for the new Highway 65 running through northern Israel in the Jezreel Valley has revealed an ancient Israelite Administrative complex dating to the time of Israel’s kings Omri and Ahab. Dr. Omer Sergi, who co-directs the expedition has stated, “When you go inside the main building at Horvat Tevet, you are standing in the best-preserved building of the House of Omri ever found in Israel.” This main building is described as a royal estate and measures 20 meters (60 ft) long and 30 meters (90 ft.) long. Findings, which include kilns for making pottery, storage jars, textile workshops and grinding stones for milling grain into flour, suggest that this location was part of an administrative complex where officials collected and redistributed agricultural products. For a more detailed description of this discovery see this link at Patterns of Evidence.
Temple Discovered at Motza
Although originally discovered in 2012 (when another highway was being constructed!), Motza has only hit the news recently (although see this article from December 2012 by The Times of Israel). Starting in the Spring of 2019 a fuller study was begun on this interesting place. This is a fascinating discovery. More and more, temples and cultic sites are being discovered in Israel (see my post here and here for example, and see the final item below). This fits in quite well with the Old Testament’s description of high places and unauthorized places of worship. The intriguing part of this recent archaeological discovery is that the temple complex at Motza is only four miles from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem! This temple is believed to have been in use from 900 B.C. through the early sixth century B.C. It is about 2/3 size of Solomon’s Temple and the close proximity to Jerusalem suggests that it operated under the auspices of Jerusalem. It is well known that Solomon sanctioned the building of many temples (1 Kings 11:4-8), and his successors, even the “good” ones are censored by the author of Kings for not removing the high places (e.g., 1 Kings 15:9-14; 22:41-43). Among the fascinating discoveries are some figurines of human heads (see photo below) and some horse figurines with riders. For a more in depth look at this discovery and other photos, click this link on Patterns of Evidence or this link at haaretz. For a more cautious approach about this discovery, see the article at ABR here.
Altar Discovered at Shiloh
A lot of exciting discoveries are being found at the biblical site of Shiloh by the team from ABR (Associates for Biblical Research) under the direction of Dr. Scott Stripling. Past discoveries include animals bones of sacrificial animals that are consistent with the type of animals ancient Israelites would have sacrificed. Many coming from the right side of the animal. Why is this important? Leviticus 7:29-32 notes that the right side of the animal was the portion given to priests. A burn layer at Shiloh has been examined and dated by carbon-14 dating to 1060 B.C., plus or minus 30 years. This is the time period the Bible indicates the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines. A ceramic pomegranate was discovered in 2018. The significance of the pomegranate is that pomegranates were worn on the garment of the High Priest (Exodus 28:31-35). Another interesting discovery is a large monumental building, dating from the time of the Tabernacle which is in the initial stages of being uncovered. One of the sensational discoveries of the 2019 archaeological season was the discovery of three horns of an altar that is of biblical dimensions. A photo of one of those horns can be seen below. Other discoveries include numerous scarabs and bullae. If you’re interested in watching a two-part series on the recent discoveries at Shiloh hosted by the folks at ABR click here. For further information on the ongoing excavation at Shiloh by ABR click here.
Archaeological Discovery of an Ancient Canaanite Metropolis
A constant theme of this post is how the construction of new highways in Israel leads to surprising archaeological discoveries. None is more surprising or sensational than the discovery at Ein Esur. In the words of excavation director Yitzhak Paz, “The study of this site will change forever what we know about the emergence [and] rise of urbanization in the land of Israel and in the whole region.” It is being called “the New York City of the Early Bronze Age.” The city dates to about 3000 B.C. and there is another city beneath it believed to date 2000 years earlier. This massive city covers 160 acres and, including outlying areas, stretches to about 700 acres. To quote R. Brian Rickett of Patterns of Evidence: “Despite previous paradigms, land surveys, and scholarly consensus, an ancient and well-established city existed in Northern Israel around the time of the establishment of the first Egyptian Kingdom. Furthermore, the newly discovered city is the largest known city to date from this period anywhere in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria. Scholarly consensus is already in transition as this new discovery is reshaping everything that was believed about the ancient urbanization process in the land of Israel.” Discoveries like this demonstrate that there is still much to learn about ancient Canaan and that biblical descriptions of large and ancient cities are more reliable than previously thought by more skeptical scholars and archaeologists. This kind of discovery also illustrates that it is premature to come to conclusions based on a lack of evidence, a practice followed by some scholars and archaeologists. One never knows what is lurking just below the surface, waiting to be discovered! To watch a short video on the discovery at Ein Esur click here. You can also check out two articles at The Times of Israel by clicking here.
Ancient Temple Found at Lachish
The archaeologists who have uncovered this new discovery at Lachish are calling it a Canaanite Temple. The reason for this is the numerous artifacts found including two small bronze “smiting gods” who are believed to represent the Canaanite gods Ba’al or Resheph (see photo below). The structure had two columns and two towers which led into a large hall. There was an inner sanctum (a holy of holies) with two standing stones believed to represent the temple gods (for the plan of the temple, see the drawing below). Some of the other fascinating finds include Egyptian-inspired jewelry, daggers, axe-heads, scarabs, and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name of Rameses II. A piece of pottery with Canaanite/Hebrew writing has also been discovered. This writing includes the first time the letter samech has been found in an inscription this old (roughly 1130 B.C.). The temple is dated to the 12th century B.C. The interesting thing about this date is that it falls within the biblical period of the Judges. My own thought is that, unless Lachish had somehow fallen back into Canaanite hands during this period (and there is evidence of two destruction layers dated to the 13th and 12th centuries B.C.), it is possible that this temple may further confirm the rampant idolatry of the Judges period, as described in the Book of Judges (Judges 2:11-13). The discovery of the writing on the piece of pottery also provides further evidence that there was an alphabetic system in use during this time (at least in certain areas of Canaan). For further information on this archeological discovery see the article by the Jerusalem Post here, or the very informative article in The Times of Israel here.
The ancient city of Gath (modern Tell es-Safi) has been experiencing the archaeologist’s spade for the past 23 years under the direction of lead archaeologist Aren Maeir from Bar-Ilan University. This excavation has revealed much about the Philistines, the ancient people who lived there. Perhaps, most famously, a piece of pottery was discovered in the excavation that bears similarities with the name Goliath (see my article here and the photo below). Maeir recently stated, “One of the nice things about excavations at this site – and archaeology in general – is that every time you excavate, there are surprises.” One of those surprises, just recently announced, is the discovery of an older city of Gath laying below the one that has been excavated for the past 23 years. This older city dates to the 11th century B.C., the time of David and Goliath, and is even larger and more impressive than the one Maeir and his team have been excavating over the past, almost, quarter of a century!
Goliath’s Gath is Impressive!
The Jerusalem Post states, “While archaeologists have known for decades that Tell es-Safi contained the ruins of Goliath’s birthplace, the recent discovery beneath a pre-existing site reveals that his native city was a place of even greater architectural grandeur than the Gath of a century later” (for the full article click here). Digging beneath a previously explored area in Gath, this year (2019) the team discovered a large fortified structure with massive stones. Maeir states that the monumental architecture is larger than almost anything found in the Levant during this time period. As an example of the difference in size, Maeir compares the stones of the upper (later) period of the city (1.6 feet, or 1/2 meter long) with what he calls the “Goliath layer” recently discovered (3.2 – 6.5 feet, or between 1-2 meters). The walls of the older layer are also twice the width of the later walls (13 feet wide as opposed to 6.5 – 8 feet wide). The area covered by ancient Gath is also impressive. Maeir states that it covered about 123.5 acres, more than twice the size of comparable cities in the Levant. By comparison, the city of Jerusalem is estimated to have been about 10 acres in the time of David! For more details on the impressive size of Gath, see the excellent article in The Times of Israel.
Interpretation of the Find and Presuppositions
As we are all aware, all of us have certain presuppositions in our approach to anything in life. The same is true for archaeologists and biblical scholars. Maeir’s presuppositions differ from mine. He believes that much of the Bible was written at a later time period than the events that are described. Consequently he also believes that the Bible contains various myths, legends, and inaccuracies. As a result, he has suggested that the story of the gigantic size of Goliath (and others) may be related to the size of this ancient city and its walls. He thinks that ancient people would have reasoned that giant walls require giants to build them. Thus he does not believe the story of David and Goliath is literally true but derives from some such supposition.
Although Goliath may not be as tall as some think that he was (see my article here), I do respectfully disagree with Professor Maeir, since I hold to a strong view of the inspiration of Scripture. In my opinion, the power and sophistication of the Philistines and their great city of Gath, which has been revealed through archaeology, only confirms what the Bible has to say about them. They are pictured as a more technologically advanced society than the Israelites (e.g., 1 Sam. 13:19-22), as well as a dangerous and powerful foe. Many of the articles announcing this discovery are running with Professor Maeir’s theory. I for one, cannot agree. While we may not always be in agreement with the presuppositions and conclusions of others, we are certainly debtors to the men and women archaeologists who are uncovering the rich history of Israel’s past.
For other articles related to this recent discovery, see the following links: