In January, nine papyri documents almost 2,000 years old were discovered by a student in the Luther College library archives, where they had remained hidden in a cardboard box for decades.
Luther sophomore Brittany Anderson was conducting a routine inventory of the papers of the late Orlando W. Qualley, longtime professor of classics and dean of the college, when she came across the nine ancient documents among Qualley’s letters and journals donated to the college in the 1980s. The papyri—one of which, a libellus, is especially rare—date from the first to the fifth centuries A.D. and were apparently purchased by Qualley from an antiquities dealer when he was part of a University of Michigan archaeological excavation at Karanis, south of Cairo, in 1924-25.
“Luther College is incredibly fortunate to have in its possession the Qualley papyri, especially the libellus, a rare and invaluable find from the early centuries of Christian history,” said Philip Freeman, Qualley Chair of Ancient Languages at Luther. “As soon as they are properly preserved, we hope to display all the papyri in our library for everyone to see. They provide a great opportunity for our students to examine a genuine piece of the ancient world.”
The nine papyri, written in ancient Greek, measure from 5 to 20 centimeters in length and are in remarkably good shape, though all are fragmentary and quite fragile. Papyrus was the primary writing medium of the ancient world and was made from the interwoven fibers of the papyrus plant, which grows along the banks of the Nile River.
Upon finding the documents, Anderson contacted the Luther Classics Department faculty, who examined the papyri and in turn contacted the Papyrus Collection staff at the University of Michigan, one of the leading centers of papyrus study in the world, for help in identifying and analyzing the discoveries. Several are accounting documents, but papyrologist Graham Claytor immediately identified one as a libellus dating from the first great Roman persecution of Christians beginning under Emperor Decius in the year 250.
Decius issued a decree that year ordering all inhabitants of the empire to offer a sacrifice to the gods as a show of loyalty. A libellus was a document given to a Roman citizen to confirm the performance of such a sacrifice. Christians were forbidden by their beliefs from performing these sacrifices and were thus subject to arrest, torture and execution for refusing to obey the emperor’s decree. Pope Fabian was among those who refused to sacrifice and was subsequently killed by the Roman authorities.
The Luther College libellus bears the name of Aurelius Ammon, a servant of the well-attested Aurelius Appianus, a leading citizen of Alexandria, Egypt. It declares that Aurelius Ammon has sacrificed “in accordance with the orders” of the emperor. The papyrus was probably part of a collection made in ancient times from the village of Theadelphia in Egypt’s Fayum region. Only a few of these rare documents have been uncovered, and they are currently housed in research libraries in Hamburg, Berlin, Manchester, Florence, and the University of Michigan. Now Decorah, Iowa, joins the list.
Luther College plans to work with the University of Michigan to preserve all the Qualley papyri and make them available online in digital format to scholars and people around the world.
… archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 2,300-year-old rural village that dates back to the Second Temple period, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced.
Trenches covering some 8,000 square feet (750 square meters) revealed narrow alleys and a few single-family stone houses, each containing several rooms and an open courtyard. Among the ruins, archaeologists also found dozens of coins, cooking pots, milling tools and jars for storing oil and wine.
“The rooms generally served as residential and storage rooms, while domestic tasks were carried out in the courtyards,” Irina Zilberbod, the excavation director for the IAA, explained in a statement.
Archaeologists don’t know what the town would have been called in ancient times, but it sits near the legendary Burma Road, a route that allowed supplies and food to flow into Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The rural village located on a ridge with a clear view of the surrounding countryside, and people inhabiting the region during the Second Temple period likely cultivated orchards and vineyards to make a living, IAA officials said.
The Second Temple period (538 B.C. to A.D. 70) refers to the lifetime of the Jewish temple that was built on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to replace the First Temple after it was destroyed. Archaeological evidence suggests this provincial village hit its peak during the third century B.C., when Judea was under the control of the Seleucid monarchy after the breakup of Alexander the Great’s empire. Residents seem to have abandoned the town at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty — when Herod the Great came into power in 37 B.C. — perhaps to chase better job opportunities in the city amid an economic downturn.
“The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty or the beginning of Herod the Great’s succeeding rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea,” archaeologist Yuval Baruch explained in a statement. “And it may be related to Herod’s massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction of the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects.”
The discovery was made during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project that began last year; a 21-mile-long (35 kilometers) gas pipeline was supposed to run through the site, but engineering plans were revised to go around the ruins, IAA officials said. Salvage excavations are common in Israel to avoid building over ancient sites. For instance, remarkably well-preserved Byzantine church mosaics were recently revealed ahead of the construction of a park, and an ancient Roman road connecting Jerusalem to Jaffa was uncovered ahead of the installation of a drainage pipe.
Discovery has the sad news:
When Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, received an honorary Ph.D. in archeology in 2004 from the prestigious University of Rome “La Sapienza,” she stressed that such knowledge should be used “to foster mutual respect for what human societies have achieved over the millennia across the globe.”
Awarded for her role in the development of historical and archaeological studies and the preservation of the Syrian heritage, the degree was handed to al-Assad amid the ruins of the fabled ancient city of Ebla. The ceremony changed for the first time the University’s 700-year-old tradition which required the honorary degree to be given inside the city of Rome.
Ten years later, Asma is banned from traveling to all EU member states except the U.K, while bombing and looting have ravaged most of her country’s precious archaeological sites.
According to UNESCO, the U.N. cultural, education and science arm, illegal excavation in the past three years has spread everywhere, from Ebla, the site where Asma received her honorary Ph.D., to the ancient Sumerian city of Mari.
Apamea, a city founded in 300 B.C. by one of Alexander the Great”s generals, which boasted one of the longest and widest colonnades in the ancient world, “is completely destroyed by thousands and thousands of illegal diggings,” Francesco Bandarin, assistant director-general for culture at the agency, warned at a news conference last week.
“A site has a value not only for the monuments that are destroyed but also for the values of the objects in the ground,” Bandarin said. “When this is lost, the scientific value of the site is clearly, clearly compromised,” he added.
To curb the destruction, the European Union gave UNESCO 2.5 million euros ($3.4 million) last week for a program aimed at fighting looting as well as raising awareness on Syria’s endangered cultural heritage…
… Syria’s cultural heritage is unique. As Asma al-Assad remarked in her acceptance speech of the doctorate, it’s a land where “those essential human attributes — culture, society and civilization — first flourished.”
Along with Mesopotamia, the country echoes the main advances made by humankind such as the birth of the first villages and what is believed to be the world’s first alphabet. Ironically, it is also here that archaeologists found the first evidence for the use of chemical weapons.
Over four millennia, Syria’s valleys and deserts have witnessed everything from Biblical civilizations, Roman conquerors and Christian Crusaders. The result is an abundance of unique monuments which include Roman cities, castles and forts, medieval Islamic markets, palaces, mosques and cathedrals.
“The country has tens of thousands of archaeological sites, not all of which have been recorded or even discovered yet. Before the crisis, new sites were being discovered all the time,” Emma Cunliffe, Global Heritage Preservation Fellow Postgraduate Researcher at Durham University, and author of “Damage to the Soul: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict,” told Discovery News…
Another magnificent archaeological discovery uncovered in the Holy Land:
Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered intricate mosaics on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church, including one that bears a Christogram surrounded by birds.
The ruins were discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, a village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday (Jan. 22). Excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen said the team used an industrial digger to probe a mound at the site, and through a 10-foot (3 meters) hole, they could see the white tiles of an ancient mosaic.
Much of the church was revealed during excavations over the past month. The basilica was part of a local Byzantine settlement, but the archaeologists suspect it also served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities because it was next to the main road running between the ancient seaport city of Ashkelon in the west and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east. [See Images of a Byzantine Mosaic Discovered in Israel]
“Usually a Byzantine village had a church, but the size of this church and its placement on the road makes it more important,” Degen told LiveScience.
The excavators plan to keep working on the site for another week, but one of the most remarkable finds so far was a mosaic containing a Christogram, or a “type of monogram of the name of Jesus,” Degen said.
At the time, Byzantine Christians wouldn’t have put crosses on their mosaic floors so as to not step on the symbol of Christ, Degen explained. The Christogram in the mosaic may look like a cross, but it’s actually more like a “chi rho” symbol, which puts together the first two captial letters in the Greek word for Christ, and often looks like an X superimposed on a P. There is an alpha and omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) on either side of the chi rho, which is another Christian symbol, as Christ was often described as the “”the beginning and the end.” Four birds also decorate the mosaic, and two of them are holding up a wreath to the top of the chi rho.
Inside the 72-by-39-foot (22-by-12-meter) basilica, archaeologists also found marble pillars and an open courtyard paved with a white mosaic floor, said Daniel Varga, director of the IAA’s excavations.
Just off the courtyard, in the church’s narthex, or lobby area, there is “a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs” as well as a “twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” Varga said in a statement.
The mosaics in the main hall, or nave, meanwhile, are decorated with vine tendrils in the shape of 40 medallions, one of which contains the Christogram. Many of the other medallions contain botanical designs and animals such as a zebras, peacocks, leopards and wild boars, the excavators said. Three contain inscriptions commemorating two heads of the local regional church named Demetrios and Herakles.
The archaeologists found traces of later occupation on top of the church, including early Islamic walls and Ottoman garbage pits. (Aluma is located near the Ottoman and later Palestinian village of Hatta.) The excavations also revealed Byzantine glass vessels and a pottery workshop for making amphoras, cooking pots, kraters, bowls and oil lamps, IAA officials said.
To avoid building over ancient sites, archaeologists are often brought in for salvage digs ahead of construction projects like this one, sometimes yielding stunning discoveries; for instance, a “cultic” temple and traces of a 10,000-year-old house were discovered at Eshtaol west of Jerusalem in preparation for the widening of a road. And during recent expansions of the main road connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, called Highway 1, excavators found a carving of a phallus from the Stone Age, a ritual building from the First Temple era and animal figurines dating back 9,500 years.
Regarding the new discoveries, the IAA plans to remove the mosaic for display at a regional museum or visitors’ center, and the rest of the site will be covered back up.
Haaretz also has the news with more pics:
The IAA press release on the find is here.
With Israel situated in one of the world’s earthquake-prone areas, officials are taking action to protect the Holy Land’s most important ancient treasures so they don’t come tumbling down.
After a series of five moderate earthquakes shook the country in October, experts installed a seismic monitoring system at the Tower of David, one of Jerusalem’s most important — and most visible — historical sites.
The project is Israel’s first attempt to use such technology to determine structural weaknesses in the countless ancient edifices that dot the Holy Land. The efforts, however, have been slowed by authorities’ reticence to publically declare sites as vulnerable, as well as the explosive geopolitics surrounding ancient Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites at the heart of the Mideast conflict.
“We have to remember that this is the Holy Land,” said Avi Shapira, head of a national steering committee for earthquake preparedness. “We have some responsibility not only to preserve the historical monuments of our personal heritage … but also for the rest of the world.”
Most of Israel’s historical sites “have not been checked,” said Shapira. “We have them on the map, but an engineer still hasn’t visited them.”
Israel sits along the friction point of the African and Arabian tectonic plates, and is prone to small tremors. The earthquakes in October caused no major damage, but made Israelis jittery. About once a century throughout history, a large earthquake has rattled the region, often damaging key historical sites. The last major quake occurred in 1927.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, was destroyed in an earthquake shortly after it was built in the 8th century and was damaged and repaired multiple times since due to quakes. The 1927 quake, which was over 6 in magnitude, caused hundreds of deaths and damaged Al-Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.
Israel has been bracing for another major earthquake for years. But those efforts have focused on retrofitting existing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings, and improving standards in new construction.
The country is just getting around to surveying its historical sites, and the assessment process has turned out to be sensitive.
Government experts have not published any findings on historical sites at risk, and it is unclear which government authority would be compelled to take responsibility for sites should they face earthquake damage.
Political sensitivities have prevented Israeli officials from conducting earthquake-impact assessments on the region’s most revered, most ancient, and likely most vulnerable sites, including the gold-capped Dome of the Rock, said an official on Israel’s earthquake preparedness steering committee. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
In the past, Israeli involvement in the Old City’s ancient buildings has sparked protest from Palestinians who seek sovereignty there in their quest for an independent state.
After a centuries-old access ramp to a key holy site was damaged by stormy weather in 2004, Arab and Muslim leaders worldwide protested Israeli excavation work in preparation for the construction of a new ramp, accusing Israel of impinging on the site with conflicting ownership claims.
The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has ignited violence when Muslims have perceived Israel to encroach upon the compound.
Israel’s Antiquities Authority, in charge of conserving the country’s ancient sites, declined comment on the earthquake assessment efforts…
Read more here.
Obviously, taken as a whole, the books of the New Testament were quite popular. They were Scripture, after all!
But how popular were they individually?
People today have favorite books in the Bible–ones they go to all the time, and ones they only rarely look at.
This is a phenomenon that affects both the books of the Old and the New Testament, and it’s possible to get a sense of how popular particular books were in particular time periods.
One way of doing that–before the Bible was bound as a single volume–is by seeing how many copies there are of individual books…
3,000-year-old earthenware was first brought up in fisherman’s net many years ago.
A unique collection of ancient earthenware vessels found in the Mediterranean Sea has been turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority, following the death of the fisherman who originally brought them up in his nets many years ago. The oldest vessel in the collection is estimated to be about 3,000 years old.
Osnat Lester of Poriya Ilit contacted the Antiquities Authority a few days ago to say that she had several old jugs in her storage closet that had been left to her by a relative who was a fisherman. Two archaeologists from the authority went to her house to check out the collection, and were stunned to discover a real archaeological treasure.
The cloth-wrapped vessels displayed the characteristic pitting of artifacts that have been underwater for many years. The archaeologists said they probably came from some of the ships that have been wrecked off the coast throughout history.
Among the most stunning findings was a unique storage vessel characteristic of the late Biblical period, some 3,000 years ago. It has high basket handles and impressive dimensions. There were also vessels from the Roman period, some 2,000 years ago, as well as the Byzantine period, about 1,500 years ago. The vessels held wine and other products.
“He was a naïve fisherman whose entire world was fishing,” Lester said. “He loved whatever he drew from the water. The fish he ate, and the vessels he kept. He thought they were pretty and could perhaps decorate the house. He never imagined that they were ancient vessels.
“When I saw them, I also thought they were perhaps 100 years old,” she continued. “The only thing we’ve asked of the Antiquities Authority is to tell us where the vessels are going, so that we can visit them with the grandchildren.”
Seaborne trade along what is now the Israeli coast began in the Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago. Throughout most of history, the eastern Mediterranean has served as a maritime passage between Egypt and Lebanon, and many vessels have sunk there. It’s rare to find a relatively intact wreck from which antiquities can be removed. But fisherman who use nets occasionally dredge up pieces of these wrecked ships.