Last of a Line

People tend to think that tomorrow will be like today.  It is very difficult to predict the end of an era unless there is a clear end point.  Most crises hit on random Tuesday afternoons when we are least expecting them; and just like that, one era finishes and we walk into the next.

gargiliusGargilius Antiquus certainly didn’t take the job of Roman Prefect of Judea knowing that he would be the last.  This life-long Roman politician was unknown in the history of Judea until January 2016.  While conducting an underwater archaeological expedition near Tel Dor on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, scientists found a Roman base which names  Gargilius as the Roman prefect of Judea.

Dor was an ancient city which stood on a small headland just north of a protected inlet on the Mediterranean.  The first Canaanites settled in Dor in the Bronze Age.  For the next 3000 years, this space would continue to be occupied.  It was under the influence of the Phoenicians during the Iron Age – one of a string of coastal towns.

During the 5th century B.C.E.,  an alliance between the Athenians and the Egyptians to protect their trade route saw Dor separated from the larger Phoenician centers to the north, to become a Greek outpost.  When the Romans took over the cities of Phoenicia, Dor was again included with them and absorbed into the province of Syria; it was not part of the province of the Jews, Judea.

At the end of the 1st century C.E., Dor was transferred to the Jewish province of Judea.  Could it be that the Jews fleeing revolt and destruction in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. settled in more far-flung places like Dor and made them more “Jewish”?

The statue base which was found at the bottom of the ancient harbor and its 7 lines of text provide a link between Judea, Gargilius and the office of Roman prefect.  Such a base could have helped to cement the inclusion of the city of Dor in Judea in the eyes of the population.  It is like a billboard which says, “Hey! You’re part of Judea now and Gargilius is your ruler.”

The period when Dor was under the Prefect of Judea was short-lived. After the Bar Cochva revolt in 135 C.E., Hadrian eliminated the prefects of Judea.  He changed the name of the region and absorbed the former province into the province of Syria.

There was no way for Gargilius Antiquus to know that he was to be the last prefect of Judea; and his forgettable reign  sank to the bottom of the sea, as did the recently found testament to his term.  Although Hadrian tried to erase Judea, even the sea brings forth signs of Judea, the land of the Jews.


Running Away, But Not Too Far Away

The Dead Sea as a center of refuge was the topic of my oral licensing exam to become a tour guide and continues to fascinate me.  What pressures drive people to seek refuge in this inhabitable landscape?  Men as long ago as the Chalcolithic Period (6000 years ago) fled here and left signs in the desert cliffs above the Dead Sea.  Long before the Dead Sea scrolls were sequestered in caves, Chalcolithic man built temples in the Dead Sea area and suddenly left their habitations and fled into the caves.  Hoardes of copper ritual objects were found in the caves above the Mishmar Stream.  Whatever pushed these early settlers to “head for the hills” was so catastrophic that they did not return to claim their treasures or resume their temple worship.

Uncovering lost treasures has been a driving force for modern exploration in the Dead Sea area.  Unfortunately, not all treasure-hunters are licensed archaeologists but are often Palestinian antiquity thieves.  In a recent sting operation, Israeli police arrested 6 Palestinians on their way out of the Cave of Skulls in the cliffs above Tze’elim Stream.  Habitation in this cliff shows just how far people are willing to go in the name of self-preservation.  Access to this cave is only possible by rappelling down over the cliff edge to the cave entrance.  One wonders how the ancients accessed this cave which is located 80 m (250 ft.) below the cliff top. cave-of-skulls

In order to stay one step ahead of the thieves who will inevitably return to search for scrolls and other items to sell on the black market, last summer a 3-week excavation was undertaken to scientifically study the cave again (a first dig was conducted in the 1960’s).  Among the many bones found in the Cave of Skulls, so named because of the 7 human skeletons buried there during the Bar Cochva revolt, are a few pieces of papyrus.  They have not been fully studied yet to see if perhaps they have writing on them, but this finding leaves the door open for the possibility of finding more scrolls in the Dead Sea area.

There are finds here dating from 139 C.E., several years after the Bar Cochva revolt, and show the presence of Jews in this area even as they had been banned by Hadrian from the area of Jerusalem.  The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is strong and the Jews hiding in the Cave of Skulls over 1850 years ago were not ready to give up on that.  They were willing to live under extreme conditions to keep the dream of return to Jerusalem alive.

Nearby sites

  • Dragot Stream
  • Ein Gedi Chalcolithic Temple
  • Qumran

Chalk Talk

Wanna work long hours?  Get dirty, burn yourself on candles, lightbulbs?  Work in the pouring rain and the heat of Israel summer?  Have access to “natural” rest rooms? Climb up and down and up and down the side of a hill, often carrying heavy loads?   Do you like shlepping rocks?  Instructing people in the correct use of a pick axe?  Having 2200 year old dirt perpetually stuck beneath your fingernails?  Chalk dust always in your hair?   (Hillel claims that my hair is gray, but I am sticking with the chalk dust story.) Climbing through small openings as much as 3 floors underground?

Do you genuinely want to work with people discovering the past?  Does it excite you to know that you may find a piece of pottery with Hebrew letters written 2200 years ago?  How about a part of a glass bracelet from Sidon or a toga clip?  Maybe you get turned on by ancient coins?  Do you want to know how people lived and worked in the time of Alexander the Great?  Or maybe find connections between ancient texts and archeological finds?

All of these activities are part of my work at Archeological Seminars Dig-for-a-Day program in Maresha/Beit Guvrin.  I started working there 16 months ago, and I truly love it.  I love working outdoors, working with my body, working with people, and the continual magic of discovery when you are doing archeology with people who come with a fresh outlook.  But one other element draws me to the work:


When I was in Tour Guide school, geology was not the most beloved topic.  Most people who become Tour Guides in Israel have as their first love history or some related discipline.  While these things are definitely important and the majority of visitors to Israel want to explore some part of the history of Western culture, I also have a  scientific bent.  This quickly became known in the class, and I wrote up many explanations of the more scientific topics which arose, including a few on geology.

To most people, maybe, a rock is a rock is a rock.  They have different colors and properties, but other than identifying them have no bearing on life.  Chalk does have that pristine whiteness, smooth contours, lovely uniformity.  That stuff is all nice, but for me, living in a place with varied geology, I like to see the connections between the rocks and the people.  Different rocks lead to different soils, which in turn are better for growing one type of crop, for example.  Maresha/Beit Guvrin is built on chalk.  This affected the type of life they were able to lead.  Because the chalk is so easy to work with and quarry, the people living in Maresha were able to do much of their work in these vast systems of  underground “basements”.  To date, 5000 different cave rooms have been found in Maresha, many with columbaria, olive presses, cisterns, or cultic shrines.

So, a bit on chalk.

Dolomite, Limestone, and Chalk are all basically the same chemically.  CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate).  They are all marine sedementary rock forms made from sea creatures.

Dolomite is formed at a sea depth of 2 – 5 m.  (under a mite of pressure)
Limestone is formed at a sea depth of 20 – 50 m.
Chalk is formed at a sea depth of 200 + m.  (under lots of pressure)

The three form differently because of the different sea creatures which live at different depths.  (Are we all thinking “Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  In shallow waters, we have big papa sea creatures; in medium waters, we have medium mama sea creatures; in deep waters, we have wee baby sea creatures.)

Chalk has the possibility of having a layer of Nari on top of it.  “Nari” comes from the Arabic “Nur” which means fire.  This is because the Nari looks like burnt, cooked Chalk.

Chalk also features predominantly in the Judean desert and in the area of Tzfat, but there is no Nari there.

When does Chalk form Nari and when not?

According to the research by Yaacov Goldberg,  Chalk forms Nari in only very specific conditions of the proportion of annual rainfall to annual average temperature.  When this ratio is between 15-30, Nari can form.
Shefela:  Average rainfall:  400 mm, Average temperature: 20, 400/20 = 20  – formation of Nari
Judean Desert:  Average rainfall:  100 mm, Average temperature:  20, 100/20 = 5 – no Nari
Tzfat:  Average rainfall:  600 mm, Average temperature:  15, 600/15 = 40 – no Nari
Beit  Shearim:  Average rainfall:  650 mm, Average temperature 26, 650/26 = 25 – Nari

But let’s get back to Chalk and People….Chalk is really important in the history of Eretz Israel.
The Bar Cochva revolt could not have happened without chalk.  This stone which is so easy to quarry made for quick construction of escape tunnels and hiding places.  Interestingly enough, in the North near Usha where they now think there may have been Bar Cochva activity, the surface rock is Chalk.

Chalk from the bell caves in Beit Guvrin (next to Maresha and later)  built the Arab cities of Ramle and Ashkelon.

Wine presses cannot be made directly in Chalk.  Despite the number and variance of industry in Maresha/Beit Guvrin caves, you will not find a single wine press inside a cave.  The chalk chemically reacts with the grapes and sours the wine (don’t try this at home – I did, and it was not fun).  We do find wine presses in caves in the Jerusalem hills, but again this is not chalk but Limestone, so all is good.  Wine presses in the Shefala abound, but only in the Nari on the surface.  (I have not yet tried making wine on Nari, but this science experiment is the next to come.)

I could go on and on about chalk, or other geology which influence the truly rich history and culture of Israel.  This is just a dusting with hopefully more to come.  Enjoy life!