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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Resurrecting Ancient Tamar


Archaeological excavation is by nature a process of planned, systematic destruction, and although it carefully records the material context of what it uncovers, the space it touches is never the same. But we can attempt to do the best we can to place some things back in order based on what we have learned about a site. That is where restoration and preservation come in, involving the actual reconstruction of what the ravages of time and human hand have put asunder. At a site known as Tamar in the southern desert of Israel, a team of professionals and volunteers are doing just that -- resurrecting what remains of an ancient city that, at one time, bore great commercial significance for the ancient kingdoms that successively or cooperatively controlled the critical trade routes of the southern Levant.

The Site

Throughout antiquity, the lucrative Arabian spice trade was carried on the backs of camels, traveling thousands of miles across trackless desert to reach the major ports and cities of the Mediterranean. All along this long road, local kings and faraway emperors eagerly set up stopping points for the caravans, making sure that they too got their share of the goods and profits.

The ancient city of Tamar in southern Israel was one of these sites. Already by the tenth century B.C., Solomon had established Tamar as a fortified town to control the trade routes coming from Arabia. Subsequent kings of both Judah and Edom, including Josiah, occupied the site in order to oversee the passing caravan trade. The Edomites even maintained a cultic shrine at Tamar, as evidenced by several distinctive Edomite incense altars found in a pit at the site. By the latter half of the first millennium B.C., the great Nabatean merchants of Petra had also established a commercial outpost here, an outpost that was then occupied by the Romans in the second century A.D.

The Project

In 1984, Blossoming Rose volunteers went to the desert to help make it blossom. Then, in 1986, Blossoming Rose volunteers and Israeli archaeologists initiated the excavation at Tel Tamar, exploring the ruins of the tel’s Second Century Roman fortress. After their shovels and brushes confirmed a Roman presence on the tel, they dug deeper, uncovering gates and walls of Jewish design, Jewish pottery, and the seal of the ancient Southern Kingdom of Judea. Along with excavation, however, came reconstruction. In 2009, under the sponsorship of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jewish National Fund, and Blossoming Rose, a team of experts and volunteers will continue the process of reconstructing Biblical Tamar, with the goal of not only restoring its ancient likeness, but to establish a center of learning and fellowship as well. They will welcome people of all ages and experience, not only to dig and restore but also to work in the kitchen, garden, do carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work. In addition to reconstruction and restoration, they want to plant trees and create a green belt around Tamar. Additionally, from February 23 to March 5, 2009, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Blossoming Rose will be sponsoring a seminar on archaeological reconstruction, conservation, and maintenance. Volunteer students who participate will receive 100 hours of classwork and fieldwork time which will be awarded by a certificate from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Do you want to be a part of literally reconstructing the past? If so, go to www.blossomingrose.org to find out more. It might open a whole new chapter of learning and experience in your life.

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