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Friday, February 04, 2011

Unearthing Tiberias: Shedding Light on an Ancient Religeous Center


The Tiberias excavations are located in the heart of the ancient city of Tiberias, less than 1 km south of the modern city, just across the street from the beautiful and historic Sea of Galilee.

Tiberias was founded in 19 C.E. by king Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, as the new capital of his kingdom. In spite of the original objection of the Jews of Galilee to settle the new city, named in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius, it was not long before Tiberias became the Jewish capital of the Galilee, rivaled only by its sister-city, Sepphoris. Historical sources inform us of both pagan and Christian communities struggling to find their place alongside the Jewish community within the social and urban networks. Although sources are mute regarding the political leadership in Tiberias during the Byzantine period, some records, along with recently discovered archaeological finds, point to a strong Christian community lead by the bishop of the city.

The peaceful surrender of the city at the time of the Arab conquest, guaranteed the residents of Tiberias fair treatment by the newly established Islamic government. In fact, Tiberias reached its peak during the Early Islamic period as the new capital of the province Jund al-Urdunn, replacing Beth Shean, the capital of the Roman-Byzantine province of Palestina Secunda. Recent archaeological excavations in and around the ancient city of Tiberias, have helped us re-evaluate the centrality of the city during this period, indicating that it may have been even more marvelous than previously realized.

The decline of Tiberias during the 11th century, until its final destruction and relocation by the Crusaders to its present setting, is likely due to a series of natural disasters and repeated rampages led against the city by violent nomadic tribes.


Current Excavations

Dozens of excavations have been carried out to date in and around the modern city of Tiberias. The site on which our excavation focuses is at the center of the ancient city. Previously excavated structures at this location include a bathhouse complex, a basilical building, a large colonnaded structure and what has been identified as the foundations for the temple to the emperor Hadrian. It has recently been suggested by the director of this project, Dr. Katia Cytryn-Silverman, that the large colonnaded structure, originally identified as a covered market, is none other than the city’s congregational mosque, comparable to other buildings of this type found throughout the region, and modeled after the Great Mosque of Damascus.

The main goal of our study is to better understand the layout and phases of the colonnaded building in order to determine it usage and character, while studying it in both its stratigraphic and urban contexts. We aim to achieve this goal by utilizing the information gained in past excavations, along with continual, meticulous field work.

To date, four excavation seasons were conducted in the framework of the new excavation project at Tiberias. Initial data was retrieved prompting further research questions dealing with the building, its phases and its urban context. These questions are the focus of our work in the upcoming seasons. Special finds from the previous seasons include: a mosaic floor, a large water cistern, Arabic inscriptions, complete oil lamps, figurines, brass chains from which glass oil lamps were suspended and hundreds of coins.


How You Can Help

The New Tiberias Excavation Project is calling for students, volunteers and professionals alike who would be interested in participating and making a difference.

The staff is comprised of students and personnel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The work force consists of students and volunteers from around the globe as well as local workers from the Galilee. The volunteers (18 years and older) need no previous experience in order to participate in an array of tasks related to the archaeological field work: excavating, sifting, washing and reading of the pottery, and registering the finds found in the excavation. Volunteers are also provided with field trips to nearby sites as well as lectures on topics related to the research prompting this excavation.

The 2011 season will be four weeks long, beginning May 22 and concluding on June 17. The work week is from Monday through Friday; the work day begins at 5:00am and ends at 1:00pm, with field trips and lectures during the afternoon and evening hours. The expedition will be staying at the Aviv Hotel, a 10 minute walk from the site along the promenade of the Sea of Galilee, and a five minute walk from the city center of modern Tiberias. All rooms have a private bathroom, TV, air-conditioning and a balcony. Single and double rooms are available, as are camping options.

There is a non-refundable application fee of US$100, which should be made payable to “The Israel Exploration Society”. The cost for participation is $1350 for half the season and $2550 for the entire four weeks (camping options are also available). This sum covers room and full board from Sunday evening check in through the end of the work day on Friday, as well as all afternoon activities. The fee does not include airfare to and from Israel or transportation within the country; participants must make their own travel arrangements.

Students may arrange to receive academic credits through the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (and transfer the credits to their home institution). The cost is US$80 for the application fee and US$120 per academic credit. Participants will receive 2 credits for participation during half of the season and 4 credits for the entire season. The payment for the credits should be made directly to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Students opting to receive academic credits must fulfill the requirements set by the field school directors (attending all field trips and lectures, tasks in the field and writing of an academic paper relating to the project).

For further information and application forms, please contact:

Shulamit Miller

Institute of Archaeology

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Mount Scopus

91905 Jerusalem, Israel

E-mail: tiberiasexcavation@gmail.com

Website: http://archaeology.huji.ac.il/Tiberias

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