Category Archives: Archaeology

Tarsus — A Very Unusual Roman Building

Very few tour groups have a chance to visit Tarsus and if they do, they typically visit only the excavations in the center of town (see previous post) and the associated “Well of St. Paul“).  However, there is a very very massive building that is hard to locate and is situated on the edges of residential and industrial neighborhoods.  It is called the “Donuktash” (Turkish for “frozen stones”).  The foundation seems to be composed of a hardened conglomerate of medium size pebbles.


View looking north along the eastern wall of the Donuktash. The preserved portion of this foundation reaches to a height of about 15 ft. [4.6 m.]. This foundation wall is 335 ft. [102 m.] long — about the length of a football field! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This mysterious and massive structure is apparently the foundation of a large, second century A.D., Roman Temple.   The exterior core of the temple remains, as do some significant interior foundations—for the marble and stone facing have been stripped away during the centuries.


View looking south at the current interior space of the Donuktash. It is longer than a “football field!”  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The exterior walls are visible on the right (west) and left (east) sides of the image.  In the far center is a massive foundation upon which the central building (cella) of the temple probably stood.  Even though this picture was not taken from the extreme north end of the Donuktash, it does give some perspective to its size—335 ft. [102 m.] long. The whole structure awaits excavation.

The Donuktash may have been an Imperial Temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Commodus (A.D. 177–192).

To view additional images of the Donuktash Click Here.

When we visited the site the gate was locked (it always is) and it seemed impossible to find a way in.  I thought to myself that there was no way to keep out the local children, so I asked our guide to ask the neighbor “how to the kids get in?”  Well, the answer was, “there is a ladder around the back!”  So, we climbed the latter to examine the interior!  (remember the walls are 15 ft. high!)


Students checking out the “cella” of the building.


Investigating the walls of the Donuktash.


Exiting the Donuktash.

A Stone Seal from Davidic Era from Temple Mount

The Times of Israel has an article entitled “Tiny stone seal from King David era found in Temple Mount fill.”


A cone-shaped seal found in the rubble excavated from the Temple Mount believed to date to around the 10th century BCE (Zachi Dvira, Temple Mount Sifting Project.”

Much of the information in the article in the Times of Israel comes from a telephone conversation with Gabi Barkay, a founder of the Temple Mount Sifting Project

Barkay said the seal’s discovery attests to ‘the administrative activity which took place upon the Temple Mound during those times.’

It is amazing to think that something such as this was found on The Temple Mount itself. Although there are bound to be disputes about the dating of this object, it was not found in situ, Barkay’s judgments on such matters are typically widely accepted and sound.

Click on the link above for the full article with additional pictures.


Gabriel Barkay peering into the repository of one of the “Ketef Hinnom” tombs.


What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.


The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge


Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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Israelite Cisterns at Arad Now Open! (Negev of Israel)


A portion of one of two cisterns on the Citadel of Arad.  Behind the men is a small chamber off the main chamber of the cistern—see final image below to view a portion of  the main chamber of this cistern.

Ever since visiting Tel Arad in the spring of 1967 with Professor Anson Rainey both the small citadel, with its Judean Temple, and the large, lower, Early Bronze Age city (ca. 2800 B.C.) have intrigued me.

One of the mysteries was were/how did they store water in the Judean Citadel?  It was evident that there was at least a small cistern in the citadel but it had not been excavated and was still blocked with debris.


View looking down into the cistern, which is located just south of the Judean Temple. It was filled via a channel (below) from outside the citadel that ran under the citadel wall.

It was also known that a channel lead into the cistern, under its wall, evidently putting water into it.


View looking east at the water channel. In the very upper part of this image the western wall of the citadel is visible. This channel ran under the citadel wall into a cistern that was located just south of the Israelite Temple.

The cistern is located just to the south of the Judean Temple (see below) but it was always blocked up—it didn’t look like much was there (see above).

However, over the past 5 plus years each time we visited Arad the cistern was obviously under excavation and it was tantalizing to wonder what was being discovered!


View looking down on the Israelite Temple, and in the lower left portion of the image—just outside the temple—a modern staircase leads down into the two cisterns that were in use in the 9th and 8th centuries B.C.

View looking down on the Judean Temple, and in the lower left portion of the image—just outside the temple—a modern staircase leads down into the two cisterns that were in use in the 9th and 8th centuries B.C.

When we visited Arad this past June (2015) the cistern excavation had been completed and a modern staircase even led down into one of the two chambers!


View looking down into the interior of one of the two large cisterns. Note the original staircase that descends from lower right down into the cistern. Note also, significant portions of the original plaster on the walls of the cistern.  Click on this large Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The two cisterns are approximately 32 ft. [10 m.] deep and together hold about 105,600 gal. [400 cubic meters] of water!  The chambers are coated with 6 layers of plasters.


View looking at the carved out cavity of interior of one of the two large cisterns. Note also, significant portions of the original plaster on the walls of the cistern. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The cisterns were used during peacetime as well as during sieges.  They were  filled with rainwater from within the citadel via the underground channel (see above) that led from outside the citadel, under its wall, into the cistern.  Since there are no natural springs in the area, probably water was brought by pack animals, from cisterns in the vicinity—especially the one in the lower Canaanite City, and then poured into the water channel and from there into the cisterns.

For free High Resolution images of the above images Click Here.

Baram — The Synagogue

BaramAlmost all travelers to Israel will visit the justly famous synagogue at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee—and some will even visit the one at nearby Chorazin.  However, the best preserved of the “Galilean Type” synagogues is the one located at the not-too-frequently visited site of Baram.  It is located in Upper Galilee, about 1.2 mi. [2 km.] south of the Israeli Lebanese border.


View looking northeast at the southern façade of the synagogue at Baram
This southern wall is still intact—in contrast to the rebuilt walls of the synagogues at Capernaum and Chroazin
Click on Image to Enlarge

Note the light color of the building.  The darker grey upper portion was exposed to the elements over the years while the lighter lower portion was buried—until excavated.

There were eight columns that supported the roof of the porch—the one on the right (east) side is still standing!  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.  Stylistically, this synagogue is very similar to the more well–known ones at Capernaum and Chorazin.


View looking southeast at the interior of the synagogue
Click on Image to Enlarge

Like the synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin, the one at Baram has a central nave, two side aisles, and a back aisle.  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.   The floor of this synagogue was paved with limestone slabs (not mosaics).  There are indications that there were benches along the two side walls.

The dating of these “Galilean” synagogues is much debated with dates ranging from the third century A.D. (unlikely) to the six century (more probable).

To view additional images of the Baram Synagogue Click Here.

On Friday I will comment on the “modern” history of Baram—Kfar Bir’im.

A Fortress on Patmos

Although many think that Patmos was a barren Alcatraz-like island where John was exiled, this is not true (see Franz below).


View looking west into the modern harbor of Patmos. The “mountain/hill” in the background is the Citadel of Patmos that is called the Kastelli. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

On the central portion of Patmos, the “Kastelli” (acropolis) towers over the main harbor at an altitude of 1,550 ft. [472 m.].


View looking south at the west gate on the summit of Kastelli (the acropolis) of Patmos. Note the well-preserved exterior staircase.

The woman in the image is actually standing in the entrance–way.  The original line of fortifications is from the Hellenistic Period (third century B.C.), although this gate may have been rebuilt in more recent times.

fortification-towerView looking southeast at six courses of stone of one of the towers on the north slope of the acropolis of Patmos that is called the “Kastelli” (acropolis).  These fortifications date to the Hellenistic Period—that is about the third century B.C.  Compare the style of the well–preserved Hellenistic fortifications found at Priene and Assos—both in Turkey.

To view additional images of the Acropolis/Kastelli on Patmos Click Here.

For a helpful article describing the Patmos that John was exiled to, see Gordon Franz, “The King and I (Part 2).” Bible and Spade 12 (2000): 115–23.  It is also available on Gordon Franz’s web site Life and Land but without graphics.

Unusual Ritual Bath Discovered in Jerusalem

Many ritual baths from the Second Temple Period have been excavated in Jerusalem, but today (Wednesday, 5 August 2015) the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the excavation of one in the Arnona neighborhood in south Jerusalem.  This large mikveh has inscriptions, written in Aramaic, and symbols of a boat, palm trees, plants and possibly a menorah written or carved on its walls!

The Times of Israel has published an article describing this discovery along with 9 clear photos and an informative (partially in Hebrew) 5 minute video of the exterior and interior of the mikveh and its inscriptions.