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Making Seal Impressions

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As you know, the first 25 donors from our Annual Appeal are going to receive a clay seal impression (Bulla in Hebrew) that we made from one of our 10th century BCE stamps found in the sifting. Those lucky few will get a bulla and a whole explanation, but we thought we would share the process with all of you as well!

The 10th century BCE falls within the Iron Age and is the time period of the Jebusites, from whom David conquered Jerusalem—as well as the construction of the Temple by his son, King Solomon. Other similar seals found in Israel dating from the late 11th to the beginning of 9th centuries BCE allow us to date our seal to this time period as well. The stamp seal that we used is conical in shape and made of brown limestone. Two animals, one above the other, are carved on its circular base, maybe representing predator and prey. The seal is perforated which enables it to be hung on a string and worn.

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Imer Bulla. Notice it is broken and there is an impression of the sack on the back

In antiquity, legal or administrative documents, or other objects or goods that needed to be authenticated and approved were “signed” using a stamp seal. (Personal items could also be stamped. We have a number of stamped handles from clay vessels that have been found in the sifting.) But how do we get bullae? A document was rolled and tied, or a package of goods was tied with a string. On the knot of the string was a piece of clay that was then stamped with a seal. These seals could either be worn on a string, like the one that we used, or set into a piece of jewelry such as a ring. The bulla is the clay seal impression left behind. In order to open the document or package, the bulla would be broken. This was a great form of protection, but could also be the reason than all of the bullae we have found are broken.

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Bulla made in our lab

How We Made the Bullae

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First, we mixed regular store bought clay with some of the ashy Temple Mount soil left over from the sifting. This is called tempering the clay. Untempered clay will shrink and crack during drying or firing. In ancient times, as today, different forms of temper are added to wet clay in order to provide greater strength. Sand, crushed rock, or even crushed broken pottery can be used as temper, and each material, and the percentage of temper used, affects the finished product. Haggai added about 5% Temple Mount soil to the clay. (Right)

Next, a marble sized piece of clay was then folded around a string. We then used the stamp seal to impress the clay onto a sack. (The seal is stone, and was therefore unaffected by the clay. Don’t worry! We take care of our artifacts!) The impressions are real, but they are modern and not an antiquity. We therefore wrote “copy” on the back so that none of these bullae will be mistaken for antiquities or sold on the black market.

Finally, the impressions were burned in a fire. Because fires, unlike ovens, do not have a consistent temperature, some of the bullae blackened while others maintained their brownish color. Some also fell into the ashes. All of this actually made these bullae look much like the seal impressions that we have found at the Sifting Project.

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20170105_135709We then boxed them up in the cardboard finds boxes that archaeologists know so well and gave them their own artifact tag. Archaeologists need to label where their important finds were found, so tags always include the site, the area, the locus, and the basket number designating the place that the artifact was found. They also include the date and a short description. Our seal impressions don’t have a real provenance, so the numbers on our tags are the actual numbers from the seal itself!

Watch the whole process!!

I don’t know about you, but this whole process has made me want my own stamp seal. I could send letters sealed in wax! I wonder what the post office would think… I have vivid memories of doing that with my dad and sealing letters with old coins and green wax.

Speakers in Italy: Israel as the Front Line of Europe

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Gaby in Rome!

The Italian news agency Il Foglio is hosting some of the greatest minds of our time, including our own Dr. Gabriel Barkay, to speak about the different aspects of the current political situation in Israel and Europe. Gaby will be joined by writers Bat Ye’or, Bruce Bawer, and Boualem Sansal, the Archbishop of Ferrara Mons. Luigi Negri, Imam of Drancy mosque, Hassen Chalghoumi, anthropologist, Maryan Ismail, the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum, Palestinian blogger, Waleed Al-Husseini, Executive Director of Christians for Israel International, Andrew Tucker, historian Benny Morris, and former foreign minister to Israel, Tzipi Livni.

The program is robust and covers many different topics including ISIS and Iran, The BDS Movement, the Balfour Declaration, and Antisemitism, in addition to Gaby’s talk entitled: The roots of the religious-historic denial: the case of UNESCO’s resolution.

This important meeting of minds takes place tomorrow: Thursday November 17th from 5-8 in the Piazza di Pietra in Rome.

If you are in Rome, do not miss the opportunity to attend these speeches. There will be simultaneous translation into English, Italian, and French.

Here is the list of events and speakers:

Islamic History Recorded

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Staff Spotlight: November

With the Nuba Inscription still fresh in our minds, this month’s Staff Spotlight lands on Peretz Reuven!

peretz_1Originally from Haifa, Peretz is our expert in the Islamic period pottery and artifacts. He originally got interested in the Islamic period while at Hebrew University. He began with Arabic and Islamic history, added in a bit of archaeology, and the rest is history. He has studied under some of the most widely published scholars, including Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, Rachel Milstein, and Hava Lazarus-Yafe. Now he works on many excavations and research projects across Jerusalem and Israel.

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Large Ophel Medallion

Peretz was working on a project with Dr. Eilat Mazar documenting all the walls of the Temple Mount, and researching and publishing the large ophel medallion when he met our director, Zachi Dvira. Zachi invited him to join our project, and now Peretz is researching all of the Early Islamic period pottery found by the Sifting Project. He is also planning to use his experience in researching architectural elements from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods to research the architectural elements found in our sifting.

The Early Islamic period assemblage from the Sifting Project is very rich in materials. We have a lot of ceramic vessels, many of which are glazed and elaborated. Though most of them are locally made, some were imported from Persia, Egypt, or parts of Europe. We can see that there was a lot of activity on the Temple Mount during that time period, but what is interesting is that many of the vessels are ordinary. For example, we have many cooking vessels and fragments of pipes. Peretz would not say that these vessels represent daily life, for example people coming and eating in an ordinary way, since the Temple Mount is a holy place. Rather, we are familiar with people coming to make celebrations on the Temple Mount as a part of Muslim fests and holidays. There were also people, such as guards, who stayed on the Temple Mount overnight, and our assemblage could represent their daily lives.

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Cut mother-of-pearl inlays which may be from the Dome of the Rock

Peretz does not have a favorite artifact among those that he is researching for the Sifting project because there are too many to choose from that are really interesting. Some artifacts are connected to the building of the Dome of the Rock or to the artists who made the mosaics adorning the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. For example, Peretz is excited by the large amount of mother of pearl inlay found by the project. Many of these inlays might come from the dismantling and discarding of the mosaics over the years.

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Gilded glass mosaic tesserae from the Early Islamic Period removed from the Dome of the Rock exterior walls during later renovations.

The buildings of the Temple Mount have mosaics inside and out. Some were dismantled during renovations while others were replaced because they were disintegrating or suffering from the elements. For example, all the outer surface of the Dome of the Rock was covered with delicate mosaics unlike the ceramic mosaics that we have today. In the 1500s, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, all the outer paneling of mosaics were taken off the Dome of the Rock and thrown away. Most likely, some of what we are finding today is from that period. Between dumping and the stories of people cutting off the mosaics and selling or collecting them, it is really nice that some of these artifacts have survived.

In addition to working with the Sifting Project, Peretz has just finished publishing his research on the Islamic period ceramics found in the Givati Parking Lot in Jerusalem and is now working on publishing his research on the Islamic material from the Western Wall tunnels and the Kotel. With Assaf Avraham, he just published his research on the Nuba Inscription. Peretz said that he has always been interested in the connection between Islam and Judaism. He and Assaf decided to do some research on the topic, and during that research Assaf found out about the interesting inscription in Nuba. They decided to do some additional research on the inscription and the results were definitely interesting. Check out the video they published on their finds.

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