Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – November 2019

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This month, reports relating to ancient Assyria, ancient Egypt, and ancient Israel were all in the news.  They help us understand aspects of different cultures in the biblical world, including Assyrian worship, Egyptian life, and burial practices in first-century Jerusalem. Here were the top three news reports in biblical archaeology in November 2019.

3. Two Replica Assyrian Statues Donated to Mosul University

replica lamassu
A replica of an Assyrian Iamassu is prepared at the University of Mosul. It replaces one of the lamassu statues that was destroyed in Mosul by ISIS militants. Photo Credit: AFP

Replicas of two statues of Assyrian deities, known as lamassu, were recently donated to the University of Mosul by the British Museum and the Factum Foundation.  In February 2015, ISIS extremists were shown in a video destroying a lamassu with sledgehammers and jackhammers.  The replicas are highly accurate reproductions of the two original winged lions with human faces that are in the British Museum.  A high-resolution white light scanner created a model of the statue, which was then recreated using silicon molds, stucco marble and wax.  The statues were manufactured and shipped in pieces, and then assembled on site.  The finished products are high-quality replicas that are virtually indistinguishable from the originals by the average person.   They have been installed at the entrance to the library at the University of Mosul.  Scholars are working to replace many of the ancient artifacts that were destroyed by Islamic militants during the reign of ISIS in the area.  The original lamassu statues were originally in the throne room of the Assyrian king, Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled Assyria from 883-859 BC.


2. Researchers Analyze Egyptian Mummy Bones With X-Rays and Infrared Light

Egyptian Mummies
Researchers have scanned the bones of Egyptians mummies to analyze the content of various elements that may have been in the ancient Egyptian environment. Photo credit: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquties

Researchers from Cairo University in Egypt have teamed up with scientists at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) to study 32 mummified bone samples and 2 soil samples using X-ray and infrared light.  The ALS is being used to study the samples’ properties, including their microscopic chemistry and structure.  The bone samples come from two sites: a burial ground at Saqqara, in northern Egypt, and the city of Aswan, in the south. The remains are from mummies in four different dynasties in Egyptian history: the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, Late Period, and Greco-Roman.  Researchers have previously detected lead and aluminum in the bones which they believe comes from the environment of ancient Egypt. It is possible that the aluminum came from the potassium alum compound they added to their drinking water to reduce its cloudiness.  The lead may have come from the substance they used to polish pottery.  The team is hopeful that these tests will help determine whether these elements got into the bones from the environment in which the ancient Egyptians lived, or from the surrounding soil.


1. Famous Jerusalem Tomb Reopens To The Public

A photo from the late 1800’s of the famous “Tomb of the Kings” in Jerusalem, which likely belonged to Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo credit: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The so-called Tomb of the Kings, located in East Jerusalem, recently reopened after having been closed to the public for a decade.  France, which owns the site, has compleetd renovations and maintenance, and now allows a limited number of visitors two days per week, providing they pre-register and pay online.  The tomb is among the largest and most beautiful examples of a Roman-era tomb in the Holy Land.  Despite its name, which mistakenly refers to the now-discounted theory that it was the tomb complex of biblical kings, it is generally accepted that the tomb is actually that of Queen Helena of Adiabene, a convert to Judaism in the first century.  Several sarcophagi were discovered within and are now in the Louvre museum in Paris.  The tomb’s importance to biblical archaeology lies in the fact that is a well-preserved example of a first-century tomb in Jerusalem.  It is a rolling-stone sealing tomb which has multiple burial chambers, some of which have curved arches over the burial beds, as well as numerous loculi (kokhim), long narrow shafts in which the dead were placed.  Today visitors can see the remains of the 90-meter façade, which is described by Josephus, but they are not allowed to descend into the tomb itself, which is visible beneath a metal grate.


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Reminder: Occasionally, due to the timing of an announcement or the timing of my Current Events post for ABR, the news report is from the previous month.


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