While executive editor Johnny Pierce takes a few days off, I’ll be posting an extra blog or two. Today I thought I’d point to some important archaeological finds that may not make it into the popular press.

In Israel, where Israel has chosen to pound the Palestinians in Gaza while they can before America inaugurates a president who will dare to challenge them for it, exciting things are happening in the world of archaeology. Recently, there have been several important finds, including a first-century half-shekel coin discovered in debris illegally excavated from beneath the temple mount. It is the first coin known to have been recovered from the temple mount, where the Muslim Waqf committed the archaeological crime of digging out many tons of dirt from beneath the Dome of the Rock in order to build an underground mosque. For the past four years, a rescue effort led by Gabriel Barkay and Yitzhak Zweig has recruited volunteers to sift through the soil. The 14-year-old boy who found the coin is one of more than 40,000 volunteers have participated. (Photo by Ze’ev Radovan, from Ha’aretz.com)

Of more significance, the earliest known Hebrew inscription was found this summer, a tenth-century BC ostracon discovered in the first seasons of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafah, a small but fortified city a few miles west of Jerusalem. The inscription, written in Proto-Canaanite script on a piece of broken pottery, has not been fully translated, but appears to be a letter. The site and the inscription are significant in a number of ways. The walled city dates from the time of David, which is a blow to “low chronology” archaeologists who believe Israel had no centralized authority until more than 100 years later. The inscription demonstrates that the Hebrews were writing in the alphabetic script as early as 1000 B.C., and will serve as an important benchmark for the development of the Proto-Sinaitic script and the development of the Hebrew language. (photo American Schools of Oriental Research).

Finally, of less historical significance but of greater scientific interest, scientists continue to cultivate a date palm tree grown from a nearly-2,000 year old seed found at Masada, a cliffside fortress near the southern end of the Dead Sea that was destroyed by the Romans after the Jewish rebellion in 70 A.D. The seeds were discovered in 1963 and stored away. In 2005, five of the seeds were released to researchers led by Sarah Sallon of Jerusalem’s Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center. She had two of the seeds carbon-dated, and gave three others to Elaine Solowey of the Arava Institute of the Environment. Solowey soaked the seeds in warm water, fertilizer, and growth-inducing hormones, then potted them. One of the seeds sprouted and is now a healthy four-year-old date palm tree. If it turns out to be a female tree, it could possibly be used to restore a previously extinct species. Israel was once home to vast forests of date palms, but now imports dates from elsewhere.(Photo from GeneticArchaeology.com)

Those who care for the tree call it “Methuselah,” an appropriate moniker. May both the tree and the people of Israel-Palestine grow in peace.

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