SEBASTIA, West Bank (AP) — The ancient town of Sebastia is one of the major archaeological sites of the Holy Land, with its overlapping layers of history dating back nearly 3,000 years. But today the hilltop capital of biblical kings, later ruled by Roman conquerors, Crusaders and Ottomans, is marred with weeds, graffiti and garbage.
Caught between conflicting Israeli and Palestinian jurisdictions, the site has been largely neglected by both sides for the past two decades. Beyond the decay, unauthorized diggers and thieves have taken advantage of the lack of oversight to make off with priceless artifacts.
"You can learn the history of the whole region (by) staying here because all the powers that crossed the region since the time of the Egyptians were passing through," said Carla Benelli, an art historian who has been working on restoration projects in parts of the site, financed in part by the Italian government . “From this point of view, it’s really very important.” Read more.
The Civil Administration is calling for the demolition of a Palestinian village in the southern West Bank, partly because it is built on an archaeological site.
The call for demolition comes despite the fact that Israeli authorities have approved the construction of Jewish settlements on much more important archaeological sites, such as the settlement at Tel Rumeida in Hebron and the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem.
In the past year, the High Court of Justice has been asked to rule on the state’s intentions to demolish at least 12 villages south of Hebron (Susia, Dekaika, Bir al-Id, Saala and eight villages that have been declared part of army firing zone No. 918) located in Area C, which is under Israeli control, and force their residents to move to Areas A and B, which are under Palestinian civil control. Read more.
BATTIR, West Bank — In this scenic Palestinian village in the West Bank hills near Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, a week is said to last eight days, not seven. That is because Battir’s eight extended families take daily turns watering their crops from the natural springs that feed their ancient agricultural terraces, a practice they say has worked for centuries.
The water flows through a Roman-era irrigation system down into a deep valley where a railway track — a section of the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway built in Ottoman times — roughly marks the 1949 armistice line between the West Bank and Israel. The area is dotted with tombs and ruins upon ruins of bygone civilizations.
When the World Heritage Committee of Unesco — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — meets in St. Petersburg, Russia, over the next two weeks, this pastoral area will be thrust into the spotlight at least momentarily as the villagers and conservation experts fight to save what they say is a unique living cultural and historical landscape. Read more.
As the Byzantine Empire was in decline, Islam began to dominate the Middle East, with a remarkable culture that showed a command of technology and an appreciation of art and decoration, research by archaeologists shows.
In order to study Islamic civilization in its earliest days, Donald Whitcomb, who directs the Islamic Archaeology project at the Oriental Institute, is undertaking a project with Palestinian colleagues to further excavate an early Islamic site north of Jericho that contains a palace, a bathhouse and what was probably a settlement to the north.
Whitcomb excavated the site at Khirbet Al-Mafjar last winter and will return in January as part of a joint archaeological project that will include Americans and Palestinians. The team already has uncovered a gate and a stairway that led to a residential town to the north, where the team uncovered an ornamental pool surrounded by white mosaic paving, glass vials, lamps and other artifacts. Read more.
In collaboration with the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, which was re-established 15 years ago, a team of international archaeologists have recommenced the excavation of the ancient site of Tell Belata, in the West Bank city of Nablus.
“Establishing a department of archaeology was an important event. It can be viewed as a revival of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities (which) ceased to exist in 1948. At the same time it gives Palestinians the opportunity to participate in writing or rewriting the history of Palestine from its primary sources,” said Hamdan Taha, director General of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities.
The aim of the excavation is to understand the site better, as it features evidence of human structures since 5,000 years. Read more.
NABLUS, West Bank (AP) — Archaeologists unearthing a biblical ruin inside a Palestinian city in the West Bank are writing the latest chapter in a 100-year-old excavation that has been interrupted by two world wars and numerous rounds of Mideast upheaval.
Working on an urban lot that long served residents of Nablus as an unofficial dump for garbage and old car parts, Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists are learning more about the ancient city of Shekhem, and are preparing to open the site to the public as an archaeological park next year.
The project, carried out under the auspices of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, also aims to introduce the Palestinians of Nablus, who have been beset for much of the past decade by bloodshed and isolation, to the wealth of antiquities in the middle of their city.
"The local population has started very well to understand the value of the site, not only the historical value, but also the value for their own identity," said Gerrit van der Kooij of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who co-directs the dig team.
"The local people have to feel responsible for the archaeological heritage in their neighborhood," he said. Read more.