Magdala 2016: Excavating the Hometown of Mary Magdalene

Dig a foot down at Magdala and you may make history

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The Magdala Stone bears one of the earliest images of the seven-branched menorah. Photo: Yael Yulowich, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

In preparation for the construction of a guesthouse in 2009 at Magdala on the western coastline of the Sea of Galilee, an archaeological test was conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). A tractor came across what would be the most important archaeological discovery in Israel in the last 50 years less than a foot beneath the soil. This find was the Magdala Stone, a carved stone relief bearing one of the earliest images of the seven-branched menorah. The stunning discovery led to further excavation. A first-century synagogue and a marketplace were soon brought to light after having been covered by a series of small-scale landslides for the last 2,000 years.
I met Fr. Juan Solana, Director and Founder of the Magdala project, in Mexico in 2006 during a promotional meeting about the Holy Land at the Anahuac University in Mexico. I gave him my card, hoping he might need the expertise of an archaeologist in the process of building a guesthouse for pilgrims at the site of Magdala, near present-day Migdal in Israel. In the Bible, Mary Magdalene was from the town of Magdala.
After the IAA had found the synagogue at Magdala, I got a call from Fr. Solana, who asked me to come to Israel as soon as I could and assist him in figuring out what they had come across that stopped the expensive construction.

Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza and Fr. Juan Solana look over the excavation of a mikveh at Magdala. Photo: Magdala Project.

In 2010, one year after digging with the IAA around the synagogue, I was able to begin my own excavation project at Magdala on behalf of the Anahuac University of Mexico with my colleagues Dr. Linda Mazanilla and Dr. Luis Barba from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Since then, we have been digging and researching the finds of the ancient city of Magdala in cooperation with the IAA and the UNAM.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer on an archaeological dig? I Volunteered For This?! Life on an Archaeological Dig is a free eBook that gives you the lowdown on what to expect from life at a dig site. You’ll be glad to have this informative, amusing and sometimes touching collection of articles by archaeological dig volunteers.

This is the first time that the IAA has given an archaeology license to a Mexican dig team. On top of that, I’m the first Mexican woman to lead a dig abroad. It has been an honor to have the opportunity to lead such an important dig that sheds so much light on first-century history. Magdala challenges theories and confirms passages from the Gospels. It is here where important Biblical events happened, and we are the first people to see Magdala after 2,000 years.
So far, we have uncovered at Magdala a synagogue, marketplace, fishing pools, four mikva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), mosaics, a domestic area, wharf and harbor.

The first-century C.E. synagogue and Magdala Stone at Magdala. Photo: Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

This summer, I have come to Magdala for the sixth time with the support of 40 volunteers to continue uncovering history. The volunteers come from Mexico, the US, France, Spain and Italy. Our goal this summer is to understand the lifestyle and usage of the area we dug last year, such as the continuation of the main street, public rooms and a fourth Jewish ritual bath.
Let’s see what the picks will strike this time. Follow us on Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter!

marcela-zapata-mezaMarcela Zapata-Meza is the Chief Archaeologist of the Magdala Archaeological Project. A faculty member at the Anahuac University of Mexico, Zapata-Meza specializes in Biblical archaeology, Egyptology and religion.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Discoveries in Mary Magdalene’s Hometown
The Fishy Secret to Ancient Magdala’s Economic Growth by Marcela Zapata-Meza
Ancient Bronze Marvels at Magdala
The Magdala Stone: The Jerusalem Temple Embodied
Understanding the Jewish Menorah
Ancient Synagogues—Archaeology and Art: New Discoveries and Current Research by Rachel Hachlili
Reviewed by Benjamin D. Gordon


6 Responses

  1. Mary Lou Hintz says:

    I was in Israel in January of 2016 for 12 days, Galilee, and Magdala was such a thrill for me, the Magdala stone is beautiful, and the mosaic designs on exposed floor. En Gedi was an adventure with waterfalls. Everyday was wonderful, walking where Jesus walked. The Bible came alive for me! Ichave a 3 yrs.old olive tree from seed, from Gethsemene!

  2. NM says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza and for taking part in leading this project!! I was in Magdala and saw this for myself just last summer, June 2018. What an amazing time we’ve had here. Praying that you are blessed by God more and more as you continue to embark on more archaeological projects proving the Bible is absolutely true. God Bless you!

  3. raynee chesson says:

    that’s my hometown

  4. Joey Silver says:

    No offense intended, Dr. Marcela Zapata-Meza, but “the most important archaeological discovery in Israel in the last 50 years “? REALLY?

    Sorry, but I’d consider the Ostracon and the Batei El from Kh. Qeiyefa, not to mention the second gate of the city, enabling us to identify it with the Biblical city ‘Sha’arayim’; the early Church building in the style of Galilean Synagogues, but found in the Ela Valley SW of Jerusalem; the site of Antonia near ‘Ir David; and at least a few other discoveries, AT LEAST as important as your Synagogue with the stone.

    And please don’t misunderstand me – I am a dedicated supporter of the Magdala Project (as well as a major supporter of the excavations at Kh. Qeiyefa, Lachish, Kh. Arai, and a donor to Bet Shearim, among others). I’ve given funding to Magdala a number of times, and intend to continue to do so in the future. And I consider Fr. Solana a friend. But your statement was a bit too much. Sorry.

    I wish you and the excavation many years of successful work, and wonderful finds, but a bit less hyperbole, please. At least I hope it was hyperbole.

  5. Freddy Hernandez says:

    Last year i had the joy of being there with 45 priests of Australia’s Perth and Sydney’s Redemptoris Mater seminary a beautiful experience, courage in your mission-work at that holy site, our prayers are with you all

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