Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again
When everything lies in ruins, what does it take to put it together again? Archaeology is destructive by nature. The excavation process involves systematically removing layers of dirt and debris in order to unearth material remains. The site of Um el-Kanatir, located in the Golan Heights above the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is different. Partners Chaim Ben David and Yeshu Dray have digitally mapped and then lifted up the heavy stones at the site in order to restore the Byzantine synagogue that was once there. Chaim Ben David describes this complex restoration process—called anastylosis—in “Um el-Kanatir: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again” in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
What is unique about the Byzantine synagogue at Um el-Kanatir, meaning the “Mother of Arches,” is that although the building has completely collapsed, most of its stone blocks lay in situ where they fell. The entire site was mapped with 3D laser scans, which provided precise locations and measurements for every block, and each block was tagged with a radio-frequency identification microchip for tracking.
With computer software, the archaeological team was able to create a 3D rendering of the reconstructed synagogue. An industrial-strength bridge crane was then used to lift up and relocate the extremely heavy blocks to their restored position.
“It has taken 12 years to reconstruct 50 percent of the original building,” writes Ben David. “Each stone has been placed specifically to fit each of those flanking it. Under the direction of main field archaeologist Ilana Gonen Chaim, we worked the equivalent of approximately 600 days, spending half the time excavating and half reconstructing.”
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The result is breathtaking: The archaeologists have restored the synagogue’s western and eastern walls, its Torah shrine, an octagonal basalt flagstone floor mosaic and columns decorated with the seven-branched menorah.
To learn step by step how the archaeologists used 21st-century methods and technology to restore the Byzantine synagogue at Um el-Kanatir, read the full article “Um el-Kanatir: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again” by Chaim Ben David in the July/August 2016 issue of BAR.
BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Um el-Kanatir: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again” by Chaim Ben David in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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Ancient Synagogues in Israel and the Diaspora
Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols: Zodiac mosaics in ancient synagogues
A Samson Mosaic from Huqoq
Magnificent Menorah Mosaic Found in Galilee
Anastylosis at Machaerus, Where John the Baptist was Beheaded
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