Tel Maresha Caves Reveal Hellenistic Treasures

Bible and archaeology news

The Hellenistic city of Maresha was home to a thriving multi-ethnic community of Nabateans, Edomites, Phoenicians, and Judeans from the third to second centuries B.C.E. Excavations at Tel Maresha, located 24 miles southwest of Jerusalem in Israel, have revealed a city of two parts: one above ground, containing houses and shops organized in city blocks, and one below, consisting of a massive system of caves hewn from the soft chalk underground.

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The underground cave complexes at Tel Maresha. Photo: Garo Nalbandian.

Recently, excavations led by Ian Stern and Bernie Alpert from the Archaeological Seminars Institute and Hebrew Union College, collaborating with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, made two discoveries that shed further light on how ancient peoples used the subterranean complexes at Tel Maresha.

Herod’s desert fortress on the mountaintop of Masada was made famous as the site of the last stand between the besieged Jewish rebels and the relentlessly advancing Romans at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt. In the free ebook Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress, discover what archaeology reveals about the Jewish defenders’ identity, fortifications and arms before their ultimate sacrifice.

The archaeologists found strewn across seven rooms broken pottery fragments as well as whole vessels. Since Maresha thrived in the Hellenistic period, the presence of Hellenistic pottery was not surprising. What did intrigue archaeologists was the discovery of two oil lamps and a casserole dish dating to the Roman period. Tel Maresha had been abandoned in 107 B.C.E. when the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus I conquered the Idumean town.

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Pottery fragments discovered at Tel Maresha. Photo: Hebrew Union College.

“Since a number of subterranean complexes in the region had been utilized during the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.), this led us to believe that these rooms possibly served as a refuge for the Jewish population in the area during that rebellion,” said the researchers in a Hebrew Union College press release.

In another room within Tel Maresha’s underground cave complex, archaeologists found a trove of a thousand clay seal impressions (bullae) that once secured the strings tied around documents. While the papyri and strings have no longer survived, their imprint can still be seen on some of the unfired clay bullae, the archaeologists report. The fragile bullae were brought to the IAA labs in Jerusalem for study. Examining 300 of the bullae, expert Donald Ariel observed depictions of Greek deities as well as other motifs on these clay artifacts.

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A bulla from the trove discovered within Tel Maresha’s cave complex. Photo: Hebrew Union College.

“These bullae can now be added to the wealth of finds and the hundreds of inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic, discovered at Maresha, which have already riveted the attention of scholars throughout the world,” the excavators conclude. “Maresha is our richest source for understanding the multicultural world of Hellenistic Israel. This latest sublime discovery will take several years to catalogue and analyze.”

Herod’s desert fortress on the mountaintop of Masada was made famous as the site of the last stand between the besieged Jewish rebels and the relentlessly advancing Romans at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt. In the free ebook Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress, discover what archaeology reveals about the Jewish defenders’ identity, fortifications and arms before their ultimate sacrifice.

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Sites.

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