Present Projects

The Megiddo Expedition

Megiddo is the jewel in the crown of biblical archaeology. Strategically perched above the most important land route in the ancient Near East, the city dominated international traffic for over 6,000 years — from ca. 7,000 B.C.E. through to biblical times. As civilizations came and went, succeeding settlements at ancient Megiddo were built on the ruins of their predecessors, creating a multi-layered archaeological legacy that abounds in unparalleled treasures that include monumental temples, lavish palaces, mighty fortifications, and remarkably-engineered water systems.

Website: megiddo.tau.ac.il

Geoarchaeological investigation in the Negev Highlands

Begun in 2005, the Negev Highlands Research Project, led by Professor Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute of Science, is a multi-disciplinary investigation into the settlement oscillations of the Negev Highlands over the past 5000 years. The project utilizes both conventional archaeology and microarchaeological techniques to reconstruct subsistence economies, paleo-climate, and absolute dating of Negev sites during three major periods of settlement: the Iron Age IIA (c.900-BLANK BCE), Late Byzantine/Early Islamic (600-900 CE), and most recently, the Intermediate Bronze Age (c. 2500-1950 BCE).

Currently the Negev Highlands Research Project is investigating two Intermediate Bronze Age sites, Mashabe Sade and Ein Ziq, using geochemical analyses, XRF (W-ray fluorescence), phytolith and dung spherulite identification, and palynology, to determine subsistence strategies at the site, and in the larger picture, their roles in the complicated southern Levantine copper economy of the period. Simultaneously, an absolute dating scheme is using OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) and radiocarbon determinations to define both vertical and horizontal stratigraphy at the two sites, and to situate them within the poorly understood chronology of the Intermediate Bronze Age.

Epigraphy

Most of the texts written in ancient Israel and Judah were ink on papyrus. But these primarily administrative and literary documents were perishable and did not survive the journey down the millennia. The only texts that endured the harsh local climate were the relatively few that were written in ink on pieces of pottery (ostraca). The largest groups of these ostraca were discovered in the excavations of Samaria, Lachish and Arad.

First Temple period (Iron Age II) epigraphy is an important component in the study of biblical history, ancient Hebrew and the biblical text. Traditionally, inscriptions are dated based on:

  • Their archaeological context. However, many texts are found in an unclear archaeological context, or first come to light in the antiquities market.
  • The epigrapher’s creation of a typological structure of ancient Hebrew letters. This, however, is, by definition, not objective for it is often subject to considerations which are inevitably influenced by the researcher’s cognitive world.

Our research seeks to enhance the second of these points (“traditional” typology) by using automated algorithms to the study of epigraphy. The efficiency of these algorithms have been proven in a great number of applications – from the formation of genetic proximity trees to analysis of financial market data. Algorithms have also been applied to graphological examination of contemporary manuscripts; yet, the ancient methods of writing, the evolution of the alphabet through the centuries, and the damage done to the artifacts in antiquity, do not lend themselves to use of off-the shelf products (in other words, existing scanning and OCR technologies are not readily applicable to ancient ostraca inscriptions).

Therefore, we carry out in-house development of the required technologies in the following stages:

  • Acquire better ostraca images.
  • Produce automated facsimile.
  • Examination of writing characteristics.
  • Clustering and creating letter typology.

Our aim is to create algorithmics with autonomic analysis skills that do not require a researcher’s (subjective) involvement.

In addition to developing the computational abilities of handwriting analysis, we seek to improve data input by scanning the inscriptions using non-intrusive methods such as multispectral scanning techniques.

Website: http://www-nuclear.tau.ac.il/~eip/ostraca/index.html

Ancient DNA

Reconstructing the genetic profile of human populations and their livestock in Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages using ancient DNA. We wish to trace population groups, examine historical continuity versus periods of crises, and to study the impact of mobility and migrations in the Near East on people and societies during these centuries.

The Neubauer Near East Paleo-climate Project 

The project aims to trace links between past climate changes and settlement and demographic processes. This five-year project deals with the climate of the eastern Mediterranean, including the Levant, in the Bronze and Iron Ages (ca. 3500-500 BCE). It is deploying two of the strongest scientific proxies in paleo-climate research: palynology (reconstruction of past vegetation and climate based on fossil pollen identification) and the study of past isotope signature in cave formations and lake sediment cores.

The project is composed of three sub-tracks:

  • The study of pollen and isotope records from Lake Van in eastern Turkey and Lake Iznik in northwestern Turkey (together with T. Litt and D. Langgut).
  • Investigation of the second millennium precipitation record in speleothems in Soreq Cave (together with M. Bar-Matthews).
  • Exploration of the climate of the arid zones of the southern Levant mainly according to the pollen record in Negev rock-
  • shelters and archaeological sites in the region (together with D. Langgut).

Jerusalem Foodways

The project focuses on subsistence economy and culinary practices in Jerusalem and its hinterland in the Iron Age and in the Persian and Hellenistic periods, with special attention to the relationship between economy, social status and diet. It is based on the study of animal remains from prominent excavations that have been carried out in the city and its periphery (villages and farms) in recent years.

Studying Jerusalem and its hinterland as an economically, socially and politically integrated system, we concentrates on detecting two major themes: 1) Economic changes over time: processes of urbanization and ruralization; territorial expansion and decline; demographic growth and shrinkage. 2) Dietary practices: we wish to better understand them against the background of textual materials; they may shed light on the cognitive world of the population and the ideological and theological world of their authors.

Reconstructing Ancient (Biblical) Israel: The Exact and Life Sciences Perspective, with Steve Weiner of the Weizmann Institute of Science, funded by the European Research Council, Advanced Grants

The project is funded by the European Research Council. The Advance Grant was awarded to Israel Finkelstein (Principal Investigator) and Steve Weiner of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Co-Investigator). The project is planned for five years. Work began on February 1, 2009.

The ten tracks of the project deal with: radiocarbon (correlating the chronology of Ancient Israel with the Mediterraenean basin), human genetics and paleodiet, geo-archaeology, palynology (as relating to paleoclimate and settlement oscillations), ceramic petrography, metallurgy, daily mathematics of dimensions, epigraphy (the use of advanced computational methodologies, e.g., artificial intelligence algorithms, in the study of Iron Age ostraca), residue analysis of pottery vessels and archaeo-zoology. The project is being conducted by over 40 researchers.

Ca. 50 articles have been published, are in press or are in preparation.

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