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Israeli archaeologist announces return to Masada after ten-year absence

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Dr. Guy Stiebel, former director of excavations at Masada, says much is yet to be discovered at the site

The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archeology held the sixth session of its annual conference this Thursday at Tel Aviv University. Some 250 people gathered in the hallway including renowned researchers, representatives from the Israel Antiquity Authorities, and archaeology enthusiasts, for the event loaded with additional significance as the Institution was ranked 50th in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by Subject.

“We are the biggest institute working on the ground, from Beit-Yerach and Megiddo, in the North to the Timna Valley, in the South. We are currently excavating from Ashdod-Yam and Apollonia-Arsuf along the coast to the City of David in the Hill, Azekah and Beit-Shemesh in the Shrphelah. From the Prehistorical site of the Qesem Cave to the Bronze and Iron Ages sites, up to the period of the Crusaders. We are currently the only university operating in the City of David and we will soon be resuming the excavations in Masada,” Dr. Oded Lipschits, Head of the institute, told i24news in response to the recent consecration.

Dr. Guy Stiebel, former director of excavations at Masada, will this February conduct a new series of archaeological digs to pierce the secrets of this national shrine.

Dr. Stiebel expressed his excitement to return to the site after a ten year absence, enthusiasm that was reciprocated by conference organizers.

“A lifetime would not suffice to get a glimpse of all the hidden beauties of Masada," he said. "Its magic is not just in the military equipment, it is also in small things."

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To highlight the diversity of this outstanding historical site, Stiebel exhibited a remarkable collection of relics. First, he presented a lice removal comb found on the site, surprisingly similar to the ones used today. A small urn with preserved wine was exposed as well. The wine is now solid and is said to be 2000 years old. Broken clay pottery used as bread coupons on display have unbelievably kept the baker’s signature.

Although some believe that 97 percent of Masada’s potential has already been exploited, Stiebel says that its core is yet to be discovered. He uses a slide pojector showing the changes of Masada over 50 years to support his claim.

Scattered relics are reassembled in Tel Aviv University from where they will be then sent to the Israel Antiquity Authority.

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Both Israeli and international students are widely involved in all stages of the process. Many of them even completed their entire master’s degree while working in the excavations of Qesem Cave, Megiddo and Azekah.

“Students have become very proficient. So much that we try not to interrupt them with their work” confessed Dr. Ron Barkai.

“Studying in Tel Aviv University is an amazing experience. The archeological department is very small and warm. The accomplished field researchers guiding us are very supportive.” added Omer, a Master’s student at the University.

Barkai and his team have been working on restoring the cave for more than 15 years now. He believes the site might help understand the origins of modern humans. “We only scratched the surface but 20 people can already fit inside.” he revealed proudly.

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Yuval Gadot, the head of the only academic team operating controversially in the City of David, discussed the stakes at play. In 2013, over 80 academics signed a petition demanding the cancellations of all archaeological activities in the site. Gadot has, nonetheless, managed to follow through and is now ready to share his insights.

He most recently focused on layers of waste from the 1st century CE and went over the implications of his findings on life in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus.

He found that the Roman ingenuity associated with the Jewish obsession with cleanliness resulted in a unique and innovative system for the disposal of garbage. This 2000-year-old landfill was undoubtedly the most advanced of its time.

More relics are housed by the facility each year and more maps are drawn as well. The research is always going forward.

“Meeting those who follow us is our greatest joy. Next year, we will continue with all these projects. In addition, we will launch excavations in the important Biblical site of Kiryat Yearim” concluded Lipschits.

Amelie Botbol is an intern reporter for i24News.

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