Christy Barker, director of educational programs at the Biblical History Center in LaGrange, spoke at the Newnan Carnegie Library about archeological digs in Israel.
Barker has worked at several archeological sites in Israel.
“The most popular places today where excavations take place are ancient dumps, ancient garbage piles,” she said. “You’re going to find remains of every human life and the culture there.”
Barker focused on four archeological sites in Israel: Tel Dan, Tel Jericho, Ashkelon and the Qumran Plateau and caves.
“The methods of archeology are not the ones you see portrayed in the films. It’s not what Dr. Jones does in the movies,” she said. “Today that is called treasure hunting, and in most cases it’s illegal. Archeology is the scientific study of material remains such as tools, pottery, jewelry, stone walls and monuments of past human life and activities.”
Tel Dan is located in northern Israel near Lebanon and Syria.
Barker said the tools in the lower layers archeological site in Tel Dan date back to the Stone Age.
“It was destroyed by the Assyrians in the Iron Age,” she said. “Israel’s northern kingdom inhabited this, and then this other people group, and then the Israelites would get it back. It’s always this back and forth.”
According to Barker, it is believed that the oldest door in the world is located at this site.
Another discovery at the site, Barker said, was a stela – a stone or wooden slab with an inscription – written in proto-Hebrew, that bragged about the conquering of Dan.
“Lots of cool stuff has been found at this site because it was a center of cult worship through the Roman period,” she said. “We’re not sure of the exact ceremonies that would take place here, but it is clear that it was pagan practices.”
Tel Jericho is located near Israel’s border with Jordan.
The site is surrounded by the modern city of Jericho but nothing has been built upon the ancient city since its destruction approximately 3,000 years ago, Barker said.
Excavations led by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in Jericho started in the 1950s; however, it is no longer an active dig site. Barker said the land is owned by the Palestininans, and it’s treated like a national park.
While at Jericho, Kenyon’s method of excavation became one of the popular methods of archeology, according to Barker.
The method, known as the Wheeler-Kenyon method, is meticulous, moves slowly through the site and involves logging every item that is found, she said.
“Almost everyone who excavates bases their method on her,” Barker said.
Barker said skulls were found at the site, with clay formed over missing parts of the skeleton, rocks or sea shells for eyes and crude paint used as a decoration.
The skulls are believed to be from the transition of the Stone Age into the Bronze Age, which makes them more than 5,000 years old.
“We’re not sure if they were trying to create a portrait of the deceased to remember them by or some kind of ancestor worship,” she said.
According to Barker, the people who lived in ancient Jericho were pagan, and it is believed they practiced some type of child sacrifice.
Ashkelon, located on Israel’s coast of the Mediterranean sea, has been inhabited since the stone age, said Barker.
Although the ancient city of Ashkelon was destroyed in 1270 AD, there are still people living in the area.
“This site is huge. It was one of the main Philistine cities,” Barker said. “This is like someone coming to the U.S. 300 years from now and excavating Washington D.C. or coming to Georgia and excavating Atlanta.”
The site was excavated between 1985 and 2016 by the Leon Levy Expedition.
During the expedition, an arched door was discovered in the ancient city, and it is believed to be the oldest arched door in the world – predating the Romans.
Barker said a cemetery also was excavated from the same time period as the door, and with the use of DNA analysis, it was determined the people buried there were Greek.
“It’s pretty incredible because most people until this door was discovered thought that the arch could have been invented by the Romans,” she said. “And then they uncovered some things in Greece, so it was possible it was the Greeks. That might explain why this arch is where it is. If the Philistines are descended from the Greeks and the Greeks had this technology, it explains why they were able to make a door out of an arch.”
The Qumran Plateau and caves are known for the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Twelve scrolls were discovered, said Barker, and 56 of the caves have been excavated.
According to Barker, it is believed a group of people known as the Essenes lived in the area during the first century AD. They were responsible for placing the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves around the plateau.
The Essenes were a jewish group of men who were required to stay celibate, worship God and await the Messiah.
Barker said the scrolls were not originally found by archeologists. They were found by Bedouin people who sold the scrolls on the black market. Priests and Rabbis purchased the scrolls when they realized the items were important documents, and donated them to museums.