Herzliya Byzantine-era find sheds light on ancient Samaritans’ lives

An ongoing archeological excavation in northwestern Herzliya is furthering studies on Samaritan life during the Byzantine period.

August 8, 2013 00:45
2 minute read.
Remains of a 1,500 year-old Samaritan synagogue.

311_Samaritan synagogue ruin. (photo credit: Courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

An ongoing archeological excavation in northwestern Herzliya is furthering studies on Samaritan life during the Byzantine period.

The excavation began in mid-June near Apollonia National Park in the hinterland of the Apollonia-Arsuf region, in an area located between Kfar Shmaryahu and Rishpon. It is being conducted ahead of expanding the city of Herzliya.

The project includes 10 archeologists, and is being done by the Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University.

It is being led by Prof. Oren Tal, chairman of the university’s archeology department, and Moshe Ajami, the authority’s Tel Aviv district archeologist.

The group is focusing on excavating refuse pits, essentially the town dumps used by the Samaritan community during the sixth and seventh centuries CE, Tal told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Findings thus far in the main pit at the site include 400 Byzantine coins, 200 Samaritan lamps, an ancient ring and gold jewelry.

Tal said many of these findings could be significant because they included items that were discarded unused.

“Among these findings we have many intact oil lamps.

Some of them are even still sealed,” he said.

“This is very fascinating...

You don’t expect them to be found in dumps and refuse, because they need to be used and they need to be sold,” he said.

“Our understanding is that there is some sort of probable cultic aspect of intentionally discarding usable and intact vessels among the Samaritan community that inhabited Apollonia in the late Byzantine period.”

Tal said the coins included a significant number made of silver, a few gold ones – both very valuable – and many made of bronze.

“But still they were discarded,” he said. “This is the question that we need to answer in the future: Why?” Tal said that while these discoveries were preliminary and more research would be done in the coming weeks, the findings could point to key information regarding Samaritan daily life between 500 and 640 CE and regarding regional life.

Ajami said Wednesday that the excavations have already confirmed a substantial Samaritan presence in the area, which was not known before the project.

“We didn’t know that in this site we had so many Samaritan people in this period,” he said. “It’s a huge community.”

Ajami said the ring that was found had eight sides, each of which contained the name of God written with the letters “JHVH” in Hebrew.

This ring, found at the dig in Herzliya, had the name of God written in Hebrew on each side. (Antiquities Authority)

This discovery could indicate a high level of religious observance by those living in Apollonia during the Byzantine period, he said.

Tal said that once the Antiquities Authority cleared all findings from the area, the land would be free for development.

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