Monthly Digest - June 2021

Issue 2

From the Editor

And we are back! This time with Issue 2 of the Digging Up the Past newsletter. While its distribution was rather small, the first issue was well received and I wanted to not only build up on the format but also expand it with a few additions such as a Quote of the Month, a Multimedia section, an area to highlight research based Resources and also a listing of assorted Courses being offered in the coming months. All of this while we continue to share recent historical discoveries, upcoming lectures and seminars, recommended publications and an artifact of the month.

As always, if you have something that you’d like for us to share in a future issue, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Happy digging!

Quote of the Month

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance. — Socrates

In the News…

AI Unlocks Scribal Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Found in the desert caves of Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been a topic of great debate and mystery. New Artificial Intelligence (AI) research has recently uncovered the answer to a mystery of the scribe(s) involved in one of the ancient scrolls.

Tests were carried out on the longest text, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll.

It was found that probably two unknown individuals had copied down the words using near-identical handwriting.

More details can be found here.

7000 Year Old Clay Seal Discovered Predating Writing in Israel

In the ruins of a prehistoric settlement in the north of Israel, Archaeologists have unearthed a clay seal impression believed to predate the skill of writing in the region.

Experts have dated the artefact to about 7,000 years ago - a time even before Israel's Early Bronze Age I (3500 to 2900 BC). The object was found at the archaeological site of Tel Tsaf in the Beit She'an Valley, near the country's border with the West Bank and Jordan. The impression bears the imprints of two geometric stamps, eerily resembling stamps still used today.

Read more here.

Scientists Discover Hidden Scenes in Etruscan Paintings

Using a new technique, scientists have uncovered colorful and once hidden scenes in 2,500 year old Etruscan paintings.

For instance, they found new details in a painting from the "Tomb of the Monkey" and scenes of an underworld in another work of art.

The Etruscans created detailed paintings, but the passage of time has meant that many of them are now only partly visible and that much of their color has been lost.

You can learn more here.

A 2000 Year Old Roman Basilica Unearthed in Israel

Archaeologists have unearthed a 2000 year old Roman Basilica in Israel, likely to have been built by Herod the Great.

The building was found during renovations to Tel Ashkelon National Park, Israel’s oldest national park, and appears to match Josephus’s description. It has a central hall and two side halls featuring rows of marble columns and capitals.

Coins dating to Herod’s rule found on the site also support this dating, and the theory that Herod ordered its construction.

Archaeologists believe that original 1st-century construction was renovated in the 2nd or 3rd century during the rule of Emperor Septimius Severus, adding a small odeon, or theater, as well as the marble elements.

Learn more here.

A New Study Finds That Herodotus Lied About a Famous Greek Battle

A new study finds that Herodotus lied about a famous Greek battle against Carthage.

In his magnum opus "The Histories," Herodotus detailed the First Battle of Himera on Sicily in 480 B.C. He wrote that when the "barbarian" Carthaginians attacked the Greek colony of Himera, a coalition of Greek allies from other Sicilian cities joined the fray, leading to a Greek victory. 

But now, a chemical analysis of the bones of the soldiers who fought at the First Battle of Himera reveals that those Greek "allies" were actually foreign mercenaries, likely hired by the Greeks to help vanquish their foes.

More information can be found here.

Prehistoric Tombs Found During Excavations in Istanbul

Over 5000 year old Kurgan-style prehistoric tombs have been and are continuing to be excavated by the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

However, the findings that excited the archaeologists the most were found in excavations made at a depth of one and a half meters above sea level.

In this section, it was revealed that there were kurgan-type graves under the stone rows.

Since all of the oldest kurgan-type tombs found in the country belonging to the early bronze age were buried after the cremation, the bones of the remains have cracked and disintegrated.

You can read more here.

Rock-cut Tombs Uncovered in Al-Hamidiyah, Syria

A collection of rock-cut tombs were accidentally discovered in a recent archaeological survey carried out at the Al-Hamidiyah necropolis in Syria.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the tombs have different architectural styles and are dug at several levels in the mountain. They include tombs with one or several burial shafts and some have slope corridors that end with burial shafts. These tombs extend to periods of time ranging from the end of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Ptolemaic period.

More information can be found here.

Featured Publications

The Ark Before Noah

By Irving Finkel

When a small, peculiar, palm-sized clay tablet made its way to the desk of Irving Finkel, Assyriologist and Assistant Keeper at the British Museum, Finkel could hardly believe his luck. What he discovered was a missing piece in the story of Noah and the Ark. In this captivating, absorbing work of scholarship, Finkel, a world authority on ancient Mesopotamia, leads the reader on a detective hunt for the prototype of Noah’s Ark—from cuneiform wedges to bundles of reeds, from ancient Babylon to modern Iraq, Finkel reveals new information on the origin of the Babylonian Flood story which pre-dates the biblical deluge, including the surprising size and shape of the boat itself, and even where it came to rest. New to this edition, Finkel puts the “Ark Tablet” to the test in building a modern version of the ship. Throughout, The Ark Before Noah takes us on an adventurous voyage of discovery, opening the door to an enthralling world of ancient voices and historical lore.

Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon

By Eric H. Cline

In 1925, James Henry Breasted, famed Egyptologist and director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, sent a team of archaeologists to the Holy Land to excavate the ancient site of Megiddo―Armageddon in the New Testament―which the Bible says was fortified by King Solomon. Their excavations made headlines around the world and shed light on one of the most legendary cities of biblical times, yet little has been written about what happened behind the scenes. Digging Up Armageddon brings to life one of the most important archaeological expeditions ever undertaken, describing the site and what was found there, including discoveries of gold and ivory, and providing an up-close look at the internal workings of a dig in the early years of biblical archaeology.


Exclusive: First Day of Opening, Walking Tour of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

On the first day of the official opening of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization after the majestic Pharaohs' Golden Parade when 22 Royal Mummies of Ancient Egyptian Kings and Queens moved from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat.



Rock Art in the ancient Near East, North Africa, and Beyond (5 weeks)

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Adult Programs
July 1–July 29

Throughout history, humans have left (and continue to leave) their stamp on the landscape by carving or painting natural surfaces such as the sides of mountains and interiors of caves. As a result, we are left with a rich tapestry on the landscape from different periods and in different contexts. This class will look at some of these questions by having different scholars discuss the evidence they have for rock art in the ancient Near East and North Africa, as well as comparing this with the rock art of East Africa. This will give us a glimpse into the varied ways in which people created this art through time and how it can be studied and interpreted. The first week will introduce rock art and methodologies involving its study in general before moving on to the specific case studies.

Prices and additional information can be found here.

Online Class: Red Sea and Indian Ocean Trade (4 weeks)

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Adult Programs
August 9 –August 30

The Roman period in the ancient Near East and north Africa marked the beginning of intensive trade with the Indian Ocean, which can be traced through both archaeological and textual sources. Indian merchants and sailors visited Arabia, Egypt, and the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, while there are signs of trade in Roman goods to India, the Axumite empire in north Africa, and the east African coast. This class will look at the evidence for the trade in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea in Roman and Late Antique periods (1st century BCE–8th century CE), to examine the goods traded, the intensity of this trade, and how this changed through time. Particular attention will be paid to sites such as Berenike and Quseir al-Qadim in Egypt, Adulis in modern Eritrea, Ras al-Hafun in Somalia, Qana in Yemen, and Muziris in India. 

Prices and additional information can be found here.

Online Class: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (8 weeks)

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Adult Programs
September 13 –November 1

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead has become a staple of twenty-first century pop culture, appearing in film, literature, music, art, comics, graphic novels, pulp fiction, and endless online videos. However, what does the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead actually say? This course will provide a comprehensive overview to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, including training with the tools needed to work with the texts and manuscripts directly. The course will cover developmental history, materiality, textual content, sequencing, theology, ritual practice, transmission, and manuscript traditions. We will look closely at original texts in both hieroglyphic transcription and English translation. Students will be guided through selected readings of Book of the Dead spells, using both Egyptian hieroglyphic transcriptions for those who have previously studied Middle Egyptian grammar and English translations for those who have not. By the end of the course, students will gain a nuanced understanding of the differences between ancient and modern conceptions of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and will develop the skills necessary to pursue reliable independent research in this area of study.

Prices and additional information can be found here.

Upcoming Events

The BAS Virtual Summer Seminar

The Biblical Archaeology Society is offering a special six-session virtual seminar, “Biblical Archaeology: Past and Present.” It is led by esteemed scholars and archaeologists Eric Cline (The George Washington University) and Rachel Hallote (Purchase College, State University of New York). The seminar features 12 lectures highlighting the latest archaeological discoveries related to our understanding of ancient Israel, and trace the fascinating but often contentious history of archaeological work in the Holy Land. The 2021 virtual seminar will be held from Monday, July 26 to Saturday, July 31 via Zoom.

24th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest ONLINE via Zoom

World leading Bible scholars and archaeologists will be engaging in live talks over the course of two days via Zoom: October 16 and 17.

What Recent Excavations Reveal About the Formation of Ancient Israel

On Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 8 pm EST (via Zoom), James W. Hardin will showcase the recent archaeological finds leading to the formation of ancient Israel and Judah, especially during the putative times of David and Solomon. He will also highlight some of the new excavations along the Philistine and Judahite frontier providing a better understanding of the formative stages of ancient Israel during the Iron Age I/Iron Age II transition.

Artifact of the Month

Unlike other Mediterranean cultures that used stone for funerary monuments, lacking a source for good stone, the Etruscans instead manufactured brightly colored terracotta boxes and urns to house the deceased. The deceased were usually represented in joyous or relaxing activities such as dining at a banquet (seen above).