In Israel, a land that has been at history’s crossroads for millennia, civilizations have made their mark, literally speaking, in ruins at hundreds of impressive sites. Thanks to archaeology, these remnants – from massive gates and ramparts to delicate and precious jewelry, from mysterious inscriptions to cave-hideaways and water systems – have come to light, and leave you marveling at the achievements of the ancients in whose footsteps you walk.
It is the privilege and passion of Israel’s archaeologists to uncover, conserve and display the finds that showcase Israel’s multicultural past and the rich history of the three monotheistic faiths that took root here.
Israel’s archaeological wonders begin with pre-history, and the remains of early humans found on Mount Carmel and the Nazareth mountains. The hallmarks of the Hebrew Scriptures are everywhere, from the triple-arched gateway at Dan, dating to the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:14), to the ancient well at Beersheba, a city founded by the first patriarch (Gen. 21:31). Tel Tzafit in central Israel’s Philistine country is believed to be Gat, Goliath’s hometown (1 Sam 17:4). The Dead Sea Scrolls, on display and the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book, are arguably one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
New Testament finds brings alive the story of Jesus at Jerusalem’s Pool of Siloam, Korazim, Bethsaida, the Galilee Boat, and more.
The Islamic experience has come to light in monuments like the White Mosque in the seventh-century city of Ramla and the medieval buildings still in use in Jerusalem and Acre, among other places.
A number of these treasures have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among them the biblical tells of Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba, the Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev, the commercial hubs of antiquity, the Old City of Acre, and the Herodian ruins and heroic story of Massada, with many additional sites proposed.
Archaeologists and restorers in Israel work tirelessly to bring these and other sites alive with innovative interpretation. The Roman and Byzantines periods come alive thanks to the fine reconstruction and beautiful signs along the touring routes at Caesarea and Bet Shean national parks. The Davidson Center, showcasing pilgrimage to the Temple at Jerusalem’s Southern Wall Archaeological Park, was built carefully into the basement of an eighth-century palace. Sculptures echoing ancient themes adorn the ruins of the First-Temple era palace at Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem. The audio-visual presentation at Beit Alfa introduces you to the “synagogue board” who commissioned its colorful mosaic and to its artist. At Tzippori, costumed actors regale visitors among the ruins with stories of bygone days, and at Nazareth Village, meticulous reconstruction highlights daily life in Jesus’ time.
The Israel Museum, the Rockefeller and the Biblelands museums in Jerusalem, Haaretz Museum (part of which is an actual ancient Philistine city) and the University of Haifa’s Hecht Museum display some of the world’s greatest collections of antiquities. Smaller archaeological collections, such as the one at Kibbutz Galed or Kibbutz Ein Shemer, show the love of Israelis for their antiquities right in their “neighborhood.”
Israel also offers you the opportunity to share in the excitement and pride of uncovering Israel’s past by volunteering at a dig. Contact the Israel Antiquities Authority.
For more information about archaeological excavations in Israel in 2008 click here.