News from the 2015 Field Season at Huqoq, Israel
Excavations this summer in the Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s Lower Galilee, have continued to reveal stunning new mosaics that decorated the floor. Mosaics were first discovered at the site in 2012, and work has continued each summer since then.
The Huqoq excavations are directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-directed by Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The University of Toronto is a member of the consortium of schools excavating at Huqoq and in 2015 University of Toronto students continue to be an important part of the team. This year Emily Hubbard, a recent graduate of the PhD program in Anthropology at the University of Toronto joined as project geoarchaeologist. This year Dr. Hubbard began the process of taking samples to understand how this site developed over time through phases of construction, use, and abandonment.
A mosaic discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle in 2013 and 2014 depicts three horizontal registers (strips) containing human and animal figures, including elephants. The top register, which is the largest, shows a meeting between two men, who perhaps are intended to represent Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest. It was the first time a non-biblical story had been found decorating any ancient synagogue.
This summer, additional portions of this mosaic were uncovered, as well as the rest of a mosaic immediately adjacent to it, which is connected with a Hebrew dedicatory inscription that was uncovered in 2012.
New digging has revealed that the inscription is in the center of a large square panel with human figures, animals and mythological creatures arranged symmetrically around it, Magness said. These include winged putti (cupids) holding roundels (circular discs) with theater masks, muscular male figures wearing trousers who support a garland, a rooster, and male and female faces in a wreath encircling the inscription. Putti and masks are associated with Dionysos (Bacchus), who was the Greco-Roman god of wine and theater performances, she said.
This summer’s excavations also brought to light columns inside the synagogue that are covered with plaster and painted ivy leaf designs.
“The images in these mosaics — as well as their high level of artistic quality — and the columns painted with vegetal motifs have never been found in any other ancient synagogue,” Magness said. “These are unique discoveries.”
In 2012, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was first discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. The next summer, a second mosaic was found that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3).
“It is not clear if there is a thematic connection between the Samson scenes and the other mosaics in the east aisle,” Magness added.
The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation, and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2016.
More information on Huqoq can be found at huqoqexcavationproject.org.
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The University of Toronto 2015 team at Huqoq
Depiction of a war elephant in the Huqoq mosaics
Photos courtesy of J. Haberman
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