A flurry of year-end announcements provided some late-breaking additions to the list of archaeological discoveries made public in 2014. Below are the top ten findings of the broad variety of institutional and salvage excavations taking place in the lands of the Bible.
10. Tomb of St. Stephen
The tomb of the first Christian martyr may have been located in an excavation just west of Ramallah. An Orthodox church news service recently reported that a church complex excavation revealed an inscription indicating that the church had been built over the burial site of St. Stephen, who was interred there in 35 AD. However, the lack of news of this discovery from other sources raises questions that bear further investigation.
9. Theater of Smyrna [corrected]
Archaeologists in Izmir, Turkey, are currently uncovering the , one of the seven cities of Revelation. [Editor’s note: Due to a source error, CT erroneously reported that the theater was the site where Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the Apostle John, was martyred. However, ancient texts indicate that Polycarp was martyred in the stadium of Smyrna, not the theater. The location of the stadium of Smyrna is known, but has not been excavated.]
8. Tablet that said the ark was round
The world’s potentially oldest clay tablet containing a flood story was found in the British Museum archives and put on display last January. Discovered by the museum’s cuneiform curator, Irving Finkel, the tablet makes note of a round ark and is one of several versions of the flood story that have been found in Mesopotamian excavations. Although this tablet from ancient Babylon, dated around 1750 BC, may be the oldest found containing the flood story, it’s not necessarily the earliest version of the story.
7. Olive oil from 8,000 years ago
Archaeologists announced in December that organic residue on pottery shards excavated at Ein Zippori, near Nazareth, was olive oil. The vessels were dated around 5800 BC, making them some of the earliest evidence of olive oil production in the region and indicating that it was a diet staple 4,000 years before the time of the biblical patriarchs.
6. Rosh Ha`Ayin farmhouse
Earlier this month, archaeologists announced that they had uncovered a large farmhouse near the headwaters of the Yarkon River at Rosh Ha`Ayin, east of Tel Aviv. In the early Israelite period, houses were typically small, with a standardized 4-room design. But this house, dating to the Assyrian conquest in the 7th century BC, is 100 feet by 130 feet, with 23 rooms. Numerous wine presses and a large silo for storing grain were also found nearby.
The agricultural production continued at this farm through the Persian and Hellenistic periods; a Greek coin with the images of Zeus and Heracles was recovered in one of the rooms.
5. Temple at Tel Burna
The first major temple discovered in Israel in 60 years is being excavated at Tel Burna, near the modern city of Kiryat Gat. It dates back to 1300 BC, approximately the time of the Exodus and Judges. The courtyard of the 2,700-square-foot building yielded remains of sacrificial rituals, perhaps honoring the Canaanite deity Baal.
4. Stone rejected by the builders and Western Wall coins
Over the years archaeologists have been gradually excavating the total length of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. At the foundation layer of the southern end of the wall, they recently uncovered a unique stone. While Herodian architecture typically uses stones that have a margin around the edges and a raised-boss center, this one’s surface was smooth and rounded. Archaeologists Roni Reich and Eli Shukron believe it was left over from the building of the Second Temple, the temple of Jesus’ day. This has led some Bible scholars to suggest it was the literal “stone rejected by the builders,” referenced by Jesus in Matthew 21:42, quoting Psalm 118:22-23.