Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Dr. Jodi Magness as been directing excavations in the ancient village of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee, where crews discovered mosaics depicting biblical scenes and the first non-biblical story ever discovered decorating an ancient synagogue. She will be speaking in Pensacola Sunday, Feb. 17 about her research team's discovery of mosaics in an ancient synagogue in Israel. The lecture “More than Just Mosaics: The Ancient Synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee” will be held Sunday, Feb. 17 at Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center, downtown.

The featured speaker is Dr. Jodi Magness, professor of Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and director of the Huqoq Excavation Project. Magness is an archaeologist by training and currently serves as President of the Archaeological Institute of America. She published 10 books, including The Archaeology of The Holy Land. Additionally, she has taken part in numerous excavations in Greece and Israel, specializing in the area of Israel in the Roman Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods.

The talk by Dr. Magness will explore the excavation and findings at the ancient synagogue in Huqoq. The first mosaics there were discovered by Magness' team in 2012. The 2018 dig, their eighth at the site, revealed a wealth of the mosaic flooring. “The site of Huqoq is actually a village near the Sea of Galilee that was occupied for many periods throughout history, including in the time of Jesus, when it was a Jewish village,” said Dr. Magness.
“About, let’s say, 400 years after the time of Jesus, (400 A.D.) the Jewish villagers at Huqoq built a monumental synagogue building decorated with amazing mosaic floors, and that’s what we have been working to bring to light.”

The vibrantly colored mosaics, made with local stones of naturally different hues, portray a number of Biblical stories. Among them are scenes depicting stories about Samson, Noah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea where Egyptian soldiers are being swallowed by huge fish, while their chariots are scattered about and destroyed.
Magness says it’s not unique or unparalleled to have an ancient synagogue in Israel decorated with mosaic floors that depict Biblical stories. “But, what is unparalleled is the sort of richness of the repertoire that we have,” she said, adding that usually archaeologists find a limited number of panels depicting Biblical stories, if any at all.

“In our case, the entire synagogue was covered with mosaics depicting different Biblical stories and also a couple of panels that are not Biblical stories. So, it’s really the richness and variety of the mosaics and the fact that many of the scenes that we have are not paralleled at other synagogues.” The reason why I like our story Jonah so much is because like some of our other mosaics actually, there's a lot of humor in it," she said. In addition to being funny, Magness says there are elements that are unexpected.

Magness says also interesting about this particular mosaic is that it's marks the first time they've found an ancient Jewish art depiction of the story of Jonah. "It was something that always puzzled scholars, because early Christians used the story of Jonah a lot in their art," she explained. "So what scholars always wondered is well why did Christians like the story of Jonah, but Jews didn't seem to like the story of Jonah. So, now we know the Jews actually did like the story of Jonah, and we have the first depiction."

All of the mosaics have been removed from the site at Huqoq for conservation and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Excavations are scheduled to continue this summer. Magness hopes that eventually the Israeli government will develop the site for tourism.

Magness says one significant aspect of her findings of these ancient mosaics in Israel is the new insight it gives them about the life and culture of an ancient Jewish village. She points to the fact that the Huqoq synagogue dates to the 5th century, when the once Roman Empire was under Christian rule. "It shows that these Jewish communities continued to flourish even under Christian rule," she said. "That's important because a lot of scholars today think that Jews suffered under Christian rule, that it was oppressive to Jews. But, apparently, at least in the case of our village, we have a community that prospered, even after they came under Christian rule."

Sunday, February 03, 2019


A Man Walked Into a Moscow Museum, and Walked Out With a $182,000 Painting. A man wearing a black V-neck sweater walked up to a moody painting of a mountain range on display at the renowned Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. He leaned forward as if to admire the artist’s brushwork. Then he reached up, lifted the painting off the wall, and sauntered out of the exhibition, swinging the painting from his right hand.

The work, titled “Ai Petri, Crimea” and painted by Arkhip Kuindzhi in 1908, had been insured for $182,000, according to a spokeswoman for the museum. The painting, which was on loan from the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, was not lost for long. On Monday, a day after it was taken, police recovered it undamaged in a construction site outside Moscow and arrested a 31-year-old man, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

But the brazen theft will still embarrass the Tretyakov, the museum with the most important collection of Russian art in Moscow, especially as it comes less than a year after another man attacked a revered Russian painting with a pole — piercing it in three places — after drinking vodka in the gallery’s cafe.

The episode is the latest in a string of bold art thefts across Europe. Last weekend, thieves stole a door from the Bataclan concert hall in Paris that featured a mural attributed to the British street artist Banksy and thought to be a tribute to the victims of the 2015 terrorist attack at the venue. In November, three men walked into the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna, cut a landscape painting by Renoir from its frame, and walked out. A 59-year-old Ukrainian man with a history of art theft was arrested in December over the crime, but the artwork has yet to be recovered, according to Harald Sörös, a spokesman for the Vienna police.

With his closely cropped haircut and black clothes, the thief appeared to many visitors to be a hip young member of the museum staff, Russian news reports said, although one visitor eventually raised the alarm. .


Egypt's first antiquities discovery of 2019: Mummy-filled burial chambers in Minya. A maze of Ptolemaic burial chambers filled with more than 40 mummies, including men, women and children, was discovered at Tuna El-Gebel in Minya.

As the sun warmed the air at Tuna El-Gebel necropolis in Minya governorate on Saturday morning, hundreds of media and officials gathered to witness the announcement of the first discovery of 2019. Over the last two years, a large number of new discoveries in Egypt have grabbed the world’s attention. At the site, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany announced that a joint mission from the ministry and the Research Centre for Archaeological Studies at Minya University had stumbled upon a collection of Ptolemaic-era rock burial chambers, filled with a large number of mummies of different sizes and genders.

“The newly discovered tombs are a familial grave which was probably for a family from the upper middle class,” El-Enany said. He highlighted that the grave consists of a number of burial chambers containing a large number of human mummies of different genders and age, including children. All are in a good conservation condition and some are wrapped in linen, or decorated with Demotic handwriting. There are over 40 mummies. Some of them still have fragments of colored cartonnage covers near their feet.

“The methods used in burying the mummies inside the maze of tombs varies in style,” Waziri told attendees, explaining that some of the mummies were inside stone or wooden sarcophagi while others were buried in sand or were laid on the floors of the tombs or inside niches.

Ostraca and fragments of papyri were also found in the tomb, he said, which helped reveal that it could date to the Ptolemaic, early Roman and Byzantine periods. Wagdi Ramadan, the head of the mission, said that the mission started its work for the first time in Tuna El-Gebel in February 2018, when it discovered a tomb engraved in rock composed of a corridor leading to sloping stairs that opened to a rectangular chamber with a number of burials.

Another chamber was also located at the western side filled with mummies and large stone sarcophagi. At the northern side there is a third chamber with a collection of stone sarcophagi inside niches. This is the typical burial style used in Tuna El- Gebel, which once was the necropolis of Egypt’s 15th nome during the late New Kingdom and the beginning of the New Intermediate Period.


Three new prehistoric hand prints found inside Altamira cave in Spain. The art, which is in bad condition, was identified during the course of inventory work inside the world-famous Paleolithic site Members of the Museum of Altamira’s research team and managers of the Handpas project, a venture that documents and spreads images of Paleolithic hand representations in Europe, have found three new hand prints on the walls of Altamira cave, in Spain’s northern Cantabria region, that “almost certainly” were done more than 20,000 years ago.

These three painted hands, which are in bad condition, add to the six that were already known to exist, and were identified during the course of some documentary and inventory work on the other drawings inside the world-famous cave.

After they were discovered, the hands were digitally photographed and added to Handpas’ 3D catalogue of Paleolithic hands in Europe. The collaboration between the project and the museum was announced by Pilar Fatás, director of Altamira Museum, by her deputy Carmen de las Heras, and by the director of Handpas, Hipólito Collado, who is also head of the archeology department of the regional government of Extremadura.

Eight of the painted hands are located on the ceiling of Sala de Polícromos (Polychrome Room), between horse representations, and the other one is in the Galería Final, the furthermost space located over 200 meters from the cave mouth. This particular work of art, whose existence had been known since the 1980s, but which had not been properly analyzed, is different from the rest. Apart from being a print rather than a stencil, meaning that the full hand was painted and used to make a print, it is also the hand of a child. Painted a deep black, it is “quite exceptional,” as very few hands of this size have been documented, says De las Heras.

According to analysis, 70% of the prehistoric population was right-handed

The others, located in the Polychrome Room, vary in color, ranging from a dark violet to an intense red. Although it is not known for sure, De las Heras believes that the hands are superimposed on the images of horses. According to data obtained and analyzed by Collado, 70% of the prehistoric population was right-handed.

The importance of the finding does not lie in the number of prints discovered, but rather in the way that they illustrate what the Polychrome Room looked like before the famous bison painting, says De la Heras. “Thirty-two years after the last publication on the art of Altamira, the cave continues to produce relevant findings that never cease to amaze us and show us its greatness,” she says.

The Museum of Altamira has showcased a documentary called Handpas, manos del pasado (Handpas, hands of the past), which aims to provide answers to many of the questions raised by the prehistoric art. The documentary has been shown at multiple international science film festivals.