The task was simple, slowly uncover the tomb floor, and sort through the bones contained within. After lowering myself into the tomb once again, I was able to spend countless hours sitting with the dead, who last had a human touch them when they were first placed in this tomb over 1500 years ago. while certain parts of the body remained in tack, others were fragile, to the point of literally crumbling into dust in my hands. I couldn't help but think about the fact that I was literally surrounded by death, an old death, that was now in my clothes, skin, and inhaled in my lungs. The tomb wasn't so bad, it was so hot outside that even though it was like a sauna inside, the sun wasn't a factor, and it didnt seem so dreary. But it is difficult not to ponder ones mortality when handling the basic elements of it. Although this is based on science, I did feel bad that we had stripped them of their jewelry, and rings. Stealing from the dead, and now I was trying to sort out thier bones, and was instead organizing them all based on size, so that 7 bodies became a mixture of pieces with no ability to differentiate. Taking the time to think about how their families grieved for them as they put them in this family tomb over 15oo years ago, to then have me sift through thier bones, made me feel slightly uneasy, but one has to rationalize, and I know that their is really nothing to be uneasy about, and that the life cycle takes us from the ground, and places us back there. I may be breathing it in in greater quantities, but we all breath it in. I finished placing all of the bones in boxes and bags, and tenderly caressed the bag, as i left it to be picked up by the truck.
Finally we were given the green light to open the slab and examine the tomb. At least 5 skulls were found, and many bones. While some believe this could be Roman, the evidence of not having the bodies cremated, points to either very late Roman, or Byzantine. A few bracelets and rings were found, and now we must begin the task of deciding how to remove the remains in a way that is respectful of the people that were placed here over 1500 years ago. Who were these people, what was the mood like when they were placed in this tomb?
Taking a car near the dead sea we were told not to go up route 60 within the west bank, to go to Hebron and see the only surviving Herodian structure, which was built to venerate the most important figures in the Jewish religion who are said to be buried in the cave below. Following a similar design to the temple mount, Herod had his engineers build a retaining wall around the cave rock formation which allowed for him to construct a solid structure around it. Since that time the temple has become a church, a mosque and now back to a jewish/mosque shared space. Getting to the area was not a problem, but you can see the instense level of security, and we were stopped at numerous check points. We also met some of the locals there, who gave us a tour of the inner settlement of Hebron, which was home to a long standing Jewish community. It is certainly a little strange in that people are escorted by army officers, and children play under the watch of soldiers with machine guns. No one seemed to be faced by it, and so long as the two gun shots didn't cause an alarm the city seemed a little more calm than it has been for the past few years.
Jelly fish migrate on the coast of Tel Aviv, and they are quite large. If you are unfortunate to come in contact with them they burn... With that said a distance away on the east takes you to the lowest place on earth to the dead sea, and the heat during the day is so intense that it is almost as if you are bathing in a hot pool. The high rate of evaporation, mixed with the various mineral content creates a landscape and sensation that can not be repeated anywhere else in the world. Many Wadi or oasis are fount within the coast, and provide a sustainable environment for the animals around, including this fearless Ibex.
Tel Aviv may be the second fastest growing city in the middle east outside of Dubai, and judging by the building that are appearing, I would say thats an accurate statement. Now its important to note that there are many, and I mean many cites with obscene numbers of homeless populations, but the ones here seemed to have more personality than some of the ones I have come to appreciate in NYC. One particular individual created a art installation piece that served to communicate what it is like to be homeless within a capitalistic environment.
One simple observation. The United States goes to great lengths to throw away any liquid that is over 2.4 ounces when traveling on a airplane. As an experiment I took a bottle of water in the airport within Israel. Three security checks, and some detailed questions, and not one comment on my water. How is it that in a country that has had to deal with higher instances of terror they seem to overlook a 1 liter bottle of water. Let me propose that perhaps this 2.4 ounces of liquid danger is simply a waste of time, and does absolutely nothing. I also would like to know why its not possible to bring in one bottle, but you can fill a quart size bag with little bottles that total over 15 ounces. Bravo TSA!
Further along is a hill that has multiple structures on the top, no tourists, and the perfect opportunity to explore, Moving along I noticed that this was not part of the site, and when i passed a cave being used by young Arab shepherds my first thought was how cute, 20 minutes later, I heard a man on a donkey, and when he didn't ask me for a ride for payment, I know I was in less explored territory. Once I scaled up the rocks I landed down a river bed, and I realized that there was only one thing worse than the smell of a camel, that would be a dead one. Then i knew I was in dangerous territory.Oh did i mention the snake? Moving along I made it to the top, took a break in the tomb (which was shaded) and drank some of my water, and put on my jacket on my head. I had been a little to adventurous, and even though I wasn't far away in millage, the terrain was difficult, and the heat was horrible. If I wasn't careful I could have suffered heat exhaustion and then I might end up like my four legged friend in the ditch. Your mouth gets dry, and your heart beats rather fast. Time for water.
If Moses had led the Hebrews through this area he would have been lucky as the rest of the desert area that I had been subjected to only gets worse. I thought about this as I had to figure out how to make my way back to the main site, without being able to see it (the valleys were very deep) I scaled down a steep rock formation, and wondered to water beds, and thought they would take me the correct way ( good thing I watched Man Vs. Wild). And at this point I couldn't tell where I was in relation to my starting point, but I did notice a area that looked like it was covered in animal droppings, and so I followed the trail which eventually led to a much easier way to navigate and delivered me back to the park, and to the vendor where i purchased 3 waters! (at tourist prices).
The further away from the lower walk way, to areas where one has to actually walk up steps, the less tourists are around to get in your way. So once I passed the example of Assyrian influence, I walked up to this compound that allowed me to take some wonderful photos of how the ceiling was carved at such stunning angles, producing a rich glow to the room.
Petra, from the Greek word "rock" is known to others as red rock based on the red color of the mineral content in the area. The site is massive, to say the least, it takes you through a cannon and you are then let out into areas such as the treasury above. There is clear evidence of many cultural influences including Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian designs, until its conquest by Trajan in the 2nd century, and a clear Roman influence is achieved. While I was impressed by the condition of the finds, there are alot of animals, including camels and donkeys, making a mess everywhere you stand. And the tombs have become bathrooms to not only them, but humans as well. While there are trash receptacles available, it appears that tombs and interior surfaces are better suited today for a trash dump rather than a place to take photos or to enjoy its original intent.
The work week is over, and I decided to head to Jordon from the south of Israel, 12 in the morning at the central bus station was even worse then port authority. Smoking, drinking, people all over the place made it more of a third world disco. I would say the highlight was the children's scoop arcade game replaced with cigarettes and money.
Shoes filled with dirt, and I am still excavating the side of the temple. A small Byzantine oil lamp was hidden on the floor, and the mosaic has now been restored to a more stable status. The slab to the tomb, has been covered and will be pieced together, removed, and ready to dig hopefully on Sunday.
Taking a scalpel to a mosaic that is over 10 feet by 12 feet is a daunting task. The floor was exposed to the elements, covered in mud, and dust, and is also damaged by water, and to breaking. I think someone else might be a little more suited for the job, so instead I found that taking a pick ax to uncover a column in 40 degree heat (thats around 100 degrees in Fahrenheit) is a much better way to spend my time. Then again getting a bull dozer to come in is helpful....
While it is true that this Byzantine temple was built on the foundations of a Roman building, the flooring and the marble piece are all reused elements from the previous periods. A metal detector was brought in to check for any clearly visible artifacts, but only coins were found. The limestone entrance to the tomb will remained closed until a structural design is made in case the ceiling collapses below. People have wondered what one does with the remains of people. The short answer is that if either the Latin Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church are called in, they can lay claim to the site, and basically imped the progress of digging. A archaeologist who is a chaplain would perform the ceremony and have them laid to rest. Strange when you think that these people would hardly recognize the Latin Church let alone, a form called Protestantism.