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UW-Eau Claire Researchers
Make Major Find in Israel
MAILED: Aug. 13, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor and an undergraduate student helped unearth what some researchers are saying are the skeletal remains of what could be the “Teacher of Righteousness,” founder of an ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes.
Dr. Harry Jol, associate professor of geography, and Robert Passow, a senior geography major from Hixton, made the initial discovery of the grave using Ground Penetrating Radar. The two were part of a team of researchers continuing investigations in Qumran, Israel, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947.
UW-Eau Claire is one of the premier GPR research institutes in the world, and the use of GPR has made it easier for archaeologists to find objects buried in the ground, Jol said. GPR uses radio waves to detect buried objects in any nonmetallic material. It has evolved to include the penetration of soil, rocks and man-made structures.
Project director Dr. Richard Freund of the University of Hartford said that Jol’s research “…is now at the forefront of the symbiosis between geology, geography, history and archaeology, and Jol is recognized as a world leader in how GPR can help identify and pinpoint archaeological excavations.”
Both UW-Eau Claire researchers were needed to operate the GPR equipment responsible for the find in Israel. Passow held the antenna while Jol operated the computer to collect the data received by the antenna. Passow also used a Global Positioning System, a space-based radio navigational system that can give an exact location of objects on a map.
Using a detailed grid and 3-D imagery, Jol and Passow located something in the ground they felt should be excavated. It wasn’t until several days later, and after some convincing by Jol, that the research team decided to excavate the site.
Because of the desert heat, at some points 130 degrees, the team of 10-12 people from Canada, the United States and Israel worked from 4:30 a.m. to noon and then again from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. During their break they processed their data and then returned to the site just before sunset to continue their work. A film crew was with the group to record their findings.
While Passow and Jol were using their equipment to map out a cemetery on the south end of Qumran, a body buried beneath bones estimated at 2,000 years old was found at the site they had indicated, along with a pot dated to the Second Temple period, or the first century. The body was in a separate area at the highest point of the cemetery, an area where only people of high importance would have been buried. Some researchers say this could be the body of a number of people from this time period, 150 B.C.E. to 68 C.E., including that of James the Just, Onias III or John the Baptist.
Ongoing research by Jol and Passow shows that if researchers continue to excavate this site they may discover other features in this disturbed area.
A record number of new sites were investigated this summer, said Jol. For example, he and Passow used GPR to map the south end of the cemetery in Qumran and to look for evidence of a latrine in the area.
Other sites examined included Bet Shearim, the site of the burial caves for the Sanhedrin, an ancient Jewish court, and major rabbinical figures of the Roman period; and Bet Shean, which is linked to the largest Roman period arch ever found in Israel.
“Five pieces of the arch were discovered by accident in the field that Jol investigated this past summer, and they are only a partial record of the visit of Emperor Hadrian in the Second Century C.E.,” Freund said.
Passow and Jol also went to Nazareth to look for extensions of Mary’s Well, the site where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and an important part of early Christian miracle reports; and to Yvane to investigate the possibility of excavating one of the largest archaeological mounds ever discovered in Israel, linked with the history of Jews, Christians and Muslims until the modern period.
The UW-Eau Claire researchers also were able to explain to researchers from the Israel Museum how GPR could be used at these sites for a possible future collaboration.
Jol said that the most exciting part of the trip was being able to use GPR to aid in an archaeological dig in a significant way.
“Without radar we wouldn’t have found this (body),” Jol said.
Seeing the people of Israel and the country firsthand was a highlight, Passow said. And being with people who had been to Israel before (this is Jol’s fourth time at Qumran) made him feel safe, he said.
“We were one of the few expeditions that went to Israel this summer and completed the task,” Jol said. “We were very safe in what we did and we took a lot of precautions, but we weren’t going to be stopped.”
Jol and Passow say they are grateful for the financial support from UW-Eau Claire’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, which helped purchase the GPR equipment that led to this summer’s find, and also allowed Passow to attend the expedition.
The excavations are run by the University of Hartford, with cooperation from Bar Ilan University in Israel, and are funded by the John and Carol Merrill Foundation and Biblical Archaeology Society.
“For me, getting support from UW-Eau Claire has been great,” Jol said. “It’s the kind of support that allows smaller universities to get involved in larger projects.”
“I never thought I would be doing this as an undergrad,” Passow said.
Jol and Passow will use their findings this summer to help other students in class this fall. They will also discuss their findings in various publications and conferences.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Aug. 13, 2002