Sunday, February 5, 2012

More Evidence of Cross-Cultural Trade in Ancient Times


  • Published 01:48 02.02.12
  • Latest update 01:48 02.02.12
  • Jerusalem dig uncovers earliest evidence of local cultivation of etrogs

    Pollen reveals ancient palace grew the citrus in its garden.

    By Zafrir Rinat
    The earliest evidence of local cultivation of three of the Sukkot holiday's traditional "four species" has been found at the most ancient royal royal garden ever discovered in Israel.

    The garden, at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, gave up its secrets through remnants of pollen found in the plaster of its walls.

    The garden was part of an Israelite palace at Ramat Rachel that has been excavated for many years, most recently in a joint dig by Prof. Oded Lipschits and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University. The palace existed from the time of King Hezekiah [reign c. 715 - 686 BCE] until the Hasmonean period in the second century B.C.E.

    The excavations revealed that the garden must have had a beautiful - and strategic - view, but it lacked its own water source. Thus the ancient landscape architects had to build channels and pools to collect rainwater for irrigation.

    The archaeologists discovered that the garden's designers had removed the original hard soil and replaced it with suitable garden soil. But until recently, they had no idea what was grown there.
    Then, Lipschits said, he and his colleagues had a "wild thought": If plasterers had worked on the garden walls in springtime, when flowers were blooming, breezes would have carried the pollen to the walls, where it would have become embedded in the plaster.

    Enlisting the aid of Tel Aviv University archaeobotanist Dr. Dafna Langgut, they carefully peeled away layers of the plaster, revealing pollen from a number of plant species.

    Most of the plants were wild, but in one layer of plaster, apparently from the Persian period (the era of the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. ) they found pollen from ornamental species and fruit trees, some of which came from distant lands.

    The find that most excited the scholars was pollen from etrogs, or citrons, a fruit that originated in India. This is the earliest botanical evidence of citrons in the country.

    Scholars believe the citron came here via Persia, and that its Hebrew name, etrog, preserves the Persian name for the fruit - turung. They also say royal cultivation of the exotic newcomer was a means of advertising the king's power and capabilities.

    The garden at Ramat Rachel is also the first place in the country to yield evidence of the cultivation of myrtle and willow - two more of the four species used in Sukkot rituals.

    Hezekiah is one of the few kings in the Old Testament credited with being a "good king" because he attempted to stamp out the worship of the Goddess by the Canaanites (some scholars call her "Asherah") in the high places throughout the land the Israelites had overrun some centuries before.  The Bible tells us that he had the sacred pillars in the high places (marking plateaus and places scraped out of hillsides and mountain tops where ancient stone altars were constructed within a small plaza, sometimes with a tree or two planted nearby) and the temples -- even in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem! -- cut down and the Goddess' sacred groves across the land chopped down wherever they were found.  Alas, he wasn't very successful in wiping out the Goddess for very long; she cropped up again after his death.  Indeed, she was probably in Solomon's Temple right from the beginning, in the form of the two great pillars, Boaz and Jachin.  Yeah, you can call them "phallic symbols" if you like.  However, according to descriptions from those times, these 27 foot tall gigantic cast pillars were decorated with images of pomegranates and lilies. Now, I ask you, what could more fully represent the Goddess? 

    Interestingly, even to this day, in land disputes and in the never-ending war between the Jews and the so-called Palestinians, destruction of groves of trees is common.  Remove the trees and -- you remove the border markers of land claimed to be owned by whomever.  For my part, I think it is a Mortal Sin (in the old sense as I was taught in the Roman Catholic Church) to cut down a tree unless one is using it to sustain life and limb (for instance, for fire to keep warm during the winter) or it poses a substantial threat to life or someone's home due to disease or storm damage, and I think the Goddess puts a curse on anyone who needlessly chops down trees.  Maybe that is why the world is such a screwed up place these days...

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