Mark Wilson March 21st, 2016
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — My last day in Israel was spent with my friend Yoav Avni exploring some sites in the central part of the country before my flight left Tel Aviv late in the evening. The most geological place we visited was Maresha (which later became, in order, Beit Guvrin, Eleutheropolis, Bethgibelin, Bayt Jibrin, Kibbutz Beit Guvrin and Beit Guvrin National Park — you know there’s a long story there!). Maresha was an 8th Century BCE Israelite city in Judah that guarded several trade routes and access to the Judean hills from the coast. It thus had significant strategic value and was subject to just about every conqueror of the region since the Iron Age. The bedrock has a very thick section of the Maresha Formation (Eocene), a homogeneous soft chalk that is easily carved. This chalk has long been quarried for building stone and the main component of plaster and cement. The typical quarries are bell-shaped, with a small circular entrance from ground level and an expanding cone downwards. Above we see several intersecting quarries exposed by a roof collapse.
Here is a helpful diagram showing the construction of bell caves. The top geological layer is a hard calcrete (caliche) locally called nari. It provides a strong roof for the quarries.
The opening of a bell cave through the calcrete upper layer.
The sides of the quarries easily show the tool marks made by the workers as they spiraled down into the bedrock. This rock is soft enough to dig with your fingernails.
Residents of Maresha, especially in the diverse Hellenistic times (2nd-3rd centuries BCE), reused the quarries for living and working spaces, expanding several into new rooms. Above Yoav is standing in the largest columbarium, a place to raise doves for food and rituals. (Not for the storage of ancestral ashes or bones, as was once thought.)
I didn’t want to crop out Yoav’s happy face! He is standing in the bottom of a bell cave repurposed as a columbarium.
There are several underground olive oil factories that were active from the 3rd Century BCE until modern times. This device was driven by a donkey to crush raw olives.
This is an underground olive press. Heavy stones were attached to the beams to press the juices out of olives cracked first by the donkey apparatus above.
The Sidonian tombs (about 2nd Century BCE) are very impressive. All the carving is original, but the paint shown above is a modern reconstruction. This inscription on a tomb here is haunting:
Nothing else remains that I can do for you, or that will pleasure you. I am sleeping with someone else, but it is you I love, dearest to me of all.
In the name of Aphrodite, I am happy about one thing, that your cloak has been left to me as a pledge.
But I flee, and permit you expanses of freedom. Do anything you desire.
Do not strike the wall; it only makes noise. We will motion to each other; this will be the sign between us.
The scenery above ground at Tel Maresha is lush and green. This region received more than the usual amount of rain this season, and it shows. We are looking here from the tel towards Hebron in the Judean hills. Note the herd of sheep in the middle ground distance.
Later in the day we met those sheep and their Bedouin shepherds.
And here is Tel Maresha itself. Only 10% has been excavated, so much more remains to be discovered.
My tradition at the end of a field excursion is to include my most important GPS numbers and coordinates:
125: N29.99183°, E35.07680° Gerofit Junction Ora Formation
126: N30.94310°, E34.97972° SU62 below oolite; nice corals
127: N30.94323°, E34.99110° Top Zohar Cliff
128: N30.95774°, E35.00615° SU65 bedding plane
129: N30.94358°, E34.97828° SU65 in Matmor Hills
130: N30.94812°, E35.00099° Lowest exposed Zohar
131: N30.33491°, E34.92828° Road to Be’er Ada
132: N30.32229°, E34.90701° Be’er Ada
133: N30.32553°, E34.90683° Near Be’er Ada along fault
135: N30.32973°, E34.91417° Ada Canyon top view
136: N30.32001°, E34.97467° Wadi Paran cliffs