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Archaeologists Uncover Rare Fresco Fragments at Zippori

Find Sheds Light on Ancient Jews

Israeli archaeologists are buzzing about a new discovery of rare fresco fragments from the second century featuring figurative images in Zippori, in northern Israel. These fragments, ranging in size from 2.5 inches to almost 20 inches, are significant because they are the first archaeological evidence of figurative images from the second century in Zippori.

“We found them 5 weeks ago at the beginning of the season and it was a big surprise,” Zeev Weiss, the lead excavator on the project at Zippori told the Media Line. “I have been in charge of excavation for 25 years and, over that time, we have found many chunks of frescoes with geometric and mosaic designs. At first, I thought these fragments were the same, but then we started to clean them and the first one was a bull’s head. I couldn’t believe that it was figurative images.”
Among the brightly colored fragments collected are images of a lion head, a bull’s head, a bird, and a tiger’s rear, all painted on black backgrounds, with the reds and yellows and greens still vivid. Also included in the fragments are many different geometric and floral patterns, which are customary for this time period.

Zippori, also known as Sepphoris and the jewel of the Galilee, is now a national park in Israel located near Nazareth, and known mainly for its colorful mosaics and ancient synagogues. During the Roman Empire it was considered the first capital of Herod’s son and is remembered as a wealthy, Jewish city.

Prior to the Great Revolt of 66 CE, also known as the First Jewish-Roman War, the population of the city was small so archaeological findings of figurative images are rare. During the first and second centuries, however, the population grew and there was a shift in the attitude of the Jews of the area and their willingness to adapt to Roman customs.

“These images are, in a way, something new for them because they indicated a turning point in the attitude of the local population,” Professor Weiss said. They just add to this interesting cultural mosaic of Zippori, which was largely populated by Jews. These images give different ideas of how the Jewish people were relating to the Roman world and the willingness of some to adapt to Roman customs.”

Archaeology is key to tourism in Zippori and Mitch Pilcer, the owner of Zippori Village located on a hillside facing the Zippori National Park, has found a number of archaeological fragments. “I live on top of the acropolis,” he told The Media Line, “where people were buried and I found a number of graves including that of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi (a third-century Jewish sage).”

Professor Weiss, along with a team of archaeologists from Hebrew University, have been digging at this specific building site for six years.

Zippori was an important city for Judaism during the Roman Empire. It is the easiest city to excavate because, unlike Jerusalem and Tiberius, the two other important Jewish cities in the Roman Empire, there is no city sitting on top of the remains today.

Weiss and his team plan to continue to excavate over the next two years.

Katie Beiter is a journalism intern with The Media Line.