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Israeli Scientists Use a New Technique to Unveil Lost Letters

June 19 2017

For archaeologists studying the ancient Near East, ostraca—potsherds on which notes and letters were written in ink—provide a crucial source of information. While ostraca are far more durable than papyrus, scholars have long been aware that the ink on clay can fade easily. A group of applied mathematicians, physicists, and archaeologists at Tel Aviv University have devised a form of multispectral imaging that can detect such faded writing. And unlike similar techniques already in use, this one does not require advanced or expensive equipment. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

A corpus of 91 ostraca written on the eve of the kingdom of Judah’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE was unearthed at Tel Arad, west of the Dead Sea, in the 1960s. . . . Containing lists of supplies and orders from military quartermasters, the shards were of immeasurable value to the study of the Hebrew language and the sociology and economy of the time period.

Now, though, with the discovery of previously invisible words and even sentences on the “blank” reverse side of one of the first shards to be examined with the new technology, the pieces have become still more important. . . . [M]any shards previously thought of as blank have been summarily disposed of at digs or during artifact recording. . . .

[The decoded ostracon] is a letter sent to Elyashiv, [thought to be the quartermaster of a military fortress], from one Ḥananyahu—the team speculates he was a quartermaster in Beersheba—and discusses the transfer of silver. [The] newly discovered text shows that Ḥananyahu also asked for wine.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Israeli technology

Palestinian Unification Brings No Benefits to Israel Unless It Involves Disarmament

Oct. 17 2017

On Thursday, Hamas—which governs the Gaza Strip—and Fatah—which governs parts of the West Bank through the auspices of the Palestinian Authority (PA)—signed an agreement ending over a decade of conflict. The agreement will allow Hamas to share the governance of Gaza with the Fatah-controlled PA; crucially, the PA will again supply Gaza with fuel, electricity, and medical supplies. But Hamas will maintain control over its military and terrorist operations, and thus, writes Alan Baker, the agreement brings peace no closer:

The Hamas-Fatah unity agreement could, in principle, be seen to be a positive development in the general framework of the Middle East peace process . . . [were it] to enable a responsible and unified Palestinian leadership, speaking with one voice and duly empowered to further peace negotiations. . . .

[But in order for such an agreement to have this effect, its] basic tenet . . . must be the open reaffirmation of the already existing and valid Palestinian commitments vis-à-vis Israel and the international community, signatories as witnesses to the Oslo Accords. Such commitments, set out in detail in the accords, include ending terror, incitement, boycott, and international attempts to bypass the negotiating process. Above all, they require dismantling all terror groups and infrastructures. They necessitate a return to economic and security cooperation and a positive negotiating mode. . . .

The Palestinian Authority also has its own obligation to cease supporting terrorists and their families with salaries and welfare payments. Since the present unification does not fulfill [this requirement], it cannot be acceptable either to the international community or to Israel.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Fatah, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians