This past Thursday and Friday, I had the pleasure (and muscle pains…) to participate in a two day departmental hike in the “Samaria Desert” led by my fabulous colleague Dr. Dvir Raviv.
We started the first day with a view eastward from the vicinity of the settlement Kida, overlooking the region that we would walk for the next two days.
From there we walked to the site of Kh. Jab’it, a Roman-Byzantine site with remains of a village and Byzantine church. From there we continued into Wadi e-Rashash, a wadi leading down to Phasael in the Jordan Valley. We first stopped at Ein Rashash, a very nice perennial spring, and viewed the nearby caves which Dvir recently surveyed. These caves are the northernmost evidence of the Bar Kochba hiding caves.
From there we continued down the wadi until we reached its expansion in the area of Phasael. There, we visited various sites (Bronze Age, Iron Age, Hellenistic, Roman, and Medieval and Modern) in the region. This included the Iron Age fortresses at Rujm e-Muheir and Tell esh-Sheikh Diyab, the Hellenistic and early Roman remains of Phasael/Phasaelis (including the large open pool at Tell esh-Sheikh Diyab), and from there we went on to our camping spot for the night, underneath the Ha-Bik’a Memorial Monument.
Early the next morning we rose with the crack of dawn and started our climb up the Sartaba Mountain, from around -200 to 377 asl! The ascent to the site was astounding (if quite strenuous). We walked along the ancient route up to the site, passing ancient hewn stairs, and near the site, the remains of the syphon aqueduct, part of the water supply system to the site of Sartaba.
We reached the top of the Sartaba mountain and were greeted by the stupendous views in all directions, with the Jordan Valley far below. The site of Sartaba (Alexandrium) is a well-known fortress of the Hasmoneans and Herod, and according to the Mishna, was one of the sites on which fire signals were lit, to mark the beginning of a new month during the time of the Second Temple (which was set by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem). The remains on the site are poorly preserved – but impressive – indicating the potential for future archaeological research.
From the Sartaba we headed down eastward, where we met our bus that took us back to Bar-Ilan University.
This truly was a great experience! There were about 25 of us, including 5 faculty members and 20 students. While Dvir provided most of the explanations (geography, geology, historical geography, history and archaeology), I spoke about some of the Bronze and Iron Age sites, Boaz Zissu explained about some of the Classical period sites, and Avi Picard and our departmental chair, Kobi Cohen-Hatab, talked about various modern historical issues. In addition to this, some of the students added their parts as well, on botany, astronomy and other issues.
One of the things that I did, late in the evening at the camp site, was that I led a “Hyde Park” discussion about the current political turmoil in Israel, trying to focus on sharing what people were feeling about this – and less trying to argue who was right or wrong. Hopefully, discussions like this can help us move forward in these very difficult political times in Israel!
While I was totally charley horsed the next day, it was worth every moment and every effort!
See below for some pictures from the trip!