Thursday 1st October at 4.00pm (UK time). Dr Yana Tchekhanovets (Israel Antiquities Authority, Ben Gurion University in the Negev)

The Holy City? Fourth-Century Jerusalem in the Light of the New Archaeological Data

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The Christianization of Aelia Capitolina/Jerusalem, is usually associated with monumental imperial building projects of the first third of the fourth century and fast-developing pilgrimage movement towards the holy sites. According to existing historical sources, the Christianization of the Holy City passed quickly and smoothly, in certain contrast to other large cities of the Empire – Rome, Alexandria, or Gaza.  However, new archaeological discoveries are presenting far more complex portrait of the city in the mid-fourth century. In this sense, especially important are the finds from the large peristyle mansion of the Late Roman period, recently exposed in salvage excavations at the Givati site, in the close proximity to the historical nucleus of ancient Jerusalem, known also as “City of David”. This structure of unusual architectural wealth and occupying a large area of some 2 500 m², was violently destroyed during the earthquake that occurred in Palestine in AD 363. The Roman nature of the building and the Pagan beliefs of its residents are clearly attested by the material finds unearthed within its collapse: carved bone and ivory items, statuettes of the gods and votive offerings, gemmae, masques, magic objects, and osteological remains of public sacrifice ceremony. The secure, sealed archaeological context of the finds permit, for the first time, to question the historical narrative presented by the ecclesiastic sources and to reconsider the nature of conversion process of the central city of Christendom. 

Yana Tchekhanovets (Jerusalem), a senior researcher archaeologist of Israel Antiquities Authority and a senior lecturer in Classical archaeology at the Ben-Gurion University. PhD in Archaeology at the Hebrew University: Armenian, Georgian and Albanian Communities in the Holy Land in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Periods (2016), awarded the Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality in the Humanistic Disciplines. In 2007-2016, co-director (together with Doron Ben Ami) of the Givati excavations in Jerusalem, that ran continuously for ten years all year round, and turned to be one of the largest projects in the record of archaeological investigation of the city. Director of several excavations of Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem, Beer-Sheba and Banias.  Research interests include the archaeology and culture of Late Antiquity, with a special focus on monasticism and pilgrimage, periods of transition: Pagan-Christian and Byzantine-Islamic, urban transformations, reuse of materials and phenomenon of spolia, historical periods archaeology and history of archaeological research. Author of The Caucasian Archaeology of the Holy Land: Armenian, Georgian and Albanian communities between the 4th and 11th centuries CE (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018) and numerous scientific and popular articles.

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