University of Haifa archaeologists unearth evidence of 363 CE earthquake in Galilee



Archaeologists from the University of Haifa  find a dove-shaped gold pendant, bones crushed under a collapsed roof & stone catapult ammunition at dig-site near Lake Kinneret.


University of Haifa archaeologists announced Monday that they have recently discovered items which have shed light on an earthquake that occurred in 363 CE in the ancient city of Hippos which overlooks the Sea of Galilee.

Gold pendant in shape of dove.(photo credit: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG)Gold pendant in shape of dove.- Photo: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG

Hippos, near modern-day Kibbutz Ein Gev, was the site of a Greco-Roman city-state. Archaeologists digging at the Hippos excavation site, known as Susita in Hebrew, uncovered a woman’s skeleton and a gold dove-shaped pendant under the tiles of a collapsed roof. In addition, they found the marble leg of a statue and artillery from some 2,000 years ago.

“Finally the findings are coming together to form a clear historical-archaeological picture,” Dr. Michael Eisenberg, the head of the excavation said.

The excavation at the site has been ongoing for the past fifteen years. Hippos, which was founded in the second century BCE, was the site of two major, well-documented earthquakes, the first of which took place in 363 CE. The earthquake caused major damage but the city recovered. The second earthquake, in 749 CE, destroyed the city which was then abandoned, never to recover.

Evidence of the 363 CE earthquake’s destruction was uncovered during digging last year, however none as resounding as the new discoveries, according to archaeologists.

In the northern section of the Basilica, the largest structure in the city, which served as its marketplace, the archaeologists, led by Haim Skolnik, discovered the remains of a number of skeletons which were crushed under the roof that collapsed. Among the bones of one of the women killed in the collapse, they found the dove-shaped pendant.

Dig participants with marble leg .(photo credit: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG)Dig participants with marble leg – Photo: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG

For the first time, evidence was uncovered that the 363 earthquake destroyed the Roman baths, which, like the Basilica, were not rebuilt.

According to Eisenberg, the findings show that the earthquake was so strong, it completely destroyed the city, and rebuilding took some 20 years.

Dig site.(photo credit: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG)Dig site.- Photo: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG

The marble leg which was discovered was part of a sculpture at the Roman baths. “It is too early to determine who the man depicted in the sculpture was. It could be a god or athlete whose sculpture was over two meters tall. We hope to find further pieces of the sculpture in the coming seasons that will shed light on his identity,” Eisenberg said.

Stone projectile used by ancient catapults.(photo credit: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG)

Stone projectile used by ancient catapults. – Photo: DR. MICHAEL EISENBERG

At the Bastion, the city’s main defense post during the Roman period, archaeologists uncovered a fortified space for a catapult that appears to have been some eight meters long. Archaeologists have also found a number of stone artillery balls that fit the massive catapult, as well as smaller stones for smaller launchers. The catapult was capable of launching artillery balls as far as 350 meters.


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