Highlights from the Israel Antiquities Authority

imageThe Dead Sea Scrolls and Five Thousand Years of Treasures

More than 5,000 years of splendid objects from the Land of Israel will be on view at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor from February – August 2008; this is the first in a series of exhibitions co–organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. We are thrilled that the Palace of the Legion of Honor will be the only long–term display venue outside of Israel of fragments from the IAA’s collection of more than 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls. Every three months a new scroll will come to the museum, offering an opportunity for visitors to view several examples.

The most dazzling work in the exhibition is a gold – glass mosaic table from a late 6th, early 7th century villa in Caesarea. This extraordinary panel was excavated in a Byzantine period mansion when a large figurative mosaic floor known as the Birds Mosaic was exposed for conservation in 2005. The nearly intact panel is shaped like the letter sigma and made of small glass pieces using the opus sectile technique. The panel was discovered with its face down directly on the mosaic floor and was covered by ashes and debris from the ceiling and the second floor. It comprises a wide frame surrounding the central part, both made of a combination of delicate, translucent gold – glass pieces and opaque, colored mosaic glass pieces. With generous support from Margot and Tom Pritzker and the San Francisco Museums of Fine Arts, the glass pieces have been cleaned, consolidated and reattached, and the spectacular table brought back to its original splendor. This is the first opportunity for the public to see this exquisite object.

imageOther recently discovered objects on display reveal the variety of cultures that found a home in the Land of Israel. The earliest group on view, dating to about 4th millennium BCE, during the Chalcolithic period, consists of clay objects revealing a remarkable achievement in figurative sculpture. Excavated in a cave in the Upper Galilee, the artistically sculpted human heads on ossuaries and ritual stands shed light on the art and culture of this period. Other works that add to an understanding of early religious practices are rare Philistine terracotta stands dating to the 10th–9th century BCE from a pit in Yavneh used for safekeeping obsolete cult objects. Roman period blown–glass vessels from the ancient glassmaking site of Castra, a hoard of 11th century AD Fatimid period gold jewelry and coins discovered in Tiberias, and a Byzantine mosaic dating to the late 7th or early 8th century CE from Jerusalem enrich this wonderful exhibition.

imageThe Israel Antiquities Authority is the pre-eminent organization in the fields of Israeli and biblical archaeology, custodian of more than 1 million archaeological objects, 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls, and nearly 30,000 archaeological sites. For the past 15 years, the IAA has collaborated with the FAMSF on a number of exhibitions and public programs. Built on a long history of cooperation, the Museums and the IAA have inaugurated this program of co – organized exhibitions that call attention to the rich archaeological heritage of the Land of Israel.

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