Monks and pilgrims of Caucasian origin played an active role in the multi-ethnic community of the Holy Land, and established their own monastic centers, churches and scriptoria. The integrated study of the Caucasian Christian communities is especially interesting for discussion on ethnicity seen through the archaeological prism: Armenians, Georgians, and Albanians were the only national Christian communities in multiethnic Byzantine Palestine, archaeologically distinguishable from the Greek-speaking (and mainly Greek-writing) majority of the monastic population in the country.
In recent years, I have completed several studies on the presence of the Caucasian Christians in the Byzantine and the Early Islamic Holy Land: the archaeological, epigraphic and historical materials, related to the Armenian, the Georgian, and the Caucasian Albanian communities. My research was summarized in The Caucasian Archaeology of the Holy Land (2018), exploring the place of each of these Caucasian communities in ancient Palestine through a synthesis of literary and material evidence and seeks to understand the interrelations between them and the influence they had on the national churches of the Caucasus.
However, it would be too early to declare the Caucasian corpus complete: new archaeological and epigraphic data grows constantly; often adding to the map not only isolated finds, but rather whole new regions, including the Negev, where the signs of the Armenian ancient pilgrimage were recently discovered at Shivta and Nessana. The research continues also in the frames of preparation of Corpus of the Armenian Inscriptions of the Holy Land and Sinai, currently co-edited in collaboration with M.E. Stone, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Kh. Harutyunyan, of Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, Yerevan, Armenia.
The project is dedicated to the study of the monastic settlement of Byzantine Masada, known from the literary sources of the period as Laura of Marda, and broadly, to the phenomenon of Byzantine monasteries established on other Herodian palace-fortresses. Indeed, almost every one of the known Hasmonean/Herodian sites of this type was later turned into a monastic institution: remains of Byzantine monasteries were discovered in Hyrcania, Duka, Cypros and Herodium. Located in isolated regions, supplied by sophisticated water systems and abundant in building material, these sites presented the ideal conditions for monastic life needs.
The research aims to consolidate the complete corpus of the Byzantine material evidence discovered at site by the Y. Yadin expedition, the excavations by E. Netzer in 1989 and with G.D. Stiebel between 1995 and early 2000’s, and prepare them for publication. The monastic settlement of Marda will be placed in its geographical, chronological and social context, and a number of specific key factors will be discussed: the spatial and organizational structure of the Byzantine monastery; the ethnic identity of its inhabitants; the interaction with other ecclesiastic institutions in the area, possibility of pilgrimage; etc. Special attention will be given to the phenomenon of the Byzantine laurae established at the Herodian sites.
This ongoing work is performed in cooperation with Masada expedition of Tel-Aviv University, directed by G.D. Stiebel, Herodium expedition of the Hebrew University, directed by R. Porat, R. Chachy and Y. Kalman, and Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.
The new project is dedicated to the archaeological evidences of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the Byzantine and the Early Islamic period: the architecture and layout of pilgrimage centers and hostels, souvenirs and eulogia, pilgrim graffiti and the imitation and patterning of other loci sancti in the farthest corners of the early Christendom after Jerusalem. The problematics of the archaeology of pilgrimage will be in the focus of the new excavation project at Nessana, the site in the Southern Negev, once serving the main hub on the road from the Holy Land to the Sinai (first season planned to summer 2022).
Prior to the large-scale excavations carried out in Jerusalem in recent years, the archaeological data relating to the Roman colonia Aelia Capitolina was extremely scanty. A few still-standing monumental arches, city coins, fragmentary preserved inscriptions, and limited historical sources were the only witnesses to its past. Nearly two hundred years of the city’s history were almost completely missing, crushed between the two dominant archaeological layers – the Early Roman Jewish Jerusalem of the 1st century CE and the Byzantine Christian metropolis of the 5th-7th centuries CE. The excavations of the last two decades completely change our understanding of Roman Aelia, its urban layout, planning stages, and monumental structures.
The research aims to fill the lacunae in the archaeological record of the people who inhabited the city of Aelia Capitolina. The work will comprise analyses of the rich material finds discovered in dwellings in the Roman city, with a focus on the complex unearthed in recent years at the Givati excavation site in Jerusalem. These finds provide a base for comparative analysis versus the numerous sites excavated in the city in the past and present that have also been dated to the 2nd–4th centuries CE. The unique character of the rich and varied finds discovered in a secure archaeological context sealed by the 363 CE earthquake, particularly when synchronized with finds from other excavations in the region, provides an outstanding opportunity for analyzing the social, gender, consumer and religious roles and preferences of the city’s residents as seen through their material culture.
The research includes the publication of final reports series of the excavations in the Tyropoeon Valley (Givati Parking Lot), Jerusalem, dedicated to the Late Roman period remains, in collaboration with D. Ben Ami of Israel Antiquities Authority.
The long-term project focuses on archaeological activity of Russian civil and church institutions in the 19th century Palestine, at most poorly published. The research is based on archival documents, mainly unpublished, include diplomatic correspondence, the documentation of the 19th century Russian archaeological expeditions to the Holy Land, and the diary of the archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), the head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Palestine in the last third of the 19th century, and the photographic fixation of antiquities and their discovery, sometimes being the only surviving documentation of the lost finds.
The main goal of the research is to reconstruct the course and settings of the excavations performed at the Russian plots during the 19th century, and to place the finds into their proper archaeological context. We also aim to fill certain lacunae in the archaeology of the holy places, created by inaccessibility of the Russian church sites to modern scholars.
The project is being carried out in cooperation with colleagues from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow.