“A people that does not respect its past has a barren present and its future is shrouded in uncertainty,” said Yigal Allon, Israel’s acting Prime Minister in 1969. Do you agree? Is it possible that by dismissing its heritage a people may lose the purpose of their present and the vision for their future? The heart of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s mission is to ensure that the respect of Israel’s past – and consequently the hope for its future – is secure.

Although Israel is a small country, it is dense with ancient material and has one of the highest ratios of antiquity sites worldwide! Moreover, these sites represent the history of a land which has been the battlefield of numerous kingdoms, and the cradle of several religions. When Israel became a state 70 years ago, its founders recognized the importance of establishing a department to manage the nation’s historic material. The organization was named the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums (IDAM).

One of IDAM’s first tasks was taking jurisdiction over the Dead Sea Scroll collection. The first of the scrolls were announced to be authentic on 11 April 1948, just one month before Israel became a state. Over the first 10 years of Israel’s existence, nearly 1,000 Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered! The scrolls include the oldest copies of the Tanakh ever discovered and are lauded as the archaeological discovery of the 20th century.

In 1990 IDAM became the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which today manages all Israel’s archaeological activities, antiquities sites, and national treasures. The IAA has a well-deserved reputation for professionalism and scholarship. As technology advances, so does archaeological practice. Just this year the IAA’s Dead Sea Scroll department used advanced imaging technology developed by NASA to reveal previously unseen writing on scroll fragments.

Most of what we know about history is derived from Archaeology and studying a people’s material culture. Even written histories are recorded on ancient material objects, and often discovered through archaeological means. Whether Dead Sea scrolls or stone monuments commemorating a king’s victory, written histories from the land of Israel continue to be discovered, translated and preserved by the IAA.

Archaeology is indeed essential to construct any reliable concept of ancient history – but how does it touch our lives today? Can it truly enlighten our future as Prime Minister Allon suggested? Although we live in a culture which values autonomy, each of us belongs to a broader story, a history which transcends the span of our own lives or the boarders of our own countries. For those who understand this, preserving Israel’s archaeology is more than a scientific endeavor, and its artifacts are not mere traces of a by-gone era. Instead, each ruin and antiquity serves as a stone of remembrance, so that

“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them…these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.Joshua 4:6b-7

For more information about the IAA and their work, please contact info@friendsofiaa.org.

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