«A possible alchemist apparatus from the early islamic period excavated at Ramla, Israel Antiguo Oriente: Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios de Historia ...»
A possible alchemist apparatus from the early
islamic period excavated at Ramla, Israel
Antiguo Oriente: Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios de Historia del Antiguo
Oriente Vol. 8, 2010
Este documento está disponible en la Biblioteca Digital de la Universidad Católica Argentina, repositorio institucional
desarrollado por la Biblioteca Central “San Benito Abad”. Su objetivo es difundir y preservar la producción intelectual
de la institución.
La Biblioteca posee la autorización del autor para su divulgación en línea.
Cómo citar el documento:
Gorzalczany, Amir. “A possible alchemist apparatus from the early islamic period excavated at Ramla, Israel”[en línea].
Antiguo Oriente: Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios de Historia del Antiguo Oriente 8 (2010). Disponible en:
http://bibliotecadigital.uca.edu.ar/repositorio/revistas/possible-alchemist-apparatus-ramla-israel.pdf [Fecha de consulta:..........] (Se recomienda indicar fecha de consulta al final de la cita. Ej: [Fecha de consulta: 19 de agosto de 2010]).
A POSSIBLE ALCHEMIST APPARATUS FROM THE EARLY
ISLAMIC PERIOD EXCAVATED AT RAMLA, ISRAEL *1
AMIR GORZALCZANYamir@israntique.org.il Israel Antiquities Authority Tel Aviv, Israel
BARUCH ROSENrosenbar@netvision.net.il Independent Researcher Petah Tikvah, Israel Summary: A Possible Alchemist Apparatus from the Early Islamic Period Excavated at Ramla, Israel During extensive salvage excavations carried out during the years 2004-2008 in a large Early Islamic industrial area at the vicinities of Ramla, in Central Israel, an unparalleled industrial device was unearthed. The star-shaped, soil embedded installation, whose lower part was preserved, consisted of a central pottery jar surrounded by five minor jars, linked by ceramic pipes. Evidence of heat was observed mainly around the central vessel, and metal hollow cones perforated in the tip were found inside the surrounding jars. Although the manufacturing procedures and operation techniques of the installation are not completely clear, it is proposed that the installation is part of an industrial workshop or an alchemy laboratory. Both industry and alchemy were well-developed during the Early Islamic period and very often closely related, to the point that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between them. The identification proposed is based on comparisons with tools described in literary sources, and somewhat later drawings and etchings. Circumstantial ceramic evidence was found, as well as the proximity of a bathhouse whose guests could have been the consumers of perfumes and unguents seem to reinforce this possibility. Due to the poor state of preservation of the device and the lack of available comparisons, the identification proposed here is tentative, *Article received: October 10th 2010; approved: November 3rd 2010.
1We would like to express our deep gratitude to Leigh Chipman, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Joshua Drei, Yael Arnon, Lilly Gershuny and Katia Cytryn-Silverman for their valuable comments. Special thanks are due to Etan Ayalon, who always asks the right questions.
Antiguo Oriente, volumen 8, 2010, pp. 161-182 162 AMIR GORZALCZANY - BARUCH ROSEN ANTIGUO ORIENTE 8 - 2010 and future research coupled with eventual new discoveries is needed in order to clarify this matter.
Keywords: Ramla – Industry – Alchemy – Early Islamic Period Resumen: Un posible laboratorio de alquimia del período Islámico Temprano descubierto en Ramla, Israel Durante extensas excavaciones de rescate realizadas entre los años 2004-2008 en una inmensa área industrial localizada en las cercanías de Ramla, en la zona central de Israel, fue descubierta una instalación de un tipo desconocido. La instalación, empotrada en el suelo, tiene forma de estrella y esta preservada sólo en su parte inferior.
Consiste en un cántaro central de cerámica rodeado por otros cinco, de menor tamaño. Todos ellos están unidos al central por medio de tubos de cerámica. Alrededor del cántaro central hay evidencia de calor, y en los cántaros circundantes fueron descubiertos conos huecos de metal con perforaciones en el extremo. Si bien aún no está por completo claro cual era el producto ni la forma de funcionamiento de la instalación, en el artículo se propone que estamos frente a un taller industrial o laboratorio de alquimia. Estas ocupaciones o artes estuvieron ámpliamente desarrolladas durante el período Islámico temprano, y muy a menudo intrínsecamente relacionadas, hasta el punto de que muchas veces el límite entre ellas era bastante tenue y difuso. La identificación propuesta está basada en comparaciones con instrumentos descriptos en fuentes históricas y literarias, y dibujos y grabados de épocas más tardías. Evidencia circunstancial puede hallarse en la cerámica, y en la proximidad de una casa de baños cuyos visitantes bien pueden haber sido los consumidores de perfumes, bálsamos y ungüentos producidos en el taller. Debido al pobre estado de conservación y la ausencia de material comparativo, la identificación aqui propuesta es sólamente tentativa, y futura investigación unida a eventuales nuevos descubrimientos es necesaria para clarificar el tema.
Palabras clave: Ramla – industria – alquimia – Período Islámico Temprano
The site of Ramla (South) is located some 0.5 km south of the modern city of Ramla, between Road 40 (at its Ramla-Bilu Junction section) and the northern
fringes of Moshav Matzliah (map reference New Israel Grid 187750:
647180:187320: 646740).2 The site extends both east and west of the secondary Road 4304, which access both the Moshav and further south, Kibbutz Na’an 2 Israeli Transverse Mercator (ITM) is the new geographic coordinate system for Israel, in use
(Fig. 1). Based on previous surveys3 and excavations4 the size of the site can be estimated at 15-20 hectares. Between 2004 and 2008, a substantial portion of the site was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority (henceforth IAA), revealing an extensive industrial area dating mostly to the Early Islamic period.5 A plethora of artifacts, industrial features and installations of diverse types and purposes were unearthed. These included mostly pottery and glass workshops, oil and winepresses, plastered vats and containers, probably related to the craft of dyeing, as well as to other industries. During excavations carried out by Tel Aviv University (henceforth TAU), evidence of flax cultivation and its retting and further processing into textile fibers was found.6 Other features relating indirectly to various manufacturing processes, such as cisterns, vaulted pools, drainage vats, refuse pits, working surfaces, pipes, channels and an intricate network of water conduits were revealed as well during excavations carried out by the IAA, TAU and Bar Ilan University (henceforth BIU).
Such a large amount and concentration of industrial devices in a single site is without precedent in the region. However, it should be stressed that most of the above described features are well known and largely attested to in previous excavations at the city of Ramla and its surroundings. The following article deals with a most intriguing set of artifacts that were ascribed to sometimes it is also referred to as the “New Israeli Grid”. The new system relocated the Y axis 50 km westward and the X axis 500 km southward so that now the entire country is covered by positive coordinate values.
3 Shmueli and Kanias 2007.
4 Gorzalczany 2008a, b, c; Gorzalczany and Spivak 2008, Gorzalczany and aAd 2010;
Gorzalczany, Yehuda and Torge 2010; Gorzalczany and Marcus 2010; Tal and Taxel 2008a: 9;
5 The site was surveyed by Oren Shmueli and Tzach Kanias under Permit No° A-3784/02, and excavated under the following Permits: A-4144/04, A-4739/05, A-4910/06, A-5118/07, AA- 5311/07, A-5331/07-08, A-5331/08, A-5473/08 (Amir Gorzalczany), A-4454/05, A-4674/05 and A-4725/06 (Alexander Onn) on behalf of the IAA, and licenses B-298/05, BOren Tal and Itamar Taxel) and B-326/08 (Ytzhak Paz et al.) on behalf of TAU. Permit A-4144/04 was granted first to Yehiel Zelinger, who was replaced later by Amir Gorzalczany.
Permit A-5168/07 was a joint venture of the IAA and TAU. The salvage excavation of Area C was carried out by BIU (License B-299/05, Rona Avissar and Joe Uziel). Field photography was carried out by Tzila Sagiv and Amir Gorzalczany. Studio photography was carried out by Clara Amit. The surveyors were Vadim Esman and Mark Kunin, and the final plans were prepared by Irena Belashov. The drawings were prepared by Irina Lidsky-Reznikov. Arieh Rochman-Halperin and Silvia Krapiwko, from the IAA Archive Branch were most helpful during all stages of the present research. Lilly Gershuny most kindly revised and improved the English. All the graphic material in this paper is by courtesy of the IAA. The authors are deeply grateful to all of them.
6 Tal and Taxel 2008a; 2008b: 123-124.
164 AMIR GORZALCZANY - BARUCH ROSEN ANTIGUO ORIENTE 8 - 2010 Stratum IIIa, which is dated to the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th centuries CE.7
THE INSTALLATIONThe installation (L2150, Figs. 2-6) was overriding robber trench W2154 (Stratum IIIb, late 7th and early 8th centuries CE), thus postdating it. The device was set into the hamra soil to a depth of 0.1-0.3 m, a thin layer of ash was observed close to it, attesting to some moderate (?) heat that was apparently involved in its operation. The installation consisted of a central hub (possibly the bottom of a storage jar, diameter 0.4 m and depth 0.11 m), which was apparently connected to four other smaller jars, surrounding it in a way that resembled a star (L2156, L2157, L2158 and L2159, diameter 0.2-0.3 m), roughly oriented in the major compass directions. The preserved (lower) part of the feature is embedded into the soil and coated with a revetment of small fieldstones. As the central hub and the surrounding containers were damaged and only their lower parts were preserved, it is impossible to establish whether they were regular jars typical of the period, assigned to that specific use, or vessels made ad hoc especially for the purpose of the device. The bottom of the containers closely resembles the known bag-shaped storage jars from the period, but since most of the body and of course the neck and rims are missing, the exact identification is difficult.
The central and surrounding containers were presumably connected by short (length 0.25-0.3 m) ceramic pipes. The best preserved pipe, having a diameter of 0.12 m links the central container with jar L2158. This pipe was preserved up to half of its diameter, while the other pipes did not survive. However, their shapes can be reconstructed following the negatives left in the soil. A conicalshaped hollow brass (?) device was found inside each of the surrounding jars, except for L2156 (the one pointing to the north), which were obviously part of the installation (Figs. 7-11). The brass device missing in L2156 was probably found in L2159, which contained two such cones.8 The devices could have 7 It was revealed in Square B23 in Area I. The excavation of Area I was supervised by Tzach Kanias.
8 The brass devices were cleaned in the IAA metallurgical laboratory by Lena Kupershmidt.
acted as funnels or even as pipettes, for pouring fluids and had similar measures,
as seen in Tab. 1 below. The fragmentary condition of the fourth cone (Figs. 7:
3; 8) found in L 2157, did not allow to take measures.
It may be worth noting that another fragmentary cone was found in a refuse pit located in Area B, some hundreds meters to the east, which was rich in Early Islamic pottery.9 No exact comparisons for the cones are known to us.
Nevertheless, slightly similar devices, albeit decorated with incisions and relief and still unpublished, were found in excavations at Horbat Zefat ‘Adi, in the Eastern fringes of the Akko Valley, between Shefar'am and 'Ibilin,10 The purpose of the devices and their context remain so far unclear.11 In addition, the central hub was connected via a longer pipe (1.6 m) to another jar, similar in size to those that surrounded it. This container was barely preserved and only the marks it left in the soil were visible. The same applies to the pipe, which could only be traced by the negative pattern (0.15m width) remaining in the soil and flanked by a pebble bedding. The vanished pipe was probably a metal one, which was robbed to be either “used as is” or recycled.
The four surrounding jars had two different sizes: L2156 (preserved depth
0.22 m) and L2157 (preserved depth 0.21 m) located in the northeast and southwest directions had a diameter of 0.2 m, while L2158 (preserved depth 9 The cone (labeled B3852) was found in L419, Sq. F11, Area B (supervised by Lisa Yehuda).
10 Smithline and Stern 2004.
11 The authors are grateful to Howard Smithline and Edna Stern who kindly allowed them to quote here this unpublished data, and to Lena Kupershmidt (IAA metal treatment lab) who called their attention to these artifacts.
166 AMIR GORZALCZANY - BARUCH ROSEN ANTIGUO ORIENTE 8 - 2010
0.19 m) and L2159 (preserved depth 0.25 m), positioned in the southwest and northeast respectively, were 0.3 m in diameter.
Although no comparable device could be found, some points are selfevident. It seems clear that a moderate amount of heat, controllable to a degree, was used in operating the device, and some material, liquid or vapor, was transmitted between the central container and the surrounding jars.
The direction of the flow (from the central hub to the adjoining containers or vice versa) can not be inferred from the slope, which is negligible due to the short distance. Nevertheless, the central container was positioned higher than the adjacent containers, which were dug dipper into the surrounding soil.