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Israel Antiquities Authority

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

Israel Antiquities Authority

Since the Antiquities Authority Law was passed in 1989, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been empowered by the government of Israel to administer the nation's Antiquities Law (1978). The IAA assumed the duties of the former Israel Department of Antiquities (IDA) and bears responsibility for all archaeological matters. The IDA was founded in 1948, shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, and initially was attached to the Ministry of Labor and Construction. It was subsequently transferred to the Ministry of Education and Culture. Under the British Mandate (1917–1948) all archaeological documentation (files, collections, maps, photographs, plans) belonging to the Department of Antiquities had been located in the Jordanian sector of Jerusalem, as was the Palestine Archaeological Museum and its research library. Starting from scratch, the IDA set up six departments responsible for inspection, conservation excavations and surveys, museums, archives and library, and research and publications. It enlisted the assistance of archaeology enthusiasts throughout the country in reporting discoveries of remains, increasing the department's ability to record sites and antiquities and enhance awareness of the need for antiquities protection.

In its formative years, IDA staff included Shmuel Yeivin, director; Immanuel Ben-Dor, deputy director; P.L.O. Guy, director of excavations and surveys; Jacob Pinkerfeld, conservator of monuments and acting chief inspector of antiquities; Michael Avi-Yonah, scientific secretary and acting inspector of antiquities in Jerusalem; Penuel Kahane, inspector of regional museums; Ya῾aqov Ory, inspector of antiquities in the southern district; Ruth Amiran, inspector of antiquities in the northern district; and Milka Cassuto, head library clerk. Through 1989, the IDA directors were Avraham Biran (1961–1974), Avraham Eitan (1974–1988), and Amir Drori (1988–1989). Technical support staff in the form of surveyors, photographers, illustrators, and restorers was brought into the department, as were physical anthropologists and lab personnel. In the 1980s a special team was assembled to prevent the robbery of antiquities from known and previously unknown sites.

Among the largest excavations in which the department was involved were those at Tel Dan, Tel Ashdod, ῾Ein-Gedi, Ḥammath-Gader, Beth-Shean, and Beth-Guvrin. A large survey project, the Negev Rescue Survey, was in operation from 1978 to 1988, overseeing rescue excavations and surveys conducted as a result of the peace treaty with Egypt and the subsequent redeployment of the Israel Defense Forces in the Negev desert. Large rescue excavation projects were undertaken at Biq῾at ῾Uvdah, Ramat Maṭred, and in the Tel Malḥata area during the survey.

The IDA had been involved in hundreds of rescue excavations, as well as in joint excavations with the Hebrew University and the Israel Exploration Society in Jerusalem and in other parts of the country. The Archaeological Survey of Israel began its work in 1964, and, since 1967, the office of the staff officer for archaeology for Judea and Samaria has also conducted numerous rescue excavations and surveys.

The Antiquities Authority Law enumerates the functions of the IAA as follows:

  • Custodianship of archaeological sites. Some fifteen thousand sites are currently known as the result of large-scale archaeological surveys. The country is divided into four regional districts, each overseen by a district archaeologist and a team of archaeological assistants.
  • Excavations. Land excavations, salvage excavations, underwater excavations, surveys, and the issuing of excavation permits for local and foreign expeditions are the jurisdiction of the IAA. In the eighteen months preceeding July 1993, the IAA was involved in more than two hundred salvage excavations, employing a staff of more than two hundred and fifty archaeologists. Large rescue excavations were conducted where housing was being prepared for Russian and other immigrants in Jerusalem, Beersheba, Ashkelon, and Beth-Shemesh. Long-term archaeological excavations directed by the IAA were conducted for purposes of tourism at Banias, Beth-Shean, Caesarea, Beth-Guvrin, Mareshah (Marisa), and ῾Ein-Ḥaṣeva. Many important archaeological excavations have also recently been conducted by the archaeological institutes at Israeli universities (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem at Tel Dor and Tel Hazor; Tel Aviv University at sites in the Golan; Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at Tel Haror; and the University of Haifa at Ḥatula, Caesarea, and Tabun) as well as by academic institutions from the United States (the Harvard University expedition at Ashkelon), France (at Tel Yarmut), Japan (at ῾Ein-Gev), and other countries. IAA staff includes experts in the fields of prehistory, physical anthropology, paleobotany, paleozoology, petrography, and carbon-14 dating.
  • Theft. Preventing the theft of antiquities and monitoring antiquities dealers is the responsibility of a special IAA unit. There are regular patrols and inspection of all sites and regions as well as periodic visits to dealers.
  • Laboratories. The IAA operates scientific laboratories for preservation and restoration. Metal, glass, and ceramic artifacts are preserved and restored as well as photographed and drawn for purposes of documentation.
  • Curatorship. The curating, documentation, and storage of more than one million artifacts produced by excavations or by chance have been carried out by the IAA and tens of thousands have been lent to museums for permanent or temporary display. The Dead Sea Scrolls are part of this patrimony.
  • Documentation and recording. Archaeological information is recorded and documented by site, including data from the period of the British Mandate. All archaeological material from IAA endeavors is organized, consolidated, and classified in a national database.
  • Public education. The IAA is responsible for the initiation and management of projects designed to promote public awareness and care for antiquities both in the society at large and throughout the educational system.
  • Publications. Major archaeological reports, articles, and notices are regularly published. Excavation reports were first published in ῾Atiqot in 1955; in the original format there were separate English and Hebrew volumes—nineteen English and ten Hebrew volumes were published through 1990. Seven volumes have appeared in the new combined English/Hebrew format. Ḥadashot Arkheologiyot has appeared in Hebrew since 1961 and the equivalent Excavations and Surveys in Israel (English translations) has appeared since 1982. Maps from the Archaeological Survey of Israel and the Negev Emergency Survey (six maps from areas in northern Israel, including ῾Atlit, Haifa, and Ma῾anit; four maps from Judea (Judah) and the central part of the country, including Herodium and the hill country of Benjamin; and eight Negev maps that include the Sede Boqer and Miṣpe Ramon areas) have also been published. Guidebooks to sites such as Tiberias, Chorazin, and Ma῾ale Adumin and a book called Highlights of Recent Excavations have also been published.
  • Library. A scientific library for the discipline of archaeology and related subjects is presently housed at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
  • Preservation, restoration, and site development. Several teams of restorers, architects, and engineers form the department responsible for preservation and restoration. Site development involves preparing the site for visitors and includes reconstruction activities as well as the preparation of explanatory signs and promotional material on the history of the site, and so forth.

The IAA's annual budget includes a $9-million base granted by Israel's Treasury Department through the Ministry of Education. A similar sum is generated by various excavations and projects through the Ministry of Tourism and by regional authorities for local development projects. The conservation and restoration of Israel's archaeological heritage has assumed primary importance among the IAA's tasks and has thus enjoyed a considerable portion of its resources. Some fifty sites throughout the country are currently under the care of IAA preservation teams, among them Tel Dan; Banias; Mt. Berenice in Tiberias; Caesarea; Beth-Guvrin, Mareshah (Marisa); an aqueduct on the Hebron Road, Malḥa (the new site of the Biblical Zoo), and Mamilla near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem; the synagogue at ῾Ein-Gedi; Yeroḥam; ῾Ein-῾Evrona; and Timna῾. In managing and developing archaeological sites that will attract the general public and show visitors tangible evidence of Israel's past, the IAA attempts to minimize reconstruction and preserve site integrity. A new IAA project is the ῾Ein-Ya'el Living Museum in the Jerusalem hills. The museum uses an archaeological site as the setting for educational seminars and workshops in ancient crafts. The IAA is involved in incorporating the many archaeological sites uncovered as a result of the rapid growth of new Jerusalem suburban neighborhoods into area parks.

[Most of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries. [See also Israel Exploration Society; Survey of Israel; and the biographies of Avi-Yonah, Guy, and Yeivin.]


  • See Sefer HaChukkim 885 (10 February 1978): 76–83, for the Antiquities Law, 5738–1978; and Sefer HaChukkim 1283 (3 August 1989): 88–94,
    for the Antiquities Authority Law, 5749–1989, both passed by the Israeli parliament

Rudolph Cohen

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