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Columbia Hills Historical State Park, Washington


Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches Columbia Hills Petroglyph Face


In the 1950s, the U.S. government funded the Dalles Dam Project to build hydroelectric capacity for the Northwest and beyond. The project was completed in 1957, but the rising waters behind the dam forever changed a stretch of the river valley separating Washington and Oregon. The area had long been a gathering place for people from the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes. Their modern descendants opposed the dam construction and feared that ancient rock art there would be submerged. Although they were not able to stop the project, the tribes were able to save approximately 40 artworks by having them jackhammered out of the cliffs. In the early 2000s, the artworks were taken out of storage and placed in a permanent outdoor display called Tamani Pesh-Wa, or “Written on the Rock,” in Washington’s Columbia Hills Historical State Park, formerly known as Horsethief Lake. There are also some petroglyphs higher on the cliff face in situ. Archaeologist Ken Feder of Central Connecticut State University says, “It’s fortunate that the locals had the presence of mind to figure out a way to preserve some of the rock art before it was lost forever to the floodwaters.”


Trenches Columbia Hills PetroglyphsTHE SITE

The petroglyphs of the Tamani Pesh-Wa display are now easily visible from a walking trail, and depict deer, mountain sheep, hunters, thunderbirds, owls, fish, and a creature with long flowing tentacles. One especially notable work remains high up in the cliff face, and can only be visited with an escort from the park. It is called Tsagaglalal, or “She who watches” in the Wasco-Wishram language. The legend of Tsagaglalal tells of a female chief who was concerned over what would happen to her people when she was gone. Coyote came to her and told her that soon the world would change and that women would no longer be chiefs. Coyote then tricked her and turned her into a rock, saying, “Now you shall stay here forever, watching over your people and the river.”



Close to Columbia Hills Historical State Park are the Maryhill Museum of Art and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, both of which house artifacts from the local tribes. In the park, the lake provides recreation, and the cliffs are known for excellent rock climbing. Visitors in the spring can expect to see beautiful fields of lupine and balsamroot.

Scroll Search


Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches Qumran Excavation


In 1946 or 1947, a Bedouin goatherd found a number of ancient texts in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea and the ruins of the town of Qumran in the West Bank. Searches over the next decade yielded around 900 mostly fragmentary ancient Jewish texts in 11 different caves. These texts, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, are among the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century. Written primarily on parchment and papyrus, they date from between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D. and include almost all of the Hebrew Bible, texts related to it known as Apocrypha, and the writings of a Hebrew sect thought to have been based at Qumran, most likely the Essenes. The texts offer valuable insights into debates about Jewish law and ritual—as well as messianic speculation—in the period after the composition of the Hebrew Bible and before the rise of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.


Recently, small fragments of texts purported to be from the area have appeared on the antiquities market. Many are thought to be fakes, but they have led to concern that there are undiscovered Dead Sea Scrolls, and that looters are getting to them in advance of archaeologists. In response, the Israel Antiquities Authority has launched Operation Scroll, which aims to survey several hundred caves in the area and excavate ones that may contain texts. In February 2017, archaeologists announced they had discovered a cave in the cliffs west of Qumran near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea that they believe once held additional Dead Sea Scrolls.


Trenches Qumran ParchmentIn a tunnel around 50 feet from the cave’s entrance, archaeologists led by Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Randall Price of Liberty University in Virginia unearthed a range of objects, including several broken storage jars of the sort that sometimes contained scrolls, multiple pieces of cloth used to wrap scrolls, straps of leather to tie them, tendons that connect them, and even pieces of blank parchment. “But, unfortunately, the scrolls were not there,” says Gutfeld.


Then, hidden between two rocks, they found a pair of pickaxes dating to the 1950s. This, for Gutfeld, was critical. “In my opinion, for sure there were scrolls in this cave that were looted by Bedouins 60 years ago,” he says. “And how can I be so certain? We have everything that is attached to the scrolls. And they left us their pickaxes.”


Robert Cargill of the University of Iowa and other experts aren’t so certain. Cargill points out that many caves in the area have signs of looting. In his opinion, it is the discovery of blank parchment that makes the newly excavated cave significant. Along with previous discoveries at Qumran of inkwells and styluses, remains of animals and materials to remove hair from their hides, and tests showing that ink used to write at least some of the Dead Sea Scrolls was made using water from the Dead Sea, the blank parchment supports the argument that some of the scrolls were produced locally. “The big story is that they found another piece of evidence that the residents of Qumran, whoever they were, could manufacture scrolls,” says Cargill, “not that they found a Dead Sea Scrolls cave.”


For Lawrence Schiffman of New York University, the blank parchment is also the excavation’s most important find, though for a different reason. He sees it as an explanation for how forgers have managed to produce fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments that appear to be genuine based on radiocarbon dating. “It tells us that it is possible to recover blank animal skin material from antiquity that could be used to make fakes,” he says. “Since this cave had some writing material, it may be that other caves had blank writing material as well.”