Vanderbilt archaeologists write Caesarea's history, a medieval port city in Israel

Posted at 6:21 AM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 08:00:41-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Archaeologists at Vanderbilt are making historic discoveries in the medieval port city of Caesarea.

Until now, most of the research in the city on Israel's coast has focused on biblical times.

"In a way what we're doing is groundbreaking and it's a little different than the kind of archaeology of scholarship for many years," Joseph Rife said.

Rife, an associate professor of classical and Mediterranean studies, and Phil Lieberman, an associate professor of Jewish Studies and classical and Mediterranean Studies, have directed two digs in Caesarea.

"It's great to be at the leading edge of this particular type of excavation, which is social and stuff," Lieberman said.

During Maymester 2018 and 2019, an international team of Vanderbilt students, staff, faculty and archaeological specialists worked on excavating a 900-square-meter section of land in Caesarea.

"We [found] in many ways evidence of advances and innovations in civil engineering. The exploration of Caesarea has provided a lot of interesting evidence for the movement of water to supply large resident populations and that's quite amazing," Rife said.

Additionally, researchers found people who lived in medieval Caesarea were well connected.

"There were trade routes to Greece and Egypt...the world is much more connected than I would have otherwise thought, " Lieberman explained.

They also found evidence of Jews, Christians and Muslims living in harmony.

"In the region today there is all kinds of religious, ethnic and political tension. For us to think about what it looked like in the medieval period where people were living and working together is super interesting," Lieberman remarked.

Before returning to Caesarea, the historians will work on recording their findings in a massive digital archive. It will include their notebooks, personal photographs and previous research.

The researchers plan to visit the site again in May.