The Excavations at Migdal 

by Kimberley Czajkowski

Figure 1: The Migdal Synagogue (© K Czajkowski)

During the summer of 2015, I participated as a volunteer for two weeks in the archaeological excavations at Migdal, on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The site is more generally known by its Aramaic name of Magdala and has been identified by some with the town of Taricheae (in the Rabbinic literature, Migdal Ṣaba‘ayya or Midgal Nunayya). The excavations on the southern part of the site are currently on hold, but those in the northern area are being undertaken by a Mexican team, led by Marcela Zapata-Meza from the Universidad Anáhuac México Sur, in conjunction with the IAA. A first century synagogue has already been uncovered, in which the famous ‘Synagogue Stone’ was found. A market area stands next to the synagogue, and two seemingly wealthy houses have also been excavated opposite. Within this residential area are three stepped pools that have been identified as a special kind of miqweh: mosaics, frescoes, a port and further storage and domestic areas have also already been uncovered at Migdal. 

Figure 2: Ground-water miqweh (© K Czajkowski)

At the time I was participating, work was concentrated on trying to remove the upper levels of soil from the residential area that adjoins those houses which have already been excavated. Many of the finds that were being unearthed are of a similar kind: ceramic, glass, bone and coinage. These are all carefully collected and sent for analysis, some in Israel and some back in Mexico. Art restorers also arrived during my time in Migdal, who work to piece together the many full or partial pots that survive. The organizers are highly committed to training their archaeology students, who form the back-bone of the volunteer work force. This training is both in field-work and in the interpretation of the evidence they unearth: many of the students are working on dissertations that will examine the results of the analyses of particular finds (the pottery or the glass, for example). On rare free afternoons or weekends, students and volunteers are also able to visit nearby sites in Northern Israel in order to make the most of the opportunity to understand the topography and history of the region Further seasons are planned until 2017 and it is hoped by then that we should have a better understanding of the entire site of Midgal. In the meantime, the town can still provide us with a fascinating glimpse into urban daily life in late-Hellenistic and early-Roman Galilee.

My participation in the Migdal excavations related to the Cluster of Excellence Project, headed by Prof. Dr. Lutz Doering. Further information may be found at

Professor Bezalel Bar Kochva (Tel Aviv University) besucht das IJD