The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Tine Rassalle
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
The object that I find myself coming back to is the so-called Horvat Kur stone; a basalt stone table that was discovered in the Byzantine synagogue of Horvat Kur in the Galilee, Israel. It’s carved out of one block, has four little feet, and weighs about 350 kg, or 770 pounds.
When did you first come across this stone?
I was the field supervisor at the Horvat Kur excavations when the stone was first discovered in 2012 and then taken out in 2013. We were excavating the inner hall of the synagogue and came across this flat, rectangular stone that was plastered into the floor of the building. At the end of the season, we lifted the stone out of its context and brought it to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for conservation and restoration. It is still there and is getting ready to go on public display.
Can you tell me a bit about the stone and its context?
The stone was clearly found in secondary context as it was plastered into the floor and placed in between two other stones, making only the top, front, and back side visible. However, all four sides are decorated with figurative and geometric designs. The front side (also called the “show side”) displays items like vessels, a ladle, and two candelabra. The three other sides depict rectangular frames, grooves, and circles. The top of the stone shows three concentric rectangular frames, with the inner surface carefully smoothed out. We don’t know what the original function of the stone was, nor where it came from. As nothing about this stone is typically Jewish, the original context could have been anything, including a Roman villa: the items depicted show some parallels with items used in Greco-Roman banquets. Perhaps it was originally used in symposia or the table stood in a triclinium? We have no idea!
What is it about this stone that appeals to you most?
The fact that we do not know the stone’s function, both in its original context as well as in the synagogue, is super fascinating to me. Why was so much effort made in carving out the patterns in this hard stone? What do the geometrical designs mean? When was this table made? Why did they incorporate it into the synagogue? It is a true enigma! This is the only stone of its kind that has ever been found, so it’s very unique and intriguing to me.
The other reason that it appeals to me is of course that I was there when it was discovered. I remember the excitement on the site, the frantic googling in the lab in the afternoon trying to find parallels, etc. Scholars from all over Israel would come to visit our site and take a look at the object. Now I feel a sort of personal connection to it. I even have a picture of it printed on my bank card!
For more information on the stone, see:
Zangenberg, J. K. (2019). “New Observations on the “Basalt Stone Table” from Horvat Kur, Galilee. Strata.” Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, Vol. 37, pp. 95–111.
Zangenberg, J. K. (2016). “A Basalt Stone Table from the Byzantine Synagogue at Ḥorvat Kur, Galilee: Publication and Preliminary Interpretation.” In J. Patrich, O. Peleg-Barkat, & E. Ben-Yosef (Eds.), Arise, Walk Through the Land – Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Land of Israel in Memory of Yizhar Hirschfeld on the Tenth Anniversary of his Demise, The Israel Exploration Society, pp. 61*-78*.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I have a (not so secret) passion for video games. I especially love historical games, like the Assassin’s Creed series, or Age of Empires. For the last couple of years, I’ve been spending my free time researching and presenting on archaeology with and within video-games (also known as archaeogaming). It makes me so happy to combine my hobby with my work!
Tine Rassalle is a PhD candidate in the Religious Studies department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has an MA in Archaeology of the ancient Near East from Gent University (Belgium) and another BA in Hebrew and Aramaic Languages and Cultures from Leiden University (the Netherlands). Her main research focuses on the material culture of ancient Judaism and early Christianity in Palestine.
Tine is the field supervisor of the Horvat Kur excavations in the Galilee (https://kinneret-excavations.org/tel-kinrot/horvat-kur), an executive staff member of SASA (Save Ancient Studies Alliance: https://www.saveancientstudies.org), and a member of the Early Career Scholars Committee of ASOR (www.asor.org).
You can find her personal website here: https://tinerassalle.web.unc.edu or follow her on Twitter: @Tine_Rass
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.