Work on a gallery planned to house an exhibit of ancient artifacts from Israel at the Explorations in Antiquity Center is progressing toward a possible spring opening.
Representatives from the Israel Antiquities Authority on Aug. 9 met with Dr. Jim Fleming, CEO of Explorations in Antiquity, in LaGrange. IAA officials Dr. Uzi Dahari, deputy director for archaeology, and Helena Sokolov, coordinator of special projects, discussed with Fleming an inspection of EIA’s new Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery to determine if it was suitabile to receive a special collection of antiquities. Four years ago, the IAA proposed the possibility of a permanent collection of artifacts to EIA.
The IAA had very specific requirements for the gallery that would house the collection of artifacts, including an earthquake-proof, tornado-proof, climate-controlled, highly secured structure. Working with local architect Skip Smith, as well as structural engineer Herb Starzer, a member of the EIA board, Fleming began to design the gallery, which would be part of the Roman Stepped Theater already planned for construction.
A grant request was submitted to the Callaway Foundation Inc. who agreed to provide matching funds for the project. All contractors hired for the project were from Georgia, and most were Troup County businesses.
Construction began in Fall 2011, with the foundations being excavated and poured. Twelve tons of rebar, and 200 cubic yards of concrete were used to form the earthquake- and tornado-proof foundation.
The walls that form the upper theater also form the artifacts gallery below. Over the following 10 months, as the Roman Theater was under construction, the artifacts gallery took shape as well. Each individual exhibit area was defined and constructed according to exact specifications.
Fleming, along with museum curator Barbara Herlan, and a large contingent of volunteers, spent the last several months making sure each area is an accurate representation of what one would have seen in ancient times. As Fleming says, visitors will be “the ones behind glass.”
There are seven exhibit areas: shepherding, old testament tomb, old testament house, new testament period Roman house, life of the fisherman, ossuaries and shipwreck. During his meeting with Dahari and Sokolov, Fleming discussed the possibility of having artifacts from specific excavations, such as funeral dowry pieces from Ketef Hinnom, an excavation organized by Fleming.
Additionally, he had prepared a wish list of artifacts that would be displayed in each area, discussing them in-depth with the IAA representatives. Fleming asked if it would be possible to have a rare find as a special draw to visitors, something extremely unusual for public display.
Both Dahari and Sokolov were very receptive to all of his ideas, and at the end of the meeting told Fleming that they would assign a curator and begin assembling the collection immediately.
Fleming will travel to Israel to meet with the IAA in early January with the goal of helping with the selection of the actual artifacts which will be on display. In the meantime, work continues in the artifacts gallery in preparation for receiving the artifacts.