Avner was not only one of the founders of the maritime unit of the University of Haifa; he was its central pillar. All his life he was devoted to the unique goal of the study of the interrelationships between mankind and the sea. This devotion was expressed both in his teaching and his research.
For almost 30 years Avner revealed, together with a large team of talented colleagues, students and research assistants, the mysteries of the Herodian harbor at Caesarea. He became an international expert on ancient harbors, but did not limit his scientific activities to Caesarea Maritima. He studied almost every archaeological marine site along the Mediterranean coast of Israel and the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba). These were not regular scientific studies; Avner understood, from the very dawn of his marine research, that in order to answer scientific questions regarding the sea, an interdisciplinary approach must be adopted. Thus, he integrated into the research his knowledge, not only in the fields of marine archaeology, but in maritime history, geography and geomorphology. Avner always incorporated within this research experts from other disciplines such as engineering, architecture, marine geology, marine chemistry and marine biology, through which he was able to reach outstanding scientific achievements.
This pioneering approach was expressed also in Avner's teaching and endowed upon both his graduate students and colleagues from all disciplines. He insisted that academic marine studies should not be limited to lectures in air-conditioned classrooms, but should also be carried out in the field - "we have to get the students wet" he used to say. Avner never sent other people to do the hard work. He led coastal and marine study field trips even in the most difficult weather conditions, during scorching hot days or in freezing storms. Throughout his long academic career he organized many academic study cruises which had outstanding educational value, widening and enriching students' and colleagues' knowledge. The recent cruise, to the Ionian Sea, was the last study cruise in which Avner participated.
Although Avner was a marine archaeologist and I am a marine biologist, he was interested in my scientific studies, helping me find my subject animals in Caesarea, as well as involving me in marine archaeological facets.
I recall that early one morning he called me to join him for a dive in the shallow water near Atlit, where one of our graduate students, the late Yehoshua Ramon, had found a small piece of metal protruding from the sand. We arrived there, only the two of us, located the artifact, and started digging with our bare hands. But the strange object continued deep into the sand. It became late and we knew from the meteorological forecast that a heavy storm was on the way. Realizing that it would be impossible to locate the object after such a storm, we decided that the spot should be marked. However, we were afraid that the marker may disclose the finding to potential thieves. After a short discussion, we compromised, as we always did, on a buoy located just under the water surface. When we returned after the storm the marking buoy was lying on several meters of sand covering the finding. With a larger team and better equipment the artifact was fully exposed this time - it was the famous Atlit ram, the only one ever discovered.
This was Avner, the unique combination of a stubborn mariner and a brilliant scientist, who devoted his heart to the sea and science that he loved so much.
Avner's death is a great and painful loss for us, but his spirit of the interdisciplinary study of the sea will remain with us; his colleagues, friends and students. The continued development of the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Department for Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa will preserve this spirit.
Only a few words are engraved on Avner's tombstone: "... I will bring back from the depths of the sea..." (Psalm 68, verse 23).
We, his friends and colleagues and our graduate students at the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Department of Maritime Civilizations, will continue the heritage bestowed upon us by Avner. We will carry on bringing from the depths of the sea, findings and information that will deepen our knowledge and understanding of marine sciences.
The Institute for Maritime Studies and the Department of Maritime Civilizations experienced a great loss this year in the untimely and sudden death of Prof. Avner Raban at the age of 66.
Avner was one of the first members of the Undersea Exploration Society of Israel, where he served as the general secretary from the early 1960's. Together with Elisha Linder he promoted marine archaeology in Israel which, at that time, was in its infancy. This activity led to the establishment of the then Center for Maritime Studies and the Dept.of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa.
Avner started his advanced studies in plastic arts, but eventually continued in archaeology and geography at the Hebrew University, where he was awarded B.A. and Ph.D. degrees. At the same time he devoted himself to promoting the interdisciplinary approach to maritime studies as an academic discipline, and in research in the newly established University of Haifa. Over the past 32 years, students of the Dept. of Maritime Civilizations benefited from his vast knowledge, both in class and during field excursions.
In addition to his active academic life, Avner remained a lover of his kibbutz Ramat David, and the Jezreel Valley, where he was born to pioneer parents. He never neglected his duties, whether teaching or, among other things, physical work in the cowshed.
Among the many subjects in which Avner specialized in were: ancient harbors, geomorphological and geological changes in coastlines, ancient navigation and ships. He participated and directed numerous underwater and coastal excavations, in Israel and abroad. Avner died while working on the publication of the ancient harbor site of Caesarea, to which he devoted most of his energy over the years and through which he became a renowned expert on ancient harbor archaeology.
Avner was much in demand as a speaker at international lectures and conferences and served on many international committees dealing with marine sciences. He was awarded many prizes over the years for his contribution to underwater research. Avner's numerous publications cover a large gamut of subjects and are used as milestones for students and scholars in the field. His ability to befriend researchers and scholars from other countries resulted in co-operative research with the Institute for Maritime Studies, at the University of Haifa.
On a more personal note, Avner and I worked together during the excavation of Tel Akko under the direction of the late Prof. Moshe Dothan in the 1970's. It was then that I recognized Avner's ability to view and analyze with a wide perspective, bringing an interdisciplinary approach when viewing coastal sites. The last four seasons (2000-2004),during which we collaborated in the underwater project at Liman Tepe, were the culmination of a longstanding mercurial working relationship. We learned to appreciate each other's strengths and live and let live with what, we felt, were each other's weaknesses. We had finally learned to work together with honor and sympathy "like an old married couple" we joked. Avner's untimely death in England, while working on the publication of the research carried out in Caesarea and its harbor, has left the Department and the Institute, colleagues and students, co-workers and friends, with a gaping void.
In Memoriam Avner Raban - A Master and a Friend
Avner Raban passed away suddenly on February 11, 2004. Memories have not crystallized yet, and for us, his close friends, it is hard to think of him in terms of the past. Here, I have put into words thoughts about a few aspects of Avner as a colleague, scholar, teacher and, above all, the friend and person of special qualities - as I knew him.
The military service in the elite unit of the Israeli navy certainly marked Avner's career and life. The spirit and heroic experiences of the time created unbroken friendships and the tough, virile, assertive side so characteristic of Avner, the Sabra (Israeli born) and fighter.
The kibbutz was inseparable of Avner's life and character; he continued to be an active member of kibbutz Ramat David, though his career led him to become an international scholar whose time was devoted to excavations, research, conferences and travel outside Israel. But the kibbutz continued to be the home, family and land which he loved. The radical changes and loss of socialism in his community were a challenge and source of discussion, but not a reason to abandon a society, which he still believed to be an exemplary way of life. So he gave his share of communal work in the cowshed, in the dining room or in the local pub… The pioneer's spirit combined with intellectual curiosity: Avner was a man of books and music and his knowledge went far beyond the specific areas of research into reading "Nature", or Israeli and foreign literature and much more. Avner's interest, studies in geography, archaeology, and history made him an unrivalled expert of many regions in Israel, foremost of the entire coast. The expression "he knew every stone" seemed very real when related to Avner's exceptional memory and the number of private or study tours he conducted.
In the same way, he studied ceramics, amphorae, port installations and above all Caesarea Maritima, which he "adopted" as his preferred site for so many years. He felt it was his mission to dive, excavate live in and write about King Herod's port.
Well before becoming the leading figure of Caesarea, in the early 1970's, Avner Raban was a co-founder, with Elisha Linder, of the Department of Maritime Civilizations and the Recanati Center for Maritime Studies, where he spent most of his professional career.
Avner had a deep understanding and attachment to Greece, as a country and as a living Mediterranean society. His long involvement in Tropis meetings and contacts with colleagues were another aspect of the same attachment. He got acquainted with Greece when he spent a year in Athens in 1977/8. Avner enjoyed sailing to ports and islands as well as traveling to continental sites. I was lucky enough to travel and share with him sites and personal experiences, once after the Lamia conference (1996).
One cannot end these brief memories without honoring a man who combined so well work, intellectual activities, teaching and research with the basic pleasures of life: a glass of wine, a grilled fish or local food, accompanied by a cigarette and a good joke. But he did not complete it all; Avner Raban left us too soon.
Kenneth G. Holum
Avner and I first met in 1978 or 1979, when I joined the North American Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, or JECM. My recollection of Avner then is that he was part of the natural Caesarea landscape, one of the natives. About this time, Bob Hohlfelder and other diving archaeologists from North America joined Avner to form the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Excavation Project, or CAHEP, the team that excavated Caesarea's harbors in the 1980's. The CAHEP project yielded Avner's book The Harbours of Caesarea Maritima, 1: The Site and the Excavations.
In the mid-1980's I began to work on a big project with Avner, the traveling museum exhibition 'King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea', organized by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The exhibit opened at the Smithsonian in 1988, and for the next two years traveled to major natural history museums in the U.S. and Canada. Along with the exhibit came the book, King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea, published by W. W. Norton & Company of New York in 1988, of which Avner was one of the co-authors. When the exhibit closed in 1990, Avner found the money to revise it slightly and install it in the Ralli Museum at Caesarea temporarily. It is still there enlightening visitors.
Working with Avner during the exhibition, I first experienced him as a talented scholar, a forceful personality, unfailingly generous, and an honest man. Thus in 1988, with Avner's collaboration, I brought a team to work with CAHEP on a small project to study portions of the Caesarea's Byzantine city wall. Then, in the winter of 1988-89, during one of Avner's visits to the U.S., we planned the Combined Caesarea Expeditions, or CCE. The original idea was a collaboration between the University of Haifa and the University of Maryland for exploration both on land and under water. Avner would handle the logistics in Israel, including a joint license from the Israel Antiquities Authority, our base at Caesarea, and curating of finds, while I would organize the volunteer program in cooperation with other academic institutions worldwide. The staff would be both Israelis and North Americans. The funding would come from the University of Maryland, contributions of participating institutions, volunteer fees, and private contributions. Within this general framework Avner and I excavated twelve straight seasons between 1989 and 2000, six to nine weeks each summer, from late May to late July. Though I don't have exact numbers, without exaggerating I think we probably brought about 1,500 international volunteers and staff to Caesarea during this period. For me, room 6 in Beit Gil at the Sport Center was home for two months each summer, and Avner's room was right next door.
Of course, the project was not about logistics but about our research agenda. Avner continued the CAHEP work in the harbors. Among the divers early on was a team from Carleton University in Ottawa that included a young graduate student in geoarchaeology named Ed Reinhardt. Ed and others joined Avner in laboriously sampling the architecture of Herod's vast engineering achievement as well as other sites along the coast and the Inner Harbor, now a landlocked site. Knowing that I would never have time to learn how to dive, I restricted my attention to the land. In 1989 we began excavation on the Temple Platform, where we have uncovered Herod's spectacular temple to Roma and Augustus and a previously unknown octagonal church from 500 C.E. We also began work in area KK, south of the Old City, with the intention of exploring an entire insula of the ancient city. There was no doubt that I was in charge of the land excavations (except for the Inner Harbor), but Avner was a highly active partner, spending a good part of each dig day helping me keep track of the land trenches. He also proved to be exceptionally effective with the hand pick, speedily removing a soil deposit or trimming a balk while the volunteers stood by in awestruck silence.
As we all remember, the configuration of our happy CCE band changed significantly in 1992-1993, when the IAA helped organize large-scale, year-round excavations at Caesarea. Avner saw to it that our international team worked itself seamlessly into this larger framework, and we came to know and appreciate other colleagues from Israel and abroad, including Yosef ('Seffi') Porath of the IAA excavations, and Kathy Gleason and Barbara Burrell, excavators of the Promontory Palace. In order to work throughout the year, Avner also invited Joseph ('Yossi') Patrich, a colleague at Haifa, to join us as third director of CCE and his partner in the University of Haifa portion of the overall project. By and large, this arrangement worked very well indeed. At this point I delivered direction of KK to Yossi Patrich, who conducted a highly productive excavation there and in area CC just to the north, site of the Byzantine governor's palace. Avner and I, meanwhile, continued not only on the Temple Platform and in the Inner Harbor, but also renewed excavation in 1995 in area LL, north of the Inner Harbor, site of a large public warehouse of the Roman and Byzantine periods.
The larger project came to an end by stages in 1998 and 1999, while the international team, still called CCE, conducted its last full field season in June and July 2000. Then came the renewed intifada. The University of Maryland, like most other U.S. institutions, will not allow student projects in Israel until the U.S. State Department lifts its travel advisory regarding Israel, unfortunately still in effect today. Meanwhile, the more adventuresome Canadian contingent, now with Professor Ed Reinhardt at its head, continued and even expanded its work with Avner; but on the land side, only a core group of CCE staff was able to travel to Israel, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, preparing the final report on area TP. Most recently, since the beginning of 2004, I communicated with Avner regularly by email in Oxford. At the time of his passing, we had planned to meet during Pesach to plan for the future, including excavations in area LL.
So far, I have described only part of my story with Avner. Fourteen years straight, from 1989 to 2002, we organized a workshop on Caesarea at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research held in November in various cities in the U.S. and Canada. Every year Avner presided with me over the workshop and gave a paper. We also organized together, with the support of many colleagues in the Center for Maritime Studies, the splended international symposium on Caesarea held in 1995 at the Dan Caesarea Hotel, sponsored by the Edmond de Rothschild Caesarea Foundation. Avner loved this symposium, and during it (as I remember!) he was in his glory. After the symposium, he and I edited together the massive volume Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millennia (Leiden 1996), containing most of the papers presented in the symposium. We also edited, together with Yossi Patrich, the large volume Caesarea Papers 2 that appeared in 1999, and a third volume of Caesarea Papers is now virtually complete. Altogether, Avner and I collaborated in the publication of four volumes on Caesarea, all published in English. As we proceed with the final revisions of Caesarea Papers 3, I very much feel the presence of my long-time partner, disappointed that the book is not yet out, encouraging me in his not too gentle manner finally to get the job done!
As this brief narrative makes clear, for me Avner Raban proved to be much more than part of the Caesarea landscape. He became a very close friend, and a professional collaborator and partner in a successful research enterprise. Avner's personal qualities account for that success, and for the sheer enjoyment I felt in working with him for so many years. For me, Avner was, first, a powerful intellect. He had an unparalleled intuitive ability to reconstruct archaeological contexts from exiguous evidence. His genius can best be seen in the harbor excavation, where he envisioned early the main architectural forms and worked doggedly over several decades to bring empirical evidence for his intuition. Avner did tend at times to leap to conclusions, and hence I called him often, to his face, a Euthyphro, after Plato's vivid portrait of an impetuous thinker. But most often Avner proved, in the end, to be correct. Avner was intensely excited by new ideas and discovery, and so we argued, even with raised voices, over intellectual issues that mattered to him and me. Avner also had profound respect for his colleagues, so long as he perceived them to think and act in the straightforward, honest manner that he admired-even "blunt," as Avner put it. A guest in this country, with Avner I not only felt welcome and completely at home but that I was engaged in a truly equal partnership. I think Avner genuinely enjoyed his collaboration with Ed and me.
In short, for me the partnership with Avner has been one long season of intense rewards. In the end, we were not able to finish our collaboration. Like others, therefore, I will do my best, with Avner looking over my shoulder, to bring the publications to completion and thus perpetuate the work of Avner Raban.
Kenneth G. Holum
Michal Artzy asked me to share some memories of Avner with the readers of this Newsletter, I had just about recovered from the initial shock and pain his sudden death had caused. Thinking again about him, I was flooded anew with grief at the loss of a close friend. How could a man with his zest for life leave us so unexpectedly?
I began to scroll mentally through my many images of this deep, complicated and multitalented person with whom I had shared so much at Caesarea and elsewhere. My thoughts kept returning to the study trip to Turkey I took with RIMS in the spring of 92. The weather in May that year was not kind. We had lots of rain and cold weather as we roared about southern Turkey in bus and on boats trying to squeeze a month or more of archaeological touring into two weeks. That was so Avner. He often tried for the impossible and made the rest of the world stay with him until he achieved it.
I can remember several sites where we headed straight up a steep hill to reach a tower or building at its summit. We did not look for a trail or path. Why bother? The objective was clear and a straight route was always best. Forget the brambles, maquis and the slippery slopes. We always got there, although usually a bit exhausted, quite dirty and covered with small cuts and thorns. We saw more than anyone might have expected to see in such a short trip. The many sites provided a perfect stage for Avner's encyclopedic knowledge. We learned so much from a man who loved his subject with an intensity that was a unique gift.
My favorite memory of that trip, and one of my most cherished memories of Avner, came at Perge on the last day of our grand adventure. It was pouring as we entered the old city to see the structures along the main decumanus. Everyone had stopped for a drink and a moment of brief shelter from the driving rain before setting out again. Avner went ahead. I finished my tea and headed out to catch up to this solitary figure with a small umbrella waiting alone amidst the ruins. When I reached him, I realized no one else had followed me. Avner said to me "Where are they? There is so much to see and so much to do. "You've exhausted them, Avner. They've had enough. Let's just enjoy a quiet walk in the rain through this magnificent site." And that is what we did.
"There is so much to see and so much to do." This simple phrase captured the essence of the man and stands as an appropriate epitaph for a rich life that should have lasted longer than it did. For Avner, there was always more to see and more to do. That was the passion of the man.
Eduard G. Reinhardt
Upon reflection of my personal and professional relationships with Avner, I realized how much he influenced me. I was writing a paper, the other day, about last season's results. Repeatedly I would think: I will discuss this data with Avner. But then I would have to catch myself and realize, once again, that it was no longer possible. I keep thinking about Avner's impact on my career and my relationship with him through the years. Writing about Caesarea has now become a journey through my memories of Avner.
I was at Caesarea as a volunteer in my first year as an undergraduate in 1990. I wanted to become a marine archaeologist and was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to work on an underwater excavation. I came to Caesarea with a contingent from Carleton University (including my new wife) and we worked in an area in the inner harbor. My first impression of Avner was that he was a furious person; a stormy, vigorous individual who had a passion for Caesarea and would not tolerate fools lightly. I did not see his kind or gentle side that year. But what I did bring away from that first season was Avner's breadth of knowledge in marine archaeology and the earth sciences. I was fascinated by what I had seen of the inner harbor stratigraphy where we were working. I spent many hours excavating and speculating on the origins of the various deposits. When I returned home, I enrolled in more earth science courses and would sit in lectures pondering the inner harbor stratigraphy that I had seen the summer before.
Avner felt very strongly about an interdisciplinary approach in marine archaeology. He believed that to be a marine archaeologist one had to have a good understanding of geomorphology and coastal processes, since only then could one interpret the stratigraphic record. I followed his lead and was drawn to this approach. Every year, I absorbed an enormous amount through excavating and then interpreting the results with Avner. Simply, I was taught by one of the best harbor archaeologists in the world. I continued to work at Caesarea every summer and applied what I had learned in the classroom: goaded by Avner with ideas, theories and endless discussions, which I loved. I complemented my undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees, and postdoctoral fellowship with fieldwork every year at Caesarea. It was an amazing experience to learn and apply new ideas and theories and I owe a great deal to Avner, a man who mentored me as a researcher over the past 14 years.
I am not alone; Avner has touched many lives and many young aspiring students 'cut their teeth' on the excavations of Caesarea. There are many alumni who have fond memories of Avner and Caesarea - the city by the sea.
I shall never forget an often-repeated scene of Avner striding down his kibbutz walkway to greet me after I had arrived for a new season at Caesarea; the light in his eyes anticipating the summer's discoveries, and his signature greeting of twisting his wrist as he flipped his hand to grab mine.
Eduard G. Reinhardt
I first met Prof. Avner Raban in Antalya, a port town like Haifa, about 5 years ago at a meeting which lasted 3 days. At that meeting, members of the academic staff from the University of Haifa and Ankara University met to inform one another of their scientific activities and form working groups to develop joint projects. The joint project of the working group we formed with Prof. Michal Artzy and Prof. Avner Raban was ready. This was to be the underwater excavation of the submerged portion of Liman Tepe and to train the Turkish excavation team in this respect. When we visited Haifa about 6 months later, to be introduced to the underwater excavation process at Caesarea, we had a better opportunity to get to know Avner Raban. I can still see his assuring and sincere stance at the small idyllic restaurant on that warm spring night.
We had the chance to get to know Avner Raban much better during the past 4 seasons of underwater excavations at Urla Liman Tepe, both in his scientific and human aspects. He was always a loving person who mediated and calmed everyone around him. He was deeply loved, not only by the excavation team but also by the people of Urla. We became aware of the deep respect and love the people of Urla had for him when we informed them of his passing away. All who knew him at Urla send their condolences to his family and to the University of Haifa.
We owe Avner our newly acquired knowledge and experience of underwater archaeology. Avner was a real diver, a 'fish-man' as we say in Turkish, working ceaselessly and diligently, but also performing his tasks as a teacher and making his students feel safe around him. The Turkish academics and students working with him almost defined him due to his skill and attitude underwater and called him 'Poseidon Avner'. He was always a great educator both underwater and above, sharing his knowledge and experience with all young researchers regardless of their origin. He was rightfully famous not only in Israel but all over the world due to these qualities. His deep knowledge of archaeology, his perseverance and his support amazed everyone, and all who knew him had great respect for him.
As a result of the 4 years of underwater excavations we have established, in collaboration with the University of Haifa, the 'Underwater Archaeology Research Center' under the aegis of Ankara University. I am certain that this Center will develop with the help of the University of Haifa and will become the largest and most important establishment of its kind in Turkey. Ankara University and other scientific establishments in Turkey continue their financial support of this Center. Avner Raban contributed greatly to the foundation of this Center, which will follow the example of perseverance and willpower set by Avner. We will always feel his presence among us.
I would like to have a few words with Avner, who, I am certain, will hear me: "My dear friend and colleague Avner! You will always live in our hearts. You will always be next to us when working underwater. I am sure that you will lend us a helping hand in times of hardship and support us with your extensive knowledge of archaeology. We will work harder for you and we will immortalize your name through the underwater archaeology research center which was founded with the power, will and perseverance that you have taught us".
This tribute reflects not only my own thoughts, but also those of the Rector of Ankara University, Prof. Dr. Nuset Aras, the academic staff of Ankara University, the Mayor of Urla, Selcuk Karaosmanoglu, the people of Urla and all those who knew him in Turkey.
I first met Avner in Cuba in 1970, at the foundation meeting of the Scientific Committee of the World Federation of Underwater Activities (CMAS). The meeting ran from 5-19 September, with a week diving on the coral reefs. Avner gave a paper entitled "Archaeological research in shallow waters along Israel Mediterranean coasts". After the meeting Avner took responsibility for promoting underwater archaeology in CMAS.
The last time I met Avner was on the staircase of a University building in Washington DC at the 5th World Archaeology Conference in June 2003.
Many things happened in the world of underwater archaeology between those dates. In Cuba we planned the 3rd World Conference of CMAS, to be held in London in the autumn of 1973, 8-14 October. It was attended by about 1000 divers from all over the world. Several scientific divers from Israel attended the meeting, and, if I remember rightly, the Yom Kippur War broke out during the meeting, and they hurriedly flew back to Israel, to be where it mattered most. Avner was one of them.
In 1974 Elisha Linder invited me to come to Israel to run a diving training course for seriously disabled soldiers. This was the first of many visits to Israel, and the start of many friendships. Avner showed us round archaeological sites, and gradually the idea grew that I should return and teach a course at the University of Haifa. During the 5 months that I taught in Haifa in winter 1975-76, I spent a great deal of time working with Avner, and the other members of the staff in the Marine Sciences programme. We visited many coastal archaeological sites throughout the whole length of the Mediterranean coast of Israel, and I published a joint paper with Avner in 1978.
During these years I had many lively discussions with Avner, and although we often found points of disagreement or debate in details, we always agreed on the broad characteristics of the sites, the reasons for uplift or subsidence, and the need for careful analysis of reliable data. Avner's extensive knowledge of the coast, and the distribution of minor archaeological sites on it, made a serious contribution to understanding the balance between dynamics and stability, at a time when some rather extreme theories were being proposed.
During the following 20 years or more, Avner contributed to the steady growth of the marine programme, worked tirelessly at Caesarea, and made many presentations abroad which promoted the worldwide reputation of marine archaeology in Israel. We met every few years at one conference or another, and there were always many discoveries to talk about.
The passing of Avner Raban is a defining moment in the history of marine archaeology. He achieved much, and will be greatly missed.
Barbara Burrell & Kathryn Gleason
We were shocked and saddened to hear of Avner's death, and we cannot imagine Caesarea without him. We have many fond memories of him, so here are a few.
In our first season of digging at the Promontory Palace, Avner came by for a visit. His welcome was hearty, but it was clear that we were going to have to earn our place at Caesarea. He informed us that the site was a fish market, and probably also a women's bath. We maintained that it was a palace, and we all had a friendly but lively debate right there on the spot. When we returned to the site the following summer, the National Park Authority had put up a new sign about the promontory. The English text stated that the site was generally regarded by archaeologists as a fish market, but there were those who thought it was a palace. The Hebrew text said it was a fish market, period.
After two years of hard work and good discoveries, Avner accepted the evidence for the palace, but maintained that the site's prominent rock-cut pool was a fish-raising pond, though all Herod's other palaces had swimming pools. The debate continued. We amicably settled the question at the Rothschild Conference with this cartoon.
Avner always spoke his mind, but he never closed it. He was always searching for the best answers, and even if he had previously thought the opposite, he was never hesitant to come to a different conclusion once he had seen new evidence. He had an incisive intelligence, and his deepest respect was for the truth, no matter where it came from.
Perhaps the best evidence was that, no matter how hard Avner was testing our mettle, he proudly wore our annual "Herod's Palace" dig T-shirts, particularly the limited-edition black muscle-shirt.
Without Avner, Caesarea has lost a real character and most of its color. We will miss him, and we offer our deep sympathy to his family, friends, and colleagues.
Barbara Burrell & Kathryn Gleason
When I try to put together a coherent account of Avner, our relationship, my debt to him and his character, I have to admit that I find it almost impossible. I think that we became friends because I weathered my first meeting with him. Right then and there I knew I that I had met a special person.
It was in the early 80's and while in Jerusalem that I received a phone call from the University of Haifa's Division of Public Affairs informing me that I should really go to Caesarea and see something, which should be of interest to me. Well, Caesarea being on the coast and my interest in the sea were good enough reasons to go.
Upon arriving at Caesarea I entered a metal hut where rows of wet-suits were hanging up. Behind them was a guy wearing only shorts. I went in and introduced myself as Maurice Hatter from London and the answer was: "Oh you are the Brit" and he reached down underneath the desk and brought up a bottle which looked suspiciously like vodka. I noted that it was a bit too early for me he responded: "Oh, you are one of those"; he took the bottle back and continued: "Steve, show him what we are doing". By not taking offence, I stood the chance of getting to know this amazing man!
But another test was awaiting me. I joined a rubber boat study trip along the coast, from Shiqmona to Bat Yam, with students from the Department of Maritime Civilizations. The trip included learning about ancient harbors, sunken ships and the geology of the coast. Upon arrival at Bat Yam, where we had to load the rubber boats on the car to take them back to Haifa, Avner approached me and said: "I guess you are going back to your 5 star hotel now, you should come to my Kibbutz instead". I told Avner, that if he were not so rude he would invite me. Well, on my next visit, I did indeed stay on the Kibbutz with Avner and his family. I think that it was during this time that we became good friends.
It was soon thereafter that I visited Avner in Eilat where he was doing his reserve duty with his old pals, comrades. I was taken along a new road which was being constructed along the border with Egypt and when we got close to the base, I was placed on the floor of the car and told: "Don't worry, you can have breakfast with us, they will think you are one of us. Anyway, they can't count!"
On one occasion Avner arrived in England, wearing shorts and carrying a carton box, tied up with a piece of rope, filled with stones which, for some reason, he had to deliver to the British Museum. It was during this visit that Avner came to my house and gave an enchanting talk about a 19th century Turkish boat carrying the salary of the Turkish army which sank in the Sea of Galilee. He held the twenty people who were there absolutely raptured. It is then that he suggested forming the Jewish Navy in England, following which he gave a lecture aboard the HMS Belfast on the Thames. He was a wonderful fundraiser and had absolutely no inhibitions in thinking up scenarios. During one of our last meetings he suggested inviting Tony Blair to sail with us to lure a major donor. Being told that Blair was quite a busy person seemed not to put him off in the slightest.
Despite Avner's abilities, he usually stayed in the background. If ever I needed down-to-earth honest information, I knew I could approach Avner. He never put himself forward. I was happy to stay with my friends in the Maritime world, but he felt that I should get involved and become the Maritime Studies representative on the Board of Governors of the University of Haifa, a position which I have held for at least 15 years. Avner was a wonderful representative of the Institute for Maritime Studies, not only in Israel, but also abroad. He firmly believed that it was important for the Institute, the University and Israel, to work with colleagues in the Mediterranean, something which has been realized in the cooperative venture with Ankara University in Turkey.
To say that Avner was only my B.A, M.A and Ph.D. tutor would underestimate his abilities. He possessed qualities well beyond the scholarly realms. I think of the wonderful Phoenician party in our honour, which included the likes of an ancient market, food, music and dance.
As Avner was dying I bent down and kissed him goodbye on the forehead. Avner was one of the special people in the world, a wonderful friend and teacher.
Avner was a very special friend to me, sometimes a father figure, sometimes a mentor, a colleague and a companion, but always a friend. From almost the first year that I worked in Israel we established a relationship that remained strong and supportive throughout all the time I knew him.
He helped and encouraged me to develop my interest in Caesarea and in particular Area K and the single mission barges. He persuaded me to get more involved and gave me a free rein to develop ways of studying and recording these unique and archaeologically important structures. He was happy to divert resources and effort into my harebrained ideas. Some of these worked, like using half of one of the steel drum caissons to act as a cofferdam so that we could dig underneath K-3. Others, such as trying to model the sinking of a caisson with stones, or in using a pneumatic road drill to take core samples from the concrete blocks, weren't so successful.
Recently, with Norman Kricher's generous backing, he agreed to support the commissioning of a multibeam sonar survey of the harbour, which has produced the first stone-by -stone detailed plan of the underwater structures. Unfortunately he wasn't able to see the final rendered output.
Over the last year Avner had been trying to persuade me to embark on a Ph.D. using my research into Roman concrete maritime engineering and Caesarea as its basis. I will now make sure that I apply to do it.
I hope the department will take up the challenge of continuing the study of Caesarea and other harbours. We should not underestimate its importance.
Avner was a keen supporter of the idea of developing a Pan-Mediterranean study of roman concrete; this project is active and it had always been his and my hope that it would be a project that would rise above individual's prejudices and re-unite involved scholars.
I have many happy memories of Avner and some of the special ones are;
The trip he and I made to the Dingle peninsula in Kerry in Ireland was a pilgrimage that we had been planning for some time. It is a place of incredible beauty and drama and I am so glad that we went there together.
Avner Raban was an exceptional man. A truly Renaissance Man, an international renowned Maritime Archaeologist, a Teacher, a Scientist, a gifted Poet and Artist. He was a wonderful companion, a friend and mentor. His ability to recognise and interpret man-made remains in the sea was extraordinary. He was a natural man of the sea and we have lost a very special person. I still feel his presence with me in almost everything I do. He has touched so many people in so many different ways. I was very privileged to have known him, and especially so as a friend.
I miss him more than I could ever imagine.