After about 20 hours of travel we made it to Vilnius Lithuania. Pittsburgh ti Newark, New Jersey, Newark to Brussels, and finally Brussels to Vilnius. We got into Vilnius just after 2 PM on Sunday June 21st. After unpacking equipment we went and had a look at the study site. It is right in the middle of the city. We met with head archaeologist of the project Jon Seligman who told us the detailed story of the site. This story corrected a few minor details I already wrote about in an earlier post. The Great Synagogue site in Vilnius was one of the most elaborate synagogues in Eastern Europe prior to WW II. The arrival of the Nazis changed that in that they burned and destroyed parts of the complex of buildings. What remained after WW II was eventually bulldozed by the Soviet Union which occupied Lithuania from after WW II until 1992. In the late 1950’s the remaining structures were bulldozed, the area leveled and new structures, mostly housing, built on the site. Below is a photo of the “brain trust” meeting to plot the strategy for the opening of the project. Today we are going to do some exploratory geophysical lines to look at the near surface deposits and to see how deep the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) can see. It is hoped we can see through the rubble of the synagogue from the 1950’s to parts of that structure that remained intact, and even deeper to the remains of structures and earlier incarnations of the synagogue that may date from the 15th century.
Pictured are, from left to right, me, Dr. Richard Freund Director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, and Jon Seligman, from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. We are now headed to the site (about two minutes away from the coffee shop where we are meeting), to lay out our initial geophysical transects. At 11 AM today Jon and I are going to Vilnius University, to meet with university officials. I hope to set up a meeting with the Dean of Natural Sciences to discuss cooperation, student and faculty exchange and whatever else come up. Like many places around the world, it is impossible to set up meetings like this ahead of time. The best results are obtained on site after arrival. I will report the results of the meeting in my next post.