The Great Synagogue & Shulhoyf of Vilna (Vilnius) - The 2017 Season
A Quick Summary of the 2016 Season
The successful outcome of the preliminary excavation of 2011, conducted by Zenonas Baubonis, and the 2015 Ground Penetrating Radar Survey, conducted by the present project team, show the potential of continued excavation at the site to uncover further sections of the Great Synagogue and the surrounding buildings. These preliminary
activities enable us to gauge the exact positioning of the underground remains and to better understand the archaeological potential of the site prior to the investment of further resources to fully uncover the remains through excavation.

For the excavation of 2016, it was decided to concentrate on the bathhouse and miqve of the shulhoyf. Written sources inform us that a pipeline was established in 1759 to bring water from the Vingriu springs to the synagogue complex. It supplied water to the communal 'well' (actually a cistern), the bathhouse that included a miqve and the public latrine. Previous  Ground Penetrating radar (GPR) and Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) scans, together with mapping of the site guided us in the exact positioning of the underground remains of the bathhouse and enabled us to prioritise for the 2016 season of excavation. Due to the significance of the anomalies of the geophysical scans, we identified two clear potential excavation sites. Within just a few centimetres from the surface significant remains of buildings were discovered. These included brick walls, underground vaults and large quantities of small finds, including beautiful glazed stove tiles similar to those uncovered in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius.
The Excavation Season - 2017
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A full report of the 2016 season of excavation can be found here.
During the excavation in Vilnius of the bathhouse and miqve building, a plan, dated to the end of the 19th century, for the reconstruction of the bathhouse was found in the city archives in Vilnius. The plan shows that the bathhouse consisted of two main floors. The plan clearly shows the latrines and the ritual baths, the miqve'ot, in two rooms on the ground floor. The excavation of 2016 was superimposed on the 19th century plans, which in turn were inter-connected with the plan of the Great Synagogue and the shulhoyf.  These plans are a very good guide to the architecture of the bathhouse and the miqve and will guide us in our aims in the planned excavation for 2017.

Indeed, the excavation scheduled for July 2017, will concentrate on two areas in which we see potential to expose significant remains. Firstly we will attempt to excavate the two miqve clearly identifiable on the plan (marked A and B). Secondly we intend to open an area within the synagogue building itself, probably near the entrance staircase (C) descending into the synagogue and around the area of the bimah (D).
Copyright © 2017   Jon Seligman.  All Rights Reserved.
Excavation Dates and Volunteering
Here is the opportunity to become involved in this important and exciting project. Beyond the involvement in an important heritage project to recover part of the lost heritage of the Jews of Lithuania, the Litvaks, this project also provides the opportunity for many Jews of Litvak origin, to reconnect with their own history by helping to discover the remains of the most important monument of Litvak Jewry.

The Great Synagogue & Shulhoyf of Vilna Project is scheduled this year for two weeks in mid-July, between the 10th to the 23rd.  Full details of the coming excavation will be posted later, though if you are interested in participating then you are welcome to contact us by mail and we will inform you as soon as confirmed information becomes available. While excavating requires basic physical agility, there are also opportunities for those with physical challenges in supporting roles for the excavation.

Unfortunately no stipends are available. Volunteers will need to make their own way to Vilnius. We can find you help in finding accommodation. During the excavation visits will be available to sites in the city, with an emphasis on the history of the Jewish community. An optional weekend visit to some major places around Vilnius will also be offered.
Volunteers and Staff Enjoying the Excavation in 2016