BAS Scholarships!

Posted on

See here for the announcement of BAS excavation scholarships. This is a great opportunity to get a scholarship for excavation. Of course – you are welcome to join us – see the application here.

The Passing of Ladislav Šmejda

Posted on

We are saddened to hear of the passing of Ladislav Šmejda – a beloved friend and excellent colleague for many years at Tel Burna. May his memory be a blessing.

New Article in JAOS

Posted on

Hot off the press – a new article has just appeared in JAOS. This article was spear-headed by Christian Locatell on an interesting Late Bronze Krater with a tree of life decoration.

Locatell, C., McKinny, C., & Shai, I. (2022). The Tree of Life Motif, Late Bronze Canaanite Cult, and a Recently Discovered Krater from Tel BurnaJournal of the American Oriental Society142(3), 573–596.

This paper discusses a krater recently discovered in a cultic building at Tel Burna in the Shephelah. Of special interest is the krater’s relatively well-preserved decoration containing multiple nature scenes related to the so-called tree of life or sacred tree motif. The krater’s physical description and archaeological context and the decoration’s relationship to relevant comparanda are explored in order to elucidate the significance of its iconography. In light of this discussion, we conclude that the decoration includes an abstract representation of a Canaanite goddess as a “pubis of life” variation of the “tree of life” motif on the krater as a votive vessel in the Late Bronze Age cult.

2022 Season Summary

Posted on Updated on

The 2022 season has now come and gone. We had our largest and most experienced team ever. All of them worked very hard with great attitudes and we were able to accomplish many of our goals. Of course – we had a lot of fun also. See below for Bruno’s snippet on the Tel Burna season 🙂 as well as Erica’s Tik-Tok video (Go-Go-Go!) which features several people dancing that have apparently never danced before… 🙂


Had so much fun this dig season, so I thought we’d end the week with a little fun #TelBurna #excavationfun #gogogogo #archaeologytiktok

♬ original sound – Hip Hop Harry

Now to a summary of the results.

Big Burna Picture

We are approaching the end of the excavation portion of the Tel Burna Archaeological Project, as we have now completed 13 years of work in the field including one survey season (2009) and 12 excavation seasons (2010-2019; 2021-2022). We will begin to shift more of our attention to the final publication(s) of the project, which will complete our already (very) robust preliminary and related publications that have appeared since the beginning of the project. Our emphasis on final publications is in line with the recent call to “publish or the finds will perish!” from our Philistine neighbor 🙂 Still, we have more to do at Tel Burna to accomplish our goals and we are looking forward to the 2023 season! In fact, we already have the dates if you would like to book Libnah for a summer vacation. Shishak and Sennacherib (apparently) came for a visit and they seem to have enjoyed themselves – why not you?

All told, we have excavated in seven areas. Below is a brief description of each area with the respective supervisor in italics (* – for areas that were active in the 2022 season).

Area A1* – eastern casemate fortifications (Late Iron IIA-Persian Period) and slope (Early Iron IIA and LB) – Debi Cassuto (past) and Jane Gaastra (current)

Area A2 – summit buildings (Late Iron IIA-Persian Period) – Debi Cassuto

Area B1 – western platform (Late Bronze cultic enclosure) – Chris McKinny

Area B2* – western casemate fortifications (Late Iron IIA-Persian Period) and slope (Early Iron IIA and LB) – Aharon Tavger

Area B3* – southern part of western platform (Late Bronze buildings) – Marcella Barbosa

Area C – agricultural installations (Chalcolithic-Byzantine periods) – Casey Sharp

Area D* – northern part of western platform (Late Bronze buildings) – Debi Cassuto

Area G* – southern casemate fortifications and gate (Late Iron IIA-Persian Period) – Chris McKinny

2022 Season Results

Area A1 – This area continued the work of the 2019 season outside/east of the Iron II casemate walls. The goal of this season was to further determine the nature of occupation outside of the walls to the east of the site. In past seasons, layers (destruction?) from the early and late Iron IIA were uncovered outside of the walls. Here is a photo from one of the very first days of excavating in Area A1. While more of the Early Iron IIA destruction was found in A1, the preservation of this area was not as high as in Area B2. It seems unlikely that the Iron II glacis (that covered earlier levels in B2) was also present on the eastern side of the fortifications. Near the end of the excavation season, Jane reached what appears to be architecture that probably dates to the Late Bronze Age – an important piece of data as this is the easternmost evidence of the Canaanite town.

2010 season top soil near Iron II casemate walls
Erica and Terry with some serious winter wash ahead of them, beginning of 2022 season
Area A1 aerial after 2022 season

Area B2 – Area B2 is the largest and most intensive (in terms of finds) areas at Tel Burna. Since 2016, Aharon Tavger has supervised this section/sondage which includes levels on the summit from the Persian, Iron IIC, Iron IIB, and late Iron IIA – to the western platform – which includes levels from the early Iron IIA and Late Bronze Age. Aharon’s goals for this season included the following: 1) removing two enormous balks to get down to the Early Iron IIA destruction outside of (and beneath) the casemate wall, 2) going down inside of the casemate fortification to date the fortification’s initial construction; 3) going beneath the Early Iron IIA destruction/level to see if there are earlier levels in the section; 4) continuing to remove Persian and Iron IIC levels to show the Iron IIB and Late Iron IIA levels. The Area B2 team made considerable progress towards each of these goals – and along the way produced about twice as much pottery washing, reading, and registering than the rest of the site combined! Regarding the Iron IIB, more and more of the Sennacherib(?) destruction was uncovered inside of the fortifications, which also included a very nice assemblage of several complete vessels and some more loom weights. Inside of the casemate room (in the center of the photo below), a huge amount of stone and earthen fill was removed to reveal the very nicely preserved outer, inner, and perpendicular walls of the casemate fortification. As was the case outside of the fortifications, this fill was deposited here some time in the Iron II but was taken from a very rich Late Bronze context from somewhere else on the tel (Area B1?) Aharon’s team continued to find an enormous amount of Late Bronze pottery (some of which is restorable!), crucibles, and tuyeres that is in secondary deposition. While they have not reached the floor of the inner part of the casemate wall, they should reach it early in the 2023 season. Below and to the west of the wall, Elijah, Jackson, Amaala, Katia, and others made it down to the Early Iron IIA destruction – work will continue in this area next season to further expose the late 10th century BCE destruction and its rich assemblage. On the far western side of the section, a deep probe descended beneath the Early Iron IIA and found some plastered architectural features, but it is not yet clear when this dates to.

Omer on top of the outer casemate wall, 2022 season
John and John with the Sennacherib/late 8th century BCE destruction, 2022 season
Area B2 aerial after 2022 Season

Area B3 – Three new squares were opened in Area B3 and the results were excellent! First, Marcella’s team found massive architecture that seems to relate to the Large Cultic Enclosure that was excavated in Area B1 to the north. They also seem to have evidence of an additional building and even an alley or street that runs between these structures. Second, the team did an extraordinary job meticulously excavating six large storage jars which were smashed in the destruction of the Late Bronze town. Significantly, this is the first clear evidence of the nature of the type of destruction that ended Late Bronze Tel Burna, as several burned mudbricks were found atop the storage jars. In addition, the architecture in Area B3 is quite large and well-preserved allowing us to better understand the continuation of the structures from Area B1.

Catherine with a complete White Slip Milk Bowl
Evie, Marcella, and Savanna with the storage jars
Area B3 aerial after 2022 season

Area D – We opened Area D for two reasons. First, an antiquities thief claimed to have looted the site in this area (northwest from Area B1), and we wanted to see what attracted him to this location. Second, we suspected that the Late Bronze town continued in this direction which is some 75 meters to the northwest of the tel, and we wanted to see the extent of the Canaanite town in this direction. After opening three-and-a-half squares, Debi’s team clearly demonstrated that this area was part of the Late Bronze town. Indeed, the walls are quite massive even if they are crudely constructed. It seems likely that the looter simply removed some metallic material from a small pit that he excavated as Martin was able to show (through XRF) that this area was rich in bronze material. For a one-and-done season, this was a great result!

Team photo in Area D, 2022 season
Area D aerial after the 2022 season

Area G – Our main goal in Area G was to clarify the complicated architecture around the gate by opening several new squares and removing balks (Jerry Jewel and co.!) The complicated architecture in Area G has become a bit clearer, but there remain several stratigraphic questions. It is clear that there were gate systems that date to an earlier period (9th century BCE?) and later period (8th-7th century BCE). It also seems that the earlier gate was destroyed with fire at some point in the late Iron IIA as indicated by burnt mud-brick. This earlier gate seems to date to the initial construction of the fortification when massive walls were constructed to protect the entrance to the fortified town. Much of this outer wall was exposed this season on the eastern part of the excavation area, which also includes a gate socket and (probably) a single gate chamber beneath the 8th century BCE gate. We also seem to have determined that there was a stone pavement that goes with the initial gate complex and (probably) also the drainage channel. The approach to the gate would have come from the east along a gradual paved slope. Somewhat surprisingly, we also found a 9th century BCE building outside and well below the gate (nicely excavated by Matt, Tiffany, and Violet!) Thus, it seems that there was an additional terrace along the outer face of the southern fortifications. This same picture is similar to what we uncovered in previous seasons in A1 – which likewise revealed extra-mural 9th century BCE occupation in the east. No such remains were found on the west in Area B2 – which faces toward Philistine Gath and the coastal route.

Area G aerial after the 2022 Season
Area G before excavations – if you look close you can see “GATE?” written into the weeds in the exact location where the 8th century BCE gate was found!!!
Area G aerial after the 2022 season

In summary, it was a great season with fantastic results and an amazing team! We did serious work and had a wonderful time doing it – we hope you can join us next year!

Mid-Week 3

Posted on

As usual, week 3 has been the busiest and most productive week of the project – we have interesting finds and architecture in every area. We also have received a number of visitors including Liora Horowitz, Itamar Weissbein, Rona Avissar, members of the Taiwanese embassy, and others. If you are around and would like to come visit while we are in the field – you are most welcome!

Area A1 – Jane and Terry have tons of pottery and soil – but not too much architecture. It seems that they are finally getting down to a Late Bronze layer beneath all of the Iron IIA debris.

Area B2 – There are lots of things going on in different periods – in the upper part of the section – Aharon’s team found some scale armor. They are also exposing inside and outside of the casemate fortification and getting down to Iron IIA destructions.

Area B3 – Marcella and her team have found and beautifully excavated four complete storejars from the LB destruction (which now has burnt mudbrick also)! Very cool.

Area D – Debi’s team has exposed some nice and very large architecture with a figurine.

Area G – Things remain complicated but are slowly becoming more clear. It seems that we now have many elements of the Iron IIA gatehouse which seems to have suffered a destruction in the 9th century BCE as we have discovered several areas of burnt mudbrick. We also excavated some of the gate drainage channel and found a horse figurine. When excavating the drain – we carried out all kinds of analyses including XRF, OSL, and testing for bio markers! Hopefully we will have some nice results.

Halfway Point – 2022 Season

Posted on

We continue to make great progress in all of the areas with more and more finds emerging. One nice new (sort of bittersweet!) development – we have started to refill excavated squares in A2 – as we are now thinking of the end of the Tel Burna Archaeological Project (at least one more season…)

In Area A1, Jane and Terry seem to now be beneath the Early Iron IIA layer – perhaps getting down to a Late Bronze layer, although it is still unclear. In Areas B3 and D – with massive architecture from the Late Bronze that is built directly on the bedrock and lots of smashed vessels. We now can say that the Late Bronze town (as made evident from the finds in Area D) is even bigger than we had known previously.

In Area B2 – we are reaching the Shishak/10th century BCE destruction in another square after removing an enormous balk. Once excavated, we will have a nice area exposed to understand the broader context of this building and the finds within it. In addition, work continues in layers from the 9th, 8th, and 7th centuries BCE through this sondage/section. In Area G – it seems that we have evidence of two Iron IIA destructions – one Early Iron IIA (Shishak) and another in the Late Iron IIA (Hazael?) – although we will have to wait and see for sure on the Early Iron IIA as we are just now getting down to the surface. We might also have some evidence of the Iron IIB destruction of the site (Sennacherib), as Jerry, Andrew, and Preston have nicely articulated several burnt mudbricks that seem to have fallen from the fortification wall of the gate. At the end of last week, Yoav Vaknin visited the site to test some of these mudbricks with paleomagnetism – he will then compare the magnetic reading to other destruction layers in his research.

All told – we have had a great first half of the season and we look forward to the second half knowing that we will have many new finds, many answers, more questions, and hopefully make lots of friends and memories 🙂

Days 6-7 – Week 2

Posted on

As we start week 2 – more and more finds are begging to pop up and we are also getting more visitors. In A1, Jane is clearly in the 10th century destruction and her team is also trying to understand what is going on with the large slope to the east. And – in the bone washing – a very nice miniature horse (?) figure one was found from 2019. In G, we had several nice finds including a spear butt(?) and a couple of complete vessels from the Sennacherib destruction in 701 BCE. We are also removing balks and making some nice progress in understanding the gate(s). In B2, Elijah and Jackson (and others) removed an enormous balk over the last few days and they are well poised to find more of the Shishak Destruction. There are other nice developments in the 8th and 7th century levels. In D, Debi and Shonni’s crew removed some enormous stones and began to find more late bronze pottery. In B3, the LB building is slowly taking shape.

Yesterday evening – we toured Adullam and a few of its caves – like David and his “mighty men” 🙂

Day 5 – Week 1

Posted on

A nice end to week 1 – as we are starting to have finds pop up in all of the areas. In A1 – it is becoming clear that Jane, Terry, and team are digging the same 10th century destruction from Area B2. In B2 – massive balks are coming down and the whole area is progressing inside and outside the fortification wall. It looks promising that we will reach the inside of the fortification wall this season. In D and B3 – Marcella and Debi have very large (and very strangely constructed!) Late Bronze buildings with a few possible complete vessels starting to appear in D. In G – we have reached some surface remains that we will continue to expose next week. As this is directly outside of the gate area – it will be interesting to see the relationship of these surfaces to the gate.

Great progress this week with lots of potential remaining for the weeks to come!

Day 4 – Week 1

Posted on

All of the areas are really moving – the team is working well together. Debi has several nice Late Bronze walls – maybe a couple of buildings – in Area D. Marcella also has some nice LB architecture that is becoming more clear. Aharon in B2 has a lot going on in the Shishak destruction, the Sennacherib destruction, as well as some preceding and intervening periods. Jane in A1 is finding some very nice Iron IIA pottery. We will know more about this context in the next few days. In G – things are becoming clearer within the area of the gate as we continue to look for the original gate from the Iron IIA.

Yesterday evening, I gave a lecture on historical geography and Micah’s lament (Micah 1:10-16) including some new ideas that will appear in print soon. Today, Haskel Greenfield will be lecturing on zooarchaeology and it’s significance for an archaeological project. Tonight we have our end of week special meal and say goodbye to some of the team – although we will have reinforcements next week…