The last week of excavations is usually uneventful – as we are typically trying to close down the excavation areas and make everything look “nice” for the final photos. However, this season we unexpectedly uncovered a destruction layer in B2 at the end of week 3 – which meant that we needed to expose this layer across the entire square or risk losing the context and finds of this important discovery over the winter (rain, visitors, or our neighbors – the bulls and the nice “ritual deposits” they often leave us :). On account of this – week four was much busier than usual!
Besides the regular end of seasons tasks (e.g., finishing pottery washing/reading/registration, endless trips to the container, ), we also heard a lecture on the archaeology and climate of Iceland by Michal and the Cypriot Pithoi from Area B1 by Itzick. During the early part of the week, we had several visitors including Prof. Eliezer Oren. On Wednesday, as a reward for completing the rigors of final sweeping, we visited the excavations at Lachish where Igor Kreimerman (dig staff at Lachish) gave us a tour of the “fourth expeditions” findings from their final season. In light of what they showed us – it will be very interesting to attend the lectures at the various November meetings later this year.
In Area B1: we finished our final week in Area B1 on what appeared to be a bit of whimper – that is until pottery washing! Since we made such excellent process in accomplishing our season’s goals during the preceding two weeks – we decided to take one last shot at finding the southern wall of the large cultic enclosure that defines Area B1 and opened another excavation square on the far southwest side of the excavation area. After reaching what appeared to be bedrock in much of the square (although we might have to dig a bit more to be sure) – we were resigned to simply make the square look “pretty” and take a few photos. But then – Seth and Oleg began uncovering an enormous amount of pottery in the northwestern area of the square – when we washed and read the pottery – we found ……… an inscription!!! The inscription is written with ink on a single sherd (i.e., an ostraca) and consists of only a few letters – while it is too soon to be certain, and we (Matt in particular) are already working feverishly on this – the inscription appears to be in the Proto-Canaanite script. Amazingly, this inscription was found in the second to last basket, in the last square of B1, on the last day of excavation. And what a way to go out! After seven seasons of excavation in Area B1 – it appears that we are officially closing Area B1…
While in the grand scheme of things seven years is a short time, a lot has transpired since 2011! As the Area supervisor of B1, I would like to personally thank all the people that helped make the excavations in Area B1 such a success. Here are a few names that come to mind that I would like to personally thank – Benjamin Yang, Casey Sharp, Andrew Bell, Ian Herriot, Ian McKibbin (and Scott and Barb), Sam Joffe, Jane Gaastra, Yirmi Szanton, Ido Ginaton (z”l), Gary and Sunny McKinny, Kay Fountain, Ofer and Victor, Ron Lev, Seth Adcock, Matt Spigelman, and IBEX/Master’s University spring season students. Here a few photos of work in Area B1 over the years.
In Area B2: Aharon and his remaining team (Juliana, Olivia, and Judah) with an assist from some fresh recruits (Jonah, Blythe, Ludmila, and Eva) and B1 veterans (Benjamin, Jane, Ian, and Sam) pressed on to meet the daunting and exciting task of excavating a destruction layer in the middle of the east-west section. They also continued to work in other parts of the east-west section.
Starting at the top/east side of the section – Juliana and her team successfully removed the balk and exposed the connection between the fortifications and the interior building that we had excavated earlier this season. While the surface remains were poor and not well preserved, it appears that this building was initially built during the Iron IIC, and was re-used during the Persian period (like in A2). The building is east-west oriented and rectangular with a row of pillars dividing the western side from the eastern side. The western end of the building was built in connection with the casemate fortifications – although there are clearly several architectural phases that require more study. We also can trace adjacent walls in the area north of this building – which probably indicates that these buildings were built (or rebuilt) together with the casemate wall perhaps in the “four-room” style – e.g., Tel Sheva Iron II town plan, but we will have to open more squares to be sure. We plan on continuing to expose this building to the north and east next season. Despite our uncertainty regarding the exact phasing within the building, we can likely confirm that the exterior town wall was in use during the Iron IIC (i.e., the 7th century BCE) as the wall was widened during this period as revealed by Juliana’s balk removal. Going back to the initial season of the project (2010), we had wondered whether the outer fortifications were in use during the last days of the kingdom of Judah (e.g., King Josiah) because we found that the interior casemate wall had been destroyed by grain silos during this period. Unlike on the eastern side of the tell (A1), the fortifications on the west (B2) seem to have been strengthened during the 7th century BCE (as noted also by the existence of the perpendicular wall of the casemate), although we will have to trace this further to confirm this hypothesis.
Outside of the wall to the west, Michal and Ladislav continued to trace new courses of both the city wall and the poorly-made wall (known lovingly by the team as the “crappy wall”) that seems to divide two layers of fill that strengthen the Iron II outer wall. Amazingly, on the north of the “crappy wall we now have c. 2 meters of fill from the Late Bronze Age that includes a high quantity of metallugical remains (tuyeres, crucibles, slag, traces of bronze, etc.), but also sherds from the Iron II. This indicates that this fill was taken from a single place, probably near the fortification wall, and deposited along the wall’s outer face in order to strengthen the wall. In the section south of the “crappy wall,” we also have fill that is mixed with pottery from different periods (predominantly Iron II) that does not include metallurgical activity. In the last few days of the excavation, it appears that Ladislav reached the top of a collapse in this southern section that includes mudbrick material and ash. Given the destruction layer that we found lower down the slope (see next paragraph), it is possible that we now have the beginning of the destruction next to the outer fortification. If so, then it would mean that the fortification wall was standing at least as early as the destruction (Iron I? Early Iron IIA?), but we will obviously have to look at this very carefully when we continue to trace the depths of the fortification wall next season. Stay tuned!
Below the wall to the west, Aharon’s team (Jane, Sam, Benjamin, Jonah, and co.) excavated a very well preserved destruction layer that already includes around a dozen complete vessels of various types (storage jars, cooking pots, bowls, etc.). The destruction layer was found under a silo (Iron IIC) and a very large collapse of stones (perhaps from the outer fortification wall) that included remains from the Late Bronze-Iron II. While it is too early to be certain, the pottery seems to date before the late Iron IIA phase that we traced on the eastern side of the tell in A1 back in 2010 (perhaps a destruction layer related to the same period as the Gath Hazael destruction c. 830 BCE), and it is certainly later than the 13th century layer that we have exposed in B1. At first glance, the layer seems to be related to the late Iron I and/or the early Iron IIA (late 11th and 10th centuries BCE – including several Philistine sherds – bichrome and debased), although we will have to closely examine the pottery, as well as hope to get some good 14C/radiocarbon dates from the large amount of charcoal that we collected. Given the ongoing (and often heated) discussion about the beginning of the Iron II and its relationship to the United Kingdom/Early Israelite and/or Judahite polities, we are very excited to continue to expose more of this destruction layer, study the evidence, and see where it takes us. Obviously – there will be more to come on this front in future seasons as we attempt to trace this very important stratum at the site.
Further down the slope to the west, and despite Sam and Ian’s heroic efforts in excavating in top soil and rock collapse for two straight weeks, we still do not yet know what is going on in the bottom ten meters of the section. It seems that there was a large wall that was fortified with an upper layer of earthen fill (filled with pottery from the Late Bronze-Iron IIB) on top of a stone core laid above bedrock (also filled with pottery from the Late Bronze-Iron IIB) that was built on top of the Late Bronze plateau stratum that we have uncovered in Area B1. This last piece of evidence, which was confirmed by the hard work of Benjamin in his probe that reached bedrock, is very interesting as it indicates that the Late Bronze city continued towards the east beneath the Iron IIB (?) stone/earthen glacis (?). Hopefully, we will be able to better understand this massive architectural feature next season when we remove the collapse.
Here are a few photos from the last several days of excavation.
In conclusion and a look ahead: This season we better exposed the earliest excavated stratum at Tel Burna in Area B1 (13th century BCE) by tracing the eastern wall of the large cultic enclosure while also searching, but ultimately failing to find the elusive southern wall. We also traced large walls that seem to have surrounded (and likely formed) the western lower platform that was only populated during the Late Bronze Age. In what will be Area B3 – we hope to understand these walls (fortification? large public building? retaining wall?) and its relationship to the large public cultic enclosure that we excavated in Area B1.
Inside of the western fortifications in Area B2, we found an Iron II building that seems to have a constructed during the Iron IIC/7th century BCE and re-used during the Persian period. We can also add an additional stratum with the discovery of the late Iron I/early Iron IIA (?) destruction layer in the middle of the east-west section.
Next season we hope to open up the following two new areas:
Area B3 to expose the aforementioned large architecture on the southern end of the lower Late Bronze platform.
Area G(?) to expose where we believe the Iron Age gate is located on the southern side of the fortifications (see photo).
Updated Periods (with the location of evidence):
Early Bronze Age – survey and excavated sherds
Middle Bronze Age – survey and excavated sherds
Late Bronze Age – Area B1; fills in Area B2; survey
Late Iron I/Early Iron IIA (?) – Area B2 destruction layer; survey
Late Iron IIA – Area A1 destruction layer (?); survey
Iron IIB – Area A1; Area A2; Area B2; survey
Iron IIC – Area A1; Area A2; Area B2; survey
Persian – Area A1; Area A2; Area B2; survey
Byzantine – Area B1 and survey
As in previous seasons, week three proved to be fruitful due to the continued exposure of both new squares (in B1) and deeper layers (in B2) and the hard work of our fantastic team. Besides our weekly teletour (Azekah at sunset!), we heard several interesting lectures this week on a wide range of topics including Landscape Archaeology (Oren Ackermann), Archaeological Survey (Aharon Tavger), Conserving Archaeological Sites in The National Parks of Israel (Iosi Bordowicz), and Examples of the Importance of Chemical Testing on Ancient Remains (Stephen Buckley). We also had a number visitors at the site including Aren Maeir, Jeff Chadwick, Eric Welch, Daniel Frese, David Kotter (and many from the Tell es-Safi/Gath team), Amir Golani, Itzhaq Paz, Amihai Mazar, Aaron Burke, Sabine Kleiman, Assaf Kleiman, Laura Mazow, and Debi!
In Area B1: We finished yet another excavation square on the lower platform that had restorable Late Bronze pottery and includes traces of a wall that likely marks the eastern edge of the large enclosure that we excavated in previous seasons. Benjamin, Andrew, Jane, and Kay exposed more of this wall by removing the balk – in so doing – they revealed a number of walls that seem to be rooms on the western and eastern sides of the main public enclosure. Interestingly, it appears that the Late Bronze Age city continued beneath the rise of the the tell as some of the walls run directly into a large c. 2.5 m high x c. 5 m wide x 80 m long hump (glacis? retaining wall?) that seems to have been laid there in the late 8th century BCE (i.e., the time of Hezekiah, Sennacherib, Isaiah, etc.). On this hump, Ian and Sam diligently removed a large amount of loose fill at a steady rate of some 20 cm/day. Over the last couple of days, they also exposed a huge collapse of stones that may be related to the fortification wall (or a lower wall) that fell down the slope – presumably during the late 8th century BCE – although we will have to wait until next season to be sure. In the section above this huge collapse, Sheila, Andrea, Seth, and Yair have exposed an interesting feature that seems to be related to the Iron II fill/glacis(?) that we are still trying to figure out. Finally, Sam, Samuel, Ian, Andrew, and Benjamin also opened up another square in B1 in a last-ditch effort to find the southern wall of the large enclosure that dominates Area B1 – we hope to finish up this square by Tuesday (our last full excavation day).
In Area B2: Things are getting very interesting for Aharon, Matt, and Kathleen’s team! Juliana and co. (Ariel, Olivia, etc.) nicely defined a large rectangular room that is perpendicular to the casemate fortifications. This building seems to date the 8th century BCE with re-use also in the 7th century and Persian period. They also removed the balk that had separated the outer casemate wall from the inner casemate wall and the aforementioned building – after doing this it seems clear that the outer fortification wall was not being used in the 7th century BCE as there appears to have been occupational remains directly on top of it. Just below the fortification wall – Michal and Ladislav continue to expose the outer face of the wall – now at a depth of c. 2 meters – and they are still not have not reached the bottom. Amazingly, Michal seems to have a huge accumulation of metallurgical activity that includes evidence of crucibles, tuyeres, copper, slag, and iron with typical Late Bronze pottery. However – it is still not yet clear if this material is simply fill that was deposited against the wall during a period following the construction of the fortifications and was laid there in order to strengthen the wall (perhaps during the Iron II?); or if this layer postdates the wall’s construction, which would mean that the fortification wall would have to date to or, more likely, before the Late Bronze period. We might have a better answer to this very important question next week – stay tuned!
Further down the section – Aaron, Ryan, and Jane may have finally broken through the “balagan” (i.e., “mess”) that is square B7 which has produced three seasons of collapse and frustration – but now may be giving us a destruction layer that at first glance appears to be related to the early Iron Age (no pottery reading yet on this – but the in situ vessels appear to be Iron I…) This is of crucial importance to understanding the occupational history of the site – and will be one of our main focuses for our final week in the field. Again – stay tuned! 🙂
We have just finished the second week of our four week season – and we had a very successful week in terms of finds and clarifying some important stratigraphic questions. While we are a small team this season (between 15-25 people each week) – the staff agrees that this year’s team has been particularly excellent – as each person has been very hard working, flexible, and selfless.
In addition to our field work, we continued with our academic program. Jane gave an interesting lecture on the basics/significance of zooarchaeology with specific reference to the finds at Tel Burna, and Matt led a mini-workshop on writing in paleo-Hebrew in which the team created some ostraca (writing “Tel Burna 2017”) for our yearly Kiriath-Gat school kids.
In Area B1: Our team finished work in a square (PP9) that we opened last week – as we reached bedrock in sections the square and beneath the disturbed surface everywhere else. This surface also included our first “bowl-lamp deposit” as noted previously. To our delight (because we like finds) and chagrin (because of the immense amount of pottery washing) – we found an enormous amount of restorable Late Bronze Age pottery in this square including local forms and some very nice sherds from Cyprus (e.g., white slip milk bowl fragments, and an earlier form of Base Ring – which is common in the 14th century BCE). We also have evidence of more imported storage vessels (presumably) from Cyprus as we found in previous seasons in Area B1 – see here. On Thursday, we opened up a new square in B1 – right at the base of the tell – in order to clarify the architectural plan of the large, cultic public building that characterizes Area B1. After only two days of excavation by Jane, Scott and Barb, Benjamin, and Andrew, we think that have the continuation of the architecture found in previous seasons – which might indicate that we finally have the eastern wall of the building. We also had a very nice votive bowl that seems to be a miniature version of the popular LB “S”-Shaped Bowl.
Just above this new square – Ian and Sam have been methodically removing very loose fill from the five-meter-wide step that runs the length of the tell on the western side. This step is filled with sherds from the Late Bronze, Iron IIA, and Iron IIB and seems to be sitting on a huge stone wall/feature that we still do not understand. Related to this – Benjamin (who came over from Taiwan this week) finished the monumental task of probing a 2×2 meter probe through the rock core of this feature until he reached the level of the plateau of Area B1.
In Area B2: Aharon, Matt, Kathleen and team (Judah, Aaron, Ryan, and Juliana) have continued to expose a building that is adjacent to the casemate fortifications. Like in Area A1 and A2 – it seems that the Iron Age II structures were used and re-used from at least the 8th century BCE until the Persian period with possible periods of abandonment in between. Juliana exposed the handiwork of our Persian (late 6th-4th century BCE) friends who left their typical mark of pits that dug down into the Iron II architecture in some places within the building – as made evident both by the locally-made pottery and imported Attic ware. Of special note – this week we can confirm the connection between the outer and inner walls of the casemate fortifications in Area B2 – which were presumably in use up until the end of the 8th century BCE (Sennacherib?).
Looking to next week: With work finishing up in Area B1 – we will probably shift our focus to some of last year’s squares in the section that connections the summit of the tell to the western platform.
We will provide a more thorough update later this week – but first – a brief update about some nice finds over the last couple of days.
In Area B1 – we have an enormous amount of Late Bronze Age pottery including different types of Cypriot ware, the typical (sort of crummy 🙂 LB Canaanite stuff, and our first Lamp-Bowl deposit (see photo!) For more info on these interesting deposits see Joe’s informative post from a while back on the Gath Blog.
In Area B2 – things are slowly becoming clearer regarding the large house/structure next to to the Iron Age fortifications and Aharon, Matt, and team have also begun excavating further down the stepped trench – with finds from many different periods.
Besides the field work – the team has heard lectures from myself (on the Iron I) and Casey (on the LB) and we visited Beth-shemesh and discussed the very important excavations that are ongoing there.
Here are some photos – notice especially the bowl-lamp deposit and a special (feline) visitor to the site 🙂
We made some significant progress in the first week – and we are excited to build on this momentum next week. Besides the excavation results, we also heard lectures by the dig staff – Matt Suriano (on “What is a Tell?”) and myself (Archaeological Recording and PlanGrid).
In Area B1: We have bedrock! (not really a surprise at this point 🙂 Ian, Andrew, Seth, Ofer, and Victor worked hard in exposing an occupational layer related to the 13th century BCE that is filled with restorable pottery. Sadly, we think that this square is going to be the last square excavated in Area B1 ;(. On the other hand, we are very excited to open a new area on the western platform next season – B3. This area will be located south of the excavated area of Area B1. Due to the fact that the region received roughly half of the average rainfall and our Kibbutz Beit Nir Bull friends (who left us lots of “phytholith” evidence from their behinds :), the vegetation across the tell is far less high and thick than we have observed in past seasons. On account of this, we were able to trace and clean a very large architectural feature on the southwestern side of the platform that seems to be related to 13th century BCE (per our survey results and the excavation evidence from B1). Is it a large temple, a massive fortification wall, or gate? We will have to wait until next season :). We will point this feature out on the final aerials.
In Area B2: Aharon and Matt’s team have cleared off an enormous amount of rubble on the eastern edge of the tell’s summit. Beneath this rubble – Aaron, Ryan, Juliana, Sam, and Judah have exposed three walls of what appears to be a large Iron Age building that seems to have been built next to, but not in conjunction with, the western fortifications of the tell. This continues to add more complexity to the stratigraphic picture of the western fortifications. Based on our excavations in Area A1 (all the way back in 2011-2012), we assumed that we would simply find an Iron II casemate wall (9th-8th century BCE) with later silos (7th century BCE), but it is turning out to be considerably more complex and interesting.
In this next week, we plan to continue excavating a deep probe along a 5-meter wide platform that runs the entire north-south length of the tell on the western side (if you remember – Benjamin started this last year). This feature is very interesting as it appears to have been constructed at some point during the Iron Age II (8th century BCE?) completely changing the topographical layout of the tell. We will also be opening an adjacent square to get a wider understanding of this feature.
In addition, a number of new volunteers and staff will be joining us this week. It should be a great week.
We have officially begun the 2017 season! The tents have been set up, the weeds have been cleared, the new squares in Area B1 and B2 have been marked, and we have actually started excavating. It was very hot the last two days – but everyone is in good spirits and excited to see what we will find this season. Yesterday, we managed to visit Tel Socoh, which is only about 1 km/half a mile from our accommodations in Netiv Halamed Heh.
This year, Matt Suriano has brought a group of students from the University of Maryland. We also have a number of returning familiar faces from past seasons.
This afternoon – Dr. Kathleen Nicholl will be lecturing on some aspects related to the importance of using geoarchaeological science at ancient sites.
In Area B1 – we already have some new architectural features related to the LB large cultic structure. Over the next week – we are hoping to find more evidence for cultic activity in this large building.
In Area B2 – Aharon and Matt have opened two new squares inside of the fortifications in order to trace the inner part of the fortifications and their connections to layers inside of the city.
Check out this summer’s shirt – it comes from a very interesting late bronze krater from area B1 (area with the 13th cent cultic building). It shows two ibex eating from a (sacred) tree (i.e. The tree of life – perhaps related to the Canaanite goddess Asherah and/or Astarte).