Update on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath 2013 – as we prepare for the 2014 season

By Aren M. Maeir
Institute of Archaeology
Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies
Bar-Ilan University, Israel
May 2014

In the summer of 2013, the 17th season of excavations was conducted at Tell es-Safi/Gath. The team, directed by Prof. Aren Maeir, consisted of archaeologists, students and volunteers from Israel and throughout the world, including from Bar-Ilan University, Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute, University of Manitoba, the University of Melbourne, Yeshiva University, Brigham Young University, Michigan State University, and the University of Barcelona. Over 100 team members participated in the excavations.

As in previous years, there were many groundbreaking and interesting finds. Below is an overview of the main finds and insights from the season:

1) Impressive remains of the earliest phases of the Canaanite city of Gath, the Early Bronze Age (3d Millennium BCE) were found in several parts of the site. Most importantly, and large and very well preserved section of the fortifications of this city were found. In addition, we continued excavating the Early Bronze Age neighborhood which had been uncovered in previous seasons in Area E where several phases of the EB III and EB II.

2) Among the various finds, and unique imported Egyptian macehead can be noted. The study of the Early Bronze Age levels at Tell es-Safi/Gath is conducted through a major joint grant given by the Canadian government, in collaboration with Prof. Haskel Greenfield of the University of Manitoba, and thus, a large Canadian team is working on site.

3) Remains of the Late Bronze Age Canaanite city of Gath were found on various parts of the tell. Among the various finds discovered this year, we can note: imported Aegean and Cypriote pottery, an Egyptian faience ring with a yet undeciphered inscription, and a few scarabs.

4) The early Philistine levels: At the beginning of the Iron Age (ca. 1200 BCE), the Philistine culture appears in the Levant (and in particular, in Philistia) and this is seen at Gath. This is just at the time that the Israelites appear in Canaan, and both serve as evidence of the major changes that occurred in the region at the time. As in previous seasons, impressive evidence of the early Philistine culture was found in various parts of the site. This includes a variety of locally made and imported objects. Most importantly, we see clear evidence of the many foreign cultural elements that one sees in the early Philistine culture, evidence of the significant non-local components of the Philistine culture – many of them coming from the region of modern day Greece. A very interesting find was a complete ivory bowl, virtually identical to several such bowls found in the Megiddo VIIA (late 12th cent. BCE) ivory hoard, which is at least a century older than the level in which the Safi bowl was found. This has interesting implications on the retention of Late Bronze Canaanite prestige items well into the Iron Age in Philistia.

5) The later Philistine levels: Philistine Gath continued to be an important city in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, parallel to the period of the “United Monarchy” of Israel (10th cent. BCE) and the times of Ahab king of Israel (9th cent. BCE). As in previous years, impressive evidence of the 9th cent. BCE town of Gath was discovered, in particular the large scale destruction of the city attributed to Hazael King of Aram Damascus (mentioned in II Kings 12:18). This year though a very important find was noted – that the city of Gath was a large and important city not only in the 9th cent BCE – but also in the 10th cent. BCE. This is seen in various parts of the site, but in particular in the lower city of Gath, where various remains from this period, including a very interesting cache of cultic objects (consisting of various vessels and a complete marine shell) were found. This is quite important, since this clearly shows the important role of Gath during the time of the United Monarchy – clearly indicating that Gath was not conquered by the Judahite Kingdom during this phase, and in fact continued to be the dominant polity in the region until the late 9th cent. BCE. This clearly reflects on the size and status of the Judahite Monarchy at the time – indicating that the biblical depiction of a conquest of Philistia by David most probably lacks historical basis.

6) Post-Philistine Levels: An interesting insight that we had this year is that although the city of Philistine Gath was destroyed by Hazael around 830 BCE, and never succeeded in rebuilding its former glory, right after the destruction, an failed attempt was made by the inhabitants of Gath to resettle the city. Telltale evidence of this was found in a few areas, but apparently this did not succeed and the Philistine city was abandoned. But this was not the end of Iron Age Gath, since about a century later, in the late 8th cent. BCE, we see clear evidence that the site was taken over by the Judahite Kingdom, probably during the reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah, and the city briefly becomes a Judahite site. This did not last for long, as the city was destroyed, apparently by the Assyrians, at the very end of the 8th cent BCE.

7) Crusader Period: On the summit of the site we continued to excavate portions of the outer fortifications of the Crusade Castle “Blanche Garde” built by the Crusader in the mid-12th cent. CE.

All told, we had a very successful season with many new and interesting finds, but no less importantly, new questions that have popped up, which will lead us to continue our work on the site in the soon to begin season – June 29th to July 25th, 2014.

Do follow updates on the results during the excavations on our blog: gath.wordpress.com.

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