By Dr. Aren M. Maeir
The Institute of Archaeology, Bar Ilan University
In the summer of 2002, the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project was once again in the field. Despite the rather precarious political situation in the Middle East which caused many projects to cancel their excavations this summer, a sizable group of volunteers and students from Israel and from all over the world joined our team to continue uncovering the remains of ancient Gath, home of Goliath.
As in the previous seasons, the work was focused on two different parts of the site -- one on the eastern side of the tell, the other in a section of the Iron Age siege works that surrounds the site.
On the eastern side of the tell, in Fields A and E, we continued to expose levels dating to the Early Bronze Age II-III (c. 2900-2300 BCE), Late Bronze Age II (c. 1300-1200 BCE), and the Iron Ages I-II (c. 1200-800 BCE). Starting from the earlier periods, this year, for the first time, we exposed several portions of a level dating to the Early Bronze Age II-III. This is the earliest level that we have exposed in the current excavations. Based on the results of our survey of the tell, this is a period that is well represented. Although, as of yet, the exposure of these levels is somewhat limited, in future seasons we may expose remains of a rather impressive settlement from this period, most probably similar to the contemporaneous Tel Yarmouth.
In Field E, we continued to expose remains dating from the final stages of the Late Bronze Age. As in previous seasons, it appears to represent the final stage of the Canaanite city of Gath. The remains indicate a rich material culture brought to an end in a fiery destruction. In all likelihood, this is the work of the Philistines when they captured the site in the beginning of the 12th century BCE.
In Field A, additional remains from various stages of the Iron Age I-II were exposed. Noteworthy were finds from the late Iron Age I (c. 1050 BCE), including several items with apparent cultic connotations (such as small votive vessels) and a curved iron knife of a type well-known from other Philistine sites.
As in the previous seasons, the predominant stratum in Field A was the impressive destruction level (temporary stratum 4) dating to the late 9th century BCE. As in the past, we believe that it is evidence of the destruction of the site by Hazael, king of Aram Damascus, as mentioned in II Kings 12:18. Numerous complete vessels and other finds were discovered, including an an-epigraphic bulla (a stamped seal impression).
Moving off the tell, work continued to the east of the tell itself in Field C6. In this field, we have been excavating a portion of the monumental siege system that surrounds the site. This system included a 2.5 km long man-made ditch and a berm (embankment) that was put up next to it (on the side away from the tell). In previous seasons, we provided a firm Iron Age II dating for the construction of the trench, and it has been suggested to connect it to the siege of Hazael mentioned above. During this season, we excavated a section of the berm and discovered the remains of a large building. Although, as of yet, we cannot determine the date of this building (due to very complicated stratigraphy), interesting finds, including some of cultic nature, were revealed. To fully comprehend this structure and its relationship to the siege trench, further excavations will be required.
In the coming summer (2003), we will not be excavating, and we will utilize the break to move ahead in the publication of the finds. If all goes as planned, we should be back in the field in the summer of 2004. Please join us then!!