Update before the summer of 2005
By Aren Maeir
The Institute of Archaeology
Bar Ilan University
Before beginning the 2005 season at the tell, July 10 – August 5, 2005, here is a short update on what has happened in the project since the last update to "The Bible and Interpretation" in 2002.
Although we did not excavate in 2003, we were back in the field in the summer of 2004, and we had some very interesting and important results. During the 2004 season, we had a very large group of students and volunteers from all over the world, all of whom helped make the season a very successful one.
As in previous years, the primary focus of the excavation was on the eastern side of the tell in Areas A and E. The main finds from this part of the tell can be summarized as follows:
In Area E, late Early Bronze III levels were reached in several squares; parts of several architectural elements were revealed, including well-preserved remains on the floors of these structures. Apparently these structures were destroyed in a fire since complete vessels were found in situ. The finds from this level are quite similar to those in the late EB III levels at nearby Tel Yarmuth, and they represent the final phases of the urban EB culture of southern Canaan. Previous evidence from our project has indicated that the EB is well-represented on Tell es-Safi, and this is the first substantial stratigraphic evidence of this phase. In Area E, additional phases of the early stages of the Iron Age I were revealed. Due to rather poor preservation (the Area is located on a rather steep slope), only small portions of this phase were revealed. Nevertheless, several sub-phases were discerned, including finds typical of the early Philistine culture, such as "Philistine Bichrome" pottery and other finds. In Area A, a relatively wide exposure of late Iron Age I and early Iron Age IIA levels was uncovered. These finds provided robust stratigraphic evidence for the pre-9th century levels on the tell, and the continued excavation of these levels (and those below) will be a primary focus in the coming years. Evidence of the material culture typical of the Philistines during that time was found throughout. The importance of these levels cannot be underestimated since they should provide "hard" evidence for the cultural development and dating of the Philistines during this period and their relationship to the other cultures in the region (e.g., Israel, Judah, etc.). In Area A, we continued to expose impressive remains of the late 9th century BCE destruction level, attributed by us to Hazael of Aram (II Kings 12:18). Among others, the following finds can be noted: decorated cultic chalices, two unique phallic objects, a jar with an incised 3-letter inscription (in Phoenician – "l-a-b"), and many other complete vessels.
In addition to the excavations on the eastern side of the tell, our work continued in other parts of the site as well.
In Area C (on the northeastern side of the siege trench, located to the east of the tell itself), we continued to expose a large building that may be related to the Iron Age siege system. This system, which we relate to the siege and capture of Gath by Hazael, has been studied in previous years. The building is quite large, spanning more than 20 meters and partially built of large stone monoliths. Although the exact function and relation to the siege system is unclear, currently it does seem related to it and may possibly be a building/tower that was built in connection with the siege. Future work on this part of the site is still required.
An important development during the 2004 season was the opening of a new excavation area (Area F) located on the top of the tell, about 100 meters NNW of the summit. Since previously we had not excavated near this part of the tell due to the modern cemeteries located in this area, this was an important development since this offered us our first opportunity to excavate finds from the center of the site where hopefully a more complete stratigraphic record of the settlement of the site survived. The area was chosen since it appeared to be located outside of the limits of the Modern Arab cemetery, the Crusader period fortress, and the earlier British excavations (by Bliss and Macalister). And in fact, we "hit pay dirt!" After opening three trial squares to check the feasibility of excavating this area, we very quickly discovered that this area has much potential. Immediately below the surface, we found medieval remains, and soon after we reached what appears to be a destruction level dating to the Iron Age IIB. It seems, based on the finds that have been found so far, that this level can be dated to the late 8th century BCE, possibly to the time of Hezekiah reign and Sennacherib’s campaign to Judea. LMLK handles found in the British excavations may possibly be related to this phase. Due to the apparent success of this trial excavation near the summit of the tell, we hope to expand this area in future seasons, possibly turning it into one of the main focuses of the excavation.
In addition to the excavation itself, in the last several years we have been conducting various related studies on and around the tell. This includes the surface survey; geomorphologic research; and remote sensing, using ground penetrating radar (see http://www.mnemotrix.com/geo/essafi/trench/intro04.html). (For summaries of some of this research, see the bibliography listed below).
Several studies relating to our work on the site have been published recently (or are now in press), and additional information is available to interested parties. We are now working hard to publish the first volume summarizing our work on the tell and do hope that it will be out within the next year. Remember, it is still not too late to join us.