Antanas Melinis, University College London (UCL)
An international team of students as well as experts in various fields of archaeology has been assembled to participate in the continuing excavations of a large Bronze Age Tel of Bet Yerah, which is bordered by the Sea of Galilee on the Eastern and the river Jordan on the Western side. The majority of the student team (around 16 out of 25 people in total) was from UCL with both undergraduates and postgraduates present. Moreover, there were also people from as far as the universities of Louisiana and Buenos Aires, all assisted by students and staff from Tel Aviv University led by director Raphael Greenberg and supervised by Sarit Paz, Yael Rotem and Marcus Goerzen, complemented by zooarchaeology, bioarchaeology and GIS experts- a strong and self-sufficient team. In which I took part in it as a BSc Archaeology undergraduate at UCL.
Tel Bet Yerah is a hugely important site in the Levantine Early Bronze Age as it was an large trade hub as well as one of the first urban settlements in the region which also boasts such famous sites as Ohalo II or Tel Ubeidiya. Its uniqueness arises from the fact that during the transition from the fourth to the third millennium BCE, instead of gradually transforming into a city, the village was completely and rapidly restructured and had public building erected as well as an orderly grid of streets laid down. The town had thick defensive mudbrick walls and towers even though the Early Bronze Age II (EB II) had hardly any evidence of warfare. It also contained one of the most unique public constructions of the whole Near East- the EB III Circles Building, which is a series of 7 round, ~7 m. diameter granaries, possibly constructed for central grain storage and redistribution, but never finished, supposedly due to the lack of resources. This building and some other parts of the town were later occupied by squatters after an earthquake and a general weakening of the settlement’s economy- these squatters were the Kura-Araxes people from the mountainous regions of Southern Caucasus.
The movement of these new settlers is witnessed by the arrival of a new style of pottery- the Khirbet Kerak Ware or KKW, which was vastly different form the local produce, both in appearance and use. The standard cooking and food consumption ensemble, for example, consisted of large pots, portable hobs and deep bowls which suggested that stews were mostly eaten, as opposed to the harder food of the local people, usually served on platters. The arrival of KKW therefore could not have been attributed to trade, since houses containing it were often built differently and had different uses of space, so Tel Bet Yerah was one of the few Levantine sites to have the Caucasian migrants. Because of that, the study of the origin and the lifeways of these people have been major focal points in both this and previous years’ excavation seasons. However, area GB-H, which was excavated exactly for the purpose of finding out more about the migrants yielded very little KKW, which was very surprising for the whole team. On the other hand, we managed to find out more about the open EB II plaza and the thick adjacent wall, possibly an Eastern wall of the city. Inside the area of that plaza, a new trench called SA-M was opened. It did contain quite a few KKW sherds, but that was expected to happen anyway, so the discovery did not add anything new to our current knowledge on the Kura-Araxes.
The area which I was excavating (SAS) was mostly dedicated to the research of domestic buildings of the town, the continuity of construction and reuse of older building materials as well as EB I layers- the very beginnings of the pre-urban settlement, which still need to be better understood. The EBI were very hard to find- a significant amount of EBI material only began to appear on the last week, after digging down more than 1.5 m. However even then the supervisors were not sure whether it was a true early layer or just a transitional phase. Since the layer was so deep, one of the hypotheses was that EB I in Bet Yerah started earlier than anywhere else in the region, which is a very intriguing, though confusing explanation, since it creates more questions than answers.
There were a lot of other interesting finds in SAS as well, among which were hundreds of charred seeds, a few zoomorphic figurines, complete articulated animal longbones, beads and much more. The reuse of past constructions and installations by the inhabitants has also been witnessed by features such as a house wall that was later used as a threshold foundation or a dug-in mortar that served as a pillar support after cracking due to incessant grinding.
The site is also famous for its past contact with the first dynasty of Egypt, as previously evidenced by artefacts like an Egyptian palette, a carved relief and even a vessel locally made by an immigrant Egyptian potter. Although we excavated very carefully, using almost prehistoric site methods, we could not find any other signs of contact with Egypt this year, but hopefully the team will have more success in the future.
Overall, this year’s excavations raised more new questions than they gave answers, since the year’s primary goals were not achieved in the way they were expected to be. In any case, the whole team has made interesting discoveries along the way. Some of the students have also made phenomenal contributions to the post-excavation work, volunteering to stay until late evening to help the staff with zooarchaeological identification, pottery registration and picking while also acquiring extra-curricular skills such as GIS and georeferencing along the way. The staff, the kibbutz people and the people of Israel as a whole have been very friendly and made this field school not just an opportunity to learn and contribute on site, but also an opportunity to explore and better understand the landmarks and culture of the country, all thanks to the very generous grant given to me by the Anglo-Israel Society for this project.
Elisabeth Sawerthal, King’s College London (KCl)
The AIAS grant enabled me to travel to Israel this past summer to participate in the second season of the Ashdod-Yam Archaeological excavations, a joint expedition between the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures of Tel Aviv University and the University of Leipzig Institute of Old Testament Studies, directed by Dr Alexander Fantalkin and Prof Angelika Berlejung. For the second half of the dig we were also joined by Dr Stefan Fischer and his team of students from the Institute of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology, University of Vienna. Our international team included volunteers and students from Germany, Austria, Israel, Italy and the United States.
The site of Ashdod-Yam (i.e. ‘Ashdod by the Sea’), is near the southern section of the modern city of Ashdod, and about five kilometres northwest of Tel Ashdod. The area features remains from numerous periods, including a Late Bronze mound and an Iron Age mound, Roman-Byzantine ruins, which can be seen on the Madaba map, and a Crusader castle in the North. The Iron Age enclosure was previously excavated by Jacob Kaplan between 1965 and 1968. Kaplan discovered a fortification wall ascribed to the Iron Age. In the 2013 season of this new archaeological venture, in which I also participated, the fortification structure was re-discovered and ceramic finds confirmed Kaplan’s dating to the Iron Age. I was particularly excited to return for the 2015 season (July 19 – August 22) in the role of an Assistant Area Supervisor.
This season focussed on two areas, on the acropolis (Area A1) to explore the Hellenistic remains where monumental architecture exists; and in the southeastern section of the tel (Area C), to trace the Iron Age history of the site. Owen Chesnut supervised this area and I was assistant supervisor.
In Area C, we excavated five squares, allocated on the basis of Kaplan’s report, LiDAR data and the plans we received from our GPR specialist that pointed out potential architectural remains. The beginning of the excavation was difficult as we encountered a thick layer of extremely hard melted mudbrick, with no sign of individual bricks. Removal of this mudbrick detritus revealed a limestone and kurkar stone wall oriented northwest-southeast and preserved to three courses. On top of the northwestern part of this wall, we identified several individual mud bricks, however, aligned differently than an earlier wall below. The area to the south of this wall appears to have been the outside of an Iron Age building as suggested by several exposed living surfaces, with some directly abutting the wall. Furthermore, two burning installations were exposed, one to the north, and one to the east of the wall. Ceramic finds from Area C, including top soil and occupational layers, date to the Iron IIB-C and to the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Special finds included imported pottery from Cyprus and Egypt, a bronze fishing hook as well as several ancient coins in the top soil.
Taking part in the 2015 season of the Ashdod-Yam excavations was beneficial in many ways. I developed my skills in archaeological fieldwork and gained especially valuable experience in the documentation process of excavations, including context sheets, drawing plans and registering finds. In addition, it was a great opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. Working with a great team of volunteers in Area C was particularly enjoyable. Having weekends off enabled me to make day trips to other Israeli cities, such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as to explore some places I had not managed to visit during previous summers, including Ramallah. Once the excavation was over, I travelled to Jordan where I spent some days in Amman, exploring the city and visiting famous archaeological sites such as the Roman Theatre and the Citadel. On my final day in Jordan, before returning to Tel Aviv to fly back to Europe, I fulfilled my dream of visiting the Nabatean city of Petra which was an amazing experience!
I would like to thank the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society for enabling me to be a part of the exciting weeks of excavations at Ashdod-Yam as well as to visit so many other wonderful places in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
Rebekah Welton, University of Exeter
Dig Mount Zion 2015
With a grant from the AIAS I was able to return this summer to the excavations on Mount Zion in Jerusalem for my third time. The dig site is just outside of the old city by the Zion Gate and is a continuation of the original excavations carried out on the site by Magen Broshi in the 1970s. In previous seasons the remains of a first century domestic building containing a mikveh, three ovens, a cistern and a bathtub were found. In the deepest area that was excavated a large mosaic and partially constructed archway was found from the Byzantine period. The season this year was led by Rafi Lewis and Shimon Gibson and I was the assistant area supervisor for an area to the west of the site further up the slope which had been opened in 2014.
We began by removing layers of contamination that had collected over the past 11 months and found the top of a wall. We later discovered that this wall had actually been constructed in the 1970s by a terrace builder for the deposition of dirt during Broshi’s excavations. Fortunately, Shimon Gibson had actually worked on this excavation and had taken a photograph of the wall after its construction. This meant we could use the image to judge where we were digging in relation to the dig site of Broshi’s time. We later came upon what might be an Abbasid fish market surface due to many fish bones and sea shells that were found as well as a number of fish hooks. Finds throughout the fills in this area ranged from Ottoman to some examples of Iron Age II. A crusader bronze token in perfect condition was also found as well as some beautiful examples of jewellery from several periods. Next season we will come upon what are currently thought to be Umayyad walls which may be part of a domestic complex.
In another area a massive water cistern, composed of an upper and lower part and a water channel, was excavated and dismantled. Analysis suggested that this cistern system was constructed in the Mamluk period, but may have been in use as late as the Ottoman period. The cistern cut through remains and deposits from earlier periods, including Abassid, Ayyubid, Umayyad, Byzantine, and Roman. A variety of artefact finds were represented, including numerous coins, an iron dagger blade, bone spindle whorls, a stone bowl, stone cup fragments, a basalt tripod vessel, core formed coloured glass, and a stone oil lamp. The excavations indicate that the area was constantly used throughout the history of Jerusalem, and that deposits of earlier material often accompany later architecture in reuse for foundation construction.
The grant from the AIAS allowed me to stay for a week after the end of the excavation in order to learn how the data recording on site is carried out. This involved learning how to make section/baulk drawings, taking measurements, writing locus cards and photography. I also aided Shimon Gibson and Anna de Vincent with the pottery sorting from which I began to learn how to identify pottery from different periods in this region. I was extremely privileged to have been asked to give a lecture as part of the dig’s lecture series for all of the participants. I presented on my PhD research concerning the contribution of archaeology to understanding diet in Iron Age Israel and how this impacts our conception of Israelite and Judahite animal and vegetal sacrifice. I received fantastic feedback from the very experienced and knowledgeable archaeologists present and insightful questions from the volunteers for which I am extremely grateful. I also benefited from the other lectures in the series, especially one given by Rhona Avissar concerning the impact of children on household archaeology.
I am extremely grateful to the AIAS for supporting me in this practical side of my development as a biblical archaeologist especially as I now embark on my doctoral research.
Abigail Zammit, University of Oxford
In early May 2015, I made a one-week research visit to Israel, as part of my current doctoral research (entitled The Lachish Letters: A Reappraisal of the Ostraca discovered in 1935 and 1938 at Tell ed-Duweir), thanks to a student grant from the AIAS.
The main objectives of this project were to visit two archaeological sites related to my study, Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) and Azekah (Tel Azekah), and to examine four of the ostraca (inscribed pottery sherds) labelled as ‘Lachish Letters’, which were discovered during the British excavations of Lachish, and are today held in Jerusalem.
I spent a day visiting Lachish and Azekah to photograph key features at both tells. These sites were, apart from Jerusalem, the only fortified cities left in Judah to withstand the Babylonian army in the early 6th century B.C.E. (Jeremiah 34: 7), and the names of the fortresses (lkš and ‘zqh) feature in one of the ostraca held in Jerusalem (Lachish 4). For my research purposes, the key point of interest at Lachish is the ‘guardroom’, on the east side of the outer gate upon entering the fortress, which yielded sixteen of the Lachish Letters in 1935. Today, the guardroom and much of the gateway area have been restored with additional stone material onto original, extant infrastructure in situ, and any original walls that collapsed after excavations have been carefully restored. Other points of interest at the tell include the rest of the gateway area, which yielded a number of fragmentary ostraca in the 1930s and 1970s, and the ruins of the palace at the centre of the mound, close to which two other ostraca (20 and 21, at the British Museum) were discovered in 1938.
Recent renewed excavations have been taking place at either site. At Lachish, I saw fenced-off trenches of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish, a joint project between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University, which has been underway since 2013, under the direction of Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil. At Azekah, I came across fenced-off excavations of the Lautenschläger Azekah Archaeological Expedition, a joint project between Tel Aviv University and the University of Heidelberg, which commenced in 2012, under the direction of Oded Lipschits, Yuval Gadot and Manfred Oeming.
With regards to the four ostraca in question, I examined and photographed Lachish 3, 4 and 6 (discovered in 1935) and Lachish 19 (retrieved in 1938), with the permission of the respective curators of the Israel Museum (IMJ), the Rockefeller Museum (RMJ) and the Bible Lands Museum (BLMJ) in Jerusalem. Lachish 3, a letter by the servant Hoshaiah (hwš‘yhw), who mentions ‘the prophet’ (hnb’), is held at the IMJ. Lachish 4 and 6, two long letters displaying controversial military information, are on display at a current exhibition at the BLMJ, entitled ‘By the Rivers of Babylon.’ Lachish 19, a list of personal names and hieratic numerals, is stored at the RMJ. I scrutinized certain parts of all four inscriptions under the lens, especially where the handwriting in iron-carbon ink is fading or has faded badly, since such lacunae tend to hold more controversy over how one reconstructs or interprets the inscriptions. Where possible, my close-up observations and digital photographs will enable me to confirm, revise or reject my own palaeographic readings of the Lachish Letters and those of other reviewers over the past eighty years. My results will ultimately be presented in my thesis.
While at Jerusalem, I visited the Israel Antiquities Authority headquarters (IAA) at the RMJ, namely the Archives and Library, and made use of the resources at the National Library of Israel, including the printing of old daily journal entries on the Lachish Letters, today preserved on microfilm. I devoted my last afternoon in Jerusalem to enjoyable sightseeing in the Old City. To conclude my trip in a personally gratifying manner, I made it a point to visit the graves of British archaeologist James Leslie Starkey, who directed the Mandate excavations of Lachish from 1932 until his murder on 10 January 1938, and that of his teacher, British Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie, at the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, Jerusalem. This last visit drew a meaningful line to a most rewarding academic experience.
I owe immense gratitude to the curators and staff of the respective museums for their permission and support, namely Dr Eran Arie and Ms Shira Dan (IMJ), Dr Filip Vukosavovic, Ms Rachael Arenstein, Ms Sue Vukosavovic and Ms Rachel Balanson (BLMJ), Ms Alegre Savariego (IAA) and Ms Silvia Krapiwko (IAA Archives). I am grateful to the Very Reverend Hosam E. Naoum (Dean of St George’s Anglican Cathedral, Jerusalem) for his permission to visit the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery. Special thanks to Mr Jonathan Sammut for his patience and valuable assistance. Last but not least, I sincerely thank the AIAS for their contribution to my research on the Lachish Letters, and for the opportunity to visit Israel, which I would be glad to repeat in the future.