Taygete Atlantis: Excavation Blogs (Antiquity)


Tom Elliott (tom.elliott@nyu.edu)

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July 21, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Albright Dinner

Daniel Master and Matt Adams in the Albright courtyard

Daniel Master and Matt Adams in the Albright courtyard

We ate dinner under the stars tonight as Matt Adams and the Albright hosted dinner for the fellows in residence as well as those of us from Ashkelon.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal of lentil soup and makloubeh.

We are in the last few days of the season.  The remaining staff currently camped out in Jerusalem heads home on their regularly scheduled flights Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  Soon we'll be swapping memories of this season with our friends and families.  Hard to believe.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Bona Fide metallurgy location in Area D!

Today we seem to have uncovered in Area D what looks like a bona fide metallurgical location! This includes quantities of slag, “hammer scale”, “tuyeres” and a crucible, with apparent evidence of both iron and copper related work! As the full scale of this was discovered only today (last day of excavation…), we will have some interesting stuff to look forward next year!

In other areas we were finishing up last minutes things, such as the possible donkey burial in E and some really nice Iron I levels (including Philistine I/very early Iron Age) in F.

Last day of digging – and tomorrow we brush away.

In the afternoon, we went for a field trip to Azekah, and while Yuval Gadot was guiding us on site – the air raid siren went off! So now we know that the Hamas does not have something personal only about the Safi excavation – they also are trying to stop the Azekah excavation as well! :-)



July 20, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Update for Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday the 18th of July was the final day of the 3rd week of the 2014 season. We had some great finds from various areas on the site, as well as visits from several groups.

In Area A, Louise and her team worked on the Iron I – especially the section around where the ivory bowl was found last year. Yotam from the WIS came to take various samples from this area.

In Area D, they continued working in the area of the metallurgy, on some of the 9th cent. destruction level and in various places in the pre-9th cent. BCE level. Of particular interest were fragments of a “notched scapula” which was found in this early level. Several such notched scapulae have been previously published from the 9th cent. destruction in Area A (as well as from other Philistine sites).

In Area E, they continue working on EB and LB materials. The possible donkey burial was worked on – although it is still not clear whether or not it is in fact another such burial.

In Area F they have some great finds. The earlier EB fortifications are becoming more and more impressive. They have also exposed some interesting levels dating to the Iron I – including several almost complete vessels! The LB is also coming along – and it looks that by next year we should have some substantial LB remains from F!

Area P was popping as well. with interesting finds from the LB levels, as well as from the early EB fortification stage.

All told, a great day to close the 3rd week – in preparation for the final week of the season!

Here are some photos from the day.


photo 2 (15) photo 1 (18) photo 3 (14) photo 2 (14) photo 1 (17)

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Albright Courtyard

Early Morning in the Albright Courtyard

Early Morning in the Albright Courtyard

Not a bad place to work, not at all.

Today is a data input heavy day with lots of lists and inventories getting uploaded into OCHRE, boxes of more data (old school pencil on paper) are getting taken to the post office this afternoon and, as mentioned yesterday, hard drives are getting backed up and ready for their return trips to Wheaton and Harvard.  

We are here in Jerusalem for a few more days and then by the end of the week, everyone will be on their way home.

July 19, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

The escapades of the “Scrubber Ducky” at Tell es-Safi/Gath 2014

Check out this great clip, prepared by the YU team of the fantastic escapades of the fearless “Scrubber Ducky” during the 2014 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath. We were all very fortunate to have Scrubber Ducky with us this year!


The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New 3D Model of the Tell

Check out our new 3D model of the entire tell. Thanks to Limor and Griffin Aerial Imaging for the aerial shots (like their page at the link)! 

3D Image here (works in Google Chrome, click on “3D Model” – you can then pan and zoom and get a good view of the tell). 

The view of the tell on the south and east is particularly interesting as this may very well be the location of the gate. The 3D model also gives you a nice view of how Tel Burna dominates the Nahal Guvrin and the route that ran through it. This model also gives you a great view of the mostly square c. 75x75m fortified area of the Iron II casemate walls. Enjoy!

See the more detailed models of Areas A2 and B here. 

View of Tel Burna from North 2014View of Tel Burna from North 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Ashkelon-Megiddo Dinner

Last night the staff and volunteers who spent their last week at Megiddo enjoyed a nice evening out in Tel Aviv.

Dinner in Tel Aviv

Dinner in Tel Aviv

After dinner, the staff returned to Jerusalem where work resumed this morning at the Albright.  Meghan achieved a great milestone today -- she finished the inventory of the Vault.  What does this mean?  It means that we can now move out of the Lab and hand the keys over to our landlord who is already eagerly looking for new renters.  With the Lab closing, tomorrow will see the first trip to the post office as we work on shipping items back to Wheaton and Harvard.

Our remote season shut down continues to go smoothly.  Books are done, computers and hard drives are almost all backed-up, plans are in the work to bring a team back in October to finish the salvage excavation and staff members still here are turning their attention to the various Ashkelon research projects for which they are responsible.

July 18, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Final Summer School Posts

I have the last two Harvard Summer School student posts today.  I'm a bit tardy with the first but it is a good read.  Thanks to all the students and staff who contributed to the blog this year.  

So, first up Stela:


Hello! My name is Stela Martins, I am from Brazil, where I live and study architecture and urbanism. 


As I started meeting the other volunteers and telling them about my nationality, they

always asked, “Aren't you sad you're missing the World Cup?” The answer was always no.  As the brazilian team entered the soccer field, here I was on the other side of the world entering an archaeological field for the first time as part of the Harvard Summer School Program in Ashkelon trying to determine if archaeology is what I wanted to do for life. And as the players put on their uniforms and got ready, I grabbed my hat and trowel, and started my own personal match, trying to grow and beat the difficulties of using turreahs, guffas and patiches for the first time. Soon my colleagues and I became a team: together we helped each other into achieving the same goal. Our supervisors worked as the golees, letting no knowledge pass, and being there for us anytime we needed them.

As Brazil scored goals in Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, I scored some goals on Grid 20, Square 68 and in the compound. After only a couple of weeks I'm able to identify layers, foundations, I know how to use every tool, I can use the flote-tech machine and know how to separate floatation samples into heavy and light fraction, and I have even helped with pottery diagnostics!

As the excitement of the Brazilian people grew after we beat Colombia and reached the semifinals, my excitement in Ashkelon grew as we reached the 4th week. It's amazing to think that in such little time besides the field work, I have also learned how to use OCHRE, the total station, and have acquired so much knowledge from our lectures! And as Brazilians in Brazil can't wait for the final match, this Brazilian here in Ashkelon can't wait for the final week, when I'll be able to look back at all that we accomplished, at all of our beautiful findings - that so far go from beautiful Roman columns to Hellenistic walls - and at how much this experience has been enriching and life changing for me, as it was crucial to help me with my decision of pursuing a career as an archaeologist.

So, after all, I believe that i have taken part of a personal World Cup that led me to one of the best experiences of my life.


To finish things off, a picture from the Megiddo Ashkelon group enjoying some much deserved gelato and the final student blog post which comes from Caroline.

Megiddo Ashkelon Group

Megiddo Ashkelon Group

I'm Caroline Marshall and I am a rising sophomore at Harvard and a member of the Harvard Summer School in Ashkelon. Last week the volunteers from the dig in Ashkelon were given the option of staying to finish out the season with a week of digging at the site of Megiddo. Eleven volunteers and 3 Ashkelon staff members participated in the Megiddo dig. The skills that I learned while digging in Ashkelon have proved transferable; we've fallen right into the routine here at Megiddo  and are helping with their excavation. The archaeological experience at Megiddo has somewhat differed from that of Ashkelon for me. In Ashkelon, I was digging in Grid 51, a previously excavated residential and commercial area. In the past few days at Megiddo I've watched a site transform from rubble and indistinguishable topsoil to a fully functional archaeological square in the beginning of the excavation process. Being able to participate in two different archaeological digs has been a valuable experience. It has opened my eyes to the adaptability of archaeological skills and techniques while simultaneously showing the differences in geography, architecture, and soil composition that can be found when digging even within the same country.

July 17, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Very interesting day! Thursday, July 17, 2014

We had a great today on the tell! First of all – no air raid sirens! And also – some great archaeology!

Area A: The are working in Iron I, LB and a bit EB, mainly doing various stratigraphic checks to make sure we understand various previously excavated contexts.

Area D: Some really cool stuff! We have what appears to be a clear metallurgical context, most probably dating to the post-9th cent. BCE “squatter’s phase”. This includes a large amount of metal slag, a fragment of a tuyerre, and other interesting remains. As we already have a 10th BCE metallurgical areas in Area A from several years back, this should give a very nice long range perspective on the metallurgy at Gath in the Iron Age. Most importantly, Prof. Amotz Agnon (yes, the grandson of…) came with colleagues to Area D today, to work on taking various samples for paleomagnetic analyses – both from the metallurgical area as well as from various installations. We also had some other nice finds in D, from the 10th and 9th cent.

Area E: Work continued in the EB levels, with today’s highlight being the possible discovery of another donkey burial – in addition to the one found and published a few years ago.

Area F: As usual working various periods, including Iron IIB, Iron IIA, Iron I, LB and EB. The very impressive architecture under the EB fortification wall is becoming more and more impressive – and we clearly have a lot more to understand about it!

Area P: Also in P we have more evidence of the pre-EB fortification phase. In the LB levels near the EB wall several nice beads were found.

Amir Golani, Ianir Milevski and Alon De Groot of the IAA visited today, and we had very interesting and important discussions at the different parts of the excavations.

All told – great day – here are some pictures:


photo (16)

photo 3 (13) photo 2 (13) photo 1 (16) photo 3 (12) photo 2 (12) photo 1 (15)

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Picture for our Guest Post

Cheating a little bit today and posting a picture of Emily who filed a great post for us yesterday.

Emily at Megiddo

Emily at Megiddo

Today is actually the last day of excavation for the students who went up to Megiddo.  From everything we've heard, they had a great experience.

Now, random fun picture.  I'll tell you more about it tomorrow.  See if you can guess why at least two Ashkelon supervisors got excited about finding it.



July 16, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

July 16th, 2014 on the tell

Very nice day on the tell today. We only had one air raid siren and managed to get a lot of work done in various areas.

Area A: They worked in the Iron I levels and in addition to various Iron I pottery, also had two possible ivory fragments.

Area D: The evidence for metallurgical activities is becoming more clear, and today they found a fragment of a tuyerre, as well as pieces of slag and “hammerscale”. Also, some nice walls from the pre-9th, 9th and post destruction layers are coming up.

Area E: The E team is working in various EB levels, as well as a very nice LB context with tons of pottery. And somewhat surprisingly, a very nice piece of Philistine pottery with a nice bird came out in a recently re-opened square.

Area F: As usual working in various periods, including two places with nice 9th cent. remains, some nice Iron I floors, an LB terrace, and all the way at the bottom of F, some really cool evidence of an earlier EB stratum – below the EB city wall! We have even added a new stratum to F!

Area P: The really cool new is that we are seeing more of the EB architecture under the EB wall (as in F!), and a very nice flint blade was found in relation to this architecture. It’s not yet clear if it is an earlier fortification or other architectural features that were covered by the later EB wall. They also are digging in some LB contexts – and still looking for the continuation of the EB wall to the west.

Here are some nice pictures of today’s work:


photo 2 (10) photo 1 (13) photo 4 (6) photo 5 (1) photo 3 (11) photo 2 (11) photo 1 (14) photo 4 (5) photo 3 (10) photo 2 (9) photo 1 (12)

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Guest Post from Megiddo

Today, courtesy of Emily, one of the Harvard Summer School students, we have a post about our study tour last week as well as working at Megiddo.  Enjoy.


Hi, I'm Emily, one of the Harvard Summer School Students and one of the remaining members of the dig after being relocated to the Megiddo Excavation in the north of Israel. I am a rising sophomore at Harvard College planning on studying Human Evolutionary Biology and Chemistry, and decided to participate in the summer school to learn about the field of archaeology, to travel, and for the rare experience of participating on a dig. And it has been quite an experience. 

In Ashkelon, I was part of the team in Grid 51 beginning to uncover the 604 BC destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, but I am currently with 13 other members of the dig now working in Megiddo. Between our current digging on the new site and the rest of the group departing, we continued our tour of Northern Israel. On July 11th we enjoyed an evening in Caesarea, which has been a port city since in was built by Herod the Great in the Roman Era. The integration of the ruins with the modern harbor made it a fascinating and beautiful place to be. On July 12th, we visited the Hecht Museum in Haifa where we all lit up with the incredible collection of artifacts, as well as ones we recognized from Ashkelon like the dog burials, and went to Old Akko where we immersed ourself in both the culture by dining on Arabian food in the bazaar and tourism through exploring the Crusader underground tunnels and citadel. These trips only added to the previous days of touring sites around the north.

The past few days we have been volunteering at the Megiddo dig, which is quite a different experience than Ashkelon. I feel very privileged to be able to see what another site is like and am very glad that I remained in Israel. Though it was not what I expected and would of course rather be spending this week in Ashkelon, the trip to the north and now Megiddo have added a whole other dimension to the summer. 


July 15, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Some photos from Area A

Louise passed on two nice photos from the work in Area A today:

Brent and Phil working on an Iron Age surface, and Uri with a very nice Philistine 2 krater fragment:

photo (15)photo (14)

Lapis Gabinus: official blog of the Gabii Project

The Gabii Project: Archaeology in The Information Age

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .
Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Rachel Opitz doesn’t dig much at Gabii, but rather records. Leading a core team of four, her topography, data entry, and photogrammetric modelling unit is tasked with the construction of a digital database on a large scale.

“We have scale issues,” Rachel chuckles, “Well, they’re not issues because the method works.”
Rachel’s team has implemented strategies and introduced technologies aimed at increasing efficiency within The Gabii Project to support a large open area excavation. They upgrade software and propose new methods nearly every field season. Most recently, Rachel brought tablet technology to the scene, replacing almost all of the paper recording formerly done in the trenches with direct to digital recording on Panasonic ToughPads and Android tablets, linked in real-time to the project’s ARK database and GIS system.

“One of the reasons we were able to open such a large excavation area as is that the recording is just so fast,” Rachel states plainly. “You can answer very different archaeological questions working at this scale”

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.
Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

The Gabii Project isn’t the only dig using digital recording. Excavations at Çatalhöyük and Pompeii—to name a couple high-profile cases—are also making use of similar systems, and such methods have been increasingly adopted in recent years. In Rachel’s opinion, what sets The Gabii Project apart is Program Director Nicola Terrenato’s insistence on using these systems extensively from the beginning.

“More and more people are doing some variant on what we’re doing, and that’s a good thing. Of course we try to stay at the forefront, so five years from now we’ll be doing something totally different.”

You can follow Rachel’s work at: http://gabiiserver.adsroot.itcs.umich.edu/gabiigoesdigital/

This post was adapted from James Reslier-Wells'  post to The 2014 International Day of Archaeology on behalf of The Gabii Project.

The Gabii Project: A Moment with Field Directors Anna and Marcello

Gabii Project Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta and Anna Gallone visit Area F to see how things are going.
Gabii Project Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta and Anna Gallone visit Area F to see how things are going.

The Gabii Project is an excavation and field school run jointly with The University of Michigan and The University of Verona. We are excavating the Ancient Latin city of Gabii, about 20 km East of Rome. The city grew alongside Rome through the first millennium, BC, and into the 3rd century AD, when it was finally abandoned. Throughout its existence, the city underwent many of the same changes as its more famous neighbor except for one crucial point: it hasn’t been developed further. This fact allows us pure excavation of the site, without millennia of modernization stacked atop it.
But today, we focus less on the story of the site, and more on those who have cultivated it. First, we have Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta, and Anna Gallone…

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta taking a quick break.
Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta taking a quick break.

“Archaeology is one of the best activities ever,” begins Marcello, “because you have the feeling of discovery; I guess that’s what drives us despite the effort, the grueling conditions associated with digs.”

At The Gabii Project, however, Marcello’s work is mainly administrative. As a so-called “big dig,” there is a lot of logistical work to be done not only on-site, dealing with safety concerns, and choosing where to dig and where to spend money, but also during the off season where securing permits, writing and submitting papers, and choosing new staff take precedence.

“The important point to realize is that these are not isolated tasks,” maintains Marcello, “It’s so linked together… and this is not something that starts on June 1st and ends on August 1st, it continues throughout the off season.”

“What happens here in five weeks is the result of ten months of preparation,” Chimes in Anna, whose work is also primarily logistical.

Even with all of the preparations and planning, the two are still very busy during the field season. This affords the two little time to participate in the actual fieldwork, their real passion. While they do make time to buck this trend where they can—such as when they lead the excavation of a lead sarcophagus in 2009—the two long for their days working in the field.

“Our secret dream is to go work as volunteers in another field school, with fewer responsibilities,” Marcello half-jokes, with Anna adding: “Back to the old days, when the only thing that really mattered was excavating a layer correctly and finding something cool.”

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta snag a rare moment to join the active excavation
Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta snag a rare moment to join the active excavation.

Regardless of the desire to get back out to the field, both are fiercely proud of The Gabii Project and their roles therein. In fact, both of their favorite parts of the program have to do with its inherent structure.
“I’ve been a field archaeologist for 20 years now,” states Anna. “I have never ever seen a site with so many people working together at the same time on so many different aspects.”

As for Marcello, “The project is constantly evolving, I mean the way we started six years ago, you would hardly recognize it. In a way, this is like a living organism, growing and changing, so I’m very curious to see what this is going to look like in 10 years.”

This post was adapted from James Reslier-Wells'  post to The 2014 International Day of Archaeology on behalf of The Gabii Project.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Update for Tuesday July 15th

Today we had a really nice day in the field – despite the fact that the @#$% is still shooting rockets…

In Area A, Louise and her team are working in Iron I levels

In Area D, there are several nice things: In the post-9th cent destruction level we have some metal slag, remains of some interesting walls and other finds. In the 10th cent. BCE level we have a very nice restorable cooking jug and some interesting architecture.

In Area E they are working on both EB and LB contexts. This included some rich LB contexts with a lot of pottery, and several EB contexts with a lot of samples for 14C.

In Area F, they are working on a wide range of periods, from Iron IIB until EB. Among other things they have nice evidence of the 9th cent. BCE destruction in a couple of places, Iron I floors with finds, and some very interesting EB finds – including what looks like an earlier phase of the EB fortifications!

In Area P there are LB and EB remains. This includes a very nice LB floor with finds on surface, as well as evidence, similar to what was found in F, of an earlier phase of the EB fortifications.

We also had a couple of visitors on site – and only one siren sounding!




The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Aerial Video of Khirbet ‘Atr with Burna in the Distance

Check out this aerial video taken by Iftah Gold (Ron’s son) from his DJI Phantom “drone.” We took this footage and other aerial photos at nearby Khirbet ‘Atr (biblical Ether). The site of Ether is mentioned only once in the bible.

Libnah (Tel Burna?), Ether (Khirbet ‘Atr), Ashan, Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib, Keilah, Achzib, and Mareshah: nine cities with their villages.” (Joshua 15:42–44 ESV)

Thanks Iftah! Maybe next time we can find and identify Iphtah for you :)

Tel Burna from above Khirbet 'Atr (Ether) - view from south.Tel Burna from above Khirbet ‘Atr (Ether) – view from south.
Khirbet 'Atr (Ether) aerial looking south towards Lachish, notice the wallKhirbet ‘Atr (Ether) aerial looking south towards Lachish, notice the wall


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Legacy Hotel

Another hotel, another great view.  Right now, we are in the Legacy Hotel which is adjacent to the US consulate in Jerusalem.  It's a perfect location situated as it is within walking distance of the Old City, Mamilla, Ben Yehuda street in West Jerusalem and, most importantly, the Albright, our temporary base of operations.


July 14, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Monday, July 14th at the dig

The first day in the field of the 3rd went by very nicely today. All the areas were up and running – and it was nice to see that despite the security situation we could move ahead – more or less planned – and despite some the two days that we missed out last week – and some of the team that decided to leave.

We had a few visitors today, including a nice group of geologists from the Israel Geological Society, who came for a very comprehensive visit, in which both the finds on the site and in the surrounding region, as well as the various analytic methods that we are implementing were explained. It was an excellent visit as we learned a lot from them – and I believe they did from us – and hopefully, some interesting collaborations on various issues will come out of the visit.

In the afternoon, we visited Itzik Shai’s excavation at Tel Burna and saw the very impressive LB and Iron II remains.

And finally, this evening, I went over to Kibbutz Galon to give a lecture to the Azekah team – our neighbors from just up the Elah Valley.

Great Day!


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Work at the Albright

Setting up shop in the Albright basement

Setting up shop in the Albright basement

Staff members are rolling off books and moving on to other assorted tasks as works continues here in Jerusalem.  

Last night  a contingent attended the IAA's annual dinner for foreign expeditions.  There were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd.  It was good to exchange stories, talk about the season's progress, and think about getting back into the field.


July 13, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

We will be excavating tomorrow!

Since there was some lack of clarity regarding this issue, I would like to clarify that the team will be out in the field tomorrow morning!




The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Megiddo Group Goes Touring

Touring Acco

Touring Acco

Thanks to Adam for sending this picture of the "Megiddo" team touring the city of Acco.  After one last day of sites, the plan was for them to be up bright and early to work on the Megiddo excavation this morning.  As I get more updates, I'll pass them along.

Meanwhile, here in Jerusalem the remaining staff is up and back at it as we work to finish reports, phase plans and all of the other end-of-season paperwork supervisors need to submit. We're all looking forward to another productive day.


July 12, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

3rd week of the 2014 season starts tomorrow!

Tomorrow, we commence the 3rd week of the 2014 season. So far, things are going as planned, even if some of the non-local team members have decided to leave due to the current security situation in Israel. It must be stressed that the excavation continues based on the clear instructions that were received from the Israel Home Front Command, whose experts did not see any reason to cancel the excavation and saw no danger in continuing to work.

Needless to say, we will continue keeping our ears and eyes perked for any changed – and will do exactly what the relevant authorities tell us is the safest thing to do.

We await two more weeks of fascinating discoveries – and plan to keep you updated with developments.

And finally, we h0pe and pray for quiet, peace and sanity…

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Albright

Hummus and pita anyone?

Hummus and pita anyone?

The staff is back at work today in the courtyard and basement lab of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.  Objects are getting processed, bookwork completed, and articles written.  Time was taken to enjoy pita and hummus from Abu Hassan's -- delicious -- and then it was back to work.

Our Megiddo group is off touring Haifa and Acco today.  Sunday they'll start digging.  We'll try to get pictures of some of the tour and/or digging to share with everyone in the next couple of days.


July 11, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Friday, July 11th on the tell

Today, we had a nice day of excavation on the tell.

In Area A, Louise and her team worked on a very nice Iron I living surface, with a lot of finds (including a very nice bead and tons of pottery and bones). Looks like this surface – and probably others below it – will provide some nice finds in the coming week or so. In addition, the Iron IIB and Iron IIA squares were cleaned – and we will stop on them – ready to open them up next season.

In Area D, Amit’s team worked on a balk in which there was plenty of Iron IIA finds, and clarified various architectural features throughout the site.

In Area E, Haskel and Shira’s team were working on various EB features which were uncovered – including a very nice corner of an Stratum E5c building.

In Area F, Jeff ‘s team were working on quite a few periods (Iron IIB, Iron IIA, Iron I, LB, MB and EB). As they always joke, this is the area where you go if you want to learn stratigraphy – and boy are they right!

In Area P, Jill and her team worked on the LB levels just inside the EB wall, and are still looking for the continuation of the EB wall, and/or features built up against it, in the squares to the west of the main area.

Around 8 am, we all (in all the areas) heard the air raid siren from the nearby power station, and as ordered by the Home Front Command, we all got into the excavation trenches and ducked. Nothing landed anywhere near us, but we could see up in the air, far to the north, some Iron Dome interceptions!

We finished the 2nd week – with a little more excitement than we expected during the week – but we are eagerly looking forward to the next two weeks and all the finds.

Shabbat Shalom – and pray for peace unto Israel!



The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

End of Week Five

Arbel Cliffs

Arbel Cliffs

8:00 in the morning and where is the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon?  That's right, climbing down the Arbel Cliffs.  Amazing trek, amazing views, and for those of us who don't really like heights, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Really, we've done it once and now we're good.

Our stop there was followed by one at the  Beit Alfa (Alpha) Synagogue famous for its zodiac mosaic.

Mosaic in Beit Alfa (Alpha)

Mosaic in Beit Alfa (Alpha)

Volunteers taking photos at Beit Alfa (Alpha)

Volunteers taking photos at Beit Alfa (Alpha)

What an amazing tour we've had.  Today's last stop was Megiddo where a number of our volunteers, accompanied by members of the Leon Levy Expedition staff, stuck around to excavate for another week.

The remainder of our volunteers are heading home today and are already in Tel Aviv awaiting their flights, a process being overseen by our co-director.

The remainder of the staff is in Jerusalem doing, you guessed it, book work.  We'll be here a few days and then we'll see what's next.

On behalf of the entire Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon staff, I'd like to thank and commend the volunteers and staff for all their hard work and willingness to get into the dirt, their positive attitudes and calmness during a busy, challenging week and, above all, for being part of a truly memorable season.  From 604 B.C. and Islamic period workshops to the Snake Tower and tumbled medieval fortifications, it was an informative, productive, and surprising season.  

We'll still be blogging as long as we are here though with less frequency -- check back for more updates.  

I leave everyone with this really fabulous picture from the staff bus ride to Jerusalem.

Tired staff members after a three day tour...

Tired staff members after a three day tour...

July 10, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Some of the action in Area D

Amit sent me some pictures of the action in Area D:

First of all, Amit’s ferocious dog – Casper (the neurotic poodle)

Second, some patriots waving the flag

And finally, Emunah and Mor with old mortar shell found on Monday (before all the “fun” began)….

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Beautiful early Philistine 2 (Bichrome) bowl

Over in Jeff’s area (Area F), Zach found a simply beautiful early Philistine 2 (Bichrome) bowl – and although found in sherds, we have the whole profile and much of the decoration. Hopefully, in the future, we will get the entire vessel.

Here is Jeff and then yours truly, holding the bowl. In the 2nd photo I’m giving the pirate AAARGH!

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The Boys (and girls) are back in the field!

Today, we got back into the field, after we received the formal OK from the Israel Home Command – and as expected, we had a great day out there.

In Area A, we had some great finds. They are right on top of the 9th cent. destruction layer in one square, and are cleaning an 8th cent. square in another. In the Iron I, we have several fragmentary vessels, including portions of a “beer jug” as well as several rather complete shells and other cool finds.

In area D, they excavated a whole mess of finds from the 9th cent. destruction level, including about 10 whole or restorable vessels, an iron blade and other objects.

In Area F, as usual they are working in a whole bunch for periods, including Iron IIA, Iron I, LB and MB. Particularly interesting was the nice MB contexts they worked on near the MB city wall.

In Area P, we excavated out two beautiful “lamp and bowl” deposits,  and seem to have found some nice architecture on the western side of the area, perhaps parts of the city wall.

Here are some pictures from today:

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July 09, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Up North

I'll try to add some pictures of the first day of our study tour soon.  Today we saw Tell Dan, Nimrod's Fortress, Hatzor and the Arbel Cliffs.  Fun was had by all and we are enjoying a relaxing evening.  

More to come soon.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Working at the kibbutz – and hopefully tomorrow we will be back in the field!

Today, we still worked in the kibbutz (see pictures below), but if all goes well, we have received instructions from the Home Front Command that we are allowed to go out and dig tomorrow. So, hopefully, tomorrow morning, we are back in action!

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Our tools have decided to work on their own…

As already noted, due to the security situation, we did not work on the tell yesterday or today. We just found out that our tools on the tell do not accept this situation and have apparently decided to take thing into their own “hands” – and start working on without us! Thanks to Dianne for this revealing picture! :-)

Wheelbarrow working on its own

July 08, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

A day in the camp

Since today we did not go out to excavate – due to the current security situation, we spent the day in the camp in Revadim (breakfast was at 7:30 so everyone got up with a rested look on their faces…).

In the morning, we all did various tasks relating to the dig, such as pottery registration, bone washing, “picking” (looking for microfinds in sediments), and other tasks. In the afternoon and evening, we had and will have several lectures on workshops, including I gave a lecture on my trip to Papua New Guinea, Louise will be lecturing on Santorini, and various lectures and workshops on various topics, such as field registration techniques, archaeobotany, microarchaeology, and other archaeological topics, as well as several general ones, such as on Israeli dancing, yoga and everyday Hebrew.

Right now it looks like we won’t be excavating tomorrow as well – so we will continue camp related activities once again.


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Study Tour

It's been a busy day here in Ashkelon.  The good news is everyone is safe and sound and looking forward to getting back to work when conditions to permit.  Tomorrow, the entire expedition will be headed north for a three day study tour which will include a range of sites from Caeasrea, Acco, Belvoir, Bet Shean and Nimrod's Fortress to Gamla, Hatzor, Dan, Megiddo, Gamla and whatever else time permits.  I'm looking forward to a phenomenal trip.

We'll be staying at one of the Leonardo hotels in Tiberias (which, we aren't yet certain).  We plan to return to Ashkelon Friday night.  Saturday will be our usual day off and then Sunday we'll be back at it.

I anticipate that we will have internet access as we tour the north though we will all be out and about a lot and that access may be more limited.  Check back for updates and pictures.


The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Update for the end of week one and the beginning of week 2, 2014 season

Since I have not had a chance to update since about what’s been happening on the dig since Thursday evening, here’s an update for what’s been going on since then, updated for Tuesday morning.

To start with, for those who are following us from abroad in the tense period, we are all OK – and while the team is a little nervous about the current security situation, as of now things are fine. Although we did not go out to excavate this morning – until there are more clarifications on the security situation, we do hope that “normality” will return as soon as possible. I will update regularly on developments – but most importantly I would like to stress that the safety and well-being of the entire team is the utmost priority!

Earlier on Monday, as an demonstration that security issues existed in this region for a long time, we had an “interesting” find. In Area D, in the lower city, a portion of a very old mortar shell was found (probably from the 1948 war). Since we were not sure that it was, we called the police bomb squad to check it out – just to be safe – and it turned out that it was the tail of an already exploded mortar shell from about 60 years ago. But clearly, this was not exactly the type of find we were looking for… (see pictures below)

And now to some archaeology:

On Monday we had a couple of visits. In the morning, Itzik Shai came to visit and especially to talk about the finds in Area E. Then, later on, Matt Adams, the new director of the Albright Institute came for a visit of the site.

Area A: Louise’s team has been working in Iron I and Iron IIB levels. In the Iron I levels we have had some really nice finds, including two spool-shaped loomweights, a absolutely beautiful cone-shaped seal with a mix of figurative, geometric and hieroglyph decorations (see pictures of it in the field), various vessels and other objects. In the Iron IIB level they are exposing portions of a late 8th cent. house – part of the Judahite levels we have excavated previously – both in Area A  and F.

Area D: In addition to the old mortar shell mentioned above, the D team is working on the 10th cent. levels (below the 9th cent destruction), the 9th cent destruction level and the post-destruction squatters level. In all these levels we seem to be “on the verge” of some very cool finds.

Area E: The EB and LB finds continue to emerge. One of the very nice things that we now can see is that we have a very clear sequence of atleast for EB II-III levels with well-dated 14C samples. This means that we will be able to expand our contribution to the new 14C chronology of the EB. Already, the dates from the final EB III level at Safi have shown that the new high chronology (end of EB III around 2500 BCE) is well-based. Also, a very cute EB votive juglet was found (see picture below).

Area F: Things are really cracking in F – especially with the arrival of a new group of team members at the beginning of the week. The F ream is excavation a whole slew of periods, including: Iron IIB, Iron IIA, Iron I, LB, MB and EB, in various parts of the site. This includes portions of a very nice 8th cent. BCE structure, some very nice in situ Iron I Philistine pottery (see picture below), portions of the EB and MB fortifications, etc.

Area P: The P team has had some great finds as well (see pictures of the P team below). In the LB levels, they have exposed several things, including what appears to be two “lamp and bowl” deposits. In the western part of P they are still looking for the continuation of the EB wall – but in any case are for the most part below surface materials and seem to be getting into stratified early materials.

Here are some photos from the last few days – notice the seal from Area A and the mortar shell from Area D (marked as a “special find”)

photo 4 (3) photo 3 (7) photo (4) photo (5) photo (6) photo (7) photo (11) photo (10) photo (9) photo (8) photo 1 (7) photo 4 (2) photo 3 (6) photo 2 (6) photo 1 (6) photo 2 (4) photo 1 (4)



The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

In the Hotel

We are working in the hotel today as we keep an eye on events.  Work will still be happening, however, as staff members make sure their books are up to date, GIS works on producing plans, and others continue writing in-progress articles.  The day looks a little more exciting for volunteers who will get to enjoy some time watching movies or hanging out at the pool or gym or best of all, catching up on sleep.  The good news is everyone is safe and we expect to get back to work soon.

Just one picture today.  Grid 47, the Roman odeon, which we finished excavating in 2012.  It seems to be weathering life just fine.

July 07, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

A Helping Hand

How do you move sandbags from one excavation area to another?  With a bulldozer of course.

Sami provides some assistance

Sami provides some assistance

It's a hot one today.  Exciting things happening.  The Snake Tower is winding up excavation.  They should be done tomorrow and we'll try to post a picture of the final results.  They've done a lot of work, answered their questions, and are now ready to move on to a new project.

In Grid 16, the Step Trench, they continue to expose more of the bedrock.  Their most interesting discovery of late, however, does not involve architecture.  Rather, it offers an explanation for what happened to the architecture, in this case the fortification walls.  They now have evidence for the sapping of the walls -- the only question is what period the walls (which have tumbled down the slope) belong to.

Grid 51 is deep into 604 B.C. and we're hoping to get some more pictures of the material to share with everyone.

Last by not least, in the Salvage Excavation they are excavating a pit full of iron implements -- blades, nails, tacks, what looks like hinges and all sorts of things.  It is very, very interesting material.

As promised, the last two weeks look to be full of great discoveries and lots of work.

July 06, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Finds Display

A couple of pictures from the Finds Display today.

Co-Director Daniel Master examines some of the finds of the season

Co-Director Daniel Master examines some of the finds of the season

A number of finds are visible in this picture including a knife blade with a worked bone handle, a bronze handle for a metal vessel, oil lamps and an enigmatic find we are still trying to identify.

The Finds Display

The Finds Display

It was a wonderful evening.  Congratulations to Meghan and Annikka for putting together a wonderful display and to everyone who worked to make it such a successful night.

July 05, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

2014 3D Models of Tell and Excavation Areas

Check out these models of the tell and the excavation areas. The models load best in Google Chrome. Once you are in the model click on “View 3D.”

General tell view (the model is rough with some holes in the mesh. Zoom into tell for a nice view of the west, north and south side of the tell.)

Area A2

Area B

I am of the opinion that these models are very helpful for visualizing the excavation areas. Remember the excavation squares are 5×5 meters, including the sections (balks/baulks) between the squares.

Please let us know if you have viewing problems. Enjoy!

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Special Guest Post

We have another special guest post today.  Enjoy!


Hello Everyone! I’m Abby VanderHart, a rising sophomore at Wheaton College studying Biblical Archaeology. I decided to come to Ashkelon this summer in hopes that it would give me a taste of what it’s really like to be an archaeologist, and help me decide if this is a career I would like to pursue. I’ve been here for four weeks, and am amazed at how much I’ve learned in that time.

I am working in Grid 20, also known as “Snake Tower.” Because of our excavations there we can begin to trace the ways in which the fortifications have been repaired and reused, all the way from the Hellenistic to the Crusader period. Sherds of pottery and other artifacts we find can help us in dating the wall. We’ve found pieces of Roman ceramics, glazed pottery from the Fatimid Period, ancient glass, and yes, we’ve found a couple of snakes to!

The program here at Ashkelon is well designed not only to give us experience on the field digging, but also to teach us how information and data gathered from the field is processed and interpreted. It is awesome having so many professors, scholars and supervisors working closely with us who are eager to help us learn and understand. I am excited to continue with the remaining two weeks of the season, and to continue with my schooling back at Wheaton this Fall!

Early Days in Grid 20

Early Days in Grid 20

July 04, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Aerial Photos – End of Season 2014

Yesterday we took our the final aerial shots of Area A2 and B. This was our first time using a helicopter instead of a balloon. It was really cool to see this machine in action!

In other news, we have set our schedule for next year’s season – June 7-July 5, 2015. Based on our findings from this season – next year should be our best season yet, as we hope to excavate the complete plan of the large 8th century BCE building in A2, the eastern half of the large cultic building in B (including the parallel squares where the most cultic finds were uncovered), and finally begin the great east-west section of the site in which we will hopefully establish the full stratigraphic sequence of the tell. Hope to see you then!

Shaun placing some sandbags in Area B Shaun placing some sandbags in Area B

Heli Heli 2 heli 3 heli 4

Area B from the monitorArea B from the monitor


This was really cool - it took 7 minutes for 74 photos!This was really cool – it took 7 minutes for 74 photos!


Benjamin waving to the helicopterBenjamin waving to the helicopter
New (top left) and old (bottom right) excavation squares in Area BNew (top left) and old (bottom right) excavation squares in Area B
General view of excavation areas from west General view of excavation areas from west
Area A left, Area B right - in the same picture but separated by over half a millennia Area A left, Area B right – in the same picture but separated by over half a millennia
Area A2 - in the right side of the picture there is a very nice Iron IIB building coming up with a destruction layer. This will be very cool to see next year... Area A2 – in the right side of the picture there is a very nice Iron IIB building coming up with a destruction layer. This will be very cool to see next year…
New squares in Area B - notice the high bedrock and the tabun in the upper right squareNew squares in Area B – notice the high bedrock and the tabun in the upper right square

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

It's Friday

As always, Daniel Master offered a spirited and informative summary lecture on this season's excavation results.  One of the themes?  The city plan and how it changes over time from the Hellenistic through the Crusader period.  Another theme was the diversity of the site as represented by the different types of excavation, the different questions being asked, in each of the excavation areas.  

It's always interesting to see what everyone else is doing and then, of course, to see each excavation area's special finds.  A big thank you to the staff and volunteers this year for all their remarkable hard work to date.  Another thank you is owed to the Leonardo Hotel which, on very short notice,  hosted a wonderful party.  It will be hard to top the first four weeks but over the next two weeks we'll try.  

Everyone was up and out early today heading off to Masada, Jerusalem and places in between.  I'll try to gather pictures from people in the next couple of days to highlight some of the fun.  In the interim, a picture of Grid 51 supervisors intently examining their stratigraphy.  

July 03, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Brent Davis’ new book arrives!

Brent Davis, long-time team member and Louise’s chief assistant in Area A, had a great thing happen today!

His just published book, “Minoan Stone Vessels with Linear A Inscriptions” (Aegeaum 36; Liege) arrived by FedEx to the dig today!

Way to go Brent!

We put the book in the pottery trays while we were reading pottery from Brent’s squares – and eventually he even saw the book in the tray! :-)

Here’s Brent as he gets the book and opens the package, along with proud Louise – who was his doctoral adviser!

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The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Day of the Party

Fun in the Pottery Compound

Fun in the Pottery Compound

Tonight is the culmination of our patron Shelby White's week long visit.  It starts with Daniel Master's season summation lecture at 4:30 followed by the Finds Display and dinner.  The team's youngest archaeologist is excited and so is everyone else who gets to enjoy a rare afternoon off from work.

Week 4 is officially in the books and it was another busy one.  604 B.C. in Grid 51.  More Byzantine pottery and mudbrick in Grid 16.  In Grid 20, more and  more layers of rubble which when removed, revealed more of the fortification sequence.

Rubble fills in Grid 20

Rubble fills in Grid 20

And in our salvage excavation, Grid 32, things keep getting more and more interesting as Shimi digs deeper and deeper moving ever closer to the 3.6 meter depth needed by the Parks Authority.

Almost there...

Almost there...

In addition to the fallen wall segments, some of which have well preserved plaster facing, excavation has uncovered travertine floor tiles and more evidence for collapse.

It's the second and last long weekend of the season.  The volunteers are off to Masada tomorrow and then everyone has Saturday off before we head back to work Sunday morning.  Hard to believe its 4 weeks down and only 2 to go!

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Thursday, July 3rd on the dig

Another great day on the dig!

All the areas are finding great stuff and as we near the end of the first week things are looking great!

In Area A, we have a variety of finds: Jo’s team is working in Iron I and they have a couple of nice walls, a “reel” shaped loomweight, and a pit.

Sharon’s team is uncovering what appears to be part of an 8th cent BCE house – so far with not bad preservation!

Here are some views of A, including the loomweight, excavating the pit, and the 8th cent. pit:

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In Area E, they are excavating both in EB and LB levels. Among other things there is a very interesting area with a ashy like sediments with an enormous amount of charred botanical material – what appears to be many different species of plants.

Here’s some views of Area E, with the LB levels (with Hannah and Lindsay), and Jon and Adi excavating the sediments with botanical finds:

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In Area P, it seems that they may have the top of the EB wall in the western square, while in the center of the Area, in the LB levels next to the wall, a large chunk of what looks like bitumen was found.


In Area F they are working in Iron IIB, Iron IIA and LB, and today they found a large part of an LB jar.


In Area D they are working both in the post-9th cent destruction “squatters level” with many finds, as well as expanding the pre-9th cent level.

Here’s a view of Esther holding a chameleon that was found next to Area D:

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And just an example of complex things can get in the excavation, here is a picture of a 9th cent. BCE handle in the “squatter’s level” which is just below surface in Area D, and lodged in the “hole” of the handle – a modern 9 mm shell casing!

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Nice day!


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Wednesday Already?

Who doesn't like mudbrick?

Who doesn't like mudbrick?

Lots of internet trouble yesterday.  Our apologies.  

Here is a picture of the mudbrick structure in Grid 16 -- it's the yellow blocks you see towards the back of the picture.  What is it?  Only time and more excavation will tell.  How old is it?  Well, they're working on it though the answer is still early.

Today is our Finds Display and party.  We'll try to post pictures of some of the activities later today or tomorrow.

July 02, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Office Work…

Yesterday, was our last day of work at the tell. We were able to close all of the excavation squares and remove the shades. We also had the pleasure of showing Prof. Bill Dever around the site. He told us many interesting anecdotes about his prior archaeological activity in the region. We were very happy to have him out for a visit.

Today we finished all of the pottery washing (!) and reading, as well a packing up the office and the equipment in our brand new storage container.

In the morning Prof. Yoram Tsafrir came to visit us at the camp and I also took him to the site and showed him the excavations.

This evening we heard an interesting lecture by Dr. Antonio de Frietas on the ancient Near Eastern seals and tablets at a museum in Portugal, where he acts as curator. Also in the afternoon, a few of us went back to the nearby site of Kh, Eter (חורבת עתר). It is a very promising site with Iron Age remains (but also later periods) located midway between Lachish and Tel Burna.

Tomorrow morning @ 5:15 am! we will have the final aerial photos and then we will take all of the finds to the lab at Ariel University.

We will post some of the aerial shots over the next couple of days.

Tel Burna from Khirbet Ether (south) Debi, Shaun and Cook at Khirbet Ether Pottery Registration at the Office Pottery Washing Joe and Itzick discussing the finds from the season Dever with the Tel Burna Staff Dever and Itzick



The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Update for July 2nd

Quick update for July 2nd:

First thing in the morning, we had a visit from Prof. Bill Dever, who spent with us several hours going around to the various areas in the excavation. It was very nice talking to him – and of course hearing his stories – and having an opportunity for some of the students to see in person someone whom they had heard of previously.

Here’s a picture Prof. Dever with Jo Verducci and Eric Welch, both past recipients of the annual Sean Dever memorial prize for the best lecture at the ASOR session!

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Later on, Louise (who as you may remember just published with me an article about the Philistines as pirates, happened to meet a pirate walking around the tell and took a picture with him…

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Later on, we found out where the pirate came from – and here’s a picture of his ship:

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And now for some archaeology:

In area A, they are working in Iron I and Iron II levels, and have come up with some cool finds, including a couple of pits and a loomweight

Here’s Sophie with the loomweight that she found:









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In Area E, they are working on various EB and LB levels. One of today’s finds was a fragment of a decorated LB faience bowl

In Area P, the are busy looking for the continuation of the EB wall, and for the LB surfaces right next to it.

In Area F, they have started excavating in levels from various areas – and we await some great finds – and already today at the end of the day they found a very nice faience inlay (or bead).

In Area D, in addition to opening two new squares in which already, right below surface they have the post-9th cent. BCE destruction squatter’s level (which we discovered already last year), a very important discovery today was a new area in which the pre-9th cent. BCE levels in this area are appearing.

Great day – and an indication of all that should be popping out real soon!



July 01, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

The “Elder Statepersons” of Area D in a group shot

Here is a group picture of the “elder statesmen and women” of Area D:

From left to right: Leslie, Carl, Julio, Tikva and Ahuva.

Julio is way in front of all by far – he is 94 years old!

Elder statespersons of Area D

2nd day of excavating!

Today, the 2nd full day in the field, all the areas were digging full steam away, and we already had some nice finds and important insights.

To start with, as I was walking between the Area P and Area F, on the southern side of the tell summit, I found a torso of small female figurine, just lying on the ground asking to be found!

In the various areas, things started popping out.

In Area A – among other finds, a nice decorated bone spindle whorl was found, as a well as a yet unidentified piece of bronze

Here’s Derio with the spindle whorl

Derio with spindle whorl











Here’s Cass with the piece of Bronze:

Cass with Bronze from Area A











In Area E, we have cleared and are ready to excavate several features and floors, from the E5 (EB III) and E6 levels (EB II-III).

In Area D, the already have some nice remains from the 9th cent. destruction level, including a complete lower grinding stone and a nice restorable krater

Here’s the balk in which the grinding stone and krater was found:

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In Area P – they have started digging in search of the continuation of the EB wall to the west (based on where the GPR noted its location) and also preparing for work in a square with LB materials.

In Area F, they are working on cleaning the various to be excavated, but we can already see all kinds of very interesting features which are about to be exposed.

And here is Eric peaking out from under the tarps in Area F:

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And finally, a couple of nice shots of the tell that I took from the east:

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Great day – with much more to come!

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

What in the World?

Fallen wall segments in Grid 32

Fallen wall segments in Grid 32

Looks like a big pile of stones, right?  Well, that tells only half the story.  What makes this "pile of stones" so interesting is that it consists of a number of wall fragments -- walls that were once cemented together -- some of which still have their plaster facing in place.  They are a surprising, and interesting, find because such stones were prized building materials and we seldom find them abandoned and unused.  These stones were, in fact, buried under a large leveling fill and completely ignored.  We hope to learn more about them as we continue to expose more in the coming days.  Were they part of a building that was demolished?  Did the building they come from collapse in a natural event such as an earthquake?  If we're lucky, we'll be able to answer these and many other questions.

Grid 16

Grid 16

The week continues to be a busy one as each grid is deep into their material.  I hope to walk the site tomorrow to take photos of each excavation area to catch up on everyone's progress.  One thing you can be sure of, each area is going to go deeper.

June 30, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Week 4 in Full Swing

It's all Persian to me

It's all Persian to me

It was another fabulous day of work.  We woke up to coffee, muffins, and cookies for breakfast. Lunch at the new hotel included made-to-order crepes.  So far, the lodgings are proving to be a wonderful home.

Grid 51 is deep into 604 B.C. and looks to be there for the remainder of the season.  604 B.C. also means there's a lot of book work to do.  What better place to work than deep in a pit?

Working in the pit

Working in the pit

The Snake Tower is still exposing more walls in the fortification system and Grid 16, the Step Trench, is working through large Byzantine pottery dumps, a sewer and a mudbrick construction of an uncertain though likely early date.  

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

First day out in the field of the 2014 season!

Today we had our first day out in the field for the entire team. We started the day with various things that had to be done before excavation begins, such as finishing to put up shades, cleaning areas, “schlepping up” tools, etc., and by the end of the day, almost all areas were up and running and excavating away! By tomorrow morning – all field will be in full steam!

It’s a great team – a combination of a large group of experienced returnees, along with a excellent group of first time members. It looks like we are going to have a great season!!!

Here’s a picture of the Area A team picking up the shade as sun rises in a very romantic manner.

photo 1









And here’s the Area E team getting the introductory talk before the beginning of work.

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And here is Phil, from the Aussie team, holding an almost complete bowl (or lamp) – which he found today in Area A – an auspicious sign of  all the great things that we will be finding this season! Hoowah!!!!



June 29, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

New Digs

View from a balcony in the Leonardo Hotel

View from a balcony in the Leonardo Hotel

Just a quick note to say that we've had a successful move.  The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon has decamped from the Dan Gardens Hotel, which is closing tomorrow for what is believed to be a two year renovation, and taken up residence in the Leonardo Hotel.  Just a quick 10 minute walk north from the hotel, the new place is a world away as you can see from the picture above.

It's a big week for us.  Our patron, Mrs. Shelby White, has arrived for her annual visit.  We have a fantastic lineup of lectures, starting with Professor Larry Stager on Carthage tonight, and series of events which will culminate with our annual Finds Display and party this Thursday.

And yes, there was a lot going on today in the field including the early arrival of 604 B.C. in Grid 51.  The next few weeks promise to be very interesting.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

The team gets together in a few hours at Revadim!

Today the 2014 season starts – and the team will be gathering at Kibbutz Revadim later on this morning!


June 28, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Week 3 Summary

Three weeks done, one more to go! It was a fantastic week in which we finished working in the Late Bronze Age remains in Area B, defined the plan of 8th century building in Area A, and exposed a destruction level in one of the rooms with complete and smashed vessels in situ. Nearby on the pavement, we uncovered a collection of some 40 burnt olive pits in the cracks of the pavement – hopefully this clean context will provide us an absolute (through C14) date of this building and its destruction. In addition, two more Rosette stamped handles were found from the Iron IIC, which strengthen the Judahite 7th century BCE affiliation of Tel Burna. This is an important argument relating to the site identification with biblical Libnah (Hamutal from Libnah (2 Kings 23:31; 24:18; Jer 52:1).

Finally, as we mentioned last week - we now know the location of the Late Bronze Age cemetery – thanks to some inside information from Herzl and Ido of Kibbutz Beit Nir. On Thursday, we were able to spend a few hours sifting through the materials just inside and around this tomb. This pottery will be read next week and hopefully will provide us a clue to the period or periods associated with this tomb. We already have several nice vessels from the grave robber dump that Herzl reconstructed and graciously allowed us to photograph. Check out the rough 3D model of a Mycenaean IIIB bowl (i.e. 13th century BCE import from Mycenae) that we created. (In order to see the 3D image click on “3D View”)

Old Squares in Area B after balk removal and cleaningOld Squares in Area B after balk removal and cleaning
2014 excavation squares - down to bedrock 2014 excavation squares – down to bedrock
Closing Area B at the beginning of the week Closing Area B at the beginning of the week
J drawing the Iron IIB building in A2 while Ido, Benjamin and Min workJ drawing the Iron IIB building in A2 while Ido, Benjamin and Min work
Min with a complete Iron IIB bowlMin with a complete Iron IIB bowl – Very Cool!
Complete jugletCooking Jug in situ in the Iron IIB building
Min and Benjamin removing a balk in A2Min and Benjamin removing a balk in A2
Sandy, Cook and Min picking up the tent in the morningSandy, Cook and Min picking up the tent in the morning
Rosette 2Another Rosette from the pottery wash/read
Some mother daughter diggingSome mother daughter digging
Ben with a complet Iron II jugletBenjamin with a complete Iron II jug
DSC_0777Itzick explaining the significance of this week’s work at the end of week tell tour
DSC_0770Area B tell tour
Daily pottery reading from this week Pottery reading from this week
To be or IronIIB... To be or IronIIB…
Chris and Andrew Sifting TombChris and Andrew Sifting at the LB tomb
Matt taking some levels in A2Matt taking some levels in A2
Itzick using a microscopic camera to photograph one of the 2 rosettes we found this weekItzick using a microscopic camera to photograph one of the 2 rosettes we found this week
Debi taking a picture in PlanGrid of Benjamin in the nice late Iron IIB destruction that we uncovered this season in Area A2Debi taking a picture in PlanGrid of Benjamin in the nice late Iron IIB destruction that we uncovered this season in Area A2
Benjamin removing a nice cooking juglet from the Iron IIB destructionBenjamin removing a nice cooking jug from the Iron IIB destruction
Shawn excavating soil from a tomb that was robbed out in the 1970sShaun excavating soil from a tomb that was robbed out in the 1970s
Cook working at the Late Bronze Age tombCook working at the Late Bronze Age tomb
Debi showing off J Rosenberg's updated plans of the large and now well-defined late Iron IIB building in A2Debi showing off J Rosenberg’s updated plans of the large and now well-defined late Iron IIB building in A2
Debi explaining what we have to do next year to get the full plan of this buildingDebi explaining what we have to do next year to get the full plan of this building
Courtyard in front of the Iron IIB building in Area A2. We found a cluster of c. 40 burnt olive pits on this pavement. This should provide is with a nice C14 absolute date for the destruction/abdononment of this building and pavementCourtyard in front of the Iron IIB building in Area A2. We found a cluster of c. 40 burnt olive pits on this pavement. This should provide us with a nice C14 absolute date for the destruction/abandonment of this building and pavement
Stone removal! It seems that every year we have to move this pile one more square over :)Stone removal! It seems that every year we have to move this pile one more square over :)
Shawn at work in A2Shaun at work in A2
Most of the Shai clan (Nimrud, Ohad, Abiathar and Elah) washing some pottery Friday morning at the tellMost of the Shai clan (Nimrud, Ohad, Abiathar and Elah) washing some pottery Friday morning at the tell
Some experienced and beginning diggers came to visit on Friday morning this weekSome experienced and beginning diggers came to visit on Friday morning this week
Cook excavating in the nice destruction that we uncovered in the last couple of daysCook excavating in the nice destruction that we uncovered in the last couple of days


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Guest Post #3

Today's guest post comes from Matt.  Enjoy.

Cleaning the Snake Tower 

Cleaning the Snake Tower 

Hey there, Matt here! If you've been following the blog so far, I'm sure you have learned a lot about the different tools and archaeological methods used at Tel Ashkelon, and even about the lives of the archaeologists and volunteers themselves, some of whom are my own peers in the Harvard Summer School Program. I'm a rising junior at Boston College studying Linguistics and Economics. I became involved in this program because my Biblical Hebrew professor suggested I try out archaeology. Although I do not plan to work in the field of archaeology, this trip has been extremely informative. I have been able to situate my modest knowledge of the Ancient Near East in a historical and geographic context. For example, yesterday many of the volunteers here left on a field trip to two other archaeological sites in the Biblical Shephelah, otherwise known as the low lands. One of these sites was Azekah. This tell borders the Valley of Elah, which is mentioned in 1 Samuel 17 as the place where the Israelites met the Philistines in battle and presumably where David fought Goliath. This process has been extremely intriguing to me.

Archaeological finds are especially interesting to me because I mainly focus in texts in my linguistic studies. Therefore, since I have mainly learned about the Ancient Near East through texts, I had not previously had the experience of digging through ancient people's garbage to discover how they REALLY lived, not just how they said they lived. This has given me a different perspective on ancient life and on the nuances between idealized and realized life in both ancient and modern contexts.

I hope to continue finding out more about digging and Ashkelon as I work on the so-called “Snake Tower” in Grid 20. It has been an absolute privilege to work there, and I know that it will be an experience that will change my work ethic moving forwards. I can guarantee that I have never moved this many buckets (well, guffas) before in my life! As we discover more about the free-standing walls, the towers, and the newly uncovered walls, I hope to understand the relationship between people and architecture, and how those relationships span through different periods of occupation. This has been a more than thrilling experience so far and I can't wait for what comes next. I'll leave off with a quote that has reassured and motivated me throughout the dig: “The answers lie beneath.”

June 27, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Events This Week

I will post a summary of the week’s excavations tomorrow, but first a recap of this week’s visitors to the site, our tell tours and evening lectures. This week we added two new volunteers, Shawn (South Africa/US) and Cook (China). They were a great help this week and will be returning for the final week along with Benjamin and Min from Taiwan. Long-time team member, Sandy (not pictured), also dug with us this week until Thursday. Thanks for your hard work Sandy – and we will see you next year.

The Cerw Part 1The Crew Part 1
The Crew Part 2The Crew Part 2

We also had to say goodbye to two staff members this week – Andrew and Andrea. Thanks Andrew for your hard work as a staff member in Area B this summer. Best of luck finding virgin soil of the massive (EB?) fortification at Tell es-Safi/Gath in the coming few weeks. And Andrea, as always, thanks for your hard work and providing us with the ability to look for even the dietary elements of the ancient Canaanites and Judahites who inhabited the site. We will see you both next year!

Andrea having fun with a soil sample. She was very happy to see Germany win last night :) Andrea having fun with a soil sample. She was very happy to see Germany win last night :)
Andrew in Area BAndrew in Area B

On Monday, we had the pleasure to host Prof. Gunnar Lehmann of Ben Gurion University, and while showing him the site and the excavations we discussed various aspects of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement pattern and material culture in southern Israel. In particular, it was interesting to compare his work in the northern Negev (Qubur al-Walaydah and other sites) to the Shephelah region. We also had a tell tour at the mothership (Tell es-Safi/Gath).

Tell tour at Tell es-Safi/GathTell tour at Tell es-Safi/Gath

On Tuesday, we heard a very interesting lecture by Ron Tappy, the excavator of Tel Zayit. His lecture pointed to many connections and differences between our site and Tel Zayit, which is only about 2 km to the west of Tel Burna. There are some very intriguing Late Bronze connections between Zayit and Burna which we hope to investigate more of in the future. On Wednesday, our very own textile expert, Debi Cassuto, presented a very nice talk on the development, usages and typical archaeological findings related to textile production. We all had fun trying our hand at the spindle with spindle whorl at the end of the talk. Also on Wednesday Matt, Benjamin, Min, Andrew and myself took an impromptu visit to Khirbet ‘Atr, which is about 2km to the east of Tel Burna next to Tel Goded (Maresheth-Gath?) and Tell Sandahanna (Mareshah).

Chris on what appears to be Iron II fortification at Khirbet 'AtrChris on what appears to be Iron II fortification at Khirbet ‘Atr

On Thursday, Tell es-Safi/Gath staff members, Jeff Chadwick and Eric Welch (Area F), came by to see what we were up to. They begin their season this Sunday and – as always – the continued joint exposure of our site and Tell es-Safi/Gath should greatly illuminate our understanding of the Shephelah and its borders in the Early Bronze-Iron Age II (c. 3300-586 BCE). Throughout the week, we had many visitors and volunteers working at the site and back at the kibbutz in pottery washing. Thanks to all those who came out! DSC_0729

Ohad is very pleased with his pottery washing abilities Ohad is very pleased with his pottery washing abilities
Filling buckets for pottery washingFilling buckets for pottery washing
Abiathar and Sam doing some serious pottery washing Abiathar and Sam doing some serious pottery washing


Boys, mud (from the flotation machine) and trucks - this was Sam's "pool" Boys, mud (from the flotation machine) and trucks – this was Sam’s “pool”

Aaron and Hanoch Visitors 3 Visitors 2 Vistors 1

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Week Three and Done

Well, it's time to say good-bye to the half-season volunteers who signed up for the first three weeks of our 2014 field season without having any idea what they were getting themselves into this summer.  Safe travels to everyone leaving later today.

Excavating a sunken jar

Excavating a sunken jar

This weekend we will also welcome a new group of volunteers.  If the next three weeks are anything like the first three, it should be a great experience for everyone.

One last picture today courtesy of Melissa our dig photographer.

June 26, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Sad news – Yuval Peleg, IAA archaeologist, killed in work accident

Unfortunately, I just heard some very sad news. Yuval Peleg, a senior – and very excellent – archaeologist working for the IAA, was killed in a work related accident.

This is such sad news – Yuval ז”ל, was both a very nice person and an excellent scholar. יהי זכרו ברוך

With the excavation seasons now starting (or already going on) – please, please – let’s all be careful out there!

Staff meeting at the lab

Today, a large part of the staff of the 2014 season gathered together at the lab in BIU in preparation for the 2014 season. While not all could come due to MY FAULT (for not announcing this sufficiently in advance; mea culpa…), a very nice group did manage to get to the lab. I think we had a great and very productive day!

I started with a general overview of new finds and research directions that the project has been carrying out in the last year, and some of the things we will be looking for this season. I also stressed some of the points which I wish all the staff to focus on during the season.

After that, some of the staff got lessons with the new Leica total stations, while other worked on preparing computers and notes for the season.

In the afternoon, after lunch, there were three more talks: Adi Eliyahu talked about the different aspects of archaeological science that she is dealing with, and how this can be utilized in the field; Sue Frumin talks about some of the results of the archaeobotanical research – and practical aspects for retrieval in the field; and Ron Kehati gave a talk on methods of collecting faunal remains.

Needless to say, in addition, we all talked “shop” – discussing plans and ideas for the season – as well as just “shmoozing” – as it is great to see all these good friends again!

I believe I can say that we all finished the day with the feeling that this is going to be a great – and very productive – season!


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Week Three Almost Over

It's hard to believe we've almost reached the end of Week 3.  One more day for our first group of half-season volunteers and then they head off for their next summer adventure.

It was another busy day of digging.  Work did end a little early so that volunteers could go on a tell tour during which they had an opportunity to see all the areas currently under excavation.  Before the tour, however, there was lots of work to do.

In Grid 51 they continued dismantling walls. 

The walls are coming down

The walls are coming down

And really, after all that hard work, who wouldn't want to take a bow?

Taking a bow

Taking a bow

June 25, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon


Today we have a special guest post from our archaeobotanist Kathleen Forste.  Her post follows.

Hi there! I'm Kathleen, a member of the archaeobotany team, giving a brief report on flotation this season. We are processing the soil samples that each grid produces as they continue to reveal more and more about Ashkelon's occupants. 

What is flotation? In essence it is washing away the dirt in soil samples taken from specific archaeological contexts in order to recover carbonized botanical remains -- predominantly burned seeds and wood charcoal -- as well as smaller artifacts that might be overlooked during excavation -- fish bones and other small bones, bits of colored glass, small pieces of ceramic vessels, beads, etc. To process the samples we use a machine called a Flote-Tech, a fantastic piece of moveable equipment that pumps water from a holding tank into a flotation tank through a series of jets that help to wash away the dirt and separate the light fraction (the material that floats, like carbonized plant matter) and heavy fraction (the material that sinks, like ceramics and large bone). I am training a handful of our volunteers to use the Flote-Tech to continue the flotation process for the duration of the season.



So far, we've recovered a lot of fish bone and carbonized plant remains from Grid 51. 

Fish bone in HF of Grid 51

Fish bone in HF of Grid 51

Carbonized wheat grains and wood charcoal from Grid 51

Carbonized wheat grains and wood charcoal from Grid 51

We have also recovered some cool colored glass from Grid 16 that is hundreds of years old.

Colored glass from Grid 16

Colored glass from Grid 16

What can all this material tell us? We use the archaeobotanical data to learn about what the inhabitants were consuming and growing in fields and gardens, and what types of wood they were using as construction materials and as fuel for their fires, among other things. The class of smaller bones can tell us more about fishing practices and fish consumption. These two data sets would be underrepresented if the material were recovered in excavation alone, and thus give us a more complete look into the economies and lives of Ashkelon's inhabitants throughout it's history. 


June 24, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Preparation day at Safi

Today, a large group of the staff met at Safi for a day of preparations – a long and hot day from 7 am to 3 pm! Thanks to everyone!

We worked on several things:

1) We marked old and new squares in the various areas, helped by Yehuda and Shachar Shapira and co., who for years have given us a day of their time to make sure that the squares are accurately set up.

2) We started setting up the tarps – since this year the workers who helped us in the past are not available. We set up E and the breakfast area, and laid out the tarps for Area A (to be connected to poles, etc.). We still have to put up the tarps in D, F and P.

3) We did some ground penetrating radar (GPR) in Area P, to try and delineate additional sections of the EB wall. The GPR was conducted by Jessie Pincus and her family (Mike, Kathy and Gavriel – all together of Mnemotrix Inc.) who have been connected with the project for many years. And in fact – BOOM – we seem to have gotten a great signal of the continuation of the EB wall, about 10-15 meters east of the westernmost section excavated last year!

Here is the GPR in action:

GPR in Area P


Once again – thanks to all for their hard work – it was not an easy day – but a very important one.

As I was walking around the tell today, I bumped into a group of visitors from Louisiana – who were visiting sites in Israel in the footsteps of David. I invited them to return and excavate with us next year – and I sure hope they will take up the offer! :-)

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

As Promised

Hellenistic wall in Grid 20

Hellenistic wall in Grid 20

As promised, here is a shot of the Hellenistic wall uncovered during the excavation of the Snake Tower.  What am I talking about, you ask?  The wall is right in the middle of the picture and is easily distinguished by the white mortar laid down between courses.  

Photographing Grid 32

Photographing Grid 32

Everyone stepped in to help this morning when Melissa had to climb the ladder to take pictures of Grid 32.  It was worth the effort as the photographs look spectacular.

Tomorrow is Community Day when a group of 30 middle school students come dig with us for the day.  This program is now in its fourth year and it offers young residents of Ashkelon an opportunity to learn about archaeology and the history of their city.  It's usually a great time for everyone and tomorrow should be no different.

June 23, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

New article – Philistines as Pirates!

A new article, co-authored by Louise Hitchcock and myself has just appeared online in World Archaeology (it has not yet appeared in print).

The full citation of the article is:

Hitchcock, L. A., and Maeir, A. M. 2014. Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, a Seren’s Life for Me! World Archaeology 46(3).

In this article, Louise and I suggest a new angle of interpretation to the Philistines, suggesting that some of the origins of the Philistines, and the name of the leaders, may derive from a pirate-like background of the tumultuous LB/Iron Age transition.

Here is the abstract:

Historical accounts indicate pirates were able to create culturally mixed tribal entities and identities by incorporating new followers from different cultures into their social structure. This article suggests that upheavals at the end of the Bronze Age inter alia led to the formation of pirate bands of ‘Sea Peoples’ composed of non-elites, including sailors, disenfranchised warriors, mercenaries, workers, craft workers and peasants from the Mediterranean social network. We discuss how historical accounts of piracy may enable us to model the Sea Peoples’ phenomenon through the identification of patterns in pirate culture including social organization and geography and we suggest that piracy was a mechanism for limited migration and transmission of foreign cultural traits. One tribe of these blended cultures, the Peleset, settled among the indigenous Canaanites, forming a new entity, the Philistines. We propose that their leaders assumed the Luwian title tarwanis (seren) or military leader, indicative of their tumultuous past.

Check it out!


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Walls are Moving

Didn't make it to the Snake Tower today unfortunately.  I'll definitely have to get over there tomorrow as I hear they have found even more of the earlier Hellenistic fortifications on which subsequent fortifications, dating to the Byzantine, Fatimid and Crusader periods, were founded.

I did make it over to Grid 51, however, where the wall removal is in full swing. 

The mudbricks were flying this morning!

In Grid 16 they are digging through a Byzantine pottery dump, amongst other material, that is so dense with pottery they are putting the sherds in crates.  Buckets simply aren't big enough.

Finally, on a "we work in a great place" note, today ancient Ashkelon is a national park filled with wildlife.  This week there have been sightings of mongoose, a kestrel, ibex, goat herds and desert foxes.  


June 22, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Sunday of Week Three

Grid 16 in the early morning

Grid 16 in the early morning

Grid 16 keeps getting deeper and deeper.  In the process, they are finding some interesting objects.  The ceramics are quite varied and notable pieces have included a glazed oil lamp, a Roman bowl stamped with the image of an urn shaped vessel and a porcelain bowl (imported from China in the Islamic period).  The faunal material is equally intriguing and includes equid remains.

Grid 51 at work

Grid 51 at work

Grid 51 had a productive day today removing floors as they continue to prepare for the removal of the remaining insula walls.  They had a number of interesting discoveries today including part of a calf's head, an Eye of Horus, a sunken store jar (painted), and much, much more.

Tomorrow I'll check on the Snake Tower and see what's happening there.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Egyptian Faience Ring after Restoration!

Just in time, the beautiful faience ring with an Egyptian inscription, which was found by Jill Katz’s team in the LB levels in Area P last year, came back today from the HU conservation lab, where Mimi Lavi expertly managed to restore all the fragments into a complete ring (bravo for Jill’s team for recovering all the pieces!).

Here is a preliminary picture of the ring, with a shekel coin as a scale – before the inscription has been read.


2013 Faience ring after conservation_June 2014

June 21, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Saturday Guest Post

Today's guest post comes to us from Sami, another Harvard summer school student.


Hi, I’m Sami.  I wish I could introduce myself as a bona fide archaeologist, but I have only just finished my first undergraduate year at Johns Hopkins, so I have a long way to go.  I joined the Harvard Summer School program in Ashkelon to fulfill my fieldwork requirement for an archaeology major.  This is my second year to work at Ashkelon, I just had to come back for more.  

I have been fascinated with ancient history since I was a kid.  I have always loved, and continue to love, to hear stories about ancient peoples and their lives.  Now, I get the stories first hand, straight from the ground that ancient people walked on, ground that has not been seen by humans in centuries.  This realization gives me chills.  

Besides the work I get to do, Ashkelon has already yielded a wealth of artifacts and architecture, which have given new insights into Israel’s history, that are strewn through out the site.  Around the park there are remnants of churches, theaters, walls and gates ranging from the Caananite Period to the Crusaders.  

Despite early mornings and hard work, fieldwork has been very rewarding.  I have found many pottery sherds and had the opportunity to tear down two walls (with the intention of seeing what is below them) and trace a floor.  I am very excited to dig further and further down as I hope we will stumble upon Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of 604 BCE, which remains in the layers below, soon.  

I have also gotten the chance to meet people who are enthusiastic about discovery and are willing to suffer the physical weariness with me.  As this is my second year at Ashkelon, I have noticed that I feel more experienced and knowledgeable about what I am doing and what I am good at.  For example, I find that I am pretty good at articulating small spaces and tracing surfaces, although I may do so slowly sometimes.  Although I mostly use smaller tools like a patiche, trowel and brush for these jobs, I occasionally like to use the bigger tools like a pickax to tear down walls and the like.  Before I ever did fieldwork, I never knew archaeology could be so destructive.  Because of my past experience, this year I have been given opportunities to work with the computer system OCHRE and work more directly with my supervisors, who are helping me develop better skills of observation and interpretation of what is found.  I have learned a lot so far and hope to build on that learning the rest of my time here.


June 20, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Week 2 Summary

Today marked the end of the second week. We have two more to go. It was a great week, in which we now better understand  the large LB (cultic) building in Area B, and expanded the 8th century building in Area A. In A it appears that the Israeli defenders of Tel Burna in 1948 dug a very deep foxhole into the southern end of this building – one of our goals over the next two weeks is to find the end of this pit and hopefully stop finding bullet casings and start finding LMLK seal impressions :) In B we uncovered our 4th “cup and saucer” in addition to large amounts of restorable 13th century BCE pottery. We also have a large circular installation that appears to be a silo in area B – (of course we are hoping for a favissa :)) – Andrea’s flotation work with the material from inside this installation will hopefully provide some answers next week for this interesting feature.

We also had the pleasure of showing the site to Jeff Blakely who came with Michelle Stillinger (of the Tell el-Hesi Project) who sampled one of the LB tabuns for her paleomagnetism study. This should make for some interesting joint research in the future.

It was also the last day of Caitlin and Jacob and we hope to see them in the future at Tel Burna. 

Now some pictures…

Our great team for the second week Our great team for the second week
Caitlin happy in the squareCaitlin happy in the square
Jacob and Matt hoping that they have finally reached the end of the pitJacob and Matt hoping that they have finally reached the end of the pit
Ron in Area B sweep, sweep sweepRon in Area B sweep, sweep sweep
Andrew flashing some teeth Andrew flashing some teeth

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon


The walls are coming down in Grid 51.

Grid 51

Grid 51

It's not only the walls that are coming down.  Today Grid 51 got a little help from Grid 32 dismantling their Persian period sidewalk.

Dismantling the sidewalk in Grid 51 with a little help from Grid 32

Dismantling the sidewalk in Grid 51 with a little help from Grid 32

After a morning in the field, everyone moved into the pottery compound after breakfast for some pottery washing and marking, botanical processing and other assorted tasks.  Popsicles for fruit break made it a great day.

Now everyone is enjoying a much deserved weekend before we head into Week Three.

June 19, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

It's Thursday!

Who doesn't love digging a sewer?

Who doesn't love digging a sewer?

Grid 16 doesn't just have a sewer, they have a sewer that is forcing us to rethink some of our theories.  Oddly enough it flows roughly northwest down to the southeast -- in other words, away from the sea.  More importantly, it is forcing us to reassess some of our theories about what we believed to be a Crusader cut through bedrock on the North Tell to create a moat for a 13th century fortress.  Questions, questions, and more questions.  It's a good thing we have four more weeks to find some answers.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Visit to site and Revadim – the season is around the corner!

Today, Amit, Shira, Adam, Jessie and I visited the site and Revadim in preparation for the season.

Things are looking good, both in the field and in the kibbutz and we definitely are gearing up for action!

Among other things, we visited the living enclosure of Hamudi, one of the Bedouins who lives just to the east of the tell, to speak about plans for the season and his assistance.

Here are two pictures of our visit to his tent (which is set up in an ancient winepress…)

photo 1 photo 2

June 18, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Wednesday Already?

Excavating at the base of the Snake Tower

Excavating at the base of the Snake Tower

Made it over to the Snake Tower today to see what's going on.  As promised, they have a wall where they didn't expect to find one.  It will be interesting to see what emerges as works continue.

Grid 51 has started removing walls.  Can't wait to see what it looks like over there.  

Didn't get a chance to visit Grid 16.  I'll to check on them tomorrow.

June 17, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

SAGU team gets some bandwidth!

The team from Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) that will be participating this year in the Safi excavations – has gotten some nice publicity on the SAGU website. They also promise that they will blog about their experiences this summer at the dig – so I guess you will have to follow more than one blog this season!

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

June 17

So we’re into the second week and clearly making progress. In Area B we’ve exposed bedrock in every square and as usual very nice finds between the bedrock in the 20 to 30 cm of debris. We have several complete vessels and a tabun.

In Area A we’re continuing to work on our three southern squares. In the corner of one of them we’ve uncovered restorable storage jar sherds from the seventh century bce amongst a stone collapse. We hope to reveal more of the walls which have begun to appear in the other squares and hopefully belong to our eighth century structure.

After breakfast Itzick took us to visit a looted LB burial cave which Ido had pointed out.

Today was Michael’s last day. We wish him all the best and look forward to seeing him with us again next year.ImageImageImage

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

It's Tuesday and It's Hot

Meghan and Annika at work early in the morning

Meghan and Annika at work early in the morning

Volunteers and staff in the field aren't the only ones at work during the dig week.  The pottery compound is actually quite busy during the day.  The registrars run things making sure everyone has the supplies they need, welcoming expected visitors, and processing all the objects that we find during the dig day.

The bright light visible in the corner behind the registrars is the light from the microarchaeologist's work area.  Bridget has some very interesting equipment about which I might be able to get her to tell us more in the future.

A member of the archaeobotany team at work.

A member of the archaeobotany team at work.

In addition to the registrars and the microarchaeologist, other specialists and scholars work on their projects in the compound.  Here, for instance, is one of our archaeobotanists working on processing and storing botanical samples.  Today, we also had some scholars come look at Persian period figurines.  

And finally, the big news of the week is that Grid 16 has some architecture and the verdict is in -- it's a sewer!  Congratulations to Grid 16.

Grid 16 volunteer excavating sewer

Grid 16 volunteer excavating sewer

I spoke withe Denys about the Snake Tower today and he tells me they have a new wall where they didn't expect to find one.  I'll try to get up there tomorrow to check it out.

June 16, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Less than two weeks to go for the 2014 season!

Preparations are in high gear for the 2014 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Some of the team from abroad is already here, we are busy getting together the last pieces of equipment, planning out the division of rooms, hoping all will be quiet in the next month and half…

I’ll keep you all posted with updates as things develop!


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Happy Monday!

Grid 16 has some new architecture -- a sewer -- to go with it's oil lamps.  They are also seeing some signs of mudbricks, which are used in the construction of everything from houses to the MB ramparts ringing Ashkelon.  What exactly the mudbrick might be is yet to be determined.

Visited Grid 51 today and have a couple of fun shots to show everyone.

Grid 51 at work

Grid 51 at work

Supervisors staring at walls

Supervisors staring at walls

Kate tells me there is one less wall in this picture then in previous ones -- not that you can tell.  I expect, however, the absence of walls to be much more noticeable in the next week or so.

June 15, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Good Sunday Morning

Grid 51 started the day with a pick party.  Everyone was in the street dropping it down.  Nothing like getting dirty to start the week off right.

Work in the Snake Tower continues to reveal more of the tower which looks more and more impressive.

Grid 16 is in the hunt and continues to dig deeper into the North Tell as they work to give us a view of Ashkelon's settlement sequence from the Bronze Age through the Crusader period.

Today we started work in Grid 32, our salvage excavation next to the park offices and our pottery compound, and were rewarded with some walls, a few more walls, and, unsurprisingly, even a few more walls.  In all seriousness, Grid 32 seems to be displaying, architecturally, patterns we've already seen in other areas -- meaning, residential buildings constructed over earlier monumental buildings.  Of course, we've just started uncovering the walls so we could, in time, find we have something all together different but there is little doubt we have a lot of excavating to do in the next five weeks.


June 14, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Week 1 Summary

Our first week of excavation is now in the books. It was quite a successful week of work. In area A we seem to be just above the remains of the large late Iron IIB (8th century BCE) building that was uncovered in previous seasons. Here and there we seem to have remains of either later Iron Age or perhaps Persian architecture that is not very well preserved. Of special note was the finding of an Attic Ware sherd from the Persian Period, which is a well-known Greek import during this period. In area B, we have found lots and lots of restorable Late Bronze pottery including a few complete vessels in situ (i.e. in their place, without being moved). The prize find of the week was a complete Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 BCE) juglet found beneath a Late Bronze IIB (1200s) wall. This is very interesting as it likely indicates that the vessel had a long “shelf-life” before being purposefully deposited beneath the wall of the building. Even more amazing was that this vessel was found by our oldest team member, Julio, who is 94 1/2 year-old and gleefully insisted that the juglet was full of whiskey :)

All told, it was a great week filled with hard work from our excellent team. Now some pictures…

Kevin taking a break and a drink from a Waco Import :) Kevin taking a break and a drink from a Waco Import :)
Juilo (left) and David, son (right) excavating the MB juglet! Juilo (left) and David, son (right) excavating the MB juglet!
Chris removing the jugletChris removing the juglet
Abiathar and Sam working hardAbiathar and Sam working hard
Ian sweepingIan sweeping
Michael pondering his square and wondering how the Rangers let it slip away :) Michael pondering his square and wondering how the Rangers let it slip away :)
Casey making his way back to the excavation area with Kiryat Gat in the backgroundCasey making his way back to the excavation area with Kiryat Gat in the background
Bill digging in Area B


MB sherd! Stratigraphy!
Pat and Heinrich Laughing
Jacob and Aaron instructing some younger team members
Andrew and Chris assessing the work


2014 Team Photo

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Guest Post

Today we have a special guest post.


Hello!  I am Laryssa Shipley, a Baylor University student participating in the Harvard Summer School Program in Ashkelon, Israel.  I joined this program to learn more about archaeology, and I can truthfully say I am acquiring more knowledge in the field in one week than I would have ever acquired in the classroom.  The wealth of ancient history here completely astounds me- I would love to be a local and just go about my daily life with the ruins of Ashkelon's ramparts in the background.  In a way, though, I feel like I've been here my whole life.  It's hard to believe that just a few days ago, I didn't know what a patiche was or how to trace the floor of a courtyard.  Already I have found dozens of pottery shards and several pieces of bone.  Every day my connection with the people of the past grows stronger, and as I walk along Grid 51's ancient street, I feel my own pathway of life couldn't have led me in a more positive and enriching direction.

June 13, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

It's Friday

Well, after a rushed breakfast the volunteers are off to Jerusalem.  We'll get an update and possibly a picture or two from Josh later today.  Meanwhile, the staff, after a more leisurely morning, is hard at work entering data into OCHRE, working on individual research projects or enjoying a day at the beach.

The wall removal in Grid 51 has already started.  Below, Mackenzie works on removing a Phase 6 (Persian) mudbrick wall.  

"The Bandit" takes down a wall

"The Bandit" takes down a wall

The Snake Tower continues to look more and more impressive.  Denys, Hannah and their crew have made substantial progress on clearing off the front of the tower which now looks quite impressive from the road.  Below, you can see a view from the top.

Clearing off the Snake Tower

Clearing off the Snake Tower

June 12, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

End of Week One

We made it!  Our first week of excavation -- and everyone is excavating -- is done.  It was a great first week.  Grid 20, the Snake Tower, is already starting to clarify, slowly but surely, the constructional sequence of the tower and related features.  The most interesting development? Perhaps the fact it was a round tower.

In Grid 16, the steps are cut and the volunteers are making progress cutting into the side of the North Tell as they look to uncover and identify the occupational sequence from Bronze Age Ashkelon to the last Crusader period occupation.  So far, they've more fully exposed a fallen piece of masonry and they are excited to see what the dirt reveals next.

Standing at the bottom of the Grid 16 step trench looking north

Standing at the bottom of the Grid 16 step trench looking north

In Grid 51 they continue to finish the excavation of the insula and its earliest phase of occupation, during the Persian period, in preparation for removing this remarkable building.  It has dominated the landscape of the grid for years and it will be very interesting to see what lies underneath it.  

Work in Grid 51

Work in Grid 51

The volunteers are off to Jerusalem tomorrow on their first dig sponsored field trip.  Much of the staff will also be off to relax while the remainder will stay here and do ever popular things like bookwork.  We'll be back at it on Sunday including our salvage excavation where a morning of cleaning by the staff revealed the corner of a large building.

June 11, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

June 10 – Great Team!

After two days of work it has become clear that we have a great and hard working team. Today, we made some real progress in Area A and B in our new excavation squares. In Area A, it seems that we are starting to approach Iron Age II remains in all 3 of the squares that we are excavating. And in Area B, we have already reached a level that seems to be providing restorable vessels from the 13th century BCE. We also seem to have either a tabun or large pithos (see previous post) coming up as well. Here are some photos of our excellent group in action.

Kay washing some pottery at the kibbutz Kay washing some pottery at the kibbutz
Caitlin working hard in Area A Caitlin working hard in Area A
Matt doing some balk straightening Matt doing some balk straightening
Joe and Ian manning the wheelbarrow Joe and Ian manning the wheelbarrow


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Seminar Day

A good day all around.  The staff was up bright and early for work in Grid 32, the location of our salvage excavation on behalf of the Parks Authority, followed by a morning of working on various individual research projects.  

The volunteers enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in until 6:30 at which time they were able to enjoy a hotel breakfast -- a nice treat I must say.  They then walked out to the site, just a mile away, and attended a series of seminars on various aspects of the excavation. 

Volunteers learn about animal bones

Volunteers learn about animal bones

A volunteer attends an archaeobotany session

A volunteer attends an archaeobotany session

Volunteers listen to Denys Pringle on the Late Periods (Roman - Crusader) Site Tour

Volunteers listen to Denys Pringle on the Late Periods (Roman - Crusader) Site Tour

Tomorrow we are back in the field digging.  I'll try to get a picture of all the excavation areas so everyone can see what a difference a week makes.

June 10, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Day Three -- the Step Trench

Well, everyone has survived three days of work. More importantly, all three of the excavation areas have finished cleaning and are now excavating.  Best of all, no digging tomorrow for volunteers -- just a fun project for staff.

Tomorrow is Seminar Day when volunteers will attend five sessions of their choice on various aspects of the expedition.  Sessions include walking tours of site, introductions to GIS, XRF, microarchaeology, botanicals and zooarchaeology not to mention some free time to relax and soak up the warm Mediterranean sun.

Thursday we are back at work before a two day weekend that includes a one day tour of Jerusalem for volunteers. 

And now for the picture of the day:

Grid 16 looking like a step trench

Grid 16 looking like a step trench

June 09, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Supervisors at Work

Supervisors at Work

Cleaning continues and what a difference a day makes!  Each of the excavation areas look completely different just a short 24 - 36 hours into the season.  A couple of fun pictures today:

Kate Birney explaining things to her volunteers

Kate Birney explaining things to her volunteers

Sarah Vander Vorst hard at work on the computer

Sarah Vander Vorst hard at work on the computer

Denys Pringle explaining the construction of the Snake Tower

Denys Pringle explaining the construction of the Snake Tower

And finally, the picture of the day

Looking up at the Snake Tower from near its base

Looking up at the Snake Tower from near its base

And now we are off for an afternoon of work at the pottery compound.  Have a great day.

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

First Day of the Season!

Our summer season has officially begun. Today, we were busy setting up the tents and cleaning up the mess from the winter, however, we were able to continue our work in Area B in the new squares that we opened in the spring. Actually, we seem to have reached a surface of smashed pottery next to a wall that we noticed in the spring. It never ceases to amaze that the 13th century BCE can be found literally 2-3 inches (10-15 cm) beneath the surface. So this is an exciting development – with hopefully much more in store for us in future days… Not to mention the great potential of the new squares that we have opened in Area A, in order to understand the large pillared 8th century BCE public building. 

Now time for a swim and then a tour of nearby Tel Erani, a site that our very own Matt Suriano has identified with Beth le-aphrah of Micah 1:10

Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all; in Beth-le-aphrah roll yourselves in the dust.” (Micah 1:10 ESV)



June 08, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Day One is Done

Day One is Done

The first day of the excavation is always a whirlwind of activity and, I might add, the only day when every single person on the dig makes the 5:00 am bus on time.  Why you ask?  Because most of the team is jet lagged and, much to their disappointment, up long before their alarm clocks go off in the morning.  Today was no exception and things got off without a hitch.  I have a glimpse of each grid as they cleaned in preparation for the start of actual digging in the next few days.

Grid 51 -- Persian period occupation on the South Tell

Grid 51 -- Persian period occupation on the South Tell

Grid 16 -- cutting into the North Tell through the Crusader moat

Grid 16 -- cutting into the North Tell through the Crusader moat

Grid 20 -- the Snake Tower and uncovering the medieval fortifications

Grid 20 -- the Snake Tower and uncovering the medieval fortifications

We're back at it tomorrow at 4:30 am.  I'll try to post something, hopefully with frequent guest posts, every day so check back often to see what's happening on site.

June 07, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Day of Arrival

Busy day today in the pottery compound where work on a total station (equipment the GIS team uses) and the sorting of Hellenistic pottery was followed by the tool draft and general organization of the compound.

It is, as everyone knows, also a busy day in the hotel with staff and volunteers arriving throughout the day.  A big "thanks!" to Josh who went to the airport not once but twice during the night to pick up some early arrivals.

Everyone has the same schedule tomorrow.  We'll wake up at 4:30 am.  The bus out to the tell is at 5:00 am.  Be on it.  Everyone will go to the pottery compound, gather the necessary tools and then head off to their respective grids.  Breakfast is at 9:00 followed by fruit break sometime during the 11:00 hour (usually).  Remember, if you want fruit for your fruit break, you need to take some at breakfast and save it.  We're done and on the bus back to the hotel at 1:00 pm.  Lunch is followed by an organizational meeting and then some free time which may amount to little more than trying to stay awake until bedtime.  

Remember your hat, sunscreen, water bottle and whatever else you might want to bring in the morning.  We won't be coming back until the end of the work day.

Get ready.  Tomorrow is "Day One."

June 06, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon


Co-Director Daniel Master and Assistant Director Adam Aja

Co-Director Daniel Master and Assistant Director Adam Aja

Assistant Director Adam Aja has arrived and things are moving into high gear.  We finished clearing the overburden from the new excavation areas today which means minimal clearing for Grids 20 and 16 before they'll be able to start digging.  

Dr. Kate Birney, supervisor of Grid 51, has inspected it and tells me that there'll be a few days of cleaning to do but that they too should be excavating mid-late week.

Our registrar, Megan Gegner is here getting the pottery compound organized and ready for Sunday morning.

Lots of staff members and even some early volunteer arrivals today.  Hard to believe two weeks (almost) have already passed and the season is about to start.  Can't wait to see what we'll learn this season.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Information Package for the 2014 team!

Just sent out an email to all team members of the 2014 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath with the “information package” for the 2014 season. Just in case it was not received by any of the team members (or if anybody out there would like to see the materials just out of curiosity), here is the message that was sent and two of the attached files (below; note that file no. 2, the participant letter, is not attached here and if any of the team members did not get this and need it, please write to me directly).

Dear all team members of the 2014 season!

The dig is just around the corner and I hope this finds you all in the best of spirits – itching to get your trowels into the ground!
Over here, we are busy in the final preparations for the season – and we hope all will be in place by July 29th!
Attached, please find three files:
1) A file with general information about the dig, the schedule, how to excavate, and the list of lectures and field trips which will be offered during the season. Please print this out, read it carefully, and bring your copy with you to the dig.
2) A letter which you should take with you when you travel, which indicates that you are coming to Israel to participate in the dig – and telephone numbers which can be called if needed. This can help with the security checks on the way over – but do prepare to have plenty of patience – and a sense of humour – when it comes to El Al security – it can be “extensive”…
3) A recently published summary of the excavation results at Tell es-Safi/Gath – which should give you a general background about the site and the finds.
I for one, am very excited about the coming season – and I’m sure that we will all have great finds, a great time – and a memorable and enriching experience!
See you all in a few weeks!

June 05, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Tool Draft

Today the pottery compound is virtually empty.  Well, empty except for the vicious mosquitoes (or perhaps sand flies) that delight in biting on the legs of whichever archaeologist is standing in their vicinity.  Tomorrow, the pottery compound will be the site of our annual tool draft when the grid supervisors convene to negotiate over and, ultimately, divide up the tools for the season.  Tomorrow promises to be quite busy.

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Just Around the Corner…

Today we are prepping the moshav for the beginning of the season – which begins this sunday, June 8. We are very excited for what Tel Burna has in store for us this summer! Here is a preview of our dig shirt for the year – based on a Late Bronze fertility plaque figurine found last season. If you ever imagined what you would look like as a Canaanite fertility goddess – this is your chance!  Image

FYI If anyone is interested in the shirt please comment below. 

June 04, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Airport Shuttles

It's a holiday today, Shavuot, so things are quiet.

As a visual aid for Saturday, and those of you who might like one, I'm posting a picture of Elise, the volunteer coordinator, who will be leading the two shuttles to the airport.  

Find her and she'll make sure you get to the right place.

June 03, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Logistical Matters

Saturday is fast approaching and with it some practical matters with which to deal.  Most importantly, if you are flying in to Ben Gurion on Saturday there are two scheduled shuttles to ferry volunteers and staff from the airport to the lovely Dan Gardens Hotel in Ashkelon.  The first shuttle is scheduled for 3:00 pm and the second 8:00 pm.  The shuttles will be led/hosted by a member of the Ashkelon staff, likely our volunteer coordinator Elise.  

If you haven't already let Robyn at Harvard know which shuttle you plan/hope to be on, it is a good idea to do so.  We want to make sure everyone gets to Ashkelon.

If you don't want to wait for the shuttles you have few options as it will be Shabbat and neither the trains nor the buses will be running.  Best bet is a taxi in which case you also want to round up other volunteers, if any are around, as taxis can get expensive.

The good news is that there are several seating areas, some shops, an ATM, and several cafes once you pass through customs and all that.  While there is no good place to hang out while jet lagged, Ben Gurion isn't the worst of your options.  It may, in fact, be quieter than the hotel which will be full of guests.

Work starts first thing Sunday mooring with a 4:30 wake up call.  See you then if not before.

June 02, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Daily Update

Walked out with Ben and Josh to go over shooting in Grid 16, the new step trench on the North Tell.  It's a hike but it has a great view.

June 01, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Daily Update

We were back in the field today.  The first order of business was preparing a new area for a salvage excavation ahead of the installation of a large pump for the park's new sewer system.

This new area is adjacent to the park offices and our pottery compound.  Our goal is to excavate a 10 x 10 meter area down 3.6 meters (the depth required for the pump).  It's going to be an intense 5 weeks once we get started.  

While a  GPR survey done several years ago as well as a coring project revealed little archaeological material in the area, the wider expanse we'll be opening has great potential.  This location is more or less 30 meters from what we believe to be the approximate location of the cardo (the main north-south street of the city from the Roman period onwards) and may hold, therefore, structures associated with the street.

We start this project in two weeks so check back then to see our progress.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

June is here! Excavation getting close!

Now that the Month of June has arrived, we are just around the corner from the beginning of the 2014 season (starts June 29th)!

Looking forward to seeing the team – and get back to excavating and finding great stuff at Tell es-Safi/Gath!


May 31, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon


New construction around the Dan Gardens Hotel

New construction around the Dan Gardens Hotel

Overcast start to our Saturday.  Wind was so strong this morning it rattled the doors.  No rain though.

Looking at all the new buildings around the hotel, it won't be long before our view of the Mediterranean is blocked.  Better enjoy it while we can.

May 30, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

A Week to Go

It's a hot one today so we are all working in the lab.  Supervisor computers are updated and ready to go.  Ben is preparing the total stations for the summer.  Josh is making sure we have enough supplies, tools and other sundries.  As for everyone else?  We're working on various research projects.

The first volunteer arrives tomorrow, a group of supervisors arrives on Sunday which is the same day we'll do some digging in a salvage excavation project we are conducting in cooperation with the Parks Authority.  The next big wave of arrivals appears to be Thursday when much of the remaining staff arrives in town.  The season is definitely picking up steam.

I'll try to blog each and every day which is our informal way of keeping friends, families, volunteers, and whoever else decides to stop by informed of our progress.  I'll highlight the various excavation areas, with pictures, throughout the season.  I'll also feature special guest posts by volunteers so check back often to see what is happening on the excavation.



May 29, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Lab

Just a quick post on a very busy day.  

After more then 15 years we are saying goodbye to our longtime lab (the "Mabada").  Here you can see the first floor looking a little empty.  The boxes are filled with pottery sherds/vessels waiting to be checked against the hundreds of drawings that were done over the winter.  Still a lot of work to do before we close the Lab for good at the end of the season.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Mention in Maariv online newspaper (nrg.co.il)

A nice picture of the visit of the minister of science to the lab appeared in the online maariv site:


check it out!

May 28, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Pottery Compound

Did some work in the pottery compound today where things are still on the quiet side.

We also walked over to the Snake Tower to get a look at things there.  Its all cleaned up and ready for volunteers.

The path we took to get to the Snake Tower took us through the old camp where the team stayed during the first season of excavation in 1985.  Abandoned for years, it looks a bit different now.

Great weather today, overcast and breezy but it isn't supposed to last.  Friday's forecast is calling for 104 degrees.  Sounds like a good day to work in the Lab.

May 27, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon


It's official.  The preseason has started.  We arrived yesterday, spent the night wrestling with jet lag and fatigue, per the usual, and were off and running this morning.  Today, Daniel Master and I participated in a conference at Ashkelon College on Ashkelon and its environs.  Ben Felker, a member of our GIS team spent his day in the Lab working on various projects.  And Josh ran around doing Lab Director business ahead of a Thursday run up to Jerusalem to get supplies for the season. 

Tomorrow we will be out in the pottery compound planning the remainder of the preseason.  I'm looking forward a productive few weeks.

Randomly, a note about the hotel, our fabulous home away from home.  This year they've installed an ATM machine.  Old timers will appreciate the importance and value in this.  No longer do weary volunteers or staff members need to trudge up the hill to get money.  Now, it's just a hop, skip and a jump down to the lobby. 

Check back soon for pictures from the site.  I hope to walk around some of excavation areas in the next few days.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Cool day at the lab!

Today we had a great day at the lab, and several very interesting things “popped up”!

First of all, we noticed that one of the basalt objects from Area D is made of a non-standard type of basalt – which we are now looking into.

Second, Linda Meiberg noticed a LB sherd with a very interesting design including several animals – some not that common – more information on this in the future…

And thirdly, while going over pottery from a few loci that we are preparing for publication in an article on Iron I feasting, I came upon some really nice sherds – including a fragment of an LB/Iron I beverage strainer – very appropriate for a feasting context!

Just another day on the chain gang… :-)


May 26, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Israel Minister of Science visits the lab

Today, Mr. Yaakov Peri, the Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space, visited the Tell es-Safi/Gath lab, as part of a visit to BIU. During his half hour long visit, we showed him various finds from the excavations, and especially stressed aspects in which inter-disciplinary science is used to understand the past. Among other things, Udi Weiss showed him some archaeobotanical finds (from the City of David and the Chalcolithic cave near Masada), Adi showed him how the hXRF and FTIR work – and can be used both in the lab and in the field, and I showed him various finds and how various scientific perspectives have additional insights on understanding the finds – and the past in general.

We managed to impress Mr. Peri and his entourage and keep them interested and asking questions, and I was told that later on, they expressed deep interest in our work and how much they were impressed with it.

At the end of the visit I stressed to him how important it is to develop new joint scientific collaborations with other countries – and how archaeology can very easily fit into such programs. And of course, I invited him to visit the dig in the summer – and I hope this will work out.



May 25, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Two new articles appear!

The new issue of the journal Tel Aviv has just appeared, and in it there are two articles relating to the finds from Tell es-Safi/Gath:

1) Shai, I., Greenfield, H. J., Eliyahu-Behar, A., Regev, J., Boaretto, E., and Maeir, A. M. 2014. The Early Bronze Age Remains at Tell eṣ-Ṣāfi/Gath, Israel: An Interim Report. Tel Aviv 41(1): 20–49.

This article summarizes the EB finds at Tell es-Safi/Gath up until the beginning of 2013 and includes discussions on various issues and finds, including the contribution of the finds from the EB III levels at Tell es-Safi/Gath to the new high chronology of the EB, based on 14C dating.

2)  Gadot, Y., Finkelstein, I., Iserlis, M., Maeir, A. M., Nahshoni, P., and Namdar, D. 2014. Tracking Down Cult: Production, Function and Content of Chalices in Iron Age Philistia. Tel Aviv 41(1): 55–76.

This study deals with the “life cycle” of the cultic chalices from sites in Philistia, including examples from Tell es-Safi/Gath (and Nahal Patish and Yavneh), and includes aspects relating to the methods of ceramic production and function.



May 22, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Class on ancient weapons (in Hebrew) with demonstrations of various real and recreated weapons

See below a video of one of the classes (in Hebrew) in my course “Weapons and Warfare in the Ancient Near East” at Bar-Ilan University, where I talk about various weapon types, demonstrating various aspects with the help of some real weapons from Papua New Guinea and Africa, and some replicas of Philistine weapons (courtesy of the Ashdod Museum).

Update on the 2013 – in preparation for 2014

A short summary of the 2013 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath has been published on the website Bible and Interpretation – as preparation for all the new finds that we will be having in the soon-to-start 2014 season!

Do check it out.


May 21, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Collaborations with Danes?

Got the following notification today (see below) on the possibility of funding Danish-Israeli research collaborations. So, if anyone from Denmark would like to contemplate joint state-of-the-art research in connection with the Tell es-Safi/Gath Project – get in touch!

The Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation invites proposals for the sixth call of its international network programme.

This gives Danish researchers the opportunity to establish networks and cooperation with researchers from countries that the Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation has bilateral agreements with. Activities must seek to identify new potential for bilateral research collaboration within any scientific area in order to receive support.

Applicants must be recognised scientists at the level of associate professor or above from universities, research institutions, R&D intensive companies and GTS institutes.

Each project will be supported with a maximum of DKK200,000 and the funding can be used to cover scientific workshops and conferences, travel between Denmark and the cooperating countries as well as accommodation and meals. Stays in the cooperating countries cannot exceed three months.

See here for the link.

May 20, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Ho boy – things are popping! So many articles in progress – I can barely breathe…

It’s getting quite busy over here!

There are something like ten to fifteen different studies – directly relating to the Safi project – which are in various stages of production at this point, from initial stages of writing, to advanced drafts – and all the way to several that are about to appear in press any day!

This includes a few studies on the EB at Safi, several on the Iron I and Iron II at Safi, a few on general aspects relating to the Philistines, etc., etc.

And this is in addition to the two Safi volumes (Safi II and Safi III) which we are working on…


On the one hand – this is VERY cool;

On the other, I’m sort of feeling that I don’t have time to breathe… :-)



Oh, and yes – we are also preparing to dig in about a month…


May 19, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Prof. Angelika Berlejung visits the Safi lab

Today, Prof. Angelika Berlejung, from the University of Leipzig, visited the lab, to meet with a group of BIU people (me, Esti Eshel, Michael Sokoloff and Yigal Levin), and to discuss potential future collaborations. We had a great and very productive meeting, which was then followed by a short tour of the lab for Angelika.

Hopefully, this will be the beginning of some very interesting joint research and collaboration!

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Snake Tower

Today, a brief word about a new excavation project this summer.  We are lucky to have Denys Pringle joining us this season to conduct an excavation of the fortification system.  The Snake Tower in point of fact.  For six weeks he and Hannah Buckingham will lead a team of volunteers in a project that promises to shed light on the construction, organization and chronology of ancient Ashkelon's fortifications.  This work will build significantly on Pringle's exhaustive survey of the fortifications.  I, for one, am eager to see what they come up with.

Remains of one of the medieval towers

Remains of one of the medieval towers

Preparations are well under way as we move closer to the start of the season.  The first staff members head over in a week.  Many of the specialists follow soon after and then it will be only a week or so before the remainder of the team arrives and we get to work.  Josh Walton, grid supervisor and the current Lab Director, tells me the summer is already a scorcher so get ready.  It promises to be a hot one.

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Publication and Deadline Extension

First off – we are extending the deadline for this summer’s excavations until this Thursday, May 22. So if you have been waiting to the very last minute you have one more chance.

Second – Joe, Itzick and Debi have just published an article in a book published in honor of Sy Gitin – see the article and pdf at the link below. Way to go Joe, Itzick and Debi!! You can also see all of the teams Burna-related publications and presentations on the publication page.

2014: Uziel, J., Shai, I, Cassuto, D.”The Ups and Downs of Settlement Patterns: Why Sites Fluctuate” in Material Culture Matters: Essays on the Archaeology of the Southern Levant in Honor of Seymour Gitin, edited by John Spencer, Robert Mullins, and Aaron Brody. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. 

May 15, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Ariel University Opens up Summer Course at Tel Burna

For all of you students at Ariel University – enjoy this summer digging at Tel Burna – and get credit for it!!! Ariel University has opened up a two week course at the dig – see links below. make sure to sign up before May 22nd!




May 14, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

הרצאה על הפלשתים לאור חפירות תל צפית ביד בן צבי – Lecture on the Philistines in Light of the Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath at Yad Ben-Zvi

This evening (18:30, Wed., May 14), I will be giving a lecture (in Hebrew) on the Philistines and their culture in light of the excavations Tell es-Safi/Gath at Yad Ben-Zvi in Jerusalem. If you are in the area – you are all invited!


הערב (ב-18:30 ביום ד, ה-, 14.5) אני מרצה על הפלשתים ותרבותם לאור חפירות תל צפית/גת, ביד בן-צבי בירושלים. בואו בהמוניכם


UPDATE: I gave the lecture to a interested crowd and following the lecture there was an interesting discussion by Dr. Zvi Lederman (TAU; Beth Shemesh excavations), followed by quite a few questions for the crowd. The Philistines definitely do interest people! :-)

May 11, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Youtube clip of my lecture at the Oriental Institute

As I previously mentioned, two weeks ago I gave a lecture at the Oriental Institute in Chicago.

The lecture has now been put online – check it out!



May 09, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Questions and Answers

So now its time to talk a little more about where exactly we'll be digging.  The site is quite large, approximately 150 acres or so.  In our almost 30 years of excavation we have excavated only the smallest portion of the site in part because our research design requires depth in our excavation areas and because, as archaeologists, we want to leave research material for future generations that might approach the site with different questions, methodologies and technologies.  We still have a lot to learn, however, about our ongoing excavation areas as well as several new ones that we'll be digging this summer.

First up, Grid 51.  Located on the South Tell, Grid 51 was first opened in 1997.  It is currently, and has been for some time, under the leadership of Kate Birney.  Under her direction, excavation has revealed a complete sequence from the Islamic/Crusader period down into the Persian period.  Looming large this year is Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Ashkelon in 604 B.C.  In fact, this year for the first time in several years, Grid 51 will have all its squares open.  It should be a very exciting year.

Next, the new grid on the North Tell.  This is an exciting new project that will be under the direction of Josh Walton.  He will be digging a step trench in an attempt to uncover a complete Islamic/Crusader through Bronze Age sequence on the North Tell, something we've never been able to do before.  I asked Josh for more information on what he plans to do this summer and here is what he told me:

"A few thoughts on the North Tell: I hope that this step trench will prove interesting for a number of ongoing projects at the site including both the later and early history of the site, although this year we will probably be primarily excavating later levels.  The majority of excavation so far at the site has taken place on the South Tell (Grids 38,50 and 51) and outside of the site on the North Tell (Grid 2). The North Tell itself is underexplored, with the primary data coming from Grid 23, which had some nice remains from the hellenistic and later periods, as well as traces of EB pottery. The hope is to get a better understanding of the settlement on the north tell, to fill in some gaps in our understanding of the site. Because we are digging at the edge of the crusader moat we may get some material relating to its construction. For the Islamic and Hellenistic periods any architecture we find can hopefully be linked up with the finds from Grid 23 to help with our understanding of site planning and layout. Since this would have been on the acropolis of the north tell there is also the chance that we find some substantial later period architecture, which is always exciting. In future seasons the hope is to find some remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages, including architecture from the earliest settlement on the site from the Early Bronze Age. But as of this moment the only MB finds we have are from the gate area, and no architecture from within the city to go with it. Any domestic structures from the MB would be very interesting and obviously quite significant. The same is true for the Iron Age, where we know the rampart was refortified and towers were constructed in the Iron IIA, but very little has been found within the site. By excavating here the hope is to add to our knowledge of settlement across the site by getting a complete section of the occupation levels of the North Tell."


A special project will be led by Denys Pringle and Hannah Buckingham in the area of the medieval ramparts.  Their work will focus on trying to elucidate the sequence of the fortification system.  This project is part of a thorough survey and reassessment of the fortifications, some of the most visible and impressive archaeological remains on site.

Ongoing research and publication projects and several other small projects figure into the mix as well for what promises to be another very busy summer in Ashkelon.  

May 07, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Albright Institute group visits tell

Today, I hosted and toured the tell with a group of fellows from the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. We managed to walk around most of the site and see most of the areas. And, there were lots of thorns – and it’s starting to get hot…



May 05, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Happy Israel Independence Day!

Following the solemn Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron), where just about everybody in Israel remembers friends and relatives who died while in service (I always have 3 particular people in mind on this day), we move this evening to celebrating Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut), the 66th year of Israeli independence. As someone who has been around for quite a big portion of this time, one can but marvel at the miracles (and warts…) of this spectacular country.

Happy Yom Atzmaut to all!


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Field School

Now its time to get down to the business of archaeology.  That's why we are all coming to Ashkelon, right?  To hold history in our hands.

Volunteers and staff clean up Grid 51 at the start of the 2013 field season

Volunteers and staff clean up Grid 51 at the start of the 2013 field season

Curious about an archaeological field school and what it entails?  Simply put, its six weeks of the most intensive "learn by doing" program imaginable.  Six days a week volunteers get hands-on experience as they learn about archaeological method and theory.  The most important component is daily excavation -- it is very important to make it to the field each and every day -- when the bulk of instruction takes place.  Work in the field is supplemented by an evening lecture series by Ashkelon staff members as well as visiting scholars.  Students enrolled in one of the affiliated summer school programs are required to attend the lectures.  Those volunteers not enrolled are also encouraged to attend if at all interested in the history and archaeology of Ashkelon and the wider Near East.

One of the highlights of the first week is a day long program of seminars which introduces volunteers to various aspects of the excavation's work.  There are tours of the site and sessions on everything from XRF, GIS and botanicals, to zooarchaeology and microarchaeology.  It's a great opportunity to learn about the technologies used on site.  We don't spend all our time in the dirt.

Adam Aja leads a session on XRF on Seminar Day.

Adam Aja leads a session on XRF on Seminar Day.

The expedition sponsors several field trips each summer which introduce volunteers to places such as Jerusalem and the Dead Sea as well as important archaeological sites including Masada and other nearby excavations.  These trips are included in the volunteer fee and are lead by staff members.

The goal of the field school is that every volunteer, whether enrolled in a summer school program or not, will understand the fundamentals of archaeology by the end of the season. Students enrolled in summer school will have additional requirements which they will learn about from their instructors.  Everyone, however, should be full trained and able to take their skills to other excavations or back to the classroom.

For some, this will be the initial preparation for a career in the field of archaeology.  For the majority, this will be an amazing summer experience that provides you with good stories and even better memories.  Whatever brings you to Ashkelon, welcome.


May 03, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Registration Deadline extended for a week

In the last week, leading up to the official registration deadline for the 2014 season – May 1st – we had a sudden, and very impressive surge!

Although the official deadline has passed – as I’ve been told that there are several people who need a few more days until they can sign up, the deadline has now been extended until May 10th, 2014.

So – if you do intend to sign up for the 2014 season – this is your last opportunity!

Hope to see you on the tell this summer!


May 02, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Jill Katz with piece on Jerusalem and Samaria in BAR

Dr. Jill Katz (YU), long-time team member at Safi, and currently Area Supervisor of the Area P excavations at Safi, has published a very interesting article in BAR – presenting an urban anthropological perspective on the roles and status of the cities of Jerusalem and Samaria during the Iron Age.

Way to go Jill!

Here’s a picture of Jill (on the back left) and Malka (one of the YU students on the dig), excavating last year in Area P

Area P Jill and Malka


The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Planning for the Summer

Only three weeks until the first group of supervisors heads over to Ashkelon to help Josh Walton, Lab Director and Grid Supervisor, prepare for the season.  That means the volunteer departure date cannot be far behind and along with it, lots of questions about the summer.

Ashkelon is a seaside town located 45 minutes south of Tel Aviv.  The site itself is in a national park right on the beach and it is not unheard of for volunteers to run down the hill and go for a swim during Fruit Break.  While breezes off the Mediterranean Sea provide much needed cooling throughout the day it is, nevertheless, a challenging work environment.  Hydration is key to making it through the day.  Fortunately, water is plentiful (and drinkable) in the park.  A water bottle is a must.  Many volunteers bring Gatorade or other similar products to add a little flavor.  It is difficult to impossible to find such items in Israel so you do need to bring it with you if you want more than water.  Sunscreen and hats are also very important in helping to manage the sun.  Many but not all excavation areas will be shaded by "shade clothes" but it is wise to come prepared for any situation.

What to wear you wonder?  Closed toe shoes are a must.  No sandals are allowed in the field.  This is true for volunteers and staff alike and is really a safety issue.  Beyond that requirement there is a great deal of flexibility.  Shorts and t-shirts are most common.  Some people decide on pants and long sleeve shirts.  Basic rule of thumb is to make sure whatever you plan on, it's comfortable.  Same is true for out of the field.  There is one big party a year which gives everyone a chance to put on their "good clothes."  In Ashkelon this often means putting on the nice pair of sandals.  The best news?  We get laundry service twice a week. 

The hotel offers us a lot of comforts that many excavations don't get to enjoy.  Rooms are air conditioned and come equipped with small refrigerators and an electric teapot.  So bring your Via or other favorite coffee or tea, you'll be able to make some in the room.  Most of our meals are eaten in the hotel and food is plentiful.  Breakfast in the hotel, with all the fresh pastries on tap, is always a special treat.  Most days, however, we eat breakfast out in the field in the location below.

Breakfast spot by Pottery Compound

Breakfast spot by Pottery Compound

We work six days a week stopping at 1:00 on Friday to give people time to travel before the start of Shabbat.  Israel is a small country so the good news its easy to travel and get to almost any place you might want to see.  The expedition sponsors several field trips, including one to Jerusalem, to help orient everyone to the sights.  Buses and trains run before and after Shabbat, rental cars are readily available (you just need your American driver's license), and taxis, both local and long distance, generally run all the time.

Many people decide to stay in Ashkelon on weekends.  The beach is a ten minute walk from the hotel.  The marina lies a short walk to the north and there are a number of restaurants, some with free wifi, that are great for dinner, grabbing a coffee, or just wandering around to take in the sights. Walk up the hill away from the coast and you'll find yourself at the grocery store or, more importantly, the "close mall" where you can grab a coffee at Aroma, Israel's major coffee chain, go shopping for a book or even stock up on gummies.  Just a little further is McDonald's if you find you have a craving for home.  There is a movie theatre in town and all the major summer releases will be showing there usually only a week or two later than their release date in the US.  In other words, there is plenty to do close to your summer home-away-from-home. 

ATMs are also readily available though there is a small service charge for using one.  You can use credit cards almost every where with the exception of many of the small local stores.  It is also fairly easy to find money changers if you prefer to go that route.

Finally, what about internet access?  The good news is that the hotel has free wifi in the lobby.  It's also possible to buy wifi.  As mentioned previously, many of the cafes near the hotel offer free wifi so it is easy to stay connected.  Bring adaptors appropriate for Israel so that necessary electronics can be charged.

Next time, we'll talk a little more about the field school and a day in the field.  Until then, here's another glimpse of the small fair that set up shop in Ashkelon this month.

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Deadline Extended to May 15th

If you have been procrastinating and/or forgetting to sign up for a summer’s worth of hanging out with Canaanites, King Josiah’s in-laws (2 Kings 23:31; 24:18; Jer 52:1), and of course Tel Burna staff’s smiling faces – I have good news the deadline has been extended to May 15th! See forms here English form - Hebrew form.



May 01, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Visit to Tell es-Safi/Gath to discuss environmental studies

Yesterday, we had a very interesting visit to the tell with a group of people, to talk about the excavations, but in particular, about the various environmental studies going on at and around the tell.
The group that came included (besides me): Prof. Dieter Vieweger (Wuppertal; excavator of Tall Zira’a in Jordan), Katja Soennecken (PhD student at Wuppertal), Hagit Levy (a botanist who work with us in the future), and Kobi, a tour guide, along with Oren Ackermann, Liora Horwitz and Linda Whittaker from the Safi team.

After going to most of the excavation areas to explain about the finds, we walked around the eastern and norther sides of the site to discuss the paleoenvironmental, archaeobotanical and archaeozoological studies that we are conducting, and various ideas how to expand this on a regional and supra-regional basis.

This was a very interesting visit and we had some great and very insightful discussions.

Here’s the group under the large olive tree to the east of Area E in the valley, getting some shade from the hot sun.

visit to tell_30_4_14_Dieter Weiweger et al

April 28, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Rona Ramon visits the lab

While I was in the US, we had a very special visit to the lab, which I’m very upset I missed. Mrs. Rona Ramon, the widow of the first Israeli Astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, and mother of the late Israeli pilot, Asaf Ramon, is an outstanding person who has channelled her immense energies, in the aftermath of her family’s personal tragedies, to found a philanthropic foundation, the Ramon Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of people – and in particular kids, in Israel.
During her visit to the lab, Amit explained to her about the Safi project, but focussed on the very special program that we conduct in the lab for kids. Amit and Rona discussed the possibility of expanding these programs.
In addition, Rona expressed interest in coming to the dig in the summer!
Here’s Amit explaining to Rona (in black) and Ruty (BIU representative).
Rona Ramon in lab


The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Albright Fellows visit Tel Burna Plus We are Extenting the Registration Deadline for our 2014 Season

A week ago Tuesday, I took some of the Albright Fellows to visit the tel. The weather was lovely and the tel was covered in wild flowers. We disturbed a pair of storks upon our approach to Area A but we left the bulls resting in Area B to themselves. It was a great opportunity for me to see the great work done in March (I was in Jordan that week).

I’m adding here the photos from that day – all taken by Yinglan Zhang, Noble Group Fellow, AIAR.

Please Note that we are extending our registration deadline for the 2014 season to May 10th so don’t delay! There won’t be anymore wildflowers but the tel will be there waiting for us to discover its secrets.



Stork taking flight


Area A1 discussing the dating of the Fortification Walls disturbed by 7th century bce silo (see article http://telburna.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-fortifications-at-tel-burna.pdf)


Pointing out inner fortification wall in the northeast corner


View to the east from the northeast corner with the Guvrin Valley below looking towards the hill-country.


Area A2 the pillared structure – waiting to be further revealed


Area B towards Tell es-Safi/Gath – we didn’t get too close because the bulls looked like they didn’t want to be disturbed at all


Part of exposed wall on the northern side of the tell looking westward


The northeast corner of the tel from the eastern agricultural area including one of the agricultural installations


This is what awaits us June 8th!

April 26, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

The ivory bowls from the Megiddo VIIA ivory cache

Thanks to the invitation to give the Annual David Kipper Lecture at the Oriental Institute, I had a chance to examine several of the various items from the well-known ivory collection from the Palace of Megiddo, Stratum VIIA, which was excavated by the OI Megiddo Expedition years ago and is now kept in the OI museum. Among the ivory collection are several bowls that are very similar to the bowl that we found at Safi in the 2013 season. Interestingly, Megiddo VIIA is most probably dated to the late 12th cent., and some of the objects from the ivory collection might even be from the 14th cent BCE, while the Safi bowl was found in what is most likely a 10th cent. BCE context! This means that the Safi bowl was “curated” for centuries!
In any case, I was able to inspect several of the bowls from the Megiddo collection (thanks to Jack Green and the OI Museum staff), and they definitely are very similar – but not identical – to the Safi bowl!


April 24, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Lectures on Safi at KU and OI

Yesterday, I gave a talk on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath at Kansas University and I was hosted on campus by Eric Welch – long-time team members and supervisor in Area F. A nice group came to the lecture – and hopefully we will have some KU students on the dig – this year and in future years as well.

I then moved on to Chicago, to give a series of two talks at the Oriental Institute. After having lunch with Prof. Gil Stein, director of the OI, and some of the OI staff and researchers, Dr. Jack Green, curator of the OI Museum showed me around the exhibits – which are simply excellent, I got to the main events of the day, when I gave the 2nd Annual David Kipper Memorial Lecture on Ancient Israel. To a packed crowd in the Breasted Hall at the OI, I talked about new directions in the study of the Philistines, mainly based on the finds from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Based on the questions after the lectures and the reactions – it looked like the lecture was extremely well received. As the lecture was filmed, it should be online sometime in the future – and I’ll notify when it is.

Tomorrow, I will be giving a 2nd talk to the OI graduate students and faculty, an overview of some of the major results of the project in the last 17 years. Afterwards, I’m going to look at some of the ivory bowls from the Megiddo ivory cache – which are very similar to the ivory bowl that we found at Safi this year.


April 22, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Equipment – Thanks to the Weisselbergs!

Thanks to a generous donation from Edward and Myrna Weisselberg we were able to purchase Tel Zayit’s excavation equipment from Ron Tappy! This equipment will be a great help to us in the field for this season and coming seasons. Thanks Edward and Myrna Weisselberg!

April 21, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Welcome Volunteers

The application deadline has passed and planning for the summer season is well under way.  Welcome to everyone who will be joining us this summer.  I imagine there will be some familiar faces as well as many new ones.  

Curious to know more about what you have gotten yourself into?  This website is, of course, the best spot to learn everything you could possibly want to know about the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon and our ongoing work. 

The following links can tell you a little more about the site, the city and where we stay.  (Please note, these sources are independent of the excavation.)

Rick Gore's 2001 National Geographic article on Ashkelon can be found here.  It provides a good overview of the site and its history.

Want to learn more about the Dan Gardens Hotel where we stay?  You can find pictures and more information here.   Not too shabby, staying in a hotel with laundry service, air conditioning and a swimming pool.  If your family asks, the answer is "yes,"  we really are doing archaeology.  

If you want to learn a little about the city of Ashkelon, you can go here.

Check back over the next few weeks for more information as we continue to prepare for the 2014 season.

Organizing 2013 volunteer/staff photo

Organizing 2013 volunteer/staff photo

April 17, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Upcoming lectures on Tell es-Safi/Gath in Kansas City and Chicago

Next week, I’ll be travelling to the US, to give a few lectures.

On Tuesday, April 22nd, I’ll be lecturing at the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Kansas – the lecture will be entitled:

“Canaanites, Philistines, and others at Tell es-Safi/Gath – The Hometown of Biblical Goliath”

On Wednesday, April 23rd, I’ll be giving the Annual David Kipper Ancient Israel Lecture at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The lecture will be entitled:

“New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel”

So, if you are anywhere in the vicinity – do hope to see you!



April 16, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Check out the new Facebook page of the Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod!

As I’ve mentioned previously (such as here and here), the Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod is really a nice place to visit, for all ages and levels of interest in ancient history and archaeology. The museum now has a new Facebook Page – do check it out.

And for those of you in Israel, they have a slew of activities for the entire family (including various hands on activities for kids) during the Pesach vacation!



April 14, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Two more weeks until the registration deadline for the 2014 season!

For all those of you planning to join the Safi team for the 2014 season – the May 1st registration deadline is only two weeks away! So, if you want to sign up but have not yet done it – now’s the time!

And on this occasion – wishing you all a Happy Pesach, Easter, Spring, etc.


April 12, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Filming with Documentary Crew at Safi and the Ashdod Museum

On Friday, I spent the entire day with a British film crew, working for the Smithsonian channel, who are making a documentary about the “Ark of the Covenant“. Since we found a stone altar at Safi which has similar dimensions to those of incense altar in the “Tabernacle” described in Exodus 30, and since I have my very definite opinions on the relationship between Bible and archaeology, they wanted to spend the day with me dealing with these issues.

So first, we visited the Ashdod Museum, to say hello to the two horned altar from Gath. After spending some time keeping the altar company, we headed over to Safi and walked around the site. Funnily, the actual filming on location at Safi was not done in Area D, where the altar was found, but rather in Area A – as the views were better there (what you don’t do for impressions…).

So here’s a view of the altar in the “limelight” at the museum (I still think it looks like cookie monster!) and the back entrance to Tell es-Safi/Gath, all covered with weeds and thorns. For those who remember how this looks in the summer – it is quite different at this time of year.


back entrance to Safi_4_14 Filming altar in Ashdod museum 4_14

April 10, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Annual Archaeology Conference in Israel in Haifa – two Safi papers!

Today, I was in Haifa for the annual archaeological conference in Israel, and heard papers on various topics in archaeology from morning to evening. Some were good, some were great, some were less… BUT, we had two great papers connected to Safi!

The first one was by Shira Kisos (speaking for Itzik, Haskel and myself as well), who talked about the EB game boards and pieces from Safi. Shira gave a great lecture!

Later on in the day, Johanna Regev (speaking for Elisabetta Boaretto and I), talked about the results of her doctorate, in which she revolutionized the EB chronology, based on new 14C datings from various sites – including Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Safi was definitely on the map!


April 09, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

News flash: Anthropoid coffin near Afula

An IAA press release has appeared today on the discovery of a LB burial in an anthropoid coffin! The grave was found at Tel Shadud, right next to Kibbutz Sarid, which is just to the NW of Afula. According to the press release, the coffin contained the skeletal remains of a male, with various burial objects, including a dagger and metal bowl, a scarab of Rameses II among other things. This is very interesting, as similar burials were found years ago at Beth Shean, which is not too far away.

Why does this interest a Philistine – and a seren at that? This can be seen as additional proof that the anthropoid coffins had nothing to do with the Sea Peoples/Philistines, but rather, reflect the Egyptian presence, and influence in the region in the LB and early Iron Age – as there was nothing in this (and in fact in the other graves as well) to connect it to the Sea Peoples.



New inscription?

Nahshon Zanton, who is working on the late Iron IIA pottery from Area A for his MA thesis (updating Itzik Shai’s earlier study with new types that have since been discovered), yesterday came across a few fragments of a jar that might just have an ink inscription on it! We will now have to look closely for all related fragments, restore this vessel (which is a storage jar) and see if in fact this is the case!

Very exciting!

And on a related note, hopefully, in the very near future, an article, which summarizes the late Iron IIA inscriptions that have been already been found at Tell es-Safi/Gath (not including this possible new one), will be published.

The title of the article is:

Maeir, A. M., and Eshel, E. In press. Four short alphabetic inscriptions from Iron Age IIA Tell es-Safi/Gath and their contribution for understanding the process of the development of literacy in Iron Age Philistia. In “See, I Will Bring a Scroll Recounting What Befell Me” (Ps 40:8): Epigraphy and Daily Life – From the Bible to the Talmud Dedicated to the Memory of Professor Hanan Eshel, eds. E. Eshel and Y. Levin. Journal of Ancient Judaism, Supplements, Band 12. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.


P.S. And yes, this can also be defined as a tease… :-)

April 08, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Happy Pesach and/or Easter to all those celebrating – and a great spring as well!

To all those celebrating Pesach next week and/or Easter soon after – have a great holiday! And in addition to this – best wishes to all for a great spring – leading up to the summer when we will be back in the field at Tell es-Safi/Gath.

And in connection to Pesach (which commemorates the Israelite Exodus from Egypt), here is a recent lecture that I gave in which I presented my views on the Exodus  the perspective of “cultural memory” studies:


Chag sameach!




April 07, 2014

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

Calixtlahuaca’s Market Brought to Life!

By Brad Andrews
           In my earlier blog on how art and archaeology work together, I summarized the work of Michael Stasinos, professor of Art at Pacific Lutheran University. Michael has provided our project with a means of artistically bringing to life the city of Calixtlahuaca based on the archaeological efforts of the Calixtlahuaca Project. He has now finished the market scene, a site-wide shot of the Calixtlahuaca cityscape with a marketplace in the foreground. As I pointed out before, Calixtlahuaca’s actual marketplace has not been identified, but Mesoamerican archaeological and ethnohistoric scholars agree that it was an extremely important economic institution throughout Central Mexico and beyond (Smith 2003). By the time of the Spanish conquest the market was an important component of what is referred to as the highly commercialized Postclassic Mesoamerican world system focused on the Basin of Mexico (Smith 2001). As applied to the study of prehistoric societies, the world systems concept refer to a macro-regional network of trade that linked individual political units - societies – into larger functioning units. For Prehispanic Mesoamerica, it has been argued that the market was the primary means by which people provisioned themselves with daily material necessities, both utilitarian and ceremonial.

As I mentioned in my previous blog on the topic, Michael’s challenge began by selecting a photo of Cerro Tenismo, upon which Calixtlahuaca is situated, that provided a “sense” of the whole, but enabled the incorporation of details in the foreground. The foreground is the focal point of the market scene, which he masterfully brought to light in consultation with those of us working on the Calixtlahuaca Project. The details of the market-focused daily activities were inspired by other ancient Mesoamerican market scenes, photographs of modern Mexican markets, and ethnohistoric information from a variety of sources. Hours of painstaking revisions were necessary to give full magic to the final product. Besides the market, he incorporated a reconstruction of the monumental Structure 4 (pyramid complex in the central part of the scene), the hillside populated with domestic households, vestiges of the water control ditches that drained the site during the rainy season, temples that occupied the top of the hill (complete with smoke produced by the probable burning of copal incense), and an ethereal skyscape of clouds, complete with birds drifting round and about. Note the increased density of households in the upper left-hand portion of the cerro. This detail depicts the variation in the layout of the urban center that was identified during the project’s survey efforts. Lots to see here, much of which is unfortunately obscured at the scale needed for this posting.

We extend many thanks to Michael Stasinos for his invaluable contribution to our project. We hope you agree his efforts were well worth it!

Smith, M. E.
            2001    The Aztec Empire and Mesoamerican World System.In Empires, edited by S. E. Alcock, T. N. D'Altroy, K. D. Morrison and C. M. Sinopoli. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

            2003    The Aztecs. Second Edition ed. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Massachusetts.

April 04, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Field trip to sites in NW Negev

Yesterday, April 3rd, I took a group of the Safi lab staff (Amit, Adi, Shira, Mor, Maria and Emuna) and BIU students (and Shawn Selig Aster from our department joined as well) for a great field trip to a bunch of great archaeological sites, less visited, in the NW Negev. We visited Tell el-Hesi, Tel Nagila, Tel Haror, Tel Jemmeh (which for me was a first time at the site!) and Tell el-Farah (S). We also tried to get to Tel Sera but we were stopped by a muddy road, and we did not have enough time to get to Kh. Sumeilly (near Hesi) and Qubur Walayda (near Farah).

The region was stunning, since it was the beginning of spring after a relatively wet rainy season, and in addition to the very interesting archaeology, everything was green, with blankets of flowers and all kinds of other flora and fauna.

In the pictures, in addition to views of the sites and the group, notice the very interesting carved stone from Hesi (a relief?), a flock of storks near Farah (s), and the water in the Besor River underneath Farah (s).

As they say in mamma loshen: a mechayeh…

Here are some great pictures:

Visit to Hesi_Fragment of relief visit to Hesi_Shira Adi and Mor with flowers visit to Jemmeh visit to Nagila Visit to Tell es Hesi visit to Farah south with storks visit to Farah south visit to Farah south_Amit and Omri overlooking Besor river with water visit to haror_group in Area K temple


April 02, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Joe Uziel stars in a clip about the city of david

YNET has a nice clip about the excavations around the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem in which Joe Uziel, long-time member of the Safi team is the star! Check it out!

Way to go Joe!

Another review of Tell es-Safi/Gath I (ThL 139 2014)

I just became aware of yet another nice review of the Tell es-Safi/Gath I volume, which was written by Prof. Gunnar Lehmann of Ben-Gurion University. The review, which was published in Theologische Literaturzeitung 139 (2014): 324-326, describes the volume in a very positive manner, and ends with this very apt summary:

Die Publikation der Ausgrabungen von Tell es-Safi macht damit nicht nur bedeutende archäologische Befunde and Funde der Wissenschaft zugänglich, sie trägt vor allem auch zu einem besseren Verständnis der Geschichte Israels/Palästina vom 11. bis 9. Jh. bei.

March 31, 2014

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

Discussion with Yossi Garfinkel on the United Monarchy

As mentioned previously, this evening I participated in a discussion with Yossi Garfinkel at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem, moderated by Nir Hasson, on the United Monarchy, Khirbet Qeiyafa and other issues relating to the historicity of the biblical text in relation to the archaeological remains. I believe that we had a very interesting exchange of ideas, which from what I saw (and what my mother who was there said as well…), that the crowd enjoyed it a lot.

I tried to stress that the complexity of the biblical text requires us to relate very carefully to any historical reconstruction relating to the Iron Age, and and connection between the biblical text and the archaeological remains must be done using cutting archaeology AND cutting edge biblical studies.

It was fun!