Taygete Atlantis: Excavation Blogs (Antiquity)


Tom Elliott (tom.elliott@nyu.edu)

This feed aggregator is part of the Planet Atlantides constellation. Its current content is available in multiple webfeed formats, including Atom, RSS/RDF and RSS 1.0. The subscription list is also available in OPML and as a FOAF Roll. All content is assumed to be the intellectual property of the originators unless they indicate otherwise.

May 17, 2018

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

Obsidian Sourcing

by Angela Huster

While we have posted here about exporting obsidian samples for chemical sourcing – in order to determine which volcano the obsidian came from – I realized that we never posted anything about the results.

Chemical sourcing techniques measure the amount of different elements in a sample. Since different volcanoes (or even different eruptions from the same volcano) have difference “fingerprints” of rarer elements, archaeological samples can then be matched to their source area this way. We used two different techniques, XRF (by Adrian Burke) and INAA (by the MURR lab), which agreed pretty well for the subset of samples which were analyzed both ways.

Getting from the results of the sourcing analyses to the actual frequencies of obsidian from different sources at the Calixtlahuaca ended up being a multi-step process due to how we selected samples. First, the obsidian that we found included both grey and green pieces. Since green obsidian in Central Mexico is almost always from the Pachuca source in Hidalgo and is easy to visually identify, we only selected a few pieces from each household for analysis, just to confirm that that it came from Pachuca – and it did! This means that the actual percentage of Pachuca obsidian at the site is what we identified visually, not the much lower number in the sourcing results. Second, when we picked the grey obsidian samples, we tried to get pieces representing different production techniques and artifact types for each household, but the resulting samples weren’t necessarily representative of the different artifact types in the parent assemblage. When we got out results back, we realized that most of our grey obsidian blades were from Ucareo in Michoacan, while most our grey obsidian bifaces and flakes were from Otumba, in the Basin of Mexico. As a result, we also had to correct our frequencies to account for the types of lithic technologies in our sourcing samples (using Brad Andrew’s typological lithic analysis data). This is why you should think very carefully about your sampling strategy before you select artifacts; your results are only as representative as your samples were!

Once we did all that, our results showed that most of the obsidian at Calixtlahuaca came from three sources; Ucareo in the Tarascan Empire, and Otumba and Pachuca in the Aztec Empire.  We also had occasional pieces from seven other sources, including four pieces from minor Toluca Valley sources. The proportions of the three major sources change over time, with increasing percentages of material from the Aztec Pachuca and Otumba sources over time (Figure 1). However, for all phases, the percentages of Ucareo obsidian at Calixtlahuaca are much higher than at other sites in Central Mexico (Golitko and Feinman 2015). This might be related to the presence of intrusive sites with Matlatzinca style ceramics near the Ucareo source (Hernandez and Healan 2008).

Figure 1. The percentages of obsidian from difference sources at Calixtlahuaca over time, after various correction factors were applied.

Another way to think about obsidian source frequencies is whether the volume of obsidian at a site is changing over time. One way to do this is to calculate the ratio of obsidian artifacts to ceramic sherds. At Calixtlahuaca, the volume of obsidian reaching the site during the Yata (LPC-B) phase drops, meaning that even though there is a higher percentage of obsidian from Aztec sources, this is because there is less Ucareo obsidian reaching the site, not because there is actually more Aztec obsidian (Figure 2). This is interesting because it suggests that the near-total Aztec monopoly on obsidian at other sites might have been due to cutting off access to other sources, rather than flooding the market with increased supply.

Figure 2. The frequencies of obsidian from difference sources per 1000 sherds over time at Calixtlahuaca

Works Cited:

Golitko, Mark and Gary M. Feinman
                2015       Procurement and Distribution of Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican Obsidian 900 BC-AD 1520: a Social Network Analysis. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2015(22):206-247.

Hernández, Christine L. and Dan M. Healan
                2008       The Role of Late Pre-Contact Colonial Enclaves in the Development of the Postclassic Ucareo Valley, Michoacan, Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 19(2):265-282.

May 16, 2018

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

New article: Earliest bit in the ancient near east from a donkey from Tell es-Safi/Gath

A new article from the Safi team has just appeared
In this study, spearheaded by Haskel Greenfield, we discuss evidence for the earliest bit reported from the ancient near east, from a donkey from the EB III levels at Tell es-Safi/Gath.
The article is entitled:
Greenfield HJ, Shai I, Greenfield TL, Arnold ER, Brown A, Eliyahu A, Maeir, AM (2018) Earliest evidence for equid bit wear in the ancient Near East: The “ass” from Early Bronze Age Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel. PLoS ONE 13(5): e0196335. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196335
And here is the abstract:
Analysis of a sacrificed and interred domestic donkey from an Early Bronze Age (EB) IIIB (c. 2800–2600 BCE) domestic residential neighborhood at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, indicate the presence of bit wear on the Lower Premolar 2 (LPM2). This is the earliest evidence for the use of a bit among early domestic equids, and in particular donkeys, in the Near East. The mesial enamel surfaces on both the right and left LPM2 of the particular donkey in question are slightly worn in a fashion that suggests that a dental bit (metal, bone, wood, etc.) was used to control the animal. Given the secure chronological context of the burial (beneath the floor of an EB IIIB house), it is suggested that this animal provides the earliest evidence for the use of a bit on an early domestic equid from the Near East.
Hope you find this interesting,

May 13, 2018

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

The Tell es-Safi/Gath airforce commencement!

The first of a series of two different types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that will be put into regular use in the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project has arrived.

While in the past we have regularly used UAVs for aerial photography, as of the coming season, we will have our own UAVs for our use! This will include a DJI Mavic Pro for regular and 3D photography and a DJI M600 for airborne LIDAR and multispectral scanning.

So far, the Mavic Pro has arrived, and last week, a bunch of us (Maria, Shira, Vanessa and Aren), went out to the drone field, to start learning how to use these great instruments.

I see a lot of interesting data for analytic purposes – and a lot of fun! :-)

Here’s some pictures from our training session:

May 11, 2018

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

Prof. Zohar Amar’s new website

Prof. Zohar Amar, a colleague in the Dept. of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, has put online a very nice website “Antiquities of Nature and Realia in Israel” – that deals with a broad range of aspects relating to the realia of nature, agriculture, medicine, technology and other aspects in antiquity and contemporary modern cultures, with particular emphasis on how this is reflected in ancient Jewish sources (from the Bible until modern Jewish rabbinical sources).

The website is in Hebrew and English – so check it out. Has a lot of very interesting materials!


May 08, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Matt Gets Tenure!

Congratulations to Matt for receiving tenure from the University of Maryland! Way to go Matt! Well-deserved!


May 03, 2018

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

“Worlds in Disarray: Prehistory and the Present”: Lecture by Prof. Louise Hitchcock, Univ. of Melbourne, May 21st

For those of you will are or will be in Melbourne on Monday, May 21st, Louise Hitchcock will be presenting a lecture “Worlds in Disarray: Prehistory and the Present”.

This lecture examines the relationship between social and technological acceleration, class conflict, natural disaster, and systems collapse in the ancient Mediterranean and in modern western society through an examination of globalization, populism and piracy.

Here is a flyer about the lecture: Louise_Worlds in Disarray Flyer

April 23, 2018

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

Great News for Dr. Eric Welch!

Kudos and congratulations to Dr. Eric Welch, long time senior staff member of the Safi team, and director of Area K, for his new position as Senior Lecturer, in the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky.

The good news is now that Eric has moved from Kansas to Kentucky, we can still keep the “K” in Area K! :-)

Way to go Eric!

Here’s a great picture of Eric (on the right, with the baseball hat) in Area K, with Prof. Amnon Albeck, vice rector of BIU (on the left).

April 22, 2018

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

Safi related papers at MNEME: Past and Memory in the Aegean Bronze Age, the 17th International Aegean Conference

Louise has been kind enough to write the following:

Safi staff and alumni gave the following papers this past week at MNEME: Past and Memory in the Aegean Bronze Age, the 17th International Aegean Conference, Venice, 17-21 April 2018. The proceedings will be published by Peeters Press in the prestigious Aegaeum series.

Here are the various papers that were presented:

Brent DAVIS, Emilia BANOU, Louise HITCHCOCK & Anne CHAPINCuration in the Bronze Age Aegean: Objects as Material Memories 

Louise HITCHCOCK, Aren MAEIR, and Madaline HARRIS-SCHOBERTomorrow Never Dies: Post-Palatial Memories of the Aegean Late Bronze Age in the Mediterranean 

Caroline TULLY & Sam CROOKS The Self Possessed: Framing Identity in Late Minoan Glyptic

Jacob E. HEYWOOD & Brent DAVIS Funerary Iconography and the Stimulation of Memory

Way to go team!


April 20, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Registration Deadline Extended – May 15

We are rapidly approaching this summer’s season – and it promises to be very interesting – as we plan on opening at least one new area! And without giving away too many details – in this new area, we will be searching for something which rhymes with “date” 🙂

Speaking of dates – we are extending the registration deadline from May 1 to May 15 – see you still have some time to sign up.

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

Articles on Safi in Jewish newspapers in the US

Several Jewish newspapers in the US have published articles about the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavations – and I’ve been called “Israel’s Indiana Jones” (sigh…) – but in general, they are very positive and appealing articles.

Check them out, here and here.


Jill Katz about archaeology in Israel

Yeshiva University put out a series of essays on Israel at 70. Among others, Jill Katz, long-time senior staff member in the Tell es-Safi/Gath Project, has contributed a very nice essay about archaeology in Israel.

Check it out!


April 19, 2018

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

Overview of contemporary archaeology is Israel

Amanda Borschel-Dan, of the Times of Israel, put out a very nice overview of the state of the art of archaeology in Israel. For this, she interviewed a nice group of colleagues in the fields, including me.

I even got the lead quote on the articles heading: ‘STARTUP NATION IS SEEN, FULL BLOWN, IN ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGY’

Check it out!

And happy Israel Independence Day to all!



April 11, 2018

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

Tell es-Safi/Gath, Vol. 1 – at close out prices!

For those of you interested in having your own personal copy of the first volume of the final reports on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, the publisher is offering the volume at a close-out price (10 Euro plus postage!).

If you are interested, contact Stefan Wimmer – stefan.wimmer@uni-muenchen.de.

As there are only a few copies left – I suggest you do this ASAP – if you are interested!

April 10, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Book out by Matt!

Our very own Matt Suriano has just published a book entitled A History of Death in the Hebrew Bible with Oxford University Press. Way to go Matt!



Here are a few main arguments in the book:

  • Reinterprets death in the Hebrew Bible as a dynamic process that can continue after burial rather than a static event
  • Suggests the tomb represented a positive image of postmortem existence and a constructive ideal of the afterlife
  • Compares Hebrew funerary inscriptions from the Iron Age with motifs found in biblical literature
  • Integrates the archaeological analysis of Iron Age mortuary remains from Judah with the interpretation of death in the Hebrew Bible

April 08, 2018

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

2nd Issue of Near Eastern Archaeology devoted to the Safi project is out!

The second issue of Near Eastern Archaeology (81/1, 2018) entirely devoted to the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological project has appeared!

Following the first issue (80/4, 2017, mentioned here), which dealt with various general issues and the pre-Iron Age finds, the 2nd issue deals primarily with various aspects relating to the Iron Age – and particularly the Philistine culture. In addition, there are articles that deal with later periods and several general issues, such as archaeological science, archaeobotany, physical anthropology, glyptics, stone tools, the site survey and other issues.

So, between these two issues, an excellent overview of the project and its results are now available to the public! Below is the “front matter” of the issue, with the full table of contents – and the guest editor’s introduction that I wrote.

Check it out!

April 04, 2018

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

Two Safi-related papers at the ICAANE 2018 in Munich

Although I’m not attending this conference, two Safi-related papers are being presented this week at the ICAANE 2018 in Munich.

  1. Kent Fowler, Elizabeth Walker, Jon Ross, Haskel Greenfield and Aren Maeir (presented by Haskel), is entitled: “The age and sex of Early Bronze Age potters from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel” (Tuesday, April 3rd, 17:00)
  2. Philipp W. Stockhammer and Aren M Maeir (presented by Philipp), is entitled: “Current Archaeological Approaches to The Philistines” (Thursday, April 5th, at 14:00).

April 02, 2018

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

One month left to sign up for the 2018 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath

If you have not registered to be a team member of the 2018 season of excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath – now is the time!

There is just one month left until the deadline – May 1st, 2018.

So – don’t waste any more time and deliberate – go here and sign up!

You will have one of the most memorable and enriching experiences of your life!


March 30, 2018

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

Conference on Ashkelon and its environs in honor of Dr. Nahum Sagiv – May 9th, 2018

On May 9th, 2018, a conference will be held in honor Dr. Nahum Sagiv, marking his retirement from Ashkelon Academic College.

The meeting will be held at Ashkelon Academic College in Ashkelon. Various lectures will be presented (in Hebrew) on various topics relating to the history and archaeology of Ashkelon, the coastal plain and the Shephelah – including several on the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Here is the schedule:

March 29, 2018

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

Panoramic view from Area E

One more picture from the work in Area E on Tuesday – a really nice panoramic view, looking east to south east, from Area E. Thanks to Oren for the picture!

March 28, 2018

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

Is Tell es-Safi/Gath in Central Europe?

As mentioned previously, yesterday some of the team went out for day of work in Area E. In addition to the interesting work, the weather was quite unusual. Early in the morning it was cold and foggy and from mid-morning onward it was like the summer.

Here is a picture that Oren took just before 7 am, looking south towards the tell. Look how green and lush the tell and the surroundings look – and the cloud sitting right on the top of it! Looks like a scene from somewhere in central Europe! Quite different from how must of the team remembers the team – during the summer…

March 27, 2018

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

Day in Area E

Today, March 27th, a small Safi team did some work in Area E. The team included Aren, Shira, Maria, Vanessa, Adi, Elisabetta, Johanna, J, Oren and Mickey, and we also had a visit from colleagues from the Czech Republic.

We spent the day on site for several reasons:

  1. To fill in some missing info in the Area E plans
  2. To take 14C samples from the various levels that were exposed in the deep pit down to bedrock in Area E (mentioned here)
  3. To take samples from some very interesting mudbricks that we noticed in Area E a few months ago. We noticed that several of the walls are comprised of mudbricks of alternating textures and colors – almost in a checkerboard pattern.

All told, the day was very successful, and we managed to do all the things we planned.

The tell itself was a splendid green from the winter foliage. In fact, in the first few hours, the tell was completely covered by a cloud (see video below of the proverbial “pea soup” for those who understand…), but by 9 am, the sun was out and it felt like summer!

See some pictures and a video from today below:


WhatsApp Image 2018-03-27 at 6.18.53 PM2aaa5671-6206-4da6-abc8-147a2aef5768


My lecture at the Priests and Priesthood conference

As previously mentioned, I participated last week in a very interesting conference on priests and priesthood in the ancient Near East and other cultures.

Some of the lectures from the conference are now online, including mine, which deals with archaeological evidence of priests and Levites from the Iron Age Southern Levant.

Check it out – and wait until the very end to hear my joke about the Jewish man who wanted to be a Cohen! (and mea culpa for my mispronunciation of “tithes”…)



March 26, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Paper in Honor of Kay Fountain

We are pleased to announce that another paper dealing with finds from Tel Burna has been published. This paper is a festschrift honoring Kay Fountain on the occasion of her retirement. Kay regularly joins us in the field – and we were thrilled to be able to offer this study!

And a special shout-out goes to Benjamin Yang for his first publication! Way to go!

The full bibliographic details are as follows:

2018: McKinny, C., B. Yang, D. Cassuto, and I. Shai. “Illuminating a Canaanite and Judahite Town: The Archaeological Background of Tel Burna.” In The Old Testament in Theology and Teaching: Essays in Honor of Kay Fountain, edited by Teresa Chai and Dave Johnson. Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Press.

March 25, 2018

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

TV interview about Moshe Dayan’s antiquities collection

This weekend, there was a TV documentary on the history of political corruption in Israel, and one of the topics was Moshe Dayan’s obsession with collecting antiquities (and excavating them illegally) and the fact that the government “looked the other way” at the time.

As part of this discussion, I was interviewed at the Israel Museum, where various objects from his collection are on exhibit.

See the clip below. I appear at 9:05, 9:50 and 10:00



Sad news: Prof. Ephraim Stern has passed away

Sad news has arrived that Prof. Ephraim Stern, z”l, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University, and the excavator (among other sites) of Dor has passed away.

He was one of the central figures in the field of archaeology in Israel for many years.

May his memory be blessed.

March 22, 2018

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

60th birthday Festschrift and party!

Yesterday (Wednesday, March 21, 2018), a party was organized (more or less a surprise…;-) to celebrate my 60th birthday, and present to me a festschrift prepared in honor of this milestone!

The very moving party was held at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Many friends, family, and of course – many of the volume contributors – were at the party.

I was presented with the proofs of the enormous volume – edited by Itzik Shai, Jeff Chadwick, Louise Hitchcock, Amit Dagan and Joe Uziel. It has over 64 articles, more than 100 contributors – and close to 1100 pages!

Wow! This was so nice – and I so appreciated it!

Here are some pictures:


March 20, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Paper in ANE Today

Fresh off the “press” – a new short paper (with lots of illustrations) dealing with aspects of Late Bronze Age cult as found at Tel Burna has been published by ANE Today (ASOR).

The full reference is below:

2018: Shai, I. and McKinny, C. “Canaanite Religion at Tel Burna in the 13th century BCE.” Ancient Near East Today 6(3). 

We’d also like to use this opportunity to remind you that we are rapidly approaching this summer’s excavation season! Here is the application – don’t miss your opportunity to take part in the next cool discovery 🙂

March 19, 2018

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

Publication Round-Up

Angela Huster

The past two years have seen the publication of several articles, book chapters, and a dissertation related to the project. If you would like a copy, please contact me or the authors. (If you've written something on the project and I missed it, please let me know!)

Huster, Angela C.
                2018       Regional-Level Exchange in Postclassic Central Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 50: 40-53.

This article summarizes Middle and Late Postclassic trade patterns in ceramics in the Basin of Mexico, Morelos, and Toluca Valley, using data from Calixtlahuaca and several other published projects. It evaluates three hypotheses for the origins of the Postclassic market system and finds both bottom-up and top-down processes played roles, but that that the market system was not a product of the Aztec Empire.

Huster, Angela C.
                2016       The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

An evaluation of Aztec rulership strategies, using Calixtlahuaca as a case study. Includes trade, craft production, household wealth, and identity based on domestic ritual and food preparation.

Manin, Aurélie, Raphaël Cornette and Christine Lefèvre
                2016       Sexual dimorphism among Mesoamerican turkeys: a key for understanding past husbandry. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10:526-533.

This paper is an analysis of turkey bones from multiple Classic and Postclassic sites in Western Mesoamerica, including Calixtlahuaca. It shows that Mesoamerican turkey flocks were heavily skewed toward female birds, which is consistent with flocks managed for a mix of egg and meat production.

Manin, Aurélie and Christine Lefèvre
                2016       The use of animals in Northern Mesoamerica, between the Classic and the Conquest (200-1521 AD). An attempt at regional synthesis on central Mexico. Anthropozoologica 51(2):127-147.

This paper is an analysis of faunal material from multiple Classic and Postclassic sites in Western Mesoamerica, including Calixtlahuaca. Calixtlahuaca shows a relatively heavy reliance on dog, and somewhat less on hunted on garden-hunted species.

Sergheraert, Maëlle
                2016       Aztec Provinces of the Central Highlands.In The Oxford Handbook of the Aztecs, edited by D. L. Nichols and E. Rodríguez-Alegría, pp. 463-472. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

An overview of the archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence for Aztec rule in Central Mexico, using Calixtlahuaca as a case study.

Smith, Michael E.
                2016       Aztec Urbanism: Cities and Towns. In The Oxford Handbook of the Aztecs, edited by D. L. Nichols and E. Rodríguez-Alegría, pp. 201-218. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

An overview of organization, form, population, and common features of Aztec cities, including Calixtlahuaca.

Umberger, Emily and Casandra Hernández Fahan
                2017       Matlatzinco Before the Aztecs: José García Payón and the Sculptural Corpus of Calixtlahuaca. Ancient Mesoamerica28(1):1-19.

This work summarizes Emily, Casandra and Maëlle’s work on the stone sculptures from the Garcia Payón excavations at Calixtlahuaca. While the best-known sculptures from the site are Aztec-style pieces, there are also a large number of pieces in a local Matlatzinca style, which are described for the first time in this article.

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

International Conference: Biblical Exegesis Through the Ages (BIU, May 9-10, 2018)

Dr. Leeor Gottlieb, RIAB Center member, is the organizer of a very interesting international conference “Biblical Exegesis Through the Ages”, which will be held at Bar-Ilan University, on May 9-10, 2018. The conference will be held under the auspices of the Faculty of Jewish Studies of BIU, the Israel Society for Biblical Research, the RIAB Minerva Center, and the Zalman Shamir Dept. of Bible at BIU.

Here is the detailed program of the conference:

March 18, 2018

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

Safi-related papers at the “Young Scholars Conference” – March 15th, 2018

Last Thursday (March 15, 2018), the annual “Young Scholars’ Conference”, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology of Bar-Ilan University, took place.

In this conference, MA and PhD students from the department present lectures on their research. It was a very interesting (and well organized) day (Shira and Michal were the organizers), and three of the Safi team members gave papers:

  • Nati spoke about the ethnic identity of the Philistine temple at Nahal Patish
  • Vanessa spoke about understanding Iron Age iron workshops
  • Maria spoke about the use of astragali bones in the Iron Age

Here are a few pictures:

March 07, 2018

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

Happy birthday to Vanessa!

To wish Vanessa a happy birthday, there was a little celebration in the lab today.

Mazal tov!

March 06, 2018

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

Podcast on archaeology, Tell es-Safi/Gath and other things

A few days ago, I was interviewed for a podcast by Alex Sorin from foreigncy.us.

The interview is now online.

You can listen to the podcast here or here



February 25, 2018


Broken Dishes

Susan Allen

While the pottery of the West Settlement has been buffeted by millennia of wind and water (from the wadi that runs through the site), much has been recovered from our recent excavations. This year, we were able to build on the progress made last year by Egyptian interns Aisha Mohamed Montaser and Hussein Fawzi Zaki, with the expert assistance of Pamela Rose. Using the corpus of pottery fabrics and forms developed by Pamela at Amarna, we are now tackling the substantial number of still-to-be-analyzed pottery groups.


A collection of sherds from the West Settlement

From each context (living surfaces, trash pits and other features) all pottery is collected and bagged. The first step is to lay out each group and divide the sherds into the two basic clay types: Nile silt and Marl clay (clay mined from desert sources). These are then divided between those from open forms (such as bowls), those from closed forms (jars, amphorae), and non-containers such as stands or lids. Each group is then sorted by surface treatment. Diagnostic sherds (rims, bases, handles, etc.) are counted and set aside for further analysis, comparison to the Amarna corpus, and in some cases for drawing. The body sherds, if they cannot be associated with a diagnostic form, are recorded and disposed of at a set location on site.

At this preliminary stage, it appears that the majority of the pottery is made of Nile silt and includes bowls and dishes of all sizes and medium-sized jars. Only a small percentage are Marl clay sherds, usually from large amphorae. Some of the bowls, especially the large ones, show indications of burning and were probably used as braziers, while smaller dishes were sometimes used as lamps. Each group collected usually includes a few pieces of the beautiful blue-painted decorated pottery that is characteristic of the late 18th Dynasty and particularly of the reigns of Amenhotep III and the Amarna period.


Left: Body and rim sherds from a blue-painted vessel found in the West Settlement. Right: Blue-painted vessel from The Met’s earlier excavations at Malqata (Rogers Fund, 1911, 11.215.462)

The shapes and wares analyzed so far support the interpretation of this site as a settlement area, where non-elite inhabitants of the complex were living. The predominance of dishes, bowls and jars may show that they were used for the consumption of food prepared elsewhere at Malqata. The large Marl clay sherds mixed with a few imported types from elsewhere in the Levant come from wine and oil amphorae which would have been stored and consumed in areas like the Palace. These large sturdy sherds may then have been reused in the West Settlement as leveling and filling material.

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

Jeff Emanuel’s new book on the Sea Peoples, Homer, the LB/Iron Age transition and more

Just received my copy (as I wrote a “back cover blurb”) of Jeff Emanuel’s excellent new book, in which he examines the LB/early Iron I context of the “Second Cretan Lie” from Homer’s Odyssey. In it he discusses the context of the raiding activities and places it within the context of the Sea Peoples’ activities during the LB/Iron I transition. I highly recommend the book!

The full title is:

Emanuel, J. P. 2017 Black Ship and Sea Raiders: The Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Context of Odysseus’ Second Cretan Lie. Lanham, MA: Lexington Books.

Here are pictures of the front and back covers:

February 24, 2018

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

Appreciation of Hershel Shanks in BAR

The just published issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) is dedicated to the honor of Hershel Shanks, the founding editor of BAR. In it, there is a series of short appreciations of Hershel, written by many, including some of the leading archaeologists in the field.

See here a PDF of the various appreciations. I’m on page 59:

BAR-MAMJ18-Celebrating Hershel Shanks

February 23, 2018

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

New paper by Louise Hithcock and Aren Maeir

A new paper by Louise and Aren has appeared.

The full title is:

Hitchcock, L. A., and Maeir, A. M. 2017. Hesperos and Phosphoros: How Research on Aegean-Eastern Interactions Can Inform Studies of the West. Pp. 253–60 in Hesperos: The Aegean Seen from the West, eds. M. Fotiadis, R. Laffineur, Y. Lolos and A. Vlachopoulos. Aegaeum 41. Leuven: Peeters.

See here for a copy of the corrected proofs.

The paper deals with: the recursive extent of influence between the Aegean interactions with neighboring regions remains an area of investigation that continues to generate enthusiastic scholarly interest and lively debate. Here, we outline the importance of current theoretical perspectives on Aegean interaction with the East (particularly Philistia and Cyprus), which may be conceptually helpful to the study of similar interactions with central and western Europe. We also draw on a couple of very interesting examples from the conference to illustrate our positions. The archaeological, historical, and anthropological approaches we touch upon include gift exchange, entanglement, transculturalism, transnationalism, and piracy as a model of limited migration.


February 22, 2018

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

Very interesting find: Possible bulla of Isaiah from Jerusalem

Reports are out on a very interesting find from Jerusalem – an Iron Age IIB bulla (clay sealing) mentioning a person by the name of Isaiah, which the excavator (Dr. Eilat Mazar) is suggesting as possibly being the well-known biblical prophet of that name!

If this is correct, this would be another item to add to the list of biblical figures known from the archaeological finds.

See here and here for articles discussing this, presenting some of the arguments for, and against, the suggested identification.

Very interesting – and without a doubt – something that will be much debated, discussed and noted in the future.

We have quarries and quarried masonry and object – but nothing like this!

At Tell es-Safi/Gath and its surroundings, we do have quite a few ancient quarries – and many objects and masonry from such quarries, but nothing like this!

Check it out:

Easter Island statues and quarries

February 21, 2018


Step by step by step by step…

Anthony Crosby

One of the priorities for this season at the King’s Palace at Malqata was to document, protect and interpret the one palace stairs that remains. Four palace staircases had been identified when the Metropolitan Museum’s excavations concluded in 1911, two of which had been recorded previously by Robb DePeyster Tytus and Percy Newberry during their 1901-1903 excavations.

The two staircases recorded by Tytus are highlighted in yellow. The one at the right is still partially preserved today. Detail of the palace plan published by Tytus in his preliminary report on the excavations in 1903. In this plan, south is at the top.

Only one of the staircases documented by the Metropolitan Museum is still visible today and that one is in an important interpretive area just north of the main central courtyard. Undoubtedly there were other stairways and ramps to connect various parts of the palace but the preserved staircase is apparently the only one that clearly provided access to the second level of the main palace area.

Model of a house with stairs leading to the roof. Gift of the Egyptian Research Account and the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 1907 (07.231.11).

The remains of this staircase consist of what I assume is the first step of four that were documented on the early site plans along with three parallel mud brick walls that formed the stair well. Both the steps and the adjacent mud brick walls were shown by Tytus with a flight of stairs on the west ascending to the south and the parallel flight of stairs on the east ascending to the north (see arrows on the plan above). The remaining mud brick walls and step (below) support this interpretation.

Facing south: the stair well of the remaining staircase with preserved step; and a plan of the staircase (in yellow) made by the Museum’s excavators in 1911.

Okay, so we have one step made of mud bricks which are 17 cm long by 35 cm wide by 10 cm high, and the remains of three parallel existing mud brick walls 5.7 meters long that define approximately the overall width of the stairs. That’s a start, but what about the height of the riser, or step, and what about the width of the tread?

We can start by measuring the steps as recorded in the 1911 plan (above) and interpreting the width of the tread using the map’s graphic scale. This results in a tread of somewhere between 35 and 50 cm. This is quite a large range but the drawing that we are measuring was produced at a scale of 1 to 200 and, at that scale, the width of a line on the drawing could translate to several centimeters. There were three other avenues of research we pursued to more clearly define the stair details.

The first was to look at other examples of stairs that are contemporary and are also part of Malqata. I reviewed the documentation of several stairs at the site of Kom el Samak located just south of the palace site. The relevant structure was a desert shrine excavated by Waseda University in 1974. There were several monumental stepped ramps, the gradient of which was too flat to fit in the allowable space at the palace. Another stairwat appeared more functional with treads of 43 cm and a riser of 11 cm. We also looked at stairs at the Amun Temple located approximately 300 meters north of the palace with approximately the same tread and riser as the Kom el Samak stairs.

Another important consideration and one that would help establish the staircase details was to calculate the number of steps and the height of the steps that could reach a second level. Based on architectural modeling done at Amarna and other sites. I assumed that the height necessary to reach the second level would be somewhere between 3.5 and 4 meters which would include the thickness of a roof or ceiling system. If I used the step height of 11 cm and a tread width of 43 cm, the maximum height of each flight would be 1 meter and a total height of 2 meters, clearly not enough. To achieve a steeper stairway that could reach the appropriate height, we can increase the height of the step or decrease the width of the tread, or a combination of both. Increasing the height of a step to 15 cm, keeping the same tread width and assuming a 1 meter landing between flights of stairs we can gain approximately 3.6 meters or 12 feet.

Continuing our research, we communicated directly with Barry Kemp on the staircases at Amarna. Previously I had reviewed his book on Amarna but found it didn’t have enough specific detail about stairs. However, we contacted Kemp directly and he shared several important details. “Staircases at Amarna were normally built from mud bricks of standard size laid on their long edge. Thus, if the width of the bricks was around 16 cm, then the steps or treads would have been about the same height…”


Talatat blocks from a temple of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), discovered at Karnak Temple and included as part of a large reconstructed wall on display in the Luxor Museum.

Incorporating this important information into our design process would result in step height of 17 cm, as our remaining step consisted consists of bricks that are 17 cm wide. With an assumption that the second level would be approximately 3.6 to 4 meters higher than the first, 22 to 24 steps would be required. Assuming a landing of 1 meter, we divide the 4.7 meters by 11 or 12 steps for one flight and arrive at a tread width of 40-44 cm. Depending on the number of steps, the height reached by the stairs would be approximately 3.7 to 4.1 meters. The thickness of mortar and the variation in brick sizes could alter the actual number of steps to a minor degree. Of course we can never know the specific dimensions of the staircase, except the height of the steps, because all other information has been lost. However, this solution is logical as it incorporates the existing physical evidence, the documentation of the early Malqata excavations, and knowledge of normal construction practices of the period.


After the walls were capped, we laid out two additional steps to indicate the possible configuration of the lower stairway. The preserved step has been covered with sand.

Our next step was to construct a full size model of several stairs. We hope in the future to construct a partial staircase of four or five steps to show the general characteristics of a Malqata Palace stairway that is a considered response to the existing original conditions, to the earlier documentation at Malqata, to examples at similar sites and to traditional historic stair design.



February 20, 2018

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

New paper on Mesoscopic analysis of EB pottery from Safi

A new paper from the Safi project has appeared, spearheaded by Jon Ross from the University of Manitoba – a PhD student of Haskel Greenfield, and Safi team member for the last several years.

A copy of the proofs can be found here.

Here is the abstract:

In this paper, we propose an alternative analytical method for identifying vessel shaping techniques at the mesoscopic scale to complement current micro and macro methods in ceramic analysis. We demonstrate how this simple and low cost method permits clear and rapid identification of the signatures indicative of different pottery shaping techniques. The datasets that are generated using this method provide a new perspective on vessel structure for characterising neglected stages of the chaîne opératoire, with the analytical potential to shed further light on economic life, learning frameworks, and group identities. Material from the Early Bronze Age III of Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel are used to demonstrate the utility of the method on a site assemblage. We identify different combinations of coiling techniques used to make different vessel types and propose that potters are
specialising in the production of specific parts of the repertoire.

The full title is:

Ross, J., Fowler, K., Shai, I., Greenfield, H. J., and Maeir, A. M. 2018. A Scanning Method for the Identification of Pottery Forming Techniques at the Mesoscopic Scale: A Pilot Study in the Manufacture of Early Bronze Age III Holemouth Jars and Platters from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 18: 551–61.

February 19, 2018

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

Conference on “Priests and Priesthood in the Near East” – TAU, March 19-21, 2018

The full schedule for the upcoming conference on “Priests and Priesthood in the Near East: Social, Intellectual and Economic Aspects” is available (HT Jack Sasson).

This very interesting meeting (at which I’m also giving a paper), will be held at Tel Aviv University on Monday-Wednesday, March 19th-21st, 2018.

Here is the schedule:

Priests and Priesthood in the Near East: Social, Intellectual and Economic Aspects
Tel Aviv University, 19 – 21 March 2018

Monday, March 19
Bnei Zion Hall, Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People
09:30 – 10:00 Gathering
10:00 – 10:15 Greetings and opening remarks

Opening Address: Recent Discoveries from Ur / Tell Muqayyar (10:15 – 11:00)
Priests of Ur in the Old Babylonian Period: A Reappraisal in the Light
of the Discoveries at Ur / Tell Muqayyar in 2017
Dominique Charpin (Collège de France)

Keynote Session I: Origins of Near Eastern Priesthood (11:00 – 12:30)
Close to the Ruler and to the Gods: The Cultic Duties of the Cupbearer
and the Role of Priestesses and Priests in Early Dynastic Mesopotamia
Walther Sallaberger (LMU, Munich)
Babylonian Priesthood during the Third Millennium BCE: Between Sacred
and Profane
Piotr Steinkeller (Harvard University)

12:30 – 14:00 Reception

Gilman Building, Room 282
Priestly Identity in Mesopotamian Art and Material Culture (14:00 – 15:00)
Fashioning the Priesthood’s Identities in 3rd Millennium Mesopotamia
Through Objects and Images
Christina Tsouparopoulou (Cambridge University)
Identity Through Appearance: Babylonian Priestly Clothing
Louise Quillien (EPHE, Paris)

Biblical Priests between Text and Context (15:00 – 16:00)
“The priests, the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no
part nor inheritance with Israel” (Deut 18:1): Is There Archaeological
Evidence of Priests and Priesthood in Iron Age Israel and Judah?
Aren Maeir (Bar Ilan University)
“Is there a Priest in the House?”: Identifying Jewish Priests
(Kohanim) in the Archaeology of Roman Judaea/Palaestina
Yonatan Adler (Ariel University)

16:00 – 16:30 Coffee Break

Keynote Session II: New Perspectives on Near Eastern Priesthood (16:30 – 18:00)
Priests in the City, Priests in the Kingdom: Discourse and Social
Change in the Babylonian Chronicles
Caroline Waerzeggers (Leiden University)
Near Eastern Priests: A Graeco-Roman perspective
Julietta Steinhauer (University College London)

Tuesday, March 20
Gilman Building, Room 496
Priesthood Identity in City-State and Empire (09:30 – 12:00)
Kings, Priests, and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Period
Shana Zaia (University of Helsinki)
In the Shadow of Oannes: Priesthood, Scholarship and Politics in
Hellenistic Babylonia
Kathryn Stevens (Durham University)

10:30 – 11:00 Coffee Break

The Two Wings of a Bird: Buddhism and the State in Early Medieval Japan
Mikael Adolphson (Cambridge University)
Altered by devotion (bhakti): Kings and Brahmins, Royal Courts and
Temples in Second Millennium South India
Ilanit Loewy-Schacham (Tel Aviv University)

12:00 – 13:30 Lunch Break

Social and Cultic Geographies (13:30 – 15:00)
Priests on the Move: Migrations of Priestly Families in First
Millennium Babylonia
Paul-Alain Beaulieu (University of Toronto)
Lower-ranking Priests: The Reed Workers from Borsippa
Kathleen Abraham (KU Leuven)
Geographies of Expertise and Entitlement: Brahman Priestly Migrations
in India Over the Longue Duree
Polly O’Hanlon (University of Oxford)

15:00 – 15:30 Coffee Break

Ethnic and Social Markers of Priesthood (15:30 – 16:30)
The Cults of Old Babylonian Susiana within its Socio-economic and
Ethno-linguistic Framework
Ran Zadok (Tel Aviv University)
Priests Associated with Hurrian Religious Beliefs and active in the
Hittite Kingdom
Stefano De Martino (University of Torino)

Wednesday, March 21
Gilman Building, Room 496
Choosing and Becoming a Priest (09:30 – 11:00)
Preconditions for the Priesthood in the Ancient Near East: A
Comparative Investigation
Jonathan Stökl (King’s College London)
The Economic, Social, and Religious Significance of Local Priests in
Hittite Anatolia
Michele Cammarosano (University of Würzburg)
“As a priest I offered to the goddess for myself”: The Hittite Kings as Priests
Amir Gilan (Tel Aviv University)

11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break

Festival and Cultic Performance (11:30 – 13:00)
Priestly Colleges in North-Central Anatolia. Some Remarks on the
Tradition and Organization of Local Cults in the Second Millennium BCE
Piotr Taracha (University of Warsaw)
The Nissan Ceremony in Ezekiel in Light of the Akītu Festival
Tova Ganzel (Bar Ilan University)
The Role of the kalû-Priests in the Ancient Mesopotamian Temple Cult
Uri Gabbay (Hebrew University)

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch Break

Economy and Administration of the Cult (14:30 – 15:30)
Priests and Prebends in Old Babylonian Nippur
Wiebke Meinhold (University of Tübingen)
How to Run Your Neo-Babylonian Temple: A šatammu’s Guide
Yuval Levavi (Bar Ilan University)

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

Concluding Session (16:00 – 17:00)
The Urukean Priesthood Between City and State Religion
Michael Jursa (University of Vienna) & Shai Gordin (Ariel University /
Tel Aviv University)
In Lieu of a Conclusion: Results and Open Questions
Michael Jursa (University of Vienna)

February 18, 2018

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

Join the team at Tell es-Safi/Gath for the 2018 season!

Don’t miss your chance to join the 2018 team at the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Go to the online registration and sign up now – and have the experience of a lifetime!


February 16, 2018


Fallen Ceilings

Catharine Roehrig

When we started work at the Palace two weeks ago, we had the workmen clean the walls that were going to be capped in the area of the King’s bedchamber and its antechamber at the southern end of the palace. In the process, they uncovered a section of fallen ceiling next to a wall in the southern half of the antechamber. Interestingly, the pattern of this ceiling is not the same as the fallen ceiling discovered in the northern half of the same room by the Metropolitan Museum in the winter of 1910-1911.


Looking east at pieces of the cow ceiling lying on the floor at the northern end of the antechamber. The decorated wall plaster at the center left is the east jamb of the antechamber entrance.

We know the exact location of the 1911 ceiling discovery because a photograph was taken of the fragments lying on the floor where they had fallen. (And yes, odd as it may seem, large numbers of the ceiling fragments were found lying face-up.) The pattern of this ceiling has a series of cows’ heads separated by spirals enclosing rosettes. At the time, it was possible to remove two large portions of this ceiling and set them in plaster. In the division of finds at the end of the year’s work, one section went to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the other was sent to New York where it is now on display in gallery 119 (11.151.451).


Section of the cow ceiling that was given to the Museum in the division of finds in 1911. Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.451).

The pattern uncovered two weeks ago consists of alternating red and blue concave squares with rosettes in the center. The lens-shaped spaces between the concave squares are painted yellow and have green circles at the intersections. A similar ceiling pattern was found by Waseda University in a room at the north end of the Palace during their excavations here in the 1970s (http://www.egyptpro.sci.waseda.ac.jp/e-mp.html).


A ceiling fragment that was found while cleaning a wall in room J. This piece has the same pattern as the fallen ceiling, but was not found in situ.


Anyone who has visited the nobles’ tombs at Qurna has probably noticed that the ceilings often have more than one pattern, and the same seems to have been true in the King’s Palace.

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

Review of Brian Janeway’s book

My review of Brian Janeway’s very nice volume on the Aegean-style early Iron Age pottery from Tell Tayinat, in the Amuq Valley in southern Turkey, has just appeared.

While dealing with a site quite to the north of Tell es-Safi/Gath specifically and Philistia in general, the Aegean style pottery from Tayinat has generated a lot of interest due to the possible connections with the Philistine material culture and the dynamics of its appearance.

See here a link to read it.

The full title is:

Maeir, A. M. 2018. Review of Janeway, B. 2016. Sea Peoples of the Northern Levant? Aegean-Style Pottery from Early Iron Age Tell Tayinat. Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant 7. Harvard Semitic Museum: Cambridge, MA. Review of Biblical Literature 2018/02.




February 15, 2018

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

More BIU PR photos in the lab

The BIU PR department took some photos in the lab for various PR uses. Various Safi team members and BIU students got a chance to star in a series of stunning photos!

They actually came out quite nice!

Departmental “Young Scholars’ Conference” – March 15th, 2018

The annual “Young Scholars’ Conference” of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, will be held on Thursday, March 15th, 2018 (which is only 3 days before my 60th b-day…:-).

At the conference, which was organized by Shira Albaz (of Safi team fame) and Michal David (who has also been part of the Safi team), both doctoral students in the department, several of the MA and PhD students from the department will present papers relating to their research projects.

Among the various papers presented throughout the meeting, the Safi team will be represented by Nati Ohrbach, Vanessa Workman (who will both present in English) and Maria Enukhina. Go Safi!

In addition, at the end of the day, several stipends will be awarded to students in the department, in memory of several of the former teachers in the department.

Here is the schedule – do come and join us at this very interesting day!







February 14, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Itzick Gets a Promotion to Associate Professor!

Hearty congratulations are in order to Itzik – our director and fearless leader – who has just earned the promotion of Associate Professor at Ariel University!

Way to go Prof. Shai!

HT: Aren Maeir


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

Congratulations to Prof. Itzik Shai!

Hearty congratulations are in order to Itzik Shai – who has just been appointed as an Associate Professor at Ariel University.

Well done and well deserved, Prof. Shai!


February 13, 2018

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

Lecture by Kyle Keimer – Monday, 19/2/18

Dr. Kyle Keimer of Macquarie University, who is currently leading an Australian team at the excavations at Khirbet er-Rai (see here), will be presenting a lecture at Bar-Ilan University on Monday, Feb. 19th, 2018, at 12:45. The lecture will take place in Room 225, on the 2nd floor of the Faculty of Jewish Studies building (410).

The title of his lecture will be:

Khirbet Qeiyafa: A bulwark against the Philistines in the Elah Valley?

All are invited to come to the lecture. Refreshments will be served before hand.


What Lies Beneath

Janice Kamrin

We have been excavating in the West Settlement now for a little more than a week, continuing to clarify the architecture and function of this intriguing site.


Plan of the West Settlement excavations, 2015-2018, with the magazine area to the south and living areas to the north (see Digging the West Settlement)

We began by opening up several squares along the eastern edge of the excavated area, hoping to find a connection between the buildings here and Diana’s industrial area farther to the east.

Hoping to avoid hitting any of the spoil heaps from the Met’s early 20th century excavations, we chose to continue a line of squares toward the north end of the site. The first locus looked promising – not far below the surface, we began to find a wall that fit in with the ones we had found in earlier seasons —one brick wide, laid as a stretcher, and running southeast to northwest across our grid. But as we moved to the east, it just petered out, as did any hint of cultural material, and we soon came down onto the natural desert substrate, a coarse, dark brown-grey matrix with outcroppings of lighter “tafla.”


The west half of Square N150/E140-N, looking north, with a new wall and mud tumble beginning to show.

Square N150/E145-N, level 1, looking E over N150/N140-N

Square N150/E140-N, looking east, with the natural desert surface exposed in the east half of the square.

As we extended our trench to the east, we continued to find nothing, just the original desert surface. When we moved to the south, we found some architecture in the western halves of our squares, but to the east, the architecture and most of the cultural remains are gone. In fact, although this is disappointing, it is not surprising: we are in a wadi, and it looks like water has washed away the eastern part of our excavation area.

N150/E140-N  level 1-3 and N155/E140-S, level 1-2, , looking E

View east down the line of squares at N150. Only the natural desert surface remained here, just below the current surface.

Overview of excavation site, 2018

Looking southeast over the site. The small wadi indicated here likely funneled floodwaters through the east edge of the West Settlement and washed away any remains.

The good news is that we have also opened up two half-squares farther to the south, hoping to find more of what we believe to be the boundaries of the complex. The bricks in these “exterior” walls are laid as headers, rather than the usual 1-brick wide stretchers, and are therefore wider and more substantial (although again, always only one brick high). And we are happy to report that we have found this type of wall in three places, helping us to complete the plan of the eastern part of the complex.

N125/E125, level 1, looking N

Square N125/E135, showing one of the newly exposed sections of exterior wall

February 09, 2018


A Flock of Pigeons

Catharine Roehrig

When we first arrived in Luxor, I was looking at the old photographs of the work done in the King’s Palace during the winter of 1910-1911 to see which ones might give us some information about the areas we are working on this year. At the end of the series there were a few photographs taken in 1912, during the following excavation season. Among these I found photos of ceiling fragments that were given to the Museum in that year’s division of finds. In 1912, the Malqata excavation team, which included Ambrose Lansing, Hugh Evelyn-White, and Herbert Winlock, were working in an area they called the “western extension.” This lay west of the King’s Palace, across a well-worn pathway that is now the desert road which cuts north/south through the site. The first group of rooms was later called Ho W1 and a second, farther west, was called Ho W2 (house west 1 and 2). The relationship between these “houses” is unclear because a wadi (dry river bed) has washed out the area between them, but they are now interpreted as a single structure called the Middle Palace.

Pigeon ceiling

Ceiling fragment depicting pigeons startled into flight. The end of a duck’s wing is visible in the upper left. Rogers Fund (12.180.257).

The ceiling fragments in question depict flying birds. One section is almost entirely composed of pigeons (12.180.257), with the edges of ducks’ wings indicating that there were other types of birds in the scene as well. The second section, smaller and more fragmentary, depicts pintail ducks. All of the birds are moving wildly as though startled into flight.

Both of these ceiling fragments are identified on their accession cards as coming from the King’s Palace, and similar ceiling paintings were found there by Robb de Peyster Tytus and Percy Newberry, who excavated there a decade before The Met’s Egyptian Expedition. However, thanks to the old photographs, it’s now possible to place them in one of the rooms in the Ho W1.


Photograph taken in 1912 showing the pigeon fragments where they fell. Note the wall in the background.


The same wall today partially covered with a century of wind- and water-borne debris

One of the photos shows the pigeon section of the ceiling where it lay on the ground. The photographic context is rather narrow, but there is a wall in the upper right of the photo. This wall, although now partially buried in wind-blown debris, is still recognizable today.


Photo taken in 1912 showing the position of the pigeon fragments. The sawhorses behind the fragments were part of a glass-topped table used to reconstruct the fragments.

In the second photograph, taken from Ho W2 looking east at Ho W1, the fragments are also visible. Behind the fragments are two sawhorses that would hold a large sheet of glass. Several of these glass tables had been used the previous season to facilitate the reconstruction of ceiling paintings. The fragments were placed face down on the glass and were then moved into position. When the reconstruction was as complete as possible, plaster of Paris was poured over the back to secure them for travel and display.

The sections of ceiling that came to New York are now displayed on the south wall of Egyptian gallery 119.

February 08, 2018

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

Visit to Kh. er-Rai – Very interesting!

Today I had the opportunity to visit the very interesting excavations at Kh. er-Rai, just to the west of Lachish (and about 10 km south of Safi), directed by Yosi Garfinkel, Saar Ganor and Kyle Keimer.

I’ll leave the description of the site to the excavators’ publications, but suffice to say that the finds are very interesting – and very important for understanding the late Iron I and early Iron IIA of the eastern Philistia and the western Shephelah.

What’s so nice about archaeology is the more we dig – the more complicated things get! :-)

February 07, 2018

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

Grants for UK students to travel to Israel to dig!

If you are a student from the UK and would like to get some support coming to Israel to participate in the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavations, here is a funding possibility:

The Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (AIAS) provides a few grants just for this.

Check this out here!



Malqata’s Own Poet Laureate

Diana Craig Patch

Jan Picton from University College London has joined us this season as part of the team working at the King’s Palace on the reconstruction of the rooms at the south end of the building. Shortly after getting out to the site last Saturday and looking at the impressive number of reconstructed walls nicely demarcating the various suites and the ones that needed work, she asked me if the King’s Palace brought to mind the famous Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall.”   Although I knew the poem, I had not read it in years and after work, Jan shared a copy of his poem (“Mending Wall”). The images Frost created in this poem, although of course completely different in nature, are reflected throughout the palace.

Workman laying brick w wall kings bedroomjpg

Workmen mending a wall in the King’s Palace.

Even better, she shared her homage to Frost’s poem and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mending Malqata’s Walls (with respect to Robert Frost)

By Jan Picton

Something there is that does not love the king’s walls,

That sends the ground-swell under it,

and spills the upper mudbricks in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of mud hunters is another thing:

we have come after them and made repair

where they have left not one brick on a brick.

The gaps I mean, no one has seen them made

or heard them made, but at season’s start we find them…

Greater blame to archaeologists who, in sharing history

and not backfilling and preserving, destroyed it.

So here we are to clean and record, to draw and make good again.

To relearn and share what we learn, to educate, and make a plea

to cherish this pharaonic heritage and leave a safer legacy.

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

But what were they doing...

One of the ongoing questions at Calixtlahuaca has been the degree of specialized production at the site. This could either take the form of particular households that focused on producing high quantities of a particular type of good, or the entire site specializing in producing something for trade on a regional scale. We know that specialization at both of these levels occurs at sites in both the Basin of Mexico and in Morelos. Among many other cases, the site of Otumba included specialized workshops to produce obsidian tools, and a neighborhood that made clay figurines and spindle whorls (Charlton, et al. 1991; Parry 1990). Cuexcomate and Capilco in Morelos has site-wide specialization in cotton production, and some households also made amate-bark paper (Fauman-Fichman 1999; Smith and Heath-Smith 1993).

Calixtlahuaca has been frustrating in this regard – most of the standard lines of evidence for craft production have come back negative (Huster 2016:Chap. 5). Neither the survey nor the excavation located areas of intensive obsidian working. The INAA and petrographic data for ceramics showed a wide range of variation within the broader local groups, a pattern consistent with many small producers. We only located a couple of molds for making figurines or other small clay objects, and there are very few duplicates among the finished molded items among our collections. There are a few spindle whorls for cotton spinning, but the frequencies are far lower than in other areas where it was too also too cold to grow cotton.

I’m currently evaluating whether maguey (agave) production might be sitewide or regional-scale specialty. I had previously discarded it a household-level specialization, because pretty much all of the households had some evidence for maguey textile production and none of them stood out as unusual when compared within the site. However, when compared on a regional scale, some lines of evidence suggest that the amount of maguey processing was similar to sites such as Cihuatecpan or Tepetitlan (Cobean and Mastache 1999; Evans 2005), which researchers have argued were sites specializing in maguey products. This would be an interesting finding, because the usual explanation is that people in Central Mexico focus on growing maguey (and other cacti) in areas where it is too dry to reliably grow corn (Parsons and Darling 2000), and the number of cornfields I flailed through while surveying Calixtlahuaca would suggest that this is not the case there. The Codex Mendoza tribute lists for the provide also include both maguey fiber textiles (a fairly uncommon item, limited to a single geographic cluster of provinces) and unusually high quantities of corn (2 bins, rather than the usual one), which would suggest that the two crops were both economically important in the region.

One of the 2006 survey crews trying to figure out how to lay out a surface collection in the middle of a modern cornfield at the site.

Charlton, Thomas H., Deborah L. Nichols and Cynthia Otis Charlton
                1991       Aztec craft production and specialization: archaeological evidence from the city-state of Otumba, Mexico. World Archaeology 23:p. 98-114.

Cobean, Robert H. and Alba Guadalupe Mastache
                1999       Tepetitlán: A Rural Household in the Toltec Heartland / Tepetitlán: Un Espacio Doméstico Rural en el Area de Tula. Serie Arqueología de México. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh PA and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Evans, Susan Toby
                2005       Men, Women and Maguey: The Houshold Division of Labor Among Aztec Farmers. In Settlement, subsistence, and social complexity : essays honoring the legacy of Jeffrey R. Parsons, edited by R. E. Blanton. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Fauman-Fichman, Ruth
                1999       Postclassic Craft Prodution in Morelos, Mexico: The Cotton Thread Industry in the Provinces.Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh.

Huster, Angela C.
                2016       The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico.Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Parry, William J.
                1990       Analysis of Chipped Stone Artifacts from Otumba and Neighboring Rural Sites in the Eastern Teotihuacan Valley of Mexico. In Preliminary Report of Recent Research in the Otumba City-State, edited by T. H. Charlton and D. L. Nichols. vol. 3. University of Iowa, Department of Anthropology, Research Report, Iowa City.

Parsons, Jeffrey R and J Andrew Darling
                2000       Maguey (Agave spp.) utilization in Mesoamerican civilization: a case for precolumbian" Pastoralism". Boletín de la Sociedad Botánica de México (66):81-91.

Smith, Michael E. and Cynthia Heath-Smith
                1993       Rural Economy in Late Postclassic Morelos: An Archaeological Study. In Economies and Polities in the Aztec Realm, edited by M. G. Hodge and M. E. Smith, pp. 349-376. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, Albany.

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

Cover page and TOC of first NEA issue on Safi!

As mentioned previously, the first issue of Near Eastern Archaeology devoted fully to the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project has appeared. The issue, NEA 80/4 (2017), includes papers by a large group of Safi team members, and covers various introductory issues and the Early Bronze through Late Bronze Age periods.

The 2nd issue (NEA 81/1 [2018]) will be out in late March, and will cover Iron Age and later periods.

Here’s the cover and TOC of this beautiful first issue – can’t wait for the 2nd one!

Maeir_ed_Special issue 1 of 2_The Tell es-Safi_Gath Archaeological_front matter_NEA 80_4_2017

February 06, 2018

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

New article on isotopic analyses of the Early Bronze fauna from Tell es-Safi/Gath

A new article (see here), spearheaded by Liz Arnold, has just appeared online. In this study, isotopic analyses of the Early Bronze Age fauna were conducted, which shed light on the pastoral economy and provisioning strategies at Tell es-Safi/Gath during this early urban period.

The full title is:

Arnold, E. R., Greenfield, H. J., Hartman, G., Greenfield, T. L., Shai, I., Carter-McGee, P. M., and Maeir, A. M. 2018. Provisioning the Early Bronze Age City of Tell es-Safi, Israel: Isotopic Analyses of Domestic Livestock Management Patterns. Open Quartenary 4(1).

Here’s the abstract:

It is often assumed that domestic animals in early urban Near Eastern centres either are a reflection of the local pastoral economy, or were raised at a distance by pastoral specialists. In this paper, we test these assumptions through detailed isotopic analyses (carbon, oxygen and strontium) of caprines (sheep and goat) from Tell es-Safi/Gath, an Early Bronze Age urban centre in central Israel. The isotopic analyses demonstrate that the bulk of the caprines were raised within the general vicinity of the site, suggesting that the majority of food resources were largely produced at the local level, within the territory of the city-state, and not at a distance by specialised pastoralists. It is the rare specimen that comes from a great distance and would have entered the local system through long distance trade networks.

Very interesting!

February 05, 2018

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

Sign up for the 2018 Season at Tell es-Safi/Gath!

Just a reminder to you all that the online registration for joining the team for the 2018 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath is up and running! The 2018 season will be the 23rd season in the field – and promises to be a very interesting one.

Don’t miss out the chance to have an extraordinary enriching experience of digging at one of the largest biblical period sites, with an international team of researchers, students and volunteers. Learn about cutting edge field archaeology, the material remains of the Bronze and Iron Age ancient Levant in biblical times (and in particular that of the Philistine culture), and related issues in history, archaeology and geography. In addition, have a unique field experience, meet people from diverse backgrounds – and get a chance to visit sites in Israel on the weekends and before and after the excavation.

This season, we will focus our work in several areas in the lower city, primarily working on Iron Age I and II finds (ca. 1200-800 BCE), but with possible remains from other periods as well. We will continue working in excavations areas that were opened in the past, and hopefully open a few more as well.

Based on our finds from the last seasons, we should be excavating remains of the city’s fortifications, domestic and industrial related structures, contexts relating to cult activities and many other things.

In addition to this, we will continue in our remote sensing work, using magnetometry and ground penetrating radar, and hopefully, terrestrial and aerial-borne LIDAR scanning and 3D imaging.

Do join us and have the experience of a life time (that is unless you are a returnee – than have yet another experience of a life time…).

If you have any questions – don’t hesitate to contact me (Aren Maeir, the director).

Hope to see you in the summer!

Our lab – some nice pictures

Maria took some nice pictures of the Safi lab today, so for those of you who want to know what are work environment looks like (or wanted to reminisce being there…) – here they are!

February 04, 2018


The Joint Expedition Returns to Malqata

Diana Craig Patch

JEM_KP_2018_team at work reduced

Jan Picton begins cleaning a wall in the King’s Palace.

The 2018 season has started. The team began to assemble in Luxor on January 30 with the arrival of Janice, Catharine, and Diana. We delivered the signed papers from the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo to the appropriate offices in Luxor and were assigned our inspector.  Therefore, we were able to head into the field on February 1!  As of today, everyone is here and at work.

JEM_KP_2018_RmJ_PC cleaning reduced

Piet Collet brushes the surface looking for the edges of mud brick.

The site looks quite good.  There is the usual growth of camel thorn and we seem to be losing ground on the clearance of halfa grass in the area of the North Palace, but otherwise the many locales that make up the site of Malqata remained stable over the past year.


We’ve already started removing camel thorn. The West Settlement is in the background.

During the 2018 season, our attention will concentrate on two areas: reconstructing several important rooms or areas in the King’s Palace and excavation at the West Settlement. In the King’s Palace, we will be protecting walls in the area of the King’s bedroom at the south end, and at the north end, we will be working on the foundations of a staircase that may have led to a window of appearances.

Ja'allan and Ali working in Square N150?E140

Work begins in the West Settlement.

Meanwhile, at the West Settlement, Janice intends to excavate further in the square where an interesting fragment, the tail from a pottery statuette of Taweret, was previously discovered.  She also will move eastward towards the Industrial Site to see if a connection exists between her settlement and this production area.


Continuing the excavation in the square where we found the Taweret tail in 2015.

February 02, 2018

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

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship for Shira Gur-Arieh!

Great news!

I’m happy to pass on the news on that Dr. Shira Gur-Arieh, long-time member of the Safi team and a regular contributor to our research and publications, has been awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, hosted by Prof. Marco Madella.

The title of her planned project is: “MapDung: Dung as Construction Material during the Emergence of Animal Domestication: A Multi-Proxy Approach”.

Here is an abstract of the research:

The project will focus on the use of dung for construction at the dawn of the Neolithic Period and early animal domestication. Ethnographic sources have demonstrated the importance of animal dung as a versatile resource that in some areas is extensively used for fuel, manure, and construction. While the importance of dung as fuel or manure is increasingly recognized and archaeologically identified in the last years, its use for construction is less studied and only rarely identified in archaeological sites. Therefore, it is important to understand if its absence from the archaeological record is the result of human preference or a research/preservation bias. The aim of MapDung is therefore to explore the possible early use of dung for construction as a proxy for understanding human-animal-environment relations and ecosystem. The project’s goals are: 1) To develop a new multi-proxy methodology for improved identification of dung, focused on construction materials; 2) Studying the post-depositional processes that affect archaeological dung used for construction; 3) Providing wide regional understanding of the utilization of animal secondary products during the Early Neolithic Period and the socio-cultural aspects related to its use.

Way to go Shira!

January 31, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Paper on the Archaeobotanical Remains from Tel Burna

A new (and quite interesting) paper has just been published on the archaeobotanical remains from Areas A2, B1, and C in the Journal of Landscape Ecology. This paper was spearheaded by Andrea, but includes contributions from a number of our staff including Ladislav, myself, Debi, Casey, and Itzick. Nice work team! 🙂

Here is the abstract:

“The Shephelah, known as the breadbasket of the southern Levant, is one of the more extensively investigated regions of the southern Levant in terms of archaeobotanical research. However, studies dealing with agriculture are scarce in comparison to the archaeobotanical data available. The analysis of the archaeobotanical assemblage in combination with the archaeological remains from Tel Burna will contribute to the investigation of the agriculture of the Shephelah. Several seasons of excavation revealed a cultic complex dating to the Late Bronze Age and an Iron Age II settlement with various agricultural installations such as silos and wine or olive presses. In this paper, we present the agricultural features in conjunction with the systematical archaeobotanical sampling, which enables us to reconstruct the types of crop plants cultivated at the site. Grass pea seeds dominate the assemblage collected from the Late Bronze Age complex, which may point to a connection to the Aegean. The Iron Age assemblage is distinguished by a significantly broad range of crop plants which were cultivated in vicinity of the tell. The archaeological Iron Age remains indicate that the processing of secondary products such as olive oil, wine, or textiles took place within the Iron Age settlement of Tel Burna. This first comprehensive overview describes the character of agricultural production in the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age environmental and geopolitical transformations.”


And the bibliographic entry with a link:

2017: Orendi, A., L. Smejda, C. McKinny, D. Cassuto, C. Sharp, and I. Shai. The Agricultural Landscape of Tel Burna: Ecology and Economy of a Bronze Age/Iron Age Settlement in the Southern Levant. Journal of Landscape Ecology 10(3): 165–188.

DSC_0175Andrea with the flotation machine

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

New paper on the Paleo-anthropocene and the genesis of the current landscape in Israel

A new and very interesting paper, spearheaded by Oren Ackermann, has just appeared. The paper is yet another example of the very nice paleo-environmental studies that have come out of the Safi project – in this case extended to the ancient landscape of Israel in general:

Ackermann, O., Maeir, A. M., Frumin, S., Svoray, T., Weiss, E., Zhevelev, H., and Horwitz, L. K. 2017. The Paleo-Anthropocene and the Genesis of the Current Landscape of Israel. Journal of Landscape Ecology 10(3): 109–40.

Here is a link to a PDF.

And here is the abstract:

Worldwide, human impact on natural landscapes has intensified since prehistoric times, and this is well documented in the global archaeological record. The period between the earliest hominids and the Industrial Revolution of the late 18-19th centuries is known as the Paleo-Anthropocene. The current study reviews key geoarchaeological, floral and faunal factors of the Paleo-Anthropocene in Israel, an area that has undergone human activities in various intensities since prehistoric times. It discusses significant human imprints on these three features in the Israeli landscape, demonstrating that its current form is almost entirely anthropogenic. Moreover, some of the past physical changes still dynamically shape Israel’s zoological, archaeological and geomorphic landscape today. It is hoped that insights from this article might aid in guiding present-day management strategies of undeveloped areas through renewal of human activity guided by traditional knowledge.

Aharoni Day 2018: March 8, 2018

The detailed schedule of the annual “Aharoni Day” (March 8, 2018) has been posted and it looks very interesting. The general topic will be ancient metallurgy on a broad range of topics.

The first part of the symposium will be in English with several invited lecturers from abroad, and the 2nd part will be in Hebrew.

Among the various lectures, one will be given by Adi Eliyahu, who as you all know, is a long-time Safi team member.

Here is the schedule (do note that Tom Levy is from UCSD and not U of Penn…):


Interview on the destruction of the Ain Dara temple in Syria

In the last few days, news have emerged about the substantial destruction, apparently by a Turkish aerial bombardment, that was wrought on the important archaeological site of Ain Dara in northern Syria. This site is well known for the fantastic Iron Age temple that was discovered and excavated at the site. This is one of the best preserved Iron Age temples in the Iron Age Levant. In addition to the very interesting finds themselves, one of the fascinating aspects relating to this temple are the parallels that have been suggested between the temple and its features and the description of the Solomonic Temple in Jerusalem as described in I Kings.

Yesterday (Jan. 30, 2018) I was interviewed on the TV program “London and Kirschenbaum” (in Hebrew) on the temple and its significance. Note that at the end of my interview, after having discussed historical, archaeological and biblical aspects relating to the temple, I stressed that while the destruction of this site in lamentable, we should not forget the real tragedy and horror that has been going on in Syria in the last few years and the ca. 1/2 million people who have been killed.

Here is the clip of the entire show – I appear at 38:00.

London and Kirschenbaum 30/1/18


January 26, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Summer Field Tour Schedule

We are excited to announce that we will be offering guided weekend field tours during this summer’s excavation season (June 20-July 24, 2018, see here for the excavation application).

The field tours will consist of a Jerusalem introduction weekend (June 23-24), a Negev and Dead Sea weekend (June 29-July 1), a Galilee and the north extended weekend (July 6-8), a Jerusalem and its surroundings weekend (July 14-15), and concluding with a trip to Shiloh, Mount Gerizim, and the Israel Musem (July 19-20). Besides visiting over 30 sites, we will also have the opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Sea of Galilee!

Note: these weekend tours are in addition to the weekly Shephelah tours (e.g., Lachish, Azekah, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Beth-shemesh, etc.)

These field tours will be led by yours truly. The cost for the weekend trips is $900, which includes transportation, entrance fees, hotels, and breakfast/dinner. Academic credit is also available through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for an additional fee.

You can also download a tentative schedule here.



January 25, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Sad News – Passing of Julio

We are saddened to relay the news that Julio Kobiler has passed away.

Julio was the great-grandfather in-law of Itzick (and great-grandfather of Ela).  Among other things was the oldest member of our project – having participated at least one day in every excavation season since we started (and had a knack for finding very nice finds!). He will be sorely missed!


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

Sad news: Julio has passed away…

I just heard the very sad news that Julio Kobiler, Itzik Shai’s grandfather-in-law, has passed away. As many of the Safi team know, for many years, Julio joined the excavation for a few days every season, and was without a doubt the team’s most senior member. Julio was a very special person, something that we all saw clearly when he was on the dig.

May his memory be blessed, and condolences to Ela and her family.


Louise, and Fred, in Nature!

Louise Hitchcock, and her adopted dog, Fred, are stars in an article in Nature!

Fred was one of the stray dogs around Safi, who started hanging around the dig in the 2016 season. Louise and Linda became friendly with him, and eventually, Louise adopted Fred and brought him to Australia.

This and other stories about scientists adopting animals in the field are described in this article. While this article in Nature won’t count for Louise’s promotion – it is quite cool! :-)

January 18, 2018

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

Chris gives his talk at the Albright!

As mentioned before,  Chris Hale gave a talk this evening at the Albright Institute on his initial work on the Iron I pottery from Area A.  The talk went very well and Chris provided a nice overview of his future research.

Here are a few pictures from the talk:

First Safi NEA issue is out!

Two complete issues of NEA (Near Eastern Archaeology) are coming out, completely devoted to the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project. All told, close to 50 Safi-related researchers contributed papers to these issues. From what I’m told, this is a first for NEA – two complete issues dedicated to a single project.

The first issue has now appeared (NEA 80/4 [2017])! I have not yet seen the hard copy (or final PDFs), but here is a picture of the cover (courtesy of Linda Meiberg – thanks Linda!). It looks great!!! This issue covers from the introduction and general articles, until the end of the Late Bronze Age (it includes also Middle Bronze Age, despite that the MB is missing on the cover…). Next issue deals with the Iron Age and later.

Thanks to all who contributed and worked on this issue (and the next)!


P.S. I hope that sometime in the future, we’ll be able to put out all the articles from these two issues (and some other Safi-related NEA papers) as a separate volume. That would be very nice as well.

January 16, 2018

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

Chris Hale will give a talk on the Philistine pottery from Area A

This Thursday afternoon at 4 pm, Dr. Chris Hale will give a talk on the Philistine pottery from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Area A, at the Albright Institute, Salah ed-Din St., Jerusalem.

Here is the full description of the event:

The Late Bronze-Iron Age I Pottery from Tel es-Safi, Area A: Research Design, Quantitative Methods, and the chaîne opératoire Approach

Excavations over the last decade in Area A at Tel es-Safi/Gath have revealed stratigraphy dating to the Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age periods, providing important information concerning Philistine material cultural elements at the site and their development over the early Iron Age in relation to the “local” Canaanite material culture (Asscher et al. 2015; Hitchcock et al. 2015; Maeir et al. 2015; Gur-Arieh et al. 2014; Hitchcock and Maeir 2011; Regev et al. 2010). The ceramics from these loci remain largely unstudied as these periods were extremely fugitive at the time of the Safi I publication, owing to the limited exposure of the relevant strata, and were thus only preliminarily described (Zukerman and Maeir 2012; Zukerman 2012).

This presentation will lay out a new research framework concerning the Tel es-Safi Area A Late Bronze-early Iron Age pottery. The assemblage poses specific challenges and opportunities for a ceramic analysis and requires a methodology capable of providing the necessary data to address some of the outstanding questions concerning the early Iron Age at both Safi itself and in the broader southern Levant. This methodology will utilize Estimated Vessel Equivalents (EVEs) as a primary quantitative measure (supplemented by other tools), enabling a variety of analyses that go beyond a typological and stylistic description of the assemblage (Verdan 2011; Orton et al. 1993; Orton 1975). In addition, a chaîne opératoire approach will be emphasised throughout the study (Roux 2016), aiming to identify the various operational sequences used in producing the pottery consumed at the site. By examining different “ways of doing” and their transmission as a measure of social boundaries, the study hopes to use both synchronic and diachronic pottery production and consumption practices to explore the social groups present in the Safi Area A early Iron Age community from socio-economic, technological, and evolutionary perspectives.

Chris Hale is the 2017 Glassman Holland Research Fellow and an Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Arts and Humanities at O.P. Jindal Global University in India where he teaches archaeology, ancient history and interdisciplinary studies. He completed his Bachelor of Ancient History at Macquarie University in Sydney, and his PhD in the Archaeology of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Levant at the University of Melbourne under the supervision of Louise Hitchcock. He was a 2016 Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, and has also worked for the British School at Athens as a Knossos Curatorial Assistant with the Stratigraphical Museum on the island of Crete.

He is currently affiliated with several archaeological projects in various capacities, including the Mitrou Archaeological Project, the Palace of Nestor Excavation Project, and the Iklaina Archaeological Project in Greece; and the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project in Israel. His previous research was concerned primarily with a quantitative and typological analysis of central Greek Middle Helladic and Late Helladic I ceramics from the site of Mitrou, and the interregional interactions between central Greece and the islands of Aegina and Kea during the Middle Bronze Age. His research interests include pottery processing methodology, relative chronologies, pottery production and consumption practices, and interregional interactions.

January 14, 2018

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

A new and important resource on the transition between archaeological periods and cultures!

Seems that this is an important resource for those studying the processes and interactions during transitions between periods, cultures and technological traditions.

Check it out!


January 10, 2018

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

Party for Dr. Sue Frumin!

Today, the Safi lab team joined in the celebrations in honor of Sue Frumin finishing her PhD!

Dr. Sue (not Dr. Seuss…) wrote an excellent PhD on the archaeobotanical remains of the Philistines, with a focus on the finds from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Parts of the PhD have already been published in articles (see for example here and here), and more will follow in the future.

Sue’s PhD is:

Frumin, S. 2017. Invasion Biology Analysis in Archaeobotany – Philistines Culture at Tell es-Safi/ Gath as a Case Study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan.

Here are some pictures from the party, which was held in Udi Weiss’ archaeobotany lab at BIU.

Great food, great friends and a lot of fun!

January 07, 2018

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

The Joy of Data Management, or Where’s the fourth miscellaneous censer sherd from lot 307-2-2

By Angela Huster

One of my least favorite parts of the lab work at Calixtlahuaca was doing ceramic type changes. Not because I disliked redoing my own work – there’s actually something satisfying in knowing that it’s right now – but because every single change had to be recorded in at least two, and usually four places (the label on the sherd, the type collection datafile, the paper form for the lot, and the computer datafile for the lot). It just seemed like an awful bother for a single change. I regularly tried to pawn off making the changes on anyone else I could sucker into it. We even had a form to keep track of where a change had been entered!

However, as I move on to working on other projects, I have come appreciate exactly how comprehensively the Calixtlahuaca Project tracked their artifact data. As an example of this, a couple years ago, after we were finished with the ceramic classification, we decided that we needed to subdivide a type. (From Misc censers, to Misc censers and Cut-out censers, for anyone who cares.) At that point, a fair number of sherds had been removed from their original lots, either as examples for the type reference collection, or as samples for particular technical analyses. However, because of our data tracking, I could pull not only a list of lots with the type, but also lists of cases where the sherds in question were stored someone else, which made relocating the pieces for reanalysis far easier. For one of the legacy datasets that I’m currently working with from another project, this simply isn’t possible – we know pieces were removed from lots for various analyses, but what was pulled and when it was taken are unknown. (Kintigh 1981 is an interesting look at the same issue in museum collections, with a focus on the possible bias introduced by archaeologists disproportionately pulling high-interest decorated types out of a collection.)

Miscellaneous censer sherds in the the type collection, prior to splitting the type. Knowing that these particular pieces were in the type collection spared me having to fruitlessly look for them in their lot bags.
While I doubt I’m ever going to love double or triple-redundant data tracking systems, I can see the value, and on my current project, nothing comes out of a lot bag unless it’s recorded that it’s now stored somewhere else. I suppose I shall now proceed to torture another generation of students by making them record type changes in multiple places…

Worked Cited:
Kintigh, Keith W.
                1981       An Outline for a Chronology of Zuni Runs, Revisited: Sixty-five Years of Repeated Analysis and Collection. Annals of the New York Academy of Science 376:467-489.

January 03, 2018

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Scholarship Opportunities

It is that time of year again – time to plan for the 2018 Tel Burna Season! You can register online here.

Here are some scholarship opportunities that were recently announced.

ASOR Fellowships

Archaeological Institute of America


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

Soon to be flying over Tell es-Safi/Gath and other sites…

Here’s a sneak peak at the type of drone (VAPOR 55) that should be flying over Tell es-Safi/Gath and some other sites in the not-too-distant future. The order has gone out for this cool piece of equipment, along with a LiDAR sensor!

This was purchased jointly, courtesy of an ISF equipment grant, by three of us at BIU – Rafi Kent, Boaz Zissu and Aren Maeir.

In addition to this, sometime in the near future, another, smaller drone is in the process of being purchased for use in the project!

The bronze bowl from Area J is back from the conservation lab!

The bronze bowl that Jill and her team found in Area J last summer (see here) has returned from the conservation lab – and it looks really nice. We still have a lot of study to conduct on this (both a bowl and an interesting bronze disk found next to it), but to get a rough idea (not too detailed…) on what it looks like, see the picture below.

Very cool!!

December 31, 2017

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

Sad news: the passing of Prof. Larry Stager

The sad news of the passing of Prof. Larry Stager has arrived. Larry was one of the more important archaeologists dealing with the Levant in recent decades. In particular, his excavations at Ashkelon, a sister city of Philistine Gath are of note.

May he rest in peace and may his memory be blessed.


December 30, 2017

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

Hebrew article on the importance of the donkey in the EB in light of the finds at Safi

A new paper of the Safi team just appeared in the Hebrew journal Qadmoniot, discussing the importance of the donkey in the Early Bronze Age in light of the finds from the Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations. See a PDF here.

The full title is:

Shai, I., Greenfield, H. G., Greenfield, T., Arnold, E., Albaz, S., and Maeir, A.
2017 The Importance of the Donkey in the Early Bronze Age in Light of the Excavations at Tel Zafit (In Hebrew). Qadmoniot 154: 88–91.

And in Hebrew:

י. שי, ה. גרינפילד, ט. גרינפילד, א. ארנולד, ש. אלבז וא. מאיר. 2017. חשיבותו של החמור בתקופת הברונזה הקדומה לאור ממצאי החפירה בתל צפית. קדמוניות 154: 191-188.

December 28, 2017

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

Houston – we have bedrock!

Woohoo! We managed to dig down to bedrock by the end of the 2nd day of our short mini-season! The small, but fantastic, team managed to go down about a meter, and reach bedrock at the bottom of the test pit! So now, we have a stratigraphic “window” of the EB levels in Area E, from top – to bottom. All told, the pit was about 4 meters deep, and very interestingly, there are several levels below the EB levels that we knew of in Area E. This includes a very substantial amount of architecture (we saw three walls) that are based on a thick white, plaster-like level.

Just shows what some hard work by a determined little team can do (thanks to: Shira, Nati, Chris, Ortal, Noga, Yaniv and Elad!!)

In addition to this, Shira and I managed to see quite a few details in the architecture of the area that we could not see in the summer, due to the dampness of the various mudbricks and sediments. Quite interesting!

Here are some pictures from this great day:

December 27, 2017

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

First day of the December 2017 Mini-Season

Today, a small team went out for the first day of the short, two day mini-season in Area E – to try and reach the bottom of the test pit that was opened in the summer. We hope to try and reach bedrock – to get a window on the complete EB stratigraphy in Area E.

The weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold, the visibility was fantastic, and despite the fact that it is an extremely dry winter, it rained at the beginning of the week so there was a very nice green fuzz all over.

Today, we got up to Area E, after schlepping a lot of equipment. After breathing, we then set up protective fences on the sides of the pit, since it is over 3 m deep and we didn’t want the sides to collapse during work.

Then, work started and by the end of the day, the bottom was not reached, buy progress was made.

Tomorrow we’ll be out again – and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom. If not, we’ll have to do this again in the spring or summer.

Here are some picture:

December 23, 2017

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

Mini-season – this Wednesday-Thursday

If all goes well (no rain, and enough working hands), we will be going out to a very short, mini-season this coming Wednesday and Thursday. A small Safi crew will hopefully conduct a small excavation in Area E, to see if we can finish up the deep sounding that was conducted in the summer (see picture below), but in which, unfortunately, bedrock was not reached by the end of the 2017 season.

Basically, we want to get to the bottom of the pit marked off by the plastic tape in the picture here!

NOTE: Able-bodied volunteers who are interested in participating – please contact me at arenmaeir@gmail.com!

So, hopefully, by Thursday afternoon, bedrock it will be!

I’ll keep you posted.


December 20, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Paper out on Burna’s Adaption of PlanGrid

Check out the newly published paper by myself and Itzick, which discusses our experience using the construction app PlanGrid as a digital recording tool. It was published in what appears to be a very interesting volume on digital/cyber-archaeology by Tom Levy and Ian Jones.

The full entry is the following:

Figure 8 – Backing up PlanGrid with daily “issue packet”

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

New paper on integrating Micro- and Macro-archaeology at Tell es-Safi/Gath

A new paper has appeared in which several examples of the “Safi method” of integrating micro-archaeological anג macro-archaeological perspectives, methods and techniques in the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath are discussed.

The full title is:

Maeir, A. M. 2017. Integrating Micro- and Macro-Archaeology at a Multi-Period Site: Insights and Outcomes from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Pp. 35–50 in Cyber-Archaeology and Grand Narratives: Digital Technology and Deep-Time Perspectives on Culture Change in the Middle East, eds. T. E. Levy and I. W. N. Jones. One World Archaeology. Cham: Springer.

Check out the PDF here.



December 19, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Happy Holidays!

With Channukah already here and Christmas approaching – we would like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a Great New Year!

If you would like to make a new year’s resolution to excavate a Canaanite and Judahite town in 2018 – we know just the place 🙂

You can sign up here if you want to come join the fun!

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

Jessie Blackwell and Jonathan Bluck are rockstars in BAR!

Jessie Blackwell, a student at the University of Kentucky, and Jonathan Bluck, a student at Grand Valley State University, who were team members in the 2017 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath, were the recipients of scholarships from the Biblical Archaeology Society.

See here their essays in Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) in which they describe their experiences and insights from participating in the Safi excavations in 2017 – along with great pictures of them in the field!

Way to go!

And for those of you who are planning to join us in 2018 – do apply for scholarship from the BAS.

December 18, 2017

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

International Migrants Day – Dec. 18th, 2017

Just found out that today, Monday, December 18th, 2017 is International Migrants Day.

So, in honor of this, let’s hear it for the Philistines – many of whom migrated to Canaan/Land of Israel/Palestine during the transition between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages!

Here’s a bunch of Safi pictures (some Philistine finds – and Amit posing with a replica of the cover of an anthropoid coffin) to make this important day!

December 17, 2017

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

Hebrew TV news report on King David: Safi is a star!

This weekend, Channel 2 news in Israel had a 15 minute item on the evening news about the historicity of King David, which Philistine Gath starred, and yours truly, Israel Finkelstein, Eilat Mazar and the well-known Israeli author Meir Shalev were interviewed.

Lots of fun!


December 13, 2017

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

Hanukkah party at the lab!

Today, we had a Hanukkah party in the Safi lab, with some wine for a toast and sufaniyot (jelly doughnuts) to munch on.

So happy Hanukkah to all – may only light shine upon you! And on the same occasion, merry Christmas, happy New Year, and happy holidays to those all those celebrating in the next couple of weeks!

December 12, 2017

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

Trailer on the Samson movie!

George Grena has been kind enough to point out the trailer of the soon-to-appear “Samson” movie.

Watch it – and you’ll see Hollywood’s take on Philistine warriors (seems not bad, save for the face armor…).

Looks like this will be a totally idiotic, but highly enjoyable, movie.

Here’s the trailer:

And here is how one really makes a movie about a Philistine attack, led by a Philistine Seren (:-)

And here is the seren in an action photo :-)

December 11, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Debi is Officially A Savta!

We would like to congratulate Debi on becoming a savta (i.e., grandmother)!

December 05, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Restoration of Iron IIA Storage Jar

Check out this video illustrating the recently restored Iron IIA storage jar, which was uncovered in the destruction debris in Area B2 this last summer. The restoration was done by Leah Tramer and the video by “Studio Jackie.” Enjoy.

Here is the jar as it was being excavated by Sam and Jane last summer.


And here is the process of its restoration.

December 04, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Foothills of Judah Conference – In Retrospect

While we mentioned the various papers presented at the The Foothills of Judah Conference, we would like to also share a few photos from the conference and express our appreciation to all those involved in planning the conference especially Dr. Steve Ortiz and Marcella Barbosa. We are also excited to announce that the Tandy Institute for Archaeology of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will now be partnering with our team in excavating Tel Burna!

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

Upcoming Conference at TAU: Administrative and Cultic Aspects of Centralization in Ancient Israel: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, Dec. 18–19, 2017

A very interesting conference will be held at TAU, on Dec. 18-19, 2017.

The conference – “Administrative and Cultic Aspects of Centralization in Ancient Israel: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives”, will deal with various issues relating to cult centralization in Israel and surrounding cultures during the Iron Age and Persian Period.

I will be giving a paper on perspectives from Philistia on these issues.

See here for the full program:

Conference Program Administrative and Cultic Aspects of Centralization in Ancient Israel

Hope to see you there!


Happy birthday to Maria

This last Thursday was Maria’s birthday – so we celebrated it in the lab with a cake! Mazal tov!

December 03, 2017

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

Congratulations to Prof. Louise Hitchcock!

As it is now official, I would like to extend my wishes of congratulations to Louise Hitchcock, long time senior staff member of the Safi project, who has been appointed Full Professor of (Aegean) Archaeology in the Classics and Archaeology Program at the University of Melbourne!

Way to go Louise! Well-deserved! We are proud, and fortunate, to have you on the Safi team!!

Here’s a picture of Louise in her natural surroundings :-)


December 02, 2017

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

New article on the “Pig Debate”

A new article, presenting some new thoughts and directions on the question of the consumption, or lack thereof, of pigs in Iron Age Philistia, Israel and beyond, and what is the cultural and ecological significance of this, has just been published by Liora Horwitz, Armelle Gardeisen, Louise Hitchcock and Aren Maeir has just appeared. See here a link to a PDF.

The full title is:

Horwitz, L. K., Gardeisen, A., Maeir, A. M., and Hitchcock, L. A. 2017. A Brief Contribution to the Iron Age Philistine Pig Debate. Pp. 93–116 in The Wide Lens in Archaeology: Honoring Brian Hesse’s Contributions to Anthropological Archaeology, eds. J. Lev-Tov, P. Wapnish and A. Gilbert. Archaeobiology 2. Atlanta: Lockwood Press.


November 28, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Article in Quarternary International

A new article by Ladislav, Michael, Jan (Horak), and Itzick has just been published in Quarternary International. The article is entitled:

“Multi-element mapping of anthropogenically modified soils and sediments at the Bronze to Iron Ages site of Tel Burna in the southern Levant”
Way to go! You can read the whole thing here. All of that X-ray Fluorescence “shooting” is definitely hitting the target 🙂
XRF - Michael at Burna

November 25, 2017

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

Safi and related posters at the ASOR meeting (2)

Here is the 2nd batch of Safi (and Safi-related) posters (see here for the 1st batch) from the ASOR meeting in Boston last week (Nov. 2017):

  1. “If the Stones could Speak: 1500 Years in a Single Square at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel”, by Flor Fustiano et al.
  2. “I’m Not Your Type: A 9th century link in the typology of Iron Age olive oil production from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel”, by Chloe Clouse, et al.
  3. “Examples of Egyptian Iconography in Late Bronze Age Canaan”, by Amanda Buessecker (not Safi research, but by a Safi team member).

Here are the posters:

Flor Safi ASOR 2017 poster

Welch et al 2017 ASOR Poster

Amanda Poster ASOR 2017


November 23, 2017

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

And here’s even a nicer picture of the site with the rainbow!

Here’s another one of Iossi’s photos of Safi and the rainbow, looking to the tell from the northwest as well.

In fact, if you look closely, there are TWO rainbows!

Totally stunning!


Who says there isn’t a pot of gold at the of the rainbow?

Just to prove that there is a treasure at the end of the rainbow, here is a picture that Dr. Iossi Bordowicz (former Safi core team staff member; currently director of heritage at the INPA) took today – in which you see Tell es-Safi/Gath at the end of rainbow! Definitely – a worthwhile and proven treasure!

For those interested, the view is taken from the NW, and you can see the white chalk cliffs of the tell on the lower left, Area F and the summit of tell slightly to the left of the center of the picture.

Check it out!

And thanks to Iossi!

November 21, 2017

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

Safi (and related) posters at the ASOR meeting (1)

Here are three of the Safi related posters that were displayed at the ASOR conference in Boston last week.

  1. “3D Geometric Morphometrics and Sheep/Goat Breeds in
    the Early Bronze Age of Tell es‐Safi/Gath” by Tina Greenfield et al.
  2. “‘Cult’ of the Philistines?” by Maddi Harris
  3. “Raw material characterization and lithic procurement in the Azraq Basin, Jordan, during the Lower-Middle Paleolithic: A pilot study from Shishan Marsh 1”, by Jeremy Beller (this is not Safi research, but by a Safi team member)

Here are the three posters:

Greenfield et al poster ASOR 2017

Harris_ASOR Poster 2017

ASOR2017 poster – jbeller

November 17, 2017

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

Safi team supper at the ASOR meeting

Some of the Safi team members who were at the ASOR meeting got together for supper tonight.

Here’s a picture of the “gang” :

November 16, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

ASOR and SBL 2017

After a very fruitful conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas (thanks to Dr. Ortiz and Marcella especially for their efforts in arranging the conference – more on that later), much of our team has arrived in Boston to present on Tel Burna and other projects.

November 16: 2:05 Itzhaq Shai (Ariel University), Debi Cassuto (Bar-Ilan University), and Chris McKinny (Texas A&M University Corpus Christi), “Tel Burna Archaeological Project: The Results of the 2016–2017 Seasons” (15 min.)

November 16:5:10 Aharon Tavger (Ariel University), “The Northern Boundary of the Province of Yehud: An Updated Archaeological View from the North” (20 min.)

November 16: Chris McKinny (Texas A&M University Corpus Christi), “Pressing On: Identifying the ‘Other’ Gath and Its Implications for Understanding the Border between the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah” (20 min.)

November 13, 2017

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

Tamale Pots

By Angela Huster

In a few of our earlier posts, we've mentioned that there don't seem to be that many comales (tortilla griddles) at Calixtlahuaca. This suggests that the ancient inhabitants of the site were eating their corn in some way other than tortillas, such as hominy, atole (gruel), or tamales. Tamales are the most likely alternative to tortillas, and there is a great quote in the Florentine Codex about the diet of the the Quaquata (one of the groups in the Toluca Valley):

“Nothing grew in the land of these Quaquata; only maize, beans, amaranth; no chili, no salt. The principal foods of these were tamales, beans; also their principal drink was fruit atole. Popcorn was produced right there in their land” (Sahagún 1950-82:Book 10: The People. Pp 182-183).

Unfortunately, it's harder to identify pots for tamale steaming, since a large pot can be used for any number of other tasks. One possible candidate for tamale pots are the type that we call interior-incised ollas. This type of large olla has sloppy, deeply scored incision on the interior of the body below the neck. The incisions can't be seen unless the pot is broken, which means that they weren't there for decoration. The incisions are also problematic for most forms of food preparation, since any liquid food would get stuck in them and burn, but we don't see any evidence for scorched reside in the incisions. However, the incisions would have been helpful for keeping the lattice of sticks used to keep tamales out of the steaming liquid from sliding around, and the tamales themselves from sticking to the walls of the pot. This type is not found in Morelos or the Basin of Mexico, where there are much higher frequencies of comales.

Interior-incised olla sherds

The distribution of these pots among the different households at the site also supports the idea that they were used for steaming tamales. Once comales start to used in noticeable frequencies at the site (during the Yata phase), the frequency of interior-incised ollas varies inversely with the frequency of comales; households were picking one or the other!

Comal vs interior incised olla frequencies by household (Huster 2016: Chapter 8)

Works Cited:

Huster, Angela C.
    2016    The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Sahagún, Bernardino de
1950-82 Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain. 12 books. Translated and Edited by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. School of American Research, Santa Fe NM, and the University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT.

Regional Clay Sampling

Angela Huster

This summer, I spent a week taking twenty-eight clay samples from across the Toluca Valley and immediately adjacent areas for INAA analysis. Don Cato, one of our local crew members from the excavation, helped by driving in incredibly convoluted loops around the area, and patiently explaining to  bystanders about what I was doing.

I kept crossing the construction route of another major water line to supply Mexico City. Occasionally, it was useful, such as here, where I needed a sample from below substantial modern fill.
These samples should help us identify where our previously sourced archaeological ceramics were made. Because there are only three other sites in the region with sourced ceramics, we have several chemical clusters in our archaeological ceramics that probably represent particular subregions, but we don't know where on the physical landscape those subregions are. More specifically, the new clay samples should help with three specific questions:

What chemical elements are the most geographically variable across the Toluca Valley and therefore the most useful for identifying source areas within the region?

Are the areas immediately to the south and west of the Toluca Valley likely sources for several of our "probably non-local" groups?

Are clays from the west (Toluca Valley) side of the mountain range between the Basin of Mexico and the Toluca Valley similar enough to Basin clays that they could explain some of our groups of Aztec-style ceramics that don't quite match local the very large existing reference data set for the Basin of Mexico?

Soil color and texture recording

November 11, 2017

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

New article on the Philistines in the Finkelstein Fs

A new article, by me and Louise, on new perspectives on the Philistines, has just appeared in the Festschrift in honor of Israel Finkelstein.

The full title of the article is:

Maeir, A. M., and Hitchcock, L. A. 2017. Rethinking the Philistines: A 2017 Perspective. Pp. 249–67 in Rethinking Israel: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Ancient Israel in Honor of Israel Finkelstein, eds. O. Lipschits, Y. Gadot and M. J. Adams. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

Here is a PDF of the article: Maeir-Hitchcock_Rethinking the Philistines_Finkelstein Fs_2017

[Permission from the Publisher for posting the PDF: Published in Rethinking Israel: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Ancient Israel in Honor of Israel Finkelstein, eds. O. Lipschits, Y. Gadot and M. J. Adams. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, copyright © 2017 by Eisenbrauns; placed here by permission of the publisher. T book may be purchased at: https://www.eisenbrauns.org/books/titles/978-1-57506-787-2.html%5D



A blast from the past: Group pictures of the 1997 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath

Just came upon these photos – and they are a real blast from the past!

Two pictures of the team (mostly BIU students) from the 1997 season of excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath. The images are taken in Area A, after the first season that was just two weeks long. A lot has happened since then!

We’ve come a long way baby…

November 09, 2017

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

Tell es-Safi/Gath related talks at the ASOR and SBL meetings in Boston, 2017

Next week (Wed., Nov. 15th to Tuesday, Nov. 21st, 2017), the annual meetings of ASOR and SBL will be held, back-to-back, in Boston.

There will be a bunch of talks (and posters) given at the two meetings which are directly related to the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project.

See the list below – and if you can be there – it would be great to see you!



Thursday, Nov. 16th:

Session 2C Archaeology of Israel I, Harbor 3:

10:40 Aren Maeir (Bar-Ilan University), “The 2017 Season of Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath” (20 min.)

Session 2J Houses and Households in the Near East: Archaeology and History I, Hancock:

11:25 Haskel Greenfield (University of Manitoba), Tina Greenfield (University of Saskatchewan), Elizabeth Arnold (Grand Valley State University), Aren Maeir (Bar-Ilan University), “A Bunch of Asses: Recent Asinine Discoveries from Early Bronze Tell es-Safi/Gath” (15 min.)

Session 2F Archaeology of the Ancient Near East: Bronze and Iron Ages II, Lewis:

11:45 Jeffrey Chadwick (Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center), “How to Build a Glacis: Construction Dynamics of the MB II Fortifications at Tell es-Safi/Gath” (15 min.)

Session 3B Archaeology and Biblical Studies I, Harbor 2:

3:25 Amit Dagan (Bar-Ilan University) and Aren Maeir (BarIlan University), “‘And the Gods of the Philistines’ (Judges 10:6): Understanding Philistine Cultic Practices in Light of Archaeological and Textual Evidence” (15 min.)

Friday, Nov. 16th

Session 8I Archaeology of the Southern Levant II, Webster:

4:45 Vanessa Workman (Bar-Ilan University) and Adi Eliyahu Behar (Bar-Ilan University), “Early Iron Workshops at Tel Megiddo and Tell es-Safi/Gath: Comparative Analysis of Working Debris and Paraphernalia” (20 min.)

5:10 Eric Welch (University of Kansas), “The Gats of Gath: Ninth Century Olive Oil Production in Area K at Tell es-Safi/Gath” (20 min.)

Posters (Galleria Exhibit Hall):

  • “Morphometrics and Sheep Goat Breeds in the Early Bronze Age of Tell es-Safi/Gath” Tina Greenfield (University of Saskatchewan), Jane Sanford (University College London), Haskel Greenfield (University of Manitoba), Shira Albaz (Bar-Ilan University), and Aren Maeir (Bar-Ilan University)
  • “Cult of the Philistines: Ethnographic Artistic Reconstruction of Ritual Space” Madaline Harris-Schober (University of Melbourne)
  • “The Missing Link? Olive Oil Production in the Ninth Century B.C.E. at Tell es-Safi/Gath” Chloe Clouse (University of Kansas), Christina Olson (University of Kansas), and Eric Welch (University of Kansas)
  • “If Stones Could Speak: The 2000 Year Old Square at Tell es-Safi/Gath” Florencia Fustinoni (University of British Columbia)


Sunday, Nov. 19th:
Session S19-227: Israelite Religion in Its West Asian Environment, Room: Back Bay C (Second Level) – Sheraton Boston Hotel (SB) (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)

Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University, Panelist (30 min)
Francesca Stavrakopoulou, University of Exeter, Panelist (30 min)
Jeffrey Stackert, University of Chicago, Panelist (30 min)
Steven Weitzman, University of Pennsylvania, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (45 min)

Session S19-301: Animal Studies and the Bible, Tufts (Third Level) – Boston Marriott Copley Place

4:00: Haskel J. Greenfield, University of Manitoba, Jane Gaastra, University College London, Tina Greenfield, University of Saskatchewan and Aren F. Maeir, Bar-Ilan University: Early Bronze Age (‘Canaanite’) Urban Provisioning–A Zooarchaeological Perspective on Animal Exploitation Strategies (30 min)

November 07, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Excavation Application Online and Foothills of Judah Conference

We are excited to announce that registration for the 2018 season at Tel Burna is officially open! You can access it here or click above at the “Excavation Application” button. See here for the registration packet for those who would like to fill out the paper packet.

Also – we are less than a week away from the “Foothills of Judah” Conference which will feature presentations by Aharon, Debi, myself, and Itzick along with several other talks by the Gezer team. You can see the schedule here.

November 01, 2017

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

Last day of Oct/Nov ’17 mini season

Today, Amit, Adi, Vanessa and I were at the tell again for the last day of the mini-season that we started a couple of weeks ago, to try and finish up some of the work done in Area D. While we did not manage to complete as much as we hoped, and there is more to do during the 2018 summer season, some very interesting remains connected to the metal production workshop were uncovered. These remains (various remains of the iron and copper production) should provide important additional materials for the laboratory analyses that Adi and Vanessa are conducting.

See below some pictures taken today:

October 29, 2017

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

And then there was this…

An unusual creature was found this season! We were not sure whether it was a “lasergator” or a “crocolaser”.

It has been sent for inter- and multi-disciplinary analyses… :-)


Clip of a cool cloud rolling off the tell – from the 2017 season

Check out this cool clip of a very unusual cloud rolling over the tell, early in the morning, during the 2017 season. Follow the dramatic narration (by your’s truly) and the amused crowd at the end (E. Welch)…

2017-07-04 06.26.09

October 25, 2017

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

Newspaper piece about the Safi excavation in the “Catholic Register”

A piece on the excavations at Safi appeared in the “Catholic Register” – Canada’s oldest Catholic English publication. The piece focuses on the participation of the Canadian team led by Haskel Greenfield, and students from St. Paul’s college at the Univ. of Manitoba. Haskel and some of the Manitoba team are interviewed.

Nice piece – save that we have not found several shards with the name of Goliath on them…:-)


HT: Eric Welch

October 24, 2017

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

Nice article in Haaretz on some of the controversies regarding the historicity of the Bible

A very nice article in in the English edition of Haaretz just appeared (translation of the Hebrew article that appeared last week) in which Nir Hasson discusses the ongoing scholarly controversies on the historicity of the Bible – 18 years after the famous article on this topic, by Z. Herzog, that also appeared in the Haaretz.

You’ll see that I appear in the article a couple of times (and Gath get’s a nice mention) – even if they misspelled my name in the English version…

Check it out – very nicely done!


HT: Carl Schwanke

October 23, 2017

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

Sad news: Uri Reiss passed away

I was so sorry to hear that our friend, Uri Reiss, who was a core team member of the Safi project for over a decade, and served for many years as the project “Major Domo”, passed away this last Friday.

Uri was truly a great person, kind and friendly, caring and motivated, and with endless energy – and always with a smile on his face. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends. The “Safi family” has lost an important member.

May his memory be blessed – יהי זכרו ברוך!

Here is a picture of Uri working in the field – as many of the Safi old-timers most probably remember him.


October 21, 2017

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

Two new publications (not directly related to Safi…)

Two new publications have just appeared, and although they are not directly connected to the Safi excavations, they might be of interest. Check them out!

Maeir, A. M. 2017. Assessing Jerusalem in the Middle Bronze Age: A 2017 Perspective. Pp. 64*-74* in New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region: Collected Papers, Volume XI, eds. Y. Gadot, Y. Zelinger, K. Cytryn-Silverman and J. Uziel. (see here a link to the paper)

Maeir, A. M. 2017. “There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart”: Reflections on “The Practice of Repairing Vessels in Ancient Egypt” (NEA 79.4 [2016]) by Julia Hsieh. Near Eastern Archaeology 80(3): 202–03. (see here a link to a corrected proof of the paper)


October 18, 2017

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

2nd day of mini-season

Today we had the 2nd (and last) day of the mini-season. Work continued in the metallurgy area in Area D, and Dr. Michael Toffolo (from the Univ. of Bordeaux) came to the site to sample a very interesting context that was found in Area F this season, apparently related to the production of a plaster.

It was a great day again! See here some pictures:

October 17, 2017

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

Mini-season at the tell!

Today (Oct. 17) we conducted a small mini-season at the tell. A small group of the team, came down to the site to do some work in Area D, in the metallurgy area and in the gate area. Tomorrow, we’ll be back to finish up.

Excavating with a small group, and in the fall, is quite different from what we usually do in the summer. The weather was great, the finds were nice, and we had a great time.

I also checked on Areas K and K2 – and they are doing just fine! :-)

Here are some pictures:

October 16, 2017

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

Joe Uziel is a star!

Dr. Joe Uziel, an old-time Safi team member, and currently a senior archaeologist at the IAA, was a total media star today, with the press blitz about the fantastic finds near the Western Wall (see, e.g., here and here and here and here).

Way to go Joe!!!


Registration for the 2018 season is open!

Online registration for the 2018 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath is now open!

The 2018 season will be from June 24th to July 20th.

So sign up now – and bring a friend – it’s going to be a great season!

Looking forward to seeing you in the summer!


October 09, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Foothills of Judah Conference in Fort Worth in November

We are very excited to announce that several members of our team will be participating in a conference entitled “Foothills of Judah: Recent Archaeological Investigations” – Nov. 13-14, 2017 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – Fort Worth, Texas.


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

New article – Climate changes in the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods in the Levant

A new article, authored by D. Fuks et al., dealing with climate change during the late Byzantine and early Islamic periods has just appeared. The study was in the making for quite a few years, and was initially kick started on the basis of insights that Oren Ackermann and I had from research on the environment around Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Here is the full quote:

Fuks, D., Ackermann, O., Ayalon, A., Bar-Matthews, M., Bar-Oz, G., Levi, Y., Maeir, A. M., Weiss, E., Zilberman, T., and Safrai, Z.Fuks, D., Ackermann, O., Ayalon, A., Bar-Matthews, M., Bar-Oz, G., Levi, Y., Maeir, A. M., Weiss, E., Zilberman, T., and Safrai, Z. 2017. Dust Clouds, Climate Change and Coins: Consiliences of Paleoclimate and Economic History in the Late Antique Southern Levant. Levant 49(2). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00758914.2017.1379181.



October 05, 2017

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

Shout out for “The Old Testament in archaeology and history”, Ebeling et al. (eds).

Just received notification that the volume The Old Testament in archaeology and history, edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V.M. Flesher (Baylor University Press: Waco, TX, 2017) has appeared!

This looks like a really nice introductory volume to the history and archaeology of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible times and culture. I highly recommend checking it out as a possible text book for college level courses on related topics.

I have a chapter on Judah in the Iron II in the volume (full reference: Maeir, A. M. 2017. Chapter 15. The Southern Kingdom of Judah: Surrounded by Enemies. Pp. 391–412 in The Bible in Archaeology and History, eds. J. Ebeling, J. E. Wright, M. Elliott and P. V. M. Flesher. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press), and the other chapters look really nice as well.

I’m definitely looking forward to receiving my copy of the volume!

Here’s a pdf of the front matter of the book: OT in Archaeology and History volume _Front matter

Check it out!


October 03, 2017

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

NEA issue on Safi in the making!

This past Friday, on the eve of Yom Kippur, I submitted the materials for a full (in fact double) issue of Near Eastern Archaeology that will be devoted to the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath! Thanks to the hard work and cooperation of all those who contributed to materials for this issue (almost 50 contributors in total!), I am sure that this will be a truly special publication. The editor of NEA (Thomas Schneider) says that it will come out in the December 2017 issue – so that’s is just a few months! We still have a lot of work in the editing process – but I’m really looking forward to seeing the printed version of this!


September 28, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Publications

We are pleased to announce the publication of the following two papers:

Adapting PlanGrid to Archaeology by Chris and Itzick in Popular Archaeology Magazine

“Flames from the Bramble” – The Geography of the Abimelech Episode in Judges 9 and the Identification of Beth-millo – by Chris and Aharon in In Highland’s Depth (co-edited by Aharon)


September 16, 2017

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

New Tel Hebron report!

Congratulations to David Ben-Shlomo (who is the Safi petrographer) and Emanuel Eisenberg, on the publication of the new report on their excavations at Hebron, and the initiation of the new monograph series of the Institute of Archaeology of Ariel University!

The full title is:

Eisenberg, E., and Ben-Shlomo, D. 2017. The Tel Ḥevron 2014 Excavations. Final Report. Ariel University Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series, Number 1. Ariel: Ariel University Press.

Here’s a picture of the new volume:

September 15, 2017

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

Adam and Merindah tie the knot!

Congratulations to Adam and Merindah on their wedding!

Yet another Safi couple!

Mazal tov!

September 14, 2017

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

New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region – Conference – 18-20 Oct., 2017

The schedule of the 11th annual conference “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region” will be held at the Hebrew University on October 18th-20th, 2017.

There will be a lot of very interesting papers (and the 3rd day will be field trips) and I highly recommend it (the first day will be in English, the 2nd in Hebrew).

And, I’m also giving a paper (on the MB of Jerusalem)…

Check out the schedule below.


September 13, 2017

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

Abel Beth Maacha Workshop – April 26th, 2018 (at Hebrew University)

Please mark your calendars:

The Minerva Center for the Relations between Israel and Aram in Biblical Times (RIAB)

A Workshop:

Five Seasons of Excavation at Tel Abel Beth Maacah: An Interim Assessment

The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Thursday, April 26, 2018



This workshop will present a summary of the stratigraphic and architectural contexts, as well as major material culture finds, uncovered during the course of five seasons of excavation. Focus will be on the Iron Age I and II, with highlights from the Middle and Late Bronze Age, as well as the Persian-early Hellenistic period, in order to better understand the occupation sequence.

Following this presentation, a discussion will take place on issues generated by the finds and the research questions that guide the project, particularly, how the archaeological data from Abel Beth Maacah illuminate cultural and historical developments in the Hula Valley, from the Late Bronze Age city state of Hazor to the Iron Age IIA territorial kingdoms of Israel and Aram-Damascus. A presentation of pottery and other finds from these periods will take place and serve as the basis for a chronological, contextual and cultural discussion.



15:00: Convening and refreshments

15:15-17:00: Presentation of the archaeological field and artefactual data

17:00-17:30: Break

17:30-19:00: Presentation of pottery and other finds and discussion


If you are interested in participating, please contact: panitz@mail.huji.ac.il


September 04, 2017

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

Joe Uziel and finds from the City of David!

Dr. Joe Uziel, long-time member of the Safi team, and currently directing the IAA excavations in the City of David, has gotten some really nice press coverage (see for example here and here) for some great finds of Iron Age bullae from the Iron Age II that were recently found in Jerusalem. Ortal Chalaf, who is co-directing the excavations, is also a former student at BIU – and participated as well in the Safi excavations.

Way to go Joe!

September 03, 2017

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

Shem Tov Sasson blogs about the dig!

Shem Tov Sasson, who is a promising undergraduate student in my department at BIU, and participated this year in the excavations at Safi (he served as an assistant area supervisor in Area J), has written two great blog posts about his impressions and experiences during the 2017 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Check them out here and here (and in general, he has all kinds of interesting blog entries, on his studies at BIU, nature in Israel, etc.).

Way to go Shem Tov!

And here is a picture of Shem Tov holding the bronze bowl that he found this season!

September 01, 2017

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

Leah makes another restoration clip!

Following the success of the last clips (see the last one here) on her restoration work, Leah, our pottery restorer, has made another clip of the restoration of yet another vessel, this time an Iron IIA krater from Area F.

Check it out! Way to go Leah!

August 22, 2017

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

Leah Tramer, our pottery restorer makes another restoration video!

Leah, our pottery restorer, had made another great clip on the process of restoration of a vessel (see an earlier one here). This time, Leah restored an almost complete Iron IIA red-slipped and burnished jar from Area D.

Check it out!

August 18, 2017

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

Tell es-Safi/Gath Related Publications: 2014 to August 2017

I was asked for a list of the Safi-related publications that updates the list posted in 2013. So since I already prepared it, here it is below.

I hope I did not miss anything – if yes – feel free to point out anything that is missing or in need of correction!

Safi bibliography 2014 to Aug 2017


New Article on the EB board games from Safi!

A new, popular article on evidence of Early Bronze Age game boards from Tell es-Safi/Gath has appeared in the just-published issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The article, by Shira, Itzik, Haskel and yours truly, deals with the evidence of EB game boards and game pieces found at Safi, and places them within a broader context. This is a brief and popular summary of a more in-depth study on this topic that will hopefully soon be published.

The full title is:

Albaz, S., Shai, I., Greenfield, H. J., and Maeir, A. M. 2017. Board Games in Biblical Gath. Biblical Archaeology Review 43(5): 22, 68. (see here a pdf).

And on the same occasion, please note several additional new publications of mine:

Maeir, A. M. 2017. Kingdoms of Israel and Judah: I. History and Archaeology. Pp. 286–91 in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Volume 15. Berlin: de Gruyter. (see here a pdf).

Maeir, A. M. 2017. Koldewey, Robert Johann. P. 449 in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Volume 15. Berlin: de Gruyter. (see here a pdf).

Maeir, A. M. 2017. Lapp, Paul Wilbert. Pp. 826–27 in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Volume 15. Berlin: de Gruyter. (see here a pdf).



August 17, 2017

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

Tell es-Safi/Gath in USA TODAY

An article on the “Hobby Lobby scandal” and about the antiquities market in general, appeared yesterday in USA Today. In the article, not only am I quoted about my deep negative opinion about the antiquities market.

Among other things I said (whether quoted, misquoted, or not), I like the following quote:

““In the first half of the 20th century many rich people had the heads of animals mounted on the walls of their studies. Today that’s considered despicable. That’s how people should feel about the archaeological grave robbers who are robbing nations of their national heritage.””

But no less important, note that the photo at the beginning of the article was taken last year (2016) by the author of the article (Michele Chabin), shows the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath in Area D, and one sees Amit Dagan and Ahuva Ho excavating away!

Check it out!

Visit to Qiryat Yearim Excavations

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting the new excavations at Qiryat Yearim. I was hosted by the directors, Profs. Israel Finkelstein, Thomas Romer and Christophe Nicolle, who gave me a very detailed 2 hour tour of the site and the various excavation areas. What can I say – the site – and the excavations, are very impressive!

Although they are only at the end of the 2nd week of the first season, there are already some VERY interesting finds. It is clear that in the next few seasons, this site will become one of the most important excavations in Israel, and will undoubtedly provide crucial information for the study of the Judahite Kingdom during the Iron Age – as well as many other important aspects.


August 10, 2017

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

Australian Ambassador visits the lab!

Yesterday, August 9, 2017, we had the honor of hosting the new Australian Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Chris Cannan, at the Safi lab, as part of his visit to BIU.

The Safi project has a long-going connection with the Australian ambassadors to Israel, and past ambassadors have visited the lab and come to the excavations (as mentioned, for example, here, here and here).

I hope that Mr. Cannan, and his family, will join us in the excavations in July 2018!

Here’s a picture of the ambassador and me during the visit.

August 09, 2017

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

Lecture on Tell es-Safi/Gath at the World Congress of Jewish Studies – today (9/8/17) at the HU

As part of the 2017 17th World Congress of Jewish Studies currently being held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there will be a session today on archaeology, which will include a lecture on Tell es-Safi/Gath.

See here details of the lecture and session:

118 Iron Age Archaeology
Wednesday, 09 August, 2017 11:30-13:30, Room: 2603
Chairperson: Aren Maeir
Aren Maeir: The Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath and their Implications for the Understanding of the Early Judahite Kingdom
Carl S. Ehrlich: Does the Tanakh Preserve an Accurate Echo of the Philistine Cult?
Mitka R. Golub: Judean Personal Names in the Book of Jeremiah in the Light of the Archaeological Evidence
James S. Adcock: After Eight Seasons at Tel Burna, Have We Found Biblical Libnah?

You are invited to join us at this interesting session!

August 04, 2017

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

A selection of the 2017 aerial photos

The aerial photos at the end of the 2017 season were great (taken by Griffin Aerial Imaging).

So, in addition to the group photo that was already posted, here are some of the views of the various areas. And may I make a suggestion to those out there who want to be creative and suggest reconstructing lines of walls, features, houses, etc.: what you see in the aerials does not enable you to understand the complex architectural stratigraphy on the ground…

But in any case – enjoy!

July 29, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Week 4/End of Season Overview

The last week of excavations is usually uneventful – as we are typically trying to close down the excavation areas and make everything look “nice” for the final photos. However, this season we unexpectedly uncovered a destruction layer in B2 at the end of week 3 – which meant that we needed to expose this layer across the entire square or risk losing the context and finds of this important discovery over the winter (rain, visitors, or our neighbors – the bulls and the nice “ritual deposits” they often leave us :). On account of this – week four was much busier than usual!

Besides the regular end of seasons tasks (e.g., finishing pottery washing/reading/registration, endless trips to the container, ), we also heard a lecture on the archaeology and climate of Iceland by Michal and the Cypriot Pithoi from Area B1 by Itzick. During the early part of the week, we had several visitors including Prof. Eliezer Oren. On Wednesday, as a reward for completing the rigors of final sweeping, we visited the excavations at Lachish where Igor Kreimerman (dig staff at Lachish) gave us a tour of the “fourth expeditions” findings from their final season. In light of what they showed us – it will be very interesting to attend the lectures at the various November meetings later this year.

In Area B1: we finished our final week in Area B1 on what appeared to be a bit of whimper – that is until pottery washing! Since we made such excellent process in accomplishing our season’s goals during the preceding two weeks – we decided to take one last shot at finding the southern wall of the large cultic enclosure that defines Area B1 and opened another excavation square on the far southwest side of the excavation area. After reaching what appeared to be bedrock in much of the square (although we might have to dig a bit more to be sure) – we were resigned to simply make the square look “pretty” and take a few photos. But then – Seth and Oleg began uncovering an enormous amount of pottery in the northwestern area of the square – when we washed and read the pottery – we found ……… an inscription!!! The inscription is written with ink on a single sherd (i.e., an ostraca) and consists of only a few letters – while it is too soon to be certain, and we (Matt in particular) are already working feverishly on this – the inscription appears to be in the Proto-Canaanite script. Amazingly, this inscription was found in the second to last basket, in the last square of B1, on the last day of excavation. And what a way to go out! After seven seasons of excavation in Area B1 – it appears that we are officially closing Area B1…


2017 Tel Burna Plans for Presentations B2 and B1Area B1 – 2011-2017 with layered aerials


While in the grand scheme of things seven years is a short time, a lot has transpired since 2011! As the Area supervisor of B1, I would like to personally thank all the people that helped make the excavations in Area B1 such a success. Here are a few names that come to mind  that I would like to personally thank – Benjamin Yang, Casey Sharp, Andrew Bell, Ian Herriot, Ian McKibbin (and Scott and Barb), Sam Joffe, Jane Gaastra, Yirmi Szanton, Ido Ginaton (z”l), Gary and Sunny McKinny, Kay Fountain, Ofer and Victor, Ron Lev, Seth Adcock, Matt Spigelman, and IBEX/Master’s University spring season students. Here a few photos of work in Area B1 over the years.


In Area B2: Aharon and his remaining team (Juliana, Olivia, and Judah) with an assist from some fresh recruits (Jonah, Blythe, Ludmila, and Eva) and B1 veterans (Benjamin, Jane, Ian, and Sam) pressed on to meet the daunting and exciting task of excavating a destruction layer in the middle of the east-west section. They also continued to work in other parts of the east-west section.

2017 Tel Burna B2 top planArea B2 – East-West Section after the 2017 Season

Starting at the top/east side of the section – Juliana and her team successfully removed the balk and exposed the connection between the fortifications and the interior building that we had excavated earlier this season. While the surface remains were poor and not well preserved, it appears that this building was initially built during the Iron IIC, and was re-used during the Persian period (like in A2). The building is east-west oriented and rectangular with a row of pillars dividing the western side from the eastern side. The western end of the building was built in connection with the casemate fortifications – although there are clearly several architectural phases that require more study. We also can trace adjacent walls in the area north of this building – which probably indicates that these buildings were built (or rebuilt) together with the casemate wall perhaps in the “four-room” style – e.g., Tel Sheva Iron II town plan, but we will have to open more squares to be sure. We plan on continuing to expose this building to the north and east next season. Despite our uncertainty regarding the exact phasing within the building, we can likely confirm that the exterior town wall was in use during the Iron IIC (i.e., the 7th century BCE) as the wall was widened during this period as revealed by Juliana’s balk removal. Going back to the initial season of the project (2010), we had wondered whether the outer fortifications were in use during the last days of the kingdom of Judah (e.g., King Josiah) because we found that the interior casemate wall had been destroyed by grain silos during this period. Unlike on the eastern side of the tell (A1), the fortifications on the west (B2) seem to have been strengthened during the 7th century BCE (as noted also by the existence of the perpendicular wall of the casemate), although we will have to trace this further to confirm this hypothesis.

Outside of the wall to the west, Michal and Ladislav continued to trace new courses of both the city wall and the poorly-made wall (known lovingly by the team as the “crappy wall”) that seems to divide two layers of fill that strengthen the Iron II outer wall. Amazingly, on the north of the “crappy wall we now have c. 2 meters of fill from the Late Bronze Age that includes a high quantity of metallugical remains (tuyeres, crucibles, slag, traces of bronze, etc.), but also sherds from the Iron II. This indicates that this fill was taken from a single place, probably near the fortification wall, and deposited along the wall’s outer face in order to strengthen the wall. In the section south of the “crappy wall,” we also have fill that is mixed with pottery from different periods (predominantly Iron II) that does not include metallurgical activity. In the last few days of the excavation, it appears that Ladislav reached the top of a collapse in this southern section that includes mudbrick material and ash. Given the destruction layer that we found lower down the slope (see next paragraph), it is possible that we now have the beginning of the destruction next to the outer fortification. If so, then it would mean that the fortification wall was standing at least as early as the destruction (Iron I? Early Iron IIA?), but we will obviously have to look at this very carefully when we continue to trace the depths of the fortification wall next season. Stay tuned!

Below the wall to the west, Aharon’s team (Jane, Sam, Benjamin, Jonah, and co.) excavated a very well preserved destruction layer that already includes around a dozen complete vessels of various types (storage jars, cooking pots, bowls, etc.). The destruction layer was found under a silo (Iron IIC) and a very large collapse of stones (perhaps from the outer fortification wall) that included remains from the Late Bronze-Iron II. While it is too early to be certain, the pottery seems to date before the late Iron IIA phase that we traced on the eastern side of the tell in A1 back in 2010 (perhaps a destruction layer related to the same period as the Gath Hazael destruction c. 830 BCE), and it is certainly later than the 13th century layer that we have exposed in B1. At first glance, the layer seems to be related to the late Iron I and/or the early Iron IIA (late 11th and 10th centuries BCE – including several Philistine sherds – bichrome and debased), although we will have to closely examine the pottery, as well as hope to get some good 14C/radiocarbon dates from the large amount of charcoal that we collected. Given the ongoing (and often heated) discussion about the beginning of the Iron II and its relationship to the United Kingdom/Early Israelite and/or Judahite polities, we are very excited to continue to expose more of this destruction layer, study the evidence, and see where it takes us. Obviously – there will be more to come on this front in future seasons as we attempt to trace this very important stratum at the site.

Further down the slope to the west, and despite Sam and Ian’s heroic efforts in excavating in top soil and rock collapse for two straight weeks, we still do not yet know what is going on in the bottom ten meters of the section. It seems that there was a large wall that was fortified with an upper layer of earthen fill (filled with pottery from the Late Bronze-Iron IIB) on top of a stone core laid above bedrock (also filled with pottery from the Late Bronze-Iron IIB) that was built on top of the Late Bronze plateau stratum that we have uncovered in Area B1. This last piece of evidence, which was confirmed by the hard work of Benjamin in his probe that reached bedrock, is very interesting as it indicates that the Late Bronze city continued towards the east beneath the Iron IIB (?) stone/earthen glacis (?). Hopefully, we will be able to better understand this massive architectural feature next season when we remove the collapse.

Here are a few photos from the last several days of excavation.

In conclusion and a look ahead: This season we better exposed the earliest excavated stratum at Tel Burna in Area B1 (13th century BCE) by tracing the eastern wall of the large cultic enclosure while also searching, but ultimately failing to find the elusive southern wall. We also traced large walls that seem to have surrounded (and likely formed) the western lower platform that was only populated during the Late Bronze Age. In what will be Area B3 – we hope to understand these walls (fortification? large public building? retaining wall?) and its relationship to the large public cultic enclosure that we excavated in Area B1.

Inside of the western fortifications in Area B2, we found an Iron II building that seems to have a constructed during the Iron IIC/7th century BCE and re-used during the Persian period. We can also add an additional stratum with the discovery of the late Iron I/early Iron IIA (?) destruction layer in the middle of the east-west section.

Next season we hope to open up the following two new areas:

Area B3 to expose the aforementioned large architecture on the southern end of the lower Late Bronze platform.

Tel Burna overview from east after 2017 seasonTel Burna overview of areas from west after 2017 season
Tel Burna overview from southeast after 2017 seasonTel Burna overview of areas from southwest after 2017 season

Area G(?) to expose where we believe the Iron Age gate is located on the southern side of the fortifications (see photo).


Areas after 2017 seasonTel Burna after 2017 season with new potential excavation areas


Updated Periods (with the location of evidence): 

Early Bronze Age – survey and excavated sherds

Middle Bronze Age – survey and excavated sherds

Late Bronze Age – Area B1; fills in Area B2; survey

Late Iron I/Early Iron IIA (?) – Area B2 destruction layer; survey

Late Iron IIA – Area A1 destruction layer (?); survey

Iron IIB – Area A1; Area A2; Area B2; survey

Iron IIC – Area A1; Area A2; Area B2; survey

Persian – Area A1; Area A2; Area B2; survey

Byzantine – Area B1 and survey



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

Pictorial Evidence of the Appearance, Transformation and Disappearance of the Sea Peoples – :-)

News flash – new pictorial evidence of the appearance, transformation and disappearance of the Sea Peoples!

See the evidence below in this newly revealed set of pictures! In the end – they just fade away…























July 28, 2017

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

The 2017 Safi team group aerial photo!

Keeping up with our tradition of making great aerial group photos at the end of the season, at the start of the final aerial photos, this year, we went for a Medinet Habu Sea Peoples warrior theme.

And just like the season itself – the group this year came out REALLY super!

Check it out – and as usual – the challenge to other teams in on…


July 27, 2017

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

Surprise Birthday Celebration for Jeff Chadwick

Yesterday, it was Jeff’s (aka Achish Melekh Gath) birthday, so we set up a surprise celebration – and caught Jeff completely unaware.

In the immotal words of Hannibal of the “A Team”: “I love it when a plan comes together”…:-)

See the evidence here:


July 26, 2017

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

Updates and finds from the final days – a Massebah!

The 4th week of the project involves some digging and a lot of end of season work, including preparing the areas for photography, packing up finds and equipment, trips to the storage containers and BIU – but also a few finds!

Among the most interesting finds is the cultic standing stone (“Massebah”) found in Area D, just next to the metallurgy area. The Massebah was found knocked over, and right next to it we had found a few days ago both a figurine and a collection of astragali bones. The strengthens the suggestion that there are more cultic contexts yet to be excavated in this area. Cool!


July 23, 2017

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

New Journal – Archaeology and Text, vol. 1 (2017)

Congratulations to Itzik Shai (Ariel University) and David Small (Lehigh University), editors of the journal Archaeology and Text, for the appearance of the first issue of this new, very interesting – and open access – journal.

Check out the new issue here.

Way to go Itzik and David!