Taygete Atlantis: Excavation Blogs (Antiquity)


Tom Elliott (tom.elliott@nyu.edu)

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April 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



April 16, 2014

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

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

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

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



April 14, 2014

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

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

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

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


April 12, 2014

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

Filming with Documentary Crew at Safi and the Ashdod Museum

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

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

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


back entrance to Safi_4_14 Filming altar in Ashdod museum 4_14

April 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Safi was definitely on the map!


April 09, 2014

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

News flash: Anthropoid coffin near Afula

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

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



New inscription?

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

Very exciting!

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

The title of the article is:

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


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

April 08, 2014

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

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

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

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


Chag sameach!




April 07, 2014

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

Calixtlahuaca’s Market Brought to Life!

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

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

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

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

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

April 04, 2014

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

Field trip to sites in NW Negev

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

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

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

As they say in mamma loshen: a mechayeh…

Here are some great pictures:

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


April 02, 2014

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

Joe Uziel stars in a clip about the city of david

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

Way to go Joe!

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

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

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

March 31, 2014

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

Discussion with Yossi Garfinkel on the United Monarchy

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

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

It was fun!

And Amit hands it in as well!

And the wave of PhD submissions continues! Today, Amit submitted his PhD dissertation as well! Yeah!!!

Amit studies the 8th cent. remains at Tell es-Safi/Gath the surrounding region, in an attempt to understand the cultural and political developments at the site and in the region during the time period following the destruction of Gath by Hazael and until the destructions of the site in the late 8th cent BCE.

Way to go Amit!

With Amit, Johanna, Shira and Tina – that’s four submitted dissertations for the Safi team in the last few months!!!


March 30, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Area B Restoration Process

Check out the restoration one of the large pithoi from area B – way to go Yirmi! This is one of several large storage vessels found near the ritual masks, figurines, chalices and unique cultic vessel.  Very nice! Of course if you want to see the rest of these vessels and their siblings you will have to come join us this summer :)


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

The United Kingdom at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem

Tomorrow evening at 20:00 (April 1st, 2014), at the Beit Avi Chai center, as part of an ongoing series on contemporary archaeology in Israel, hosted by the Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson, I will be discussing/debating with Prof. Yossi Garfinkel (from HU) about the “pros and cons” of the United Monarchy.

The discussions will be in Hebrew, but should be very interesting, so if you have the evening off and you are in the Jerusalem region – do check it out (see here for details).


March 29, 2014

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

Donation to dig thru PayPal!

Today, a very generous person made a donation to the project through the PayPal link on the blog homepage.

First of all – to the donor – thank you so very much!

And second – to all the rest of you out there – why don’t you join in on this trend!




March 27, 2014

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

Ms. Shimona Hershkowitz visits the lab – ביקור הגב’ שמעונה הרשקוביץ במעבדה

היום היה לנו את הכבוד והעונג לארח את גב’ שמעונה הרשקוביץ, רעיית נשיא אוניברסיטת בר-אילן, פרופ’ דניאל הרשקוביץ. גב’ הרשקוביץ היום ביקרה במספר מוקדי עניין ברחבי הקמפוס, ביקרה גם במעבדה של חפירות תל צפית. בביקורה, אני ועמית דגן הסברנו לה על הפעילות המחקרית והחינוכית שמתבצעת במעבדה – ובשטח בזמן החפירות, וכן הזמנו אותה ואת משפחתה  (וכן ילדיה ונכדיה) לחזור ולבקר בחפירה, גם בקיץ הקרוב – כמו בקיץ האחרון.

Today, we had the honor and pleasure to host Mrs. Shimona Hershkowitz, the wife of Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz (president of BIU). Mrs. Hershkowitz, who took a tour of  BIU highlights today, visited the lab of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project. During her visit, Amit Dagan and I told her all about the scientific and educational work that we carry out, both in the lab – and in the field during the excavations. We also invited her and her family (including children and grandchildren) to once again join us in the summer for the dig – as they had done last year.

Mrs Hershkovitz visit to lab


Chris Rollston visit the lab!

This afternoon, we had the pleasure to host the well-known epigrapher, Dr. Chris Rollston (George Washington Univ.) at the Safi lab at BIU. Chris, who is spending the semester at TAU, came over for a visit to the lab, to see some of the Safi finds, talk about various things, and also join us for lunch!

We has some great discussions about various issues; Chris has some really great input about several things – and we even may have some ideas for some very interesting joint research!

And to prove that he was in fact there – here’s a picture!

Chris Rollston visit to lab

Tina Greenfield submits her PhD!

Tina Greenfield, who is a senior researcher on the joint BIU/Manitoba EB project, has informed me that she has just submitted her PhD! (Yeah!!!)

Her PhD (entitled: “Feeding Empires: The political economy of a Neo-Assyrian provincial capital through the analysis of zooarchaeological remains”) was based on zooarchaeological materials from Ziyaret Tepe (ancient Tushan) located in SE Turkey and dates from c. 900-611 BCE, and deals with the socio-political and economic aspects of this site, and the Neo-Assyrian empire in this region.

The PhD was submitted to Cambridge University.

Way to go Tina!!


March 25, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Final Day of Spring Season – Looking Towards the Summer

Today was our last day in the filed until June, when we will kick off our Summer season of 4 weeks! Today we worked with the ICB students up in Area A, continuing the three new squares we began work in. Thanks to them and the Master’s College students who joined us Sunday and Monday, plus Jeremy, Sandy and Ofer – this spring we managed to do have some real progress towards helping our goals of expanding the Iron Age II and Late Bronze Age exposures. This will make our summer even more prosperous – make sure to SIGN UP NOW FOR THE SUMMER EXPERIENCE!!!

Here are some shots from our last day of work.

DSCF9343 DSCF9344 DSCF9348 DSCF9353 DSCF9354 DSCF9357 DSCF9359


March 24, 2014

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

Visit today to Safi with University of Heidelberg group

Today, I had the pleasure of giving a tour of Tell es-Safi/Gath to a group of students from the University of Heidelberg, led by my good friend Prof. Joseph Maran. We spent about two hours on the site and walked around to the major excavation areas. It was great hosting Joseph and his students at the site!

The tell (and all the surroundings) – as expected during this time of the year – was completely green, and I’m glad to report, that besides the damage from the rain which I had already seen in Area D last week (see here), the other areas are more or less the same as I had seen about a month and a half ago (see here; whew – that’s a relief…).

On the way back to the parking area, we passed a couple of horses grazing on the tell – and here’s a picture of them. And then, at the end of the tour, the group gathered for a joint photo.

2 visit to Safi 24_3_13 3 visit to Safi 24_3_13

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Day 2 – Spring 2014

Today we went into working in Seven new Squares!!!!

The ICB team broke topsoil in three squares in Area A, while Ofer and Sadn – two of our core team of volunteers that come back every year for more – continued to work in one of our existing squares, discovering what seems to be remains of a destruction on an Iron Age surface, with much burnt material and even discovered most of the pieces of an Iron Age Lamp!

The team from the Master’s College worked in Area B, opening 4 squares and discovering more walls of the Late Bronze Age structures there, picking up along the way many nice pottery sherds, including a piece of an imported Cypriot Basering Bowl and a sherd of an imported Mycenean Jug! here are some pics of the group enjoying themselves – thanks for all your hard work! Tomorrow is our last of the spring season – can’t wait for the summer!

DSC06500 DSC06507 DSC06512 DSC06549 DSC06551 DSC06564 DSC06586 DSC06594 DSC06597 DSC06598 DSC06611 DSC06614 DSC06626 DSC06635 DSC06643 DSC06654 DSC06684 DSC06692

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

New Excavation Area

The walk has been made and Grid Supervisor Joshua Walton has a new excavation area to call home.  This summer he will open a step trench on the North Tell in either Grid 16 or 17.  (The exact location will be identified by the GIS team prior to the start of the season.)

New Grid on the North Tell

New Grid on the North Tell

The goal for this and subsequent seasons is to get as complete an occupational sequence from the Bronze Age through the Islamic/Crusader period as possible.  

Visible in the photo?  Probable remains from the medieval fortifications.

Since work first began in 1985 we have learned a great deal about settlement on the North Tell but this promises to be one of the most informative years yet.

There's still time to join the volunteer staff.  Get your application in today!

March 23, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Day 1 of 2014 Season kicks off

Today was day 1 of the 2014 season, with three days of spring work starting today. As always Day 1 is a lot of logistics, but the great teams we had from Israel Bible College (headed by Sheila Gyllenberg) and the Master’s college (headed by Chris McKinny) got off to a fabulous start.

DSC06477The Master’s College 2014 Team
IBC 2014 TeamIBC 2014 Team

We moved all of Ron Tappy’s equipment into our new container at Kibbutz Galon (thanks Ron – longtime excavator of our sister site Tel Zayit – and good luck with publication!), and then headed up to the tell, which was covered in green and yellow. unfortunately the green and yellow need to be removed in and around the squares, but people seemed to make excellent use of these colors!


"if you're going to Tel Burna, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair"“if you’re going to Tel Burna, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”

We cleared the squares and marked them with the help of J, and got all set to sink our teeth into the ground tomorrow morning. keep your fingers crossed ! here are some more pics:

DSC06376 DSC06382 DSC06394 DSC06400 DSC06420 DSC06428 DSC06429 DSC06432 DSC06438 DSC06444 DSC06458

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

The celebrations continue!

Last night, at Ruti Shachak-Gross’ house, we celebrated a triple PhD dissertation event!

As you may recall, last week some of the Safi oldtimers got together to celebrate Shira’s submission of her PhD and her new post-doc position in Leipzig. But, that was not all! Last night, a bunch of people, mostly from the Kimmel Center at the WIS got together to celebrate three PhD dissertations that were just submitted by PhD students affiliated with the Kimmel Center:

* Johanna Regev, whose PhD deals with the new revolutionary high chronology of the EB, based on a whole new series of 14C analyses and sophisticated modelling. Johanna’s PhD was supervised by Elisabetta Boaretto and Aren Maeir.

* Shira Gur-Arieh, who PhD deals with Iron Age cooking installations in Philistia using archaeological, material science and ethnoarchaeological methods, and has opened up a whole new perspective on these and similar cooking installations, and developed a whole new set of methods for studying these and other installations. Shira’s PhD was supervised by Ruty Shachak-Gross, Elisabetta Boaretto and Aren Maeir.

* Larisa Goldenberg, who PhD deals with microscale distribution and concentration of preserved organic molecules in archaeological ceramics and its relevance to the field of residue analysis, and came up with some revolutionary insights relevant for 14C dating and residue analyses. Larisa’s PhD was supervised by Steve Weiner. This research is also connected to the Safi excavations, as some of the analyses were conducted on materials from the site.

Very fun party (and that is where I got the t-shirt mentioned previously, and several other very cool presents from Shira and Johanna…) – and I’m very honored and happy to have been able to have a part, and assisted when I could, in their excellent research – directly or indirectly…

Here’s a picture of the submitters and their supervisors:

PhD party_March 22 2014

Cool t-shirt!

Shira Gur-Arieh gave me this cool t-shirt – thanks!

P.S. And yes, those are my toes at the bottom of the picture…

Lord of the Philistines t-shirt









And closer up:

Lord of the Philistines

March 21, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Rainy Season

While many students and faculty were enjoying Spring Break here, several staff members went off to Ashkelon to continue preparations for the summer.  The greatest challenge to making progress on various projects?  The rain.  Dr. Kate Birney, in Ashkelon working on an assessment of the Hellenistic period ceramic corpus, was challenged to improvise a work space during periods of heavy rain.  The solution?  One of our storage containers.  I'll include a picture, the poor quality is my fault not hers, to give you a sense of just how dreary it can get. 

Dr. Daniel Master, co-director of the excavation, was also in Ashkelon walking the site with Josh Walton, one of the grid supervisors, selecting the location for a new excavation area on the North Tell.  We should know more soon about where that work will take place.

Volunteer applications are due April 7th.  With several new areas opening and Grid 51 racing towards 604 B.C.E. it promises to be an exciting season.  Get yours in today!

March 20, 2014

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

New in press article in Quaternary International online!

The article (mentioned previously here) by Oren Ackermann et al. on “Palaeoenvironment and anthropogenic activity in the southeastern Mediterranean since the mid-Holocene: The case of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel” can now be found online in the “in press” page of Quaternary International.

This is a very interesting, collaborative study, which summarizes a nice portion of the long-term paleo-environmental studies that we have conducted around Tell es-Safi/Gath in the last 15 years or so, and lays the groundwork for several other studies that are currently in process or planning!

If you can’t access the article and want a copy – drop me an email.


40th archaeological conference in Haifa – new poster out

As already mentioned, on April 10th, 2014, the 40th Annual Archaeological Conference in Israel will be held at the University of Haifa. The program includes some very interesting lectures, including one by Shira Kisos, Itzik Shai, Haskel Greenfield and I on the EB game boards from Tell es-Safi/Gath.

A new poster/invitation for the congress with a detailed list of the lectures has just been sent out - הזמנה קונגרס ארכיאולוגי 40

Do note that the lectures will be in Hebrew – so if you are planning to fly in specially for this – make sure you understand Hebrew! :-)



Australians finding things…

As the news is full of reports that the Australian govt. may have found the remains of the Malaysian Airlines plane, I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone, but I assume that the standards that Australia has now set – for finding hard-to-locate objects – will continue to be implemented this summer at Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Last year the Aussies did not too bad (complete ivory bowl…), but I think we have to demand that the standards be raised… :-)

And if any of the other nationalities feel a need to show that not only Aussies can find things – don’t hesitate to prove yourself as well!


Some of the Safi “Old Timers” to celebrate with Shira Gur-Arieh

Last night, a bunch of the Safi “Old Timers” got together at a restaurant in Tel Aviv to celebrate with Shira Gur-Arieh on the occasion of the submission of her PhD and her new Post-Doc position at the Max Planck Center for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig.

Great evening, not bad food, fantastic memories, good friends – what more could one ask for! And best of luck to Shira for her new and exciting position!


March 17, 2014

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

quick visit to Tell es-Safi today – rains made quite a mess in Area D!

I paid a brief visit to the lower city at Safi this morning, and got a glimpse of the awful mess that the last rains caused in Area D…

Lot’s of cleaning up in the summer – oy veh…

photo 2 photo 1

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Spring Season in 6 Days!

We would like to remind everyone that we will be conducting a short 3-day spring season at Tel Burna from Sunday-Tuesday of next week (March 23-25). The principle participants, as in past years, will be students from Israel College of the Bible and the Master’s College. Should be a very interesting three days – as we will be opening new squares in and around the large 8th century BCE structure in the center of the tell and several squares in area B around the 13th cent. BCE cultic building.  If you are in the area and free on one or more of these mornings please come join us – the tel will be beautifully dressed in spring flowers and greenery :)  

March 16, 2014

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

New in press Article in JAS on line

The following article, which is part of Shira Gur-Arieh’s PhD dissertation (which she has just submitted!) is in press at the Journal of Archaeological Science, and it now can be found online in its pre-press form.

Gur-Arieh, S., Shahack-Gross, R., Maeir, A.M., Lehmann, G., Hitchcock, L.A., Boaretto, E., In press. The Taphonomy and Preservation of Wood and Dung Ashes Found in Archaeological Cooking Installations: Case Studies from Iron Age Israel, Journal of Archaeological Science (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.03.011.

Check it out!


March 15, 2014

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

Happy Purim!

Sunday (and in some places on Monday) Purim is celebrated and it is customary to dress up in different costumes.

So – here’s one costume idea for all of you out there :-)

Happy Purim!

___ __________ 065

March 14, 2014

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

Very interesting conference on the Pentateuch this May in Jerusalem

A very interesting conference on the Pentateuch will be held in Jerusalem May 25-29, 2014, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From the very impressive list of speakers (see below), many of the most important voices in Pentateuchal studies will be there.

I definitely plan to attend as many sessions as possible!

Conference Program Pentateuch within Biblical Literature May 2014 Jerusalem

March 13, 2014

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

40th Annual Archaeological Conference in Israel – with a Safi lecture

The program and invitation for the 40th Annual Archaeological Conference in Israel, which will be held at the University of Haifa on Thursday, April 10th, 2014, has been sent out.

Looks like there will be a nice group of very interesting lectures, including a lecture on the EB game boards from Area E at Tell es-Safi/Gath, which will be presented by Shira Kisos, in the name of Itzik Shai, Haskel Greenfield and yours truly.

Click on the link to the right to see the program (which is in Hebrew) - תכנית 40

Should be an interesting meeting!


Lecture at University of Kansas – April 22nd

In April 22nd I’ll be lecturing on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath at the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Kansas. Information on the lecture has now appeared on the their website (HT to Jim West – thanks).

Any of you who are in this neck of the woods on this date – you are invited!

As I already mentioned, following this, I’ll be giving a public lecture at the OI in Chicago.



March 12, 2014

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

Yonatan Adler hits the media!

Dr. Yonatan Adler, of Ariel University, who was on the Safi team in 2008, has hit world media with news (see here and here) about his fantastic discovery of new Phylacteries from Qumran! Way to go Yonatan!

And here is Yonatan (wearing the Philistine broom hat…) and Jeff Chadwick in a less serious moment…

Jeff and Yonatan reenacting David and Goliath 2008


Dina Castel, our pottery restorer is wrapping up for the season!

Dina Castel, our pottery restorer, is wrapping up her work for this year, and will soon be going back to Italy – where she spends half the year. So, in honor of this, some of the Safi team posed with her at the restoration tables.

Until next year…

pottery restoration end of season 2014 group picture

Porter and Moss online!

News is out that the Griffith Institute of the University of Oxford has digitized and put online as PDFs the first seven volumes of the Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Painting (commonly referred to as “Porter/Moss”). In addition to this being an astounding resource for all those dealing with just about anything Egyptological, Volume VII is of particular interest to those dealing with the archaeology of the ancient Land of Israel, as it included a section on Egyptian finds from Western Asia (including Israel) updated to the volume’s publication in 1952. Although a lot of finds have come out since the publication of these volumes, it is a an excellent resource with which to start research on many topics.

And, if you go to page 372 in vol. VII, you can see a list of the Egyptian finds from Tell es-Safi/Gath (from the Bliss/Macalister excavations).

This is quite an astounding resource to have online!


March 11, 2014

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

And the Azekah people reciprocate!

Following our visit to TAU to see the LB/Iron I materials from Azekah, today, some of the Azekah team, and Mario – who sneaked in even though he is a Megiddoite – came to visit the Safi lab to see our LB from Area P, as well as look at other finds from other periods and areas.

Here is a group of Safiites and Azekaites looking at the pottery:


March 09, 2014

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

And some more nostalgia…

And if already dealing with nostalgia, Oren Ackermann, our project geomorphologist, met his wife Shoshi at the excavation, 15 years ago. At the time, Oren was starting his PhD, and Shoshi came to be the volunteer coordinator for the dig.

Yesterday, they visited the tell with their kids, and posed for a photograph under the tree where Oren and Shoshi first met, way back when…

So you see, there are other results of excavating – not only storage rooms full of restored pottery! :-)


A bit of nostalgia…

As my youngest son, Netanel (here in the blue shirt…), just went into the army today, thought of him on the excavation, taking levels, a “few” years ago…

Minolta DSC

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Visit to Tel Burna March 9 – with Prof. Dr. Michael Rohde


Today, under cloudy skies Itzick, Chris and I visited the tel with our guest Prof. Dr. Michael Rohde, of Theological seminar Elstal (University of applied sciences), in Wustermark near Berlin.

It was a perfect opportunity to see the tel dressed-up in green and sprinkled with wild flowers.

While showing Michael around we discussed plans for the short March season and the opening of new squares in two weeks.

March 07, 2014

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

Project with kids from hostels in the lab – תוכנית עם ילדים מפנימיות במעבדה

Amit, Shira, Mor and Maria have, in the last few months, on their own initiative, volunteered to host a group of kids from hostels for an archaeological related activity in the Safi lab – every Thursday evening. These are kids who live together in a hostel which provides for them a home environment, and also various educational and fun activities.

This project, the “Legacy Project,” is a joint initiative of the Legacy Heritage Fund and the Bar-Ilan University Youth Science Initiative, and aims to expose kids from such frameworks to various aspects relating to the world of science and academia, with a focus both on science and Jewish Heritage related aspects.

The 2nd group of kids is no participating in this weekly activity at the lab, in which the kids come with their supervisors, and each week have hands-on activities related to archaeology. This last Thursday, they decorated copies of ancient lamps. For reasons of privacy, the photos below don’t show the kids faces, but you can get an idea of what they did.

Bravo for Amit et al. for volunteering their time, efforts, and compassion to the project!

בחודשים האחרונים, עמית, שירה, מור ומריה, ביוזמתם, החלו לארח במעבדה קבוצות של ילדים מפנימיות לפעילויות שונות הקשורות בארכיאולוגיה. כל שבוע, ביום חמישי אחה”צ, הילדים באים ועושים פעילות הקשורה בארכיאולוגיה, השבוע, הם עיטרו העתקים של נרות חרס קדומים. עמית ושות’ כבר עשו זאת לשתי קבוצות ילדים, תוך שהם מנדבים עם זמנם, מרצם ופתחו את לבם למען הילדים – כל הכבוד! בתמונות למטה דאגנו מתוקף צנעת הפרט לא להראות את הפנים של הילדים עצמם, אלא רק את הפעילות שהם עושים

  פעילות זאת נעשית במסגרת “פרויקט לגאסי” שהוקם על ידי היחידה לנוער שוחר מדע בבר-אילן בשיתוף קרן לגאסימטרת הפרויקט הוא קירוב ילדי פנימיות לעולם המדע והאקדמיה באמצעות עידוד, טיפוח וחיזוק תחושת המסוגלות האישית. התכנית משלבת לצד המדע גם את נושא המורשת היהודית

IMG_1332 IMG_1344 IMG_1325 IMG_1329 IMG_1330 IMG_1331

Congratulations to Jo Verduci – Recipient of the Dever Prize!

Word is out that Jo Verduci, long time member of the Safi team from the Univ. of Melbourne contingent, has been awarded the Sean Dever Memorial Prize.

Here are the details (as passed on by Jack Sasson):


The William F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in
Jerusalem is pleased to announce the winner of the thirteenth annual
competition for the Sean W. Dever Memorial Prize. This award offers
$650 for the best published article or paper presented at a conference
by a Ph.D. candidate in Syro-Palestinian or Biblical Archaeology.
Authors may be of any nationality but the article or paper must be in

The winner this year is Josephine A. Verduci, a Ph.D. candidate in the
Classics and Archaeology Department in the School of Historical and
Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her paper, “A
Feather in Your Cap: Symbols of Philistine Warrior Status,” was
presented in November 2013 at the Annual Meeting of the American
Schools of Oriental Research in Baltimore.

The Sean W. Dever Prize was established in 2001 by Mrs. Norma Dever
and Professor William G. Dever, in memory of their son Sean.

Way to go Jo! You definitely deserve this for your great research – and we are all very proud of you!

Here’s a picture of Jo doing registration in the fieldJoRecords



March 06, 2014

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

Mor is astounded by an Iron II jar!

Everyone gets surprised by different things – Mor was taken aback by a restored Iron II jar…


March 04, 2014

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

Staff of Ashdod Museum visit the lab for tour

Today, we were honored by a visit of the staff and museum guides of the new Ashdod Museum of the Philistines (which I mentioned previously, such as here), visited the lab for detailed tour of the lab and the finds, to give them extra background for their work at the museum. Amit gave them an extended talk about the finds, the Philistines, and Tell es-Safi/Gath in general – which I’m sure will help very much when they guide visitors to the museum.

Here Amit is explaining to the museum group next to the pottery restoration tables

Amit and Ashdod museum staff_4_3_12

Shira Gur-Arieh submits her PhD!

We had a great reason to raise a toast today, when Shira Gur-Arieh submitted her PhD! Shira, who is a long-time member of the project and conducted both her MA and PhD research in connection with finds from Safi, just finished her PhD – which dealt with Philistine cooking installations (both hearths and tabuns/tannurs) from an experimental, ethnoarchaeological, analytic and typological point of view. The results of her research have and/or will be published in a series of articles (including 3 in JAS and JFA)!

Here we are raising a toast in her honor – way to go Shira!


Shira is also about to leave for a prestigious post-doc at the Max Planck Center for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and we wish her all the best, and luck and success in this new position!

Yorke Rowan visits the labs

Dr. Yorke Rowan, of the Oriental Institute, visited us at BIU today. I first showed him the Safi lab and discussed the various finds, and then, I took him over to Udi Weiss’ archaeobotanical lab, to see some of the botanical remains that they are working on.

Very nice visit – and we had some very interesting discussions!


March 03, 2014


Last Day at the Site

Monday, March 3, 2014

Today we went to Malqata for the last time. Over the past couple of days, the North Village has been covered with sand to protect the fargile mud brick from the elements.

North Village looking toward the cliffs of Western Thebes

North Village looking toward the cliffs of Western Thebes

The weather has been odd this week, with lots of dust in the air and quite a bit of wind, which made working outdoors challenging.
A few days ago, it was decided that the pots from pit 21 that Azib and Ali were gluing
Inspector Mohammed Ibrahim, Azib, and Ali reconstructing pottery

Inspector Mohammed Ibrahim, Azib, and Ali reconstructing pottery

together should go to the storeroom along with our small finds (including the mud seal impression and the jar label). We had two boxes made and spent the early morning today packing them with the pottery, and at 11:00 we took them to the Carter Storeroom (named for Howard Carter and located just north of the house he lived in during his years working on the west bank in the early 20th century). Next season, we will ask to bring them back to the site to see if more frogments from pit 21 can be attached.
Malqata storage box at teh site

Malqata storage box at teh site

We hope you have enjoyed the season as much as we have.
Goodbye until for now.
Catharine Roehrig and Diana Craig Patch at Malqaata, 3-3-2014

Catharine Roehrig and Diana Craig Patch at Malqata, 3-3-2014

Catharine Roehrig
Diana Craig Patch

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

EB research meeting

Today, we had a meeting in the Safi lab with some of people dealing with the Israeli side of the joint Canadian-Israeli EB research project at Safi (funded by the Canadian SSHRC, co-directed by Haskel Greenfield and yours truly). The meeting was called to summarize this years research by the various participants, both in relationship to the annual summary that we are about to submit, also to coordinate between the different people working of different topics (and get input between all the different people), and also to throw out some ideas about the upcoming season in June/July.

Here’s a view of the group in the midst of the discussions:

EB research meeting_3_3_14



Tell Edfu - The 2011 Season

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March 02, 2014


Drink and Be Merry

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Beer Jar and Saucer in situ

Beer Jar and Saucer in situ

While working along the east side of the North Village, we came across a small pit sunk into the earliest mud plaster floor in the room. The pit had been sealed over with fill and a second mud plaster floor when the set of rooms had undergone renovation. The pit wasn’t very large and after clearing the remains of floors and walls, we opened up the pit.
It turned out not to be a pit, but a large jar that was only partially complete because the upper part of the jar had most likely been removed during the room’s renovation. Although no rim remained, one could see it was a large, straight walled jar of Nile silt with a slightly pointed base, a form that is quite common in Dynasty 18.
Inside the jar was a nice find – two vessels completely preserved although well worn.

Saucer and Beer Jar

Saucer and Beer Jar

The two pieces comprised a set: a red-coated Nile silt drinking jar and a little saucer. Such sets are well known from ancient Egyptian banqueting scenes where a servant pours liquid from the small cylindrical jar into a little saucer, often for a woman. The

Drawing of a Scene showing a Servant pouring liquid into a dish. Tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100)

Drawing of a Scene showing a Servant pouring liquid into a dish. Tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100)

saucer can also function as a cover for the jar when it rests in a jar stand, so that insects and dirt don’t fall into its contents. Men taking part in harvesting scenes are shown stopping to drink out of a larger version of this jar type.
That brings us to the type of liquid that this jar once held. It was most likely beer, a staple in an ancient Egyptian’s life. Beer was made from cereal grains, generally emmer wheat or barley, which were soaked to break down the starch. After that stage was completed, yeast and lactic bacteria were added to ferment the liquid brewing the beer. This description is an extremely simple version of a process that has been given much attention and we suggest that anyone who wants to learn more consider reading Delwen Samuel’s chapter on “Brewing and Baking” in Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology edited by Paul T Nicholson and Ian Shaw.
Ancient Egyptian beer as many of you probably know is unlike the brew we drink today and instead was probably similar to a number local African beers, thick, and nutritious. Samuel suggests that dates may have been used to flavor beer occasionally, although they were not apparently common. Interestingly, the most consistent botanical material we have recovered at the North Village has been date pits, although we don’t have many.

Modified Beer Jar

Modified Beer Jar

Nearby in this upper fill, we found another of these drinking jars, but this one, which was also quite worn, had been modified. The upper half had been knocked off and the sharp edge smoothed to create a “rim” so that the jar became a cup or scoop.

Diana Craig Patch

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

Canaanites visiting Canaanites – Safi team looks at the Azekah LB/Iron I materials

Today, some of the Safi team (Amit, Shira, Chris and yours truly) paid a visit to the Institute of Archaeology at TAU, guests of the Azekah team, to see the pottery from the LB/Iron I destruction level which they excavated in the last season. This material was in the midst of being restored, so we had a chance to see a nice selection of pottery. We were particularly interested in this as the LB materials from Area P at Safi is currently being restored – and it was nice to compare between the materials from the two sites. Without going into too many details, it is clear that the final LB at Safi is quite different from the LB/Iron I destruction level that was excavated at Azekah!

Below, see some pictures from the visit – and thanks to Oded, Yuval and the Azekah team for hosting us. Next week, they will be coming to visit the Safi lab at BIU to see our materials. This is a great way to combine insights – for a better understanding of what is going on in the Shephelah in the LB and Iron Age. I hope we will have many more opportunities to do this – both with the Azekah team (our close neighbors – see here) and with other projects that are currently working in the Shephelah.


photo 4 20140302_132301 20140302_132439 20140302_132446 20140302_133630 20140302_133638 20140302_133708 photo 1

March 01, 2014

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

Another page proofed article on the way!

If already mentioning page proofs of soon-to-be published articles, I just received this evening the page proofs of another article relating to our work at Tell es-Safi/Gath that is soon to appear:

Ackermann, O., Greenbaum, N., Bruins, H., Bar-Matthews, M., Almogi-Labin, A., Schilman, B., Ayalon, A., Horwitz, L. K., Weiss, E., and Maeir, A. M. In press. Palaeoenvironment and Anthropogenic Activity in the Southeastern Mediterranean Since the Mid-Holocene: The Case of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. Quaternary International.

This article, is based on an inter-disciplinary study, spearheaded by Oren Ackermann (the Safi project geoarchaeologist), which discusses environmental proxies and archaeological evidence for the human/natural interaction around Tell es-Safi/Gath in the last 6,000 years or so.



Pharaonic Dates

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, was as prized for its sweet fruit in antiquity as it is today. It was a fruit to be eaten fresh or dried, baked in cakes, and used as a sweetener in beer and wine. The Egyptian word for date, bnr, also means sweet.

Date palm, dom palms and sycamore figs. Tomb of Sennedjem. Facsimile detail, Rogers Fund, 1930 (30.4.2)

Date palm, dom palms and sycamore figs. Tomb of Sennedjem. Facsimile detail, Rogers Fund, 1930 (30.4.2)

The date also figured in Egyptian mythology. One of the epithets of the goddess Hathor was Lady of the Date Palm. The date palm tree was also associated with the sun god because of its tall stem and ray-like leaves reaching to heaven.

Dates were popular with all classes of Egyptians and we found date pits this season in the North Village as well as wooden model dates in the King’s Palace. These model

Model dates from the King's Palace

Model dates from the King’s Palace

dates were painted yellow and probably would have decorated a throne kiosk similar to one from Theban Tomb 226 that is now in the Luxor Museum. In the facsimile below, you can see grapes as a motif on the part of the kiosk above the king’s head. On other kiosks, the decoration would have been dates or other plant motifs.

Facsimile painting of a scene depicting Amenhotep III and his mother, Mutemwia. Rogers Fund, 1915 (15.5.1)

Facsimile painting of a scene depicting Amenhotep III and his mother, Mutemwia. Rogers Fund, 1915 (15.5.1)

Earlier expeditions to Malqata (those led by Tytus and later by Waseda University) also found these model dates, which appear to have been arranged in horizontal rows. This decorative motif may have evolved into the “egg and dart” molding found in Classical architecture and still popular today.

Peter Lacovara

February 28, 2014


Our Friends the Dogs

Friday, February 28, 2014


Last week we got to the site at 7:00 am and I noticed something very odd. We have been storing our pottery at the southwest corner of the village in one of the large pits that was excavated a century ago. We’ve never had any problem doing this in the past, but as I walked over to the pit to retrieve some unsorted bags of sherds, I saw that a number of the bags were not where I had left them the day before. A dozen or so had somehow managed escaped the pit and were lying on the ground to the east. A couple had been pushed under the edge of of the hill where our sun shelter is located. A few were on clean sand that had been used to cover areas excavated last year. A couple had been ripped open and the sherds were lying on the ground.

sherds on sand

It took me a moment to figure out what had happened. It seems that our friendly neighborhood dogs had gotten curious about the bags. We collect the sherds in the same type of yellow plastic bags that are used in the local markets, and the dogs probably though they might contain something to eat. They must have been very disappointed once they had opened one or two and found just a bunch of very old pot sherds.
Luckily, the opened bags were on clean sand, and on an area that had been used for sorting pottery last year, so, with a few exceptions (which we discarded), it was easy to reconstitute the bags. The had also taken only the bags of pottery that had already been sorted and recorded, so we didn’t lose much information.
Catharine Roehrig

February 27, 2014


It’s All Hieratic to Me

Thursday, February 27, 2014
During the first season of excavation, we eagerly kept an eye out for jar labels. These are the dockets written on large storage jars and amphorae that identify their contents and the place delivering the provision. In the 1916-17 season, Ambrose Lansing uncovered a very important deposit of them just outside the south wall of the Amun temple among hundreds of sherds from vessels that had been opened and then thrown away. Many of the sherds bore inscriptions and those jar labels made their way to MMA at the end of the excavation in a division of finds undertaken by the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1917. (see blog post “Food for the Fiest, February 10, 2013)

Jar label found on Feb. 26, 2014

Jar label found on Feb. 26, 2014

We looked in vain in 2010 and 2012 for a sherd bearing a docket. By 2013, I no longer expected to find one, although the workmen continued to check both sides of each sherd. We have analyzed many bags of pottery without a single jar label surfacing. However, our luck changed two days ago. Mahmoud was brushing over the top

Jar label as found

Jar label as found

of radim, that is, material made from a mix of mud, mud-brick, pottery sherds, and sometimes little stones from the desert that is all swept together and packed into large spaces as support for flooring or walls. It is not dissimilar in concept to leveling fill, but is used in much bigger spaces and can be created from material taken from a number of different sources. The thin levelling fill we see under house floors comes from debris generated in the village.

After Mahmoud called to me, he showed me this lovely little sherd lying there in situ with its inscription up and clear (well fairly clear). It is amazing that it was found just like that. Those of you who know me, know that I am definitely a field archaeologist and not an ancient language specialist. However Catharine and Joel, who arrived Sunday night to carry out mapping, both dredged up their rusty hieratic and made a stab and definitely ended up in the right direction. We did all agree though to send it off to several colleagues for comment and the general concensus was that the readable inscription (a small section at the top is too abbreviated and unclear to translate), says “king’s wife,” may she live. According to William Hayes, who published the earlier MMA cache, the phrase is often part of the phrase “the domain of the king’s wife” from which fat, wine, ale and other things were supplied to Malqata. The king’s wife mentioned may well have been Tiye.
Niv Allon, a research scholar at the MMA, kindly assisted us and found two parallels from the dockets on display at the MMA which we include here.

Jar Lable 17.10.400. Rogers Fund, 1917

Jar Lable 17.10.400. Rogers Fund, 1917

One reads: “[ale] (for) offerings of the domain of the king’s wife, may she live…for the first Sed-festival of his majesty, life, prosperity, and health.”

Jar label 17.10.23. Rogers Fund, 1917

Jar label 17.10.23. Rogers Fund, 1917

The second says: “ [Year X]+1, wine of …[the domain] of the king’s wife.”

Diana Craig Patch

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

Two articles soon to appear in “Tel Aviv”

Today, I went over the page proofs of two articles relating to the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavations which will appear in the next issue of Tel Aviv.

The two articles are:

* Gadot, Y., Finkelstein, I., Iserlis, M., Maeir, A. M., Nahshoni, P., and Namdar, D. In press. Tracking Down Cult: Production, Function and Content of Chalices in Iron Age Philistia. Tel Aviv 41(1): 54–75.

This article deals with chalices from a few sites in Philistia (Yavneh, Safi and Patish), discussing their methods of production, function and content, combining typological, iconographic, petrographic, organic residue analyses and other analytic perspectives, in an attempt to reproduce the “life cycle” of chalices in Iron Age Philistia.

* Shai, I., Greenfield, H., Eliyahu, A., Regev, J., Boaretto, E., and Maeir, A. M. In press. The Early Bronze Age Remains at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel; An Interim Report. Tel Aviv 41(1): 19-48.

This is a summary of the EB remains at Tell es-Safi/Gath (primarily the EB III levels from Area E), which updates and expands on what was published in the Tell es-Safi/Gath I, and adds aspects such as spatial analysis of the EB III houses, faunal analysis, 14C dating, as well as a discussion of the role and significance of Gath in the EB III in a regional perspective.

I’ll update on the blog when they actually appear, but save time to read this in the coming months!



February 26, 2014


A Bowl of Plaster

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Archaeologists love a good garbage pit and I am no exception. Last week we found a small one, by garbage pit standards. It was about the size of a container we would use in a kitchen today. However, it was packed with pottery sherds, animal bone, and a few other bits and pieces. Our chief excavator, Azib, also works for the Museum’s excavation at Dahshur, just south of Cairo. For years he has helped that expedition’s ceramic specialist, Susan Allen, with reconstructing pottery vessels from broken fragments. So, I set him to work on the impressive pile of sherds he had just

Azib reconstruction pottery

Azib reconstruction pottery

excavated. He has done an amazing job and, finally, after seasons of drawing only small pieces of rims and the occasional base, I now have some largely complete jars and bowls with which to work. To be honest, only one bowl is actually complete, but the rest are close enough that you can easily understand what the original jar or bowl looked like.
There are many interesting clues developing from this find, but one particular bowl unequivocally tells you its purpose, or at least its last use. The shape, a deep, sharp

The "carinated" bowl from the pit

The “carinated” bowl from the pit

shouldered (carinated) bowl, is a well-known type among our sherds, although it’s not the most common type of bowl in the village repertoire. That award goes to shallow bowls with everted rims.
The carinated bowls are most often made from Nile silt that generally produces a red, red-brown, or brown vessel as is the case here. This example is one of the largest we have recorded, with a thick wall that makes it a very sturdy example. Initially, when I was looking at the first sherds of this bowl when they came out of the pit, I thought it had a white “slip” – a liquid-like clay that is applied after a vessel is finished. A slip can be of the same color clay or it can be a completely different color. We do get some white slipped Nile silts. However, a closer examination showed that the bowl had a

Interior of "carinated" bowl with remains of plaster

Interior of “carinated” bowl with remains of plaster

lightly burnished red slip and the white was had an entirely different cause. After Azib skillfully reconstructed the bowl, it was clear that it had been used to mix a batch of gypsum plaster.

Detail of plaster in the bowl

Detail of plaster in the bowl

We have found a few places in the village where a scrap of remaining mud brick wall in

Plaster on a mud brick wall

Gypsum plaster on a mud brick wall

a room still had the remnants of gypsum plaster white wash. I also mentioned in yesterday’s blog that gypsum plaster had been used in creating a sloping surface to the mouth of a buried jar. Today I found the interior walls of a room that had been white washed. All that remains are a few inches of wall above the floor. This is enough, however, to make it clear that the room probably was once entirely white.

Remains of white washed walls in the corner of a room

Remains of white gypsum plaster in the corner of a room

Diana Craig Patch

February 25, 2014


Rebuilding in the North Village

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Dockets from Malqata indicate that the site was used for three sed-festivals, but documenting that the North Village was occupied more than once is not easy. It is especially difficult because the small structures are constructed on uneven ground. Such terrain rarely produces strata that clearly communicate a progression of time. During the 2010 season, we did note that, in the middle of one room, there was a

Traces of an earlier wall are just visible in the foreground

Traces of an earlier wall are just visible in the foreground

slight trace of marl brick. [Actually with two more seasons at the site, I know now that I observed the remnants of the marl plaster laid down on the desert or gebel surface prior to the laying of any wall’s foundation brick and not the brick itself.] Regardless, there was a trace of wall in the middle of an open space providing a clear indication that there was a second period of rebuilding in a room on the highest part of the North Village.

In the 2013 season, we uncovered a large pit full of sherds from large pottery vessels with fresh breaks. This indicates that they had been rapidly buried. The material seemed to reflect what one would expect in palace garbage which is not surprising since the Queen’s Palace was only meters away. On top of this pit, we found the remains of a wall belonging to a village structure. The contents of the dump must have been created during the sed-festival prior to the construction of this wall.

This year we have uncovered two great examples that demonstrate two periods of occupation. The first is in a small room to the north that was originally plastered with a mud floor on the desert surface. This floor is well preserved in the southwest corner of the room. Very close to this space, the original owner buried a huge storage jar in the

Jar buried beneath earlyier floor with sloping plaster connecting it with second floor level

Jar buried beneath earlier floor with sloping plaster connecting it with second floor level

floor. Sometime later, one assumes another sed-festival, a layer of what we call leveling fill was laid down and a second plaster floor was added. When this took place, the new owner wanted to continue using the jar in the floor, but the new floor was going to make the jar’s mouth too low. So he laid down a white (probably gypsum) plaster layer around the jar that slopes from the new mud floor level down to just under the jar’s mouth (the old floor level). Visible in the photo, this plaster was capped by a second plaster layer of the traditional mud. As you can see in the picture, although there is a steep slope to the mouth, the jar is still useful for storage.

The second example is on the east side of the village where we again found a mud plaster floor under leveling fill, which was subsequently capped by a second mud plaster floor. In this location, another jar installed below the floor was capped over by the new floor instead of being kept in use. The fill layer had been deposited over destroyed house walls to make a foundation layer for a new wall. The reason for this

Jar buried under original floor was later covered when a new floor was created

Jar buried under original floor was later covered when a new floor was created

restructuring was that the North Village’s eastern perimeter, which previously may not have been clearly defined, was now provided with an enclosure wall. This new wall created a corridor between the Queen’s Palace and the North Village. After the enclosure wall was built, new rooms in the village were created along the enclosure wall’s western face.

Village house with enclosure wall over fill

Village house with enclosure wall over fill

Diana Craig Patch

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Applying for this Summer

Relaxing Corner at Kibbutzt GalonRelaxing Corner at Kibbutzt Galon
It is that time of year again. Time to secure your spot for the 2014 Tel Burna season. We are now at a new location at nearby kibbutz Galon with its nice rooms and cool swimming pool! For registration details see here.

February 24, 2014


Mud, the Ancient Sealing Wax

Monday, February 24, 2014
About a week ago, Timsah, one of our excavators in the North Village, uncovered a small piece of mud ling on the floor of one of the rooms he was cleaning. It had the impression of an oval stamp with the throne name of Amenhotep III, Nebmaatre. The ancient Egyptians used mud to seal documents the way our ancestors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used sealing wax.

Nebmaatre written vertically

Nebmaatre written vertically

During the Metropolitan Museum’s excavations a century ago, dozens of mud sealings were uncovered. Many of them had one or another of the names of Amenhotep III, but none is of the impressions is exactly like the one Timsah found.

PA.7   PA.11  PA.22Nebmaatre written horizontally, vertically, and between two winged cobras

The Egyptians used mud to seal things besides documents. They would hold the tops of small jars in place by covering it with a piece of linen and tying the cloth in place around the neck of the jar. Then they would put a small piece of wet mud on the knot and press it with a stamp. They would also cover the mouths of large storage jars with mud that could be stamped with an official seal.

Sealed jar (detail). Gift of Theodore M. Davis, 1911 (11.155.7)

Sealed jar (detail). Gift of Theodore M. Davis, 1911 (11.155.7)

At the Museum we have a painted mud sealing stamped with the name of Amenhotep III. It had sealed a large jar that may have been used to transport some of the food used for Amenhotep’s Heb-Sed at Malqata. The two ovals on the top of the stopper enclose the words “house of Amenhotep,” which may refer to the palace at Malqata (the ancient name for the site was the “House of Rejoicing”). The stamp on the side repeats the name Amenhotep and identifies the contents, a type of liquid.

Painted jar sealing. Rogers Fund, 1936 (36.2.4)

Painted jar sealing. Rogers Fund, 1936 (36.2.4)

Catharine Roehrig

February 23, 2014

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

Yet another clip of the LB restoration from Area P

Amit took another nice clip of the very interesting LB pottery from Area P on the restoration tables in the lab. Take a look at some of this great stuff!

The noises in the background are coming from Dina’s radio…



Our Inspector Mohammed Ibrahim

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Inspector Mohammed Ibrahim and Diana Craig Patch

Inspector Mohammed Ibrahim and Diana Craig Patch

Each year the Ministry of State for Antiquities assigns the expedition an inspector. His or her job is to make sure we follow the rules of our concession and that no one interferes with the permission that we have been given for work. Our inspector this year is Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who is permanently assigned as an inspector in the great Karnak temple. He was appointed to this work in October of 2012.

Scene from the tomb of Nakht (TT 52)

Scene from the tomb of Nakht (TT 52)

In 2009, Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim graduated from Minya University in the Faculty of Art, specializing in the Egyptian Section of the Department of Archaeology. Growing up in Qurnah among the noble’s tombs (Menna and Nakht were right next door), he has always had an interest in ancient Egypt. So, it is not surprising that he decided to pursue Egyptology as a career.

Tony Crosby, Mohammed Ibrahim, Peter Lacovara

Tony Crosby, Mohammed Ibrahim, Peter Lacovara

Between graduation and the start of his career in antiquities, he served in the army for a little over a year and also in the tourist industry in the northern Egyptian cities of Marsa Allam and Taba. But his hard work in school paid off, and he was able to take up a position with the antiquities service rather quickly after the revolution. In 2012, he participated in a field school in the North Sinai on a New Kingdom site, searching for new information on the Way of Horus.
We are delighted that Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim is our inspector this season. He is such a willing participant in our work and has assisted in many ways, not the least of which is putting together many of the broken jars from a small garbage pit in the North Village. He is lovely to have around as his friendly nature makes us all smile every day.

Mohammed Ibrahim with a pot from pit 21

Mohammed Ibrahim with a pot from pit 21

Diana Craig Patch
Catharine Roehrig
Peter Lacovara

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Exhibition Review

Want to read the New York Times exhibition review of 'Masters of Fire': Copper Age Art from Israel co-curated by excavation co-director Daniel Master?  You can find it here.  The exhibition runs at ISAW, New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, through June 8th.  


February 22, 2014


Conservation Never Ends, But This Season Does

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Today was the last day at Malqata for Peter and I, but some aspects of the conservation will continue through the remainder of this week, ending on Thursday, February 27th. During the past two weeks we have protected approximately 150 linear meters of mud brick walls and laid approximately 6000 bricks. During the next few days, under the able direction of Reiss Hassan, builders will add additional mud bricks to walls that have already been capped and we anticipate they will lay another 3000 bricks. The size and guidelines are well established for these walls and the output of the builders should more than double.

Time for a group shot of the Palace work crew.

Time for a group shot of the Palace work crew.

The 150 meters of mud brick walls we conserved this season varied considerably in size, scope and complexity. The largest walls are 2.4 meters thick and the thinnest are 0.5 meters wide, with the norm being 1.05 meters in breadth, which equals two ancient Egyptian royal cubits. We see this throughout the palace where features are laid out according to clear divisions of the ancient system of measurement.

Because of the different heights the walls were preserved to, some required only two courses of mud bricks as capping, while others required additional courses, both for conservation as well as for interpretation.

Gateway area capped with new brick.

Gateway area capped with new brick.

This season, we worked in three main areas, and the builders will continue in a fourth area. The three areas we worked on over the past two weeks are (1) the gateway area of the main palace, (2) the palace court area north of the kings throne, and (3) Ho. W. 1, immediately west of the existing road. The gateway is now clearly defined along with the adjoining walls. At the main court three main walls defining the west side were conserved and the ancient doorways protected and defined them clearly. In addition, two wall fragments on the south side of the court were conserved and the king’s throne platform was delineated with new mud bricks.

On the west side of the road at Ho. W. 1, four walls were conserved in an area where vehicular traffic had begun destroying the walls. In this case the walls were capped and stabilized and several additional courses were added to clearly define and identify this area as an important component of the overall site complex.

Protecting  Ho. W. 1

Protecting Ho. W. 1

Our basic approach to conserve the Palace has been to protect the ancient walls while affecting as little of the original fabric as possible. Prior to the conservation, all the walls were cleaned and carefully drawn, if they had not been documented previously, and before and after digital photographs were taken. Prior to actually laying new mud bricks and mortar, a clean layer of tan colored plastic grid material was placed over the original, ancient bricks to clearly differentiate the old from the new (see photo).

Here the plastic grid is being set with mud mortar over the ancient bricks in preparation for capping with new mud bricks

Here the plastic grid is being set with mud mortar over the ancient bricks in preparation for capping with new mud bricks

If there was not clear evidence of a corner or the termination of a wall, the wall was stepped down at its terminus to indicate that the wall continued. Of course, if there was clear evidence of an opening or a corner or a door, that feature was reflected in the new mud brick. If there was clear evidence of an alteration to a wall, such as the later closing of a previous opening, that was clearly shown in the new work. One example of the basic concept just described is evident in the photograph showing a section of one of the walls of HO.W. 1. This particular view shows the clear termination of a wall and just a meter away is an intersecting wall that was stepped down, indicating that it continued or the evidence was unclear.

Photograph showing a stepped down wall adjacent to a wall that clearly formed one side of a door

Photograph showing a stepped down wall adjacent to a wall that clearly formed one side of a door

During the project we also reattached a number of small sections of the original wall plaster. Several other sections of fragile plaster will be covered with sand to protect them until additional conservation can be undertaken. In stabilizing the plaster by reattaching it to the wall with new mud, we employed an approach that has been used elsewhere, such as at Abydos.

Re-attaching wall plaster

Re-attaching wall plaster

Tony Crosby

February 21, 2014


Local Fauna

Friday, February 21, 2014

Today is Friday, so we aren’t working at the site. Instead, we spent the day catching up on our paperwork at the hotel and visitiing with friends. But we thought you might like to see one of the creatures we ran into at Malqata a week or so ago.


We had half of the workmen clearing the camelthorn from the site, and at the end of the work day (1:00 pm), we were about to get into the Land Rover when our driver, Mohammed, beckoned us to the back of the car. There, in the shade near the rear wheel, was a bright green preying mantis. After looking on the internet, we have identified it as Blepharopsis Mendica. They eat flying insects and this one may have been living in the low shrubs that were being cleared away (not to worry, there are still plenty of shrubs nearby, and certainly plenty of flying insects).


After taking multiple photos, we fished the mantis out from under the car and watched it fly away, we hope out of harm’s way.

Catharine Roehrig

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

View of Very Green Tell es-Safi/Gath and environs from the west

Here’s a cool picture for the weekend (courtesy of Amit).

A view of Tell es-Safi/Gath (just to the right of the middle of the picture, on the horizon) and its environs, taken from the west of the tell, driving on “Route 6” (Trans-Israel Highway).

Several interesting things:

1) Notice how the sites stands out when viewed from the west – and if you know in which direction to look – the site can be seen from most of Philistia.

2) For those of you who are familiar with the site in the summer months – notice how different things look in the winter: green all over!

3) Notice how the white cliffs on the NW side of the tell (which gave the site its names: Tell es-Safi [the pure mound] and Blanche Garde [the white fortress]) are easily visible.

View of Safi from west_21_2_14 Amit


February 20, 2014


A visit to another Palace City

Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014

On Wednesday Tony and I made a field trip to visit to another Palace City located about half an hour’s drive north from Malqata. The site of Deir el-Ballas was excavated at the beginning of the twentieth century by George Reisner, Albert Lythgoe, and F.W. Green under the sponsorship of Phoebe A. Hearst. These excavations uncovered a large royal palace, a settlement, and a series of cemeteries dating to the late Second Intermediate Period and the early Eighteenth Dynasty. The results of the Hearst excavations were never published, however, and so from 1980 to 1986, with grants from the American Research Center, National Geographic and private donors, I surveyed and mapped the site.

Plan of the Settlement at Deir el-Ballas

Plan of the Settlement at Deir el-Ballas

In many ways it is similar, and probably ancestral to, Malqata. However, the site was not built for a King’s Heb-Sed, but, instead appears to be a campaign palace built by Seqenre Tao (of Dynasty 17) for his war against the Hyksos. The ancient settlement at Deir el-Ballas is situated in a natural amphitheater formed in the limestone cliffs bordering the high desert on the western bank of the Nile. The two ends of this bay circumscribe the area of settlement, which ran along the desert edge of the cultivation for a distance of approximately two kilometers.

Reconstruction of the North Palace by Fran Weatherhead  and Sebsatian Gat

Reconstruction of the North Palace by Fran Weatherhead and Sebsatian Gat

Situated at the approximate center of the bay are the remains of the largest and most prominent structure at the site, the North Palace. It is a large mud brick structure surrounded by a large enclosure wall, which measured approximately 150 meters wide by at least 300 meters long. The eastern end of the enclosure ran under the modern cultivation and has never been traced. A smaller walled court, roughly sixty meters square, is appended to the northwest corner of the main enclosure

The North Palace itself was built of large, unbaked mud bricks, which averaged 54 x 27 x 18 centimeters each. These bricks were made of a dense gray alluvial clay with a small amount of straw added and Tony estimated each weighed nearly 100 pounds. The whole complex was grouped around an elevated platform constructed on casemate foundations, which consisted of long mud brick chambers filled in with rubble and capped by a mud brick pavement. Some of these casemates are still preserved to a height of approximately three meters, and this core of casemates supported the raised private apartments of the palace. Fronting the casemate core was a long, columned hall 20 meters wide and over 60 meters long. Access to this central hall was by a long entrance corridor. To the east of the entrance corridor was a square columned hall and to the north of the central hall were two other columned courts.
Ballas N. Palace column bases
Column bases found by Reisner in the North Palace

Surrounding the palace was a complex of houses, storerooms, administrative buildings, a workmen’s village and private chapels.
The most enigmatic of all the structures at the site is the large building termed the “South Palace” by the Hearst Expedition. In reality, the structure does not appear to be a palace at all. It sits atop a high hill that marks the southern end of the site and consists of a large rectangular platform built on casemates, and measuring l00 x 44 meters. The top tier reaches a height of twenty-five meters above the plain and commands a view of the Nile and surrounding territory. A broad stairway runs 5.5 meters from the top of the platform to the lower level of the building. This section was also erected on casemate foundations.

Atop the platform must have been an additional structure, and large quantities of mud brick rubble and gypsum plaster rise several meters above the top of the upper casemates In design, the structure most closely resembles the building of Amenhotep III at the Kom el-Abd. Just as it marks the southern extent of the settlement associated with the Malkata, so the South Palace marks the southern extent of the settlement at Deir el-Ballas.

North Palace 1980

North Palace 1980

Unfortunately, in the many years since I had worked at the site, what was a small hamlet has grown into a large town moving onto the site and destroying much of the ancient buildings. We were indeed fortunate that the Ministry of Antiquities constructed the protective wall around Malqata, otherwise it would have surely suffered the same fate.

The North Palace today

The North Palace today

Peter Lacovara

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

Clip of the LB restoration in the lab

Amit took a short clip of the pottery restoration of the LB pottery from Area P. See the very nice assemblage of local and imported (mainly Cypriot it seems) pottery, including quite a few vessels which seem complete (or almost so). Looks like we will have a VERY nice assemblage of material from this area!

Hope to post updates as the restoration goes on!


February 19, 2014



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

During a conservation season, even a short one, interesting informational details and conservation problems arise. Certainly, we have had some of both during this season and I have included examples to emphasize this reality.

As hard as it might be to imagine, many of the surviving mud brick walls have mud plaster still attached, some with no remnants of finishes, some with patches of a white wash and a few with highly decorated surfaces. All of the known plasters are protected by layers of clean white sand or similar protective materials, some of which are exposed when walls are cleaned in preparation for stabilizing and capping the walls. The more highly decorated walls are not the subject for conservation treatment but many of the others are. When the stabilization and wall cleaning is complete, the lower parts containing the plasters will again be protected and covered with clean white sand. However while they are exposed, we try to conserve those that appear particularly vulnerable. Specifically, if the plaster has detached from the mud brick substrate it is cleaned and carefully reattached. The cleaning is of the space between the plaster and

Conserving the wall mud plaster

Conserving the wall mud plaster

mud brick and involves removing fine sand and silt that has accumulated there. Once it is removed, fine grain mud grout is applied in the resulting void to reattach the plaster to the substrate and a mud cap or a bead of mud applied to seal the top of the plaster, preventing additional sand and silt from accumulating. This approach is intended to protect the plaster from falling from the wall; it does not address any other conservation need, such as a typical condition of a friable surface. If these plasters are left exposed they will require additional conservation treatments.

Two sizes of mud brick were used in the construction of the main palace and we have replicated those sizes for the conservation work. The smaller size is approximately 15cm x 30cm x 8cm and the larger is 20cm x 40cm x 10cm. In some cases one size is found consistently in a particular wall; in other cases, we find a mix of the different sizes in the same wall. We also find large bricks in thin walls and small bricks in larger walls. There may be a pattern, but we have not identified it yet. The use of the different sizes is an interesting detail and one that is important as we replicate the bonding patterns in the new mud brick masonry.

Laying the new bricks.

Laying the new bricks.

Another interesting detail is the existence of ancient bricks stamped with the identification of Amenhotep III. It doesn’t appear that all bricks are stamped although some have no doubt eroded and the stamped impressions are no longer visible.

Ancient mud brick stamped with the cartouches of Amenhotep III

Ancient mud brick stamped with the cartouches of Amenhotep III

Of course, we also stamp all our new bricks so that they can be easily identified in the future. In this case I guess we could say, “If it was good enough for Amenhotep III, it is good enough for us.”

Modern unbaked mud brick stamped with the logo of the Joint Expedition to Malqata

Modern unbaked mud brick stamped with the logo of the Joint Expedition to Malqata

Tony Crosby

February 18, 2014

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

Nice little LB Cypriot Base-Ring ware “Bilbil” juglet from Area P

Dina Castel, our pottery restorer, who is currently working on pottery from Area P (Jill Katz’s area), just restored a very nice Late Bronze Age Cypriot Base-Ring wareBilbil” juglet.

Here’s a photo that Amit took of the juglet on the restoration tables.

Biblil from Area P_small version

Got a spare hour and a half? Watch the “David and Goliath” movie

Do you have a spare hour and a half? Watch the “David and Goliath” movie – Orson Welles playing King Saul. Interesting how ancient Israel and the Philistines were portrayed just a few decades ago!


Ho. W. 1

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We were intending to examine an enigmatic structure situated just to the east of the palace entrance this season, but our task was made all the more urgent when we returned this season to discover that cars and trucks had been driving over it. Even though it is situated on top of a small hill, vehicles were still riding over the fragile mud brick and leaving clear tire tracks.

Ho. W. 1 - the tire tracks are just visible in the center of the photo.

Ho. W. 1 – the tire tracks are just visible in the center of the photo.

The hill is about a meter and a half high and the building on it was designated Ho. W. 1 [House West 1] by the original Metropolitan Expedition. The plan was a bit difficult to understand.

The original plan of Ho. W. 1 left many questions unanswered.

The original plan of Ho. W. 1 left many questions unanswered.

But looking on the ground it was possible to get a better idea of what the original structure would have looked like, even though some of the walls were missing. Like the houses in the North Village, it incorporated the uneven terrain in its design. Some of the marl substrate had been cut back to define the perimeter of the building and to create an elevated foundation. At a lower level and reached by a ramp cut into the marl, long brick walls, which bore traces of their original whitewashed interior, connected it to the entrance corridor of the Main Palace.

The position of this building is very like the so called, “King’s House” at Amarna relative to the Great Palace there and U25 at the North Riverside Palace at Amarna.

The "King's House" and Great Palace in the Central City of Amarna.

The “King’s House” and Great Palace in the Central City of Amarna.

House U 25 and the North Riverside Palace at Amarna

House U 25 and the North Riverside Palace at Amarna

The connection of these other buildings with the palace has suggested to scholars that they may have been an informal retreat for the royal family or even the residence of the Vizier. They also are juxtaposed with large blocks of what appear to be administrative buildings which indicates that they are all part of the palace administration.

We hope to study Ho. W. 1 further, but for now, our main goal is to protect it, so we are building up the walls facing the road with new brick so it can be more clearly seen and to cover and protect the fragile ancient brick.

We are rebuilding the walls close to the road to help identify Ho. W. 1 as a site and protect it from being driven ovrt.

We are rebuilding the walls close to the road to help identify Ho. W. 1 as a site and protect it from being driven over.

We will also screen some of the original fill from the site removed by the earlier excavators, and pile in the hollows along the road in order to make a less inviting shortcut. This will also give us an opportunity to study the material found by the earlier expedition and hopefully glean some more information about this puzzling construction.

Peter Lacovara

February 17, 2014


Up On The Roof

Monday, February 17, 2014

Diana described the roofing in the North Village last year, but the roof of the Main Palace was constructed somewhat differently. Although the same materials were used – wood, straw and mud plaster – the Palace roof was a far more elaborate construction.

Ceiling painting from the palace of Amenhotep III Antechamber to King's bedroom, MMA 1910–1911 Mud plaster, paint, gesso Dimensions: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund,11.215.451

Ceiling painting from the palace of Amenhotep III
Antechamber to King’s bedroom, MMA 1910–1911
Mud plaster, paint, gesso
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund,11.215.451

Most of the roofing plaster seems to have been painted with a variety of designs including birds and geometric patterns. Large portions of this decoration were preserved and removed by the Tytus (1890s), Metropolitan Museum (1910s), and Waseda University (1970s) Expeditions, although we still find numerous tiny fragments today. The roof was held up by wooden beams sitting on columns and plastered with mud above and below. The plaster was secured by attaching it to reed matting, which acted as lath. The top of the roof appears to have been finished with two thick coats of mud plaster and then a layer of mud bricks.
While the roofing beams have been suggested to be palm logs, it appears from the ceiling plaster that cut timbers were used instead.

Section of plaster from the Palace that held a roofing beam

Section of plaster from the Palace that held a roofing beam

Tytus suggested that the roof of the Palace collapsed in a rainstorm, which accounted for such large sections of the ceiling murals being preserved. Evidence of termites and mud dauber wasps, which would have eaten and weakened the roofing structure, could have precipitated the collapse and, as Tony Crosby noted, the very homogenous silt bricks of the palace, though very strong when dry, easily melt in the rain. Despite being a desert country, Egypt does, every so often, experience a catastrophic downpour, and one can imagine that the Palace’s incredibly heavy roof, when wet, could have easily given way, destroying the palace but preserving many of the beautiful paintings that decorated it.

Mud dauber wasp nests in the roofing plaster of the Main Palace

Mud dauber wasp nests in the roofing plaster of the Main Palace

Peter Lacovara

February 16, 2014


No Matter How You Clean It Up, It’s Still Mud !

Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014

Making mud bricks after a scene in a Theban tomb.

Making mud bricks after a scene in a Theban tomb.

The major ingredient in all building systems in the ancient world was not exotic, it was not difficult to find, not difficult to mine and it was not difficult to prepare for use in construction applications. It was certainly not difficult to use. It was used to form individual building units or bricks. In its simplest form, it could be employed to construct complicated architecture and it was used to bind stone building blocks together. It was also used as plaster which could be sculpted to form complicated surfaces or simply be the base for painted surfaces. It was used in combination with plant materials to construct other type building systems. The major ingredient for building in ancient times continued to be used in all these applications until the 20th century. Even today, it is estimated that 1/3 of the world’s population continues to live in houses made of this most simple material. Of course I am referring to good old dirt, or to be a bit more sophisticated, earth.

In ancient Egypt the primary building material was brick made from earth, cured by drying in the sun and used to construct major monuments with the same material used for mortar. The raw materials consisted of a combination of alluvial soil, which had a high percentage clay and silt, and sand. The clay and silt functioned as the binders for the sand. The clay platelets bind the individual sand grains and silt played a similar role, but to a lesser extent also served as filler between the grains of sand. Often organic material was added to the bricks as was vegetable matter and these could be added as well to the plasters, but less frequently to the mortars.

For the present conservation project at Malqata, we use mud bricks and mud mortar, similar to those used originally. We don’t add any additional materials such as straw to our bricks and mortar, as straw is a food source for insects. The bricks are prepared as they were when the Malqata buildings were constructed, by hand, one brick at a time.

Mixing mud the ancient way. The basin formed is a called a mukmara

Mixing mud the ancient way. The basin formed is a called a mukmara

The mud mortar is also prepared by hand by soaking the soil in water to break down the clay and by adding sand as necessary to make a strong mortar, but one that is also compatible with the ancient bricks and mortar found on the site. The mud is mixed by forming a basin in a pile of soil to which water is added; the soil and sand are mixed together in the earth basin. In Egypt, this basin is called a mukmara and two adjoining ones can be seen in one of the photographs. When it becomes necessary to move the mud mixing operation to another site, you simply walk away and form another mukmara at the new site with a new supply of soil. Over a short time the mukmara dries and forms a shallow basin. These shallow basins, known from contemporary mud mixing, look exactly like those formed in ancient times, a clear indication that the system of mud preparation has not changed. At the Shunet el Zabib at Abydos mukmara basins from the original construction in the Second Dynasty (ca.2910-2649 B.C.) look exactly like the ones used and abandoned during the present conservation project.

One of the low walls being protected by new mud bricks and mortar prepared the ancient way.

One of the low walls being protected by new mud bricks and mortar prepared the ancient way.

Tony Crosby

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Exhibit Opening

There is great article out today on the Huffington Post about a new exhibit at ISAW (NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World) on the Copper Age.  Excavation co-director Dr. Daniel Master was a co-curater of the exhibit and interviewed extensively for the article which you can find here.  Take a look and learn about the creation of the "original 1%."

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

Sid Caesar (z”l) on archaeology

Sid Caesar (of blessed memory) had some interesting insights on archaeology

Thanks to Jack Sasson for HT

February 15, 2014



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Today in Western culture both men and women wear rings. We wear them because we enjoy looking at the stones that they display or because they symbolize an important event or relationship, such as marriage or membership in a society or age group.
In ancient Egypt, the earliest known rings are simple bands. They have been found in late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period burials (ca. 2250-2050 B.C.). By Dynasty 12 (ca.1981-1802 B.C.), rings became a more common type of jewelry, especially among the elite members of society. In this period, scarabs, beautifully carved in hard stones, or cast in gold or silver and inlaid with semi-precious stones are

Inlaid ring of Sithathoryunet. Rogers Fund and Henry Walters Gift, 1916 (16.1.24)

known. Some very fine examples of Middle Kingdom rings may be found in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. Scarabs mounted in rings are also made in glazed steatite, and some of these appear to have been created for use as seals. Such rings would have been worn by an official and removed at the appropriate time to be pressed into mud to seal a document or container.

In the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 B.C.), rings occur in many more styles including solid metal rings with hieroglyphs that are engraved into the bezel. In many cases, this style would have replaced the glazed steatite seal of the Middle Kingdom. In Dynasty 18 (ca. 1550-1295 B.C.), mold-made faience rings are also known. Molds allowed for rapid and therefore inexpensive production of many rings, and were a perfect way to make rings that could be handed out a festival to celebrate the event, for example the Heb-Sed of Amenhotep III.  Unfortunately, so far we have only found parts of these celebratory rings, but the earlier excavations found a number of complete, or nearly complete examples.

Rings with the names of Tiye and Nebmaatre (Amenhotep III), MMA 11.215.83 and MMA 11.215.73, Rogers Fund, 1911

In the Museum’s collection, a facsimile shows a young woman offering wine to a seated couple. If you study the scene carefully, you can see bands of blue across her fingers, often more than one per finger finger. It is these kinds of rings that we find at Malqata.

Woman wearing rings
Detail from a scene showing a woman wearing rings. Rogers Fund, 1930 (30.4.106)

Today, Azib, who was clearing a pit, handed us a group of tiny faience fragments: two small cylinder beads, two pieces of ring shanks, and one that we couldn’t easily identify. After work, we looked at the Malqata rings on the MMA website and figured out what part of a ring Azib had found. It’s a small section of an open-work Wedjat eye that comes from the area marked in the photograph below.

Complete Wedjat eye ring. Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.90)

Diana Craig Patch
Catharine Roehrig

February 14, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Stories to Tell

Hard to believe the start of the season is a little more than four months away.  Volunteer numbers are running ahead of last year which is great.  There's still time to submit an application so get yours in today!  Join us this summer as we open several new areas in addition to moving ever closer to the 604 B.C.E. destruction of the city in Grid 51.  It promises to be another fantastic season.

Speaking of Grid 51, today's picture is a stamped handle found in that grid.  This handle, along with a second, tells an interesting story about a man taking over a business from the first proprietor -- maybe even a son taking over from his father.  



A Valentine from Amenhotep III

Friday, February 14, 2014

Amenhotep III created a series of large scarabs inscribed to record important events in his reign. There are more than 200 of these commemorative scarabs made of faience or blue-glazed steatite. Although one type is called “Marriage Scarab,” the text does not record an actual ceremony, but instead records Amenhotep’s titles and those of Queen Tiye along with her parents, and concludes by recording all the lands under the king’s control.

Marriage scarab of Amenhotep III. Gift of Helen Miller Gould, 1910 (10.130.1643)

Marriage scarab of Amenhotep III. Gift of Helen Miller Gould, 1910 (10.130.1643)

The text begins with the king’s five royal names: the Horus name; the Two Ladies Name (for the titular goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt); the Golden Horus Name; the throne name (taken when the king is crowned); and the personal name.

HORUS: Strong Bull who appears in the glory of Maat. TWO LADIES: One who establishes the laws and who pacifies the Two Lands. GOLDEN HORUS: Great of Strength, who defeats the Asians. King of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebmaatre (Ra is the Lord of Maat). Son of Re Amenhotep (Amun is satisfied), the ruler of Waset (ancient Thebes and modern day Luxor), given life. The King’s principal wife, Tiye, may she continue living, her father’s name is Yuya, her mother’s name is Tjuyu, she is the wife of a strong king.
His southern boundary extends toward Kary (Napata in Kush, modern Sudan), the northern boundary toward Naharyna (the Euphrates river in northeastern Syria).”

Although, like other Egyptian pharaohs, Amenhotep III had a number of wives, Tiye was the principal queen, “The Great Royal Wife,” and the mother of his son and heir Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten). A stela, now in the British Museum, depicts them as an old, married couple and celebrates what must have been one of ancient Egypt’s great love stories.


Peter Lacovara

February 13, 2014


To Flatten or not to Flatten

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Remains of mud plaster floor (lower right) and pottery used as leveling material (upper left) in room Y11

Remains of mud plaster floor (lower right) and pottery used as leveling material (upper left) in room Y11

In a settlement built on the irregular surfaces of desert terraces, the inhabitants of the North Village needed to find fast and inexpensive ways to make their living surfaces as flat as possible. One common way that people tried to make their floors flat was to take what I have come to call leveling fill, that is, mud, sand, small bits of old mud brick, broken pieces of pottery and occasionally animal bone and small beads mixed together. This ancient garbage is packed into the uneven surface of the gebel or natural desert. Sometimes people seem to have shaped the gebel a bit first, but often the layer of ancient garbage is quite as irregular in its thickness as the unevenness of the desert was. Once the leveling fill was in place, the occupant of the house would cover the surface with a layer of plaster (mud mixed with some straw) to create a floor. This is the same type of material found between many of the bricks in the house walls

A broken pot is given new life as fill in the floor

A broken pot is given new life as fill in the floor

Yesterday I came across a room in what is probably a house where the builder had left behind a shallow dish filled with ash as part of the leveling fill for the room’s floor. In one corner, the mud plaster floor still survived and you could see how the broken and discarded bowl was given a second life as a support for the plaster floor.

Uneven pathway through the village

Uneven pathway through the village

Apparently a level surface wasn’t always an option or a necessity and it appears that people in this settlement accepted a floor or street that sloped, sometimes steeply, as a way of life. For instance, there is a north/south pathway in the east side of the village that starts out level, but as it turns into an east/west walkway a passerby would have been forced to walk on a steep slope that was part of a desert terrace for about three meters until the path leveled out again. Since the people here probably knew they were not going to be permanent residents, they may have been willing to put up with uneven floors and streets that in their own homes or villages would not have been tolerated.
Diana Craig Patch

February 12, 2014


Preserving Mud Brick Walls at Malqata

Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

Series of walls near palace entry. Note new mud bricks in foreground

Series of walls near palace entry. Note new mud bricks in foreground

The conservation project to protect the standing mud brick walls of the Main Palace and several ancillary walls of Malqata began three days ago, and while this is a relatively short season, we are making substantial progress. Four areas have been identified for treatment – the main gate area; one wall of the primary courtyard of the palace; the southern enclosure wall of the palace; and several low walls that have been damaged recently and are increasingly threatened by local vehicular traffic. As the project continues, modifications will no doubt be required as specific conditions are identified.

Series of walls near palace gate being conserved. Capping bricks added on the northern walls of the entrance corridor.

Series of walls near palace gate being conserved. Capping bricks added on the northern walls of the entrance corridor.

Conditions of the walls vary, but most are in poor conditions, the result of exposure to the micro-environment and human and animal traffic. Our response to the conditions is to prevent or substantially reduce continual decay by supporting unstable walls, by replacing critical features, and by adding new mud bricks to the top surfaces. The goal of the project is to protect the original fabric from decay, but the results also add an important dimension, providing a clearer interpretation of the spaces defined by the walls.

New mud bricks stacked and ready for installation.

New mud bricks stacked and ready for installation.

We use natural hand-made mud bricks that include no additives, and mud for the mortar. The bricks have been made in two sizes to replicate the original sizes used in the palace. The smaller size is 14cm x 28cm x 9cm and the larger size is 38-40cm x 19 cm x 9cm; each of the bricks is stamped ” JEM” for Joint Expedition to Malqata. The only “foreign ” material is a porous plastic grid material used as a separation layer between the ancient masonry and the new mud bricks; we also use clean white sand as a separation layer in some cases.

Tony Crosby

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

Linda Olsvig Whittaker – new team member

Dr. Linda Olsvig Whittaker, who up till recently worked as an ecologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, has joined the Safi team (welcome aboard) and will be working with us on several environmental studies of site and its close and far ecological environments. Linda has been invited to be a keynote speaker at conference which will be held in Antalya, Turkey on 23-25 October, 2014, entitled “Understanding Mediterranean Landscapes: Human vs Nature”, and she will present an initial report on the environmental studies at Safi – those conducted and those planned.

Here is the lecture abstract:

Ecology of the Past: Landscape Archaeological Studies in the Region of Tell es-Safi/Gath

Linda Olsvig-Whittaker, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Ehud Weiss, Oren Ackerman, and Aren M. Maeir
The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, The Institute of Archaeology, The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

The site of Philistine Gath, has been the focus of an integrated archaeological and environmental study for close to two decades, to understand past land use by Canaanite, Philistine, Judahite and later cultures which occupied this site over the last 6,000 years. Extensive inter- and multidisciplinary studies have been conducted on and off site. More than 200 species of wild and domestic plants have been identified from the archaeological material. Approximately 40 species of vertebrates and molluscs have been identified from the excavations, of which half are mammals. Geo-archaeological studies have reconstructed past landforms, environments and geo-processes. By analysis of current species associations with similar habitats in the region and a comparison with the archaeological plant and faunal assemblages, we are attempting to reconstruct past bioecology, habitats and vegetation in the area of the site. If successful, these studies will be extended to the entire Southern Coastal Plain (Philistia) and the Judean Foothills (Shephelah). The methodology developed in this project can easily be extended to understand the evolution of equally ancient landscapes such as found in Anatolia, where millennia of agriculture, pastoralism and urbanization have left a similar record in the landscape.

New article for Brent Davis

Dr. Brent Davis of the University of Melbourne team at Safi has been kind enough to notify me (and send me a pdf) of his just published article:

Davis, B. 2013: Syntax in Linear A: The Word-Order of the Libation Formula. Kadmos 52: 35-52.

Congratulations to Brent!


February 11, 2014


A Tasty Treat

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014

While we usually bring our own food for brunch at the site, today we were given some jujubes to eat from a tree growing at the southwest corner of the palace. Jujubes are small berries that come from the Christ’s Thorn or Ziziphus spina christie. The plant is found throughout Asia and the Near East and has small yellow flowers and tiny oval leaves and branches covered with spikes that, according to legend, were used to weave Jesus’s crown at the crucifixion.

Ziziphus spina christie

Ziziphus spina christie

They produce a small fruit that tastes a little like a very tart apple and has thick, chewy skin. Jujubes have been found at archaeological sites in Egypt including in Tutankhamun’s tomb and in foundation deposits at the temple of Hatshepsut about a mile north of us as the crow flies.

Dish of jujubes from Hatshepsut’s foundation deposits, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund (25.3.52)

Dish of jujubes from Hatshepsut’s foundation deposits, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund (25.3.52)

The berries have many healing properties and are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, More familiar to us is the popular movie candy which took its name from the berries.


Peter Lacovara

February 10, 2014


The Newest Member of the Team

Monday, Feb. 10, 2014

This season we are fortunate to have Tony Crosby joining us to supervise stabilization work in the Main Palace. Tony is a conservation architect with a specialty in earthen structures and has worked all over the world for the past 30 years including representing USAID and the World Monuments Fund in an assessment of heritage protection needs after a major earthquake in Armenia in 1991 and 1992 He also consulted with the Getty Conservation Institute on several projects, including Joya de Ceren, El Salvador; and developed condition assessment and preservation design guidelines for the protection of the Atturaif Quarter of Dirriyah, Saudi Arabia. He has also undertaken the conservation of several Spanish Missions in California.
Tony Crosby
Most recently, he has been the supervisory architect for the conservation of the Shunet el Zabib, at Abydos. Dating to the Second Dynasty, it is the world’s oldest standing brick building. Tony has a Master’s Degree in Architecture with specialty in Historic Preservation from the University of Texas, 1974.

Tony Crosby (far right) supervising the conservation of the Main Palace entrance corridor.

Tony Crosby (far right) supervising the conservation of the Main Palace entrance corridor.

Peter Lacovara

February 09, 2014


New Work at the North Village

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The North Village in 1917-1918

The North Village in 1917-1918

Catharine and I are continuing the work in the North Village. In 1917-18, Ambrose Lansing, a member of the Museum’s Egyptian Expedition, cleared this group of small mud brick houses so that the walls of the structures could be drawn to create a plan of the settlement. Now, almost one hundred years later, we are re-clearing these structures because they are rather sketchy on Lansing’s plan, which didn’t include detailed information about each house. For example: Lansing didn’t indicate how the house walls were constructed; whether there was debris on the floor; and details of the doors, staircases, and other household installations were not noted. We believed that careful recording would produce information that could clarify how these structures were used so we could better understand what went on at the site.

Enclosure wall of the Pavilion (right) and a wall of the North Village (center)

Enclosure wall of the Pavilion (right) and a wall of the North Village (center)

Last season was quite successful and we recorded detailed information on three groups of structures. It is still difficult to identify which group of rooms compose a single structure, but now it’s much easier to recognize the rooms individually. The areas last year were relatively well preserved, but this season we are working in more difficult zones: along the north edge of the village where there appears to be a lot of erosion; and along the east side which also shows only traces of mud brick, again probably due to extensive erosion. We want to finish studying the previously excavated area before moving on to sections of the village that Lansing seems not to have cleared.
As today’s work demonstrated, the ground surface often doesn’t tell you what lies a few centimeters below. At this site, often all that remains of the ancient occupation is a few centimeters. You can’t brush or scape too much or it all disappears. There isn’t much time left to record and then bury this site before it all is gone.

Ancient ramp (center) covered with pot sherds

Ancient ramp (center) covered with pot sherds

For the past two days we have been clearing part of the south wall of the so-called Audience Pavilion enclosure which is the northern boundary of the North Village. Work showed that the wall had been constructed over earlier small houses. Much of this area is heavily eroded so we are only finding about a one meter wide strip along the wall that is not completely down to the gebel (original desert surface before human settlement). Having finished the eastern-most section, we were moving west, and the next area looked like it was washed-out, modern dump: a slope running from the Audience Pavilion level down into the North Village, with piles of sherds on the surface. However after Azib, the senior excavator, had cleared only a few centimeters (largely sherds), it was clear that he was brushing old radim (ancient rubbish).
The matrix was well-packed with tumbled brick and lots of pottery sherds that were very mixed: large fragments belonging to vessels from the palace, but also smaller, plainer forms like those found in the village. Some sherds were fresh looking and others looked worn, as though they had been sitting around for a while. Clearly the material was collected from a variety of sources. As I stepped back to consider, I realized that the slope was deliberate, not accidental creation from modern back dirt. I was looking at what was probably a ramp used to carry building materials through the village for the construction of the Audience Pavilion over 3300 years ago.

Ramp after clearance

Ramp after clearance

Diana Craig Patch

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

Quick visit to Tell with Kimmel Center group

Today, I had a chance to pay a short visit to the site, to introduce the site to a group of students from the Weizmann Institute who were participating in a week long workshop on archaeological archaeology that was given at the Kimmel Center by Prof. Steve Weiner and Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto.

In addition to have a chance to see the site all dressed in green for the winter (and see the picture of the goats grazing between Areas A and P), I walked around the site and saw the different areas.

While most of the areas were in much better shape than Area D (which I had seen a few weeks ago), in Area E there was quite a mess in the western balk. But in Areas F, P and A, things were actually surprisingly good!

Here are some pictures of the group and the various areas:

photo 3 (2) photo 3 (3) photo 3 photo 4 (2) photo 4 photo 5 photo 1 (2) photo 1 (3) photo 1 photo 2 (2) photo 2 (3) photo 2

February 08, 2014



Saturday, February 8, 2014

New  Memnon sign

Last year we moved from Chicago House to the West Bank to avoid the long daily commute across the river. We were fortunate to find a hotel quite near the site that was ideal in every way. The New Memnon hotel is named for the great statues of Amenhotep III known as the “Colossi of Memnon.” They are literally just down the street, and we can see them from the roof, a constant presence of the king who built Malqata. The hotel was built by the proprietor, Sayed Farag El Nobe, who looks after us as if we were his own family.

Our host, Said

Our host, Sayed

He is always happy to help and makes sure the rooms are spotless and comfortable – quite different from the tents that were used by the first expeditions to Malqata a century ago. The hotel prepares a delicious dinner for us every night, as well as breakfast and a box lunch to take out to the site. The New Memnon is an intimate place to stay with only 19 rooms. It is set back from the road, with a lovely garden. It was built in 2011 and offers spectacular views from its roof top restaurant. You can see past the green, lush fields to the steep slopes of the Theban hills and the temples and monuments before them.

A room at the New Memnon

A room at the New Memnon

Peter Lacovara

February 07, 2014


Study Day

Friday, February 7, 2014

Finished park below the corniche in Luxor

Finished park below the corniche in Luxor

Today is Friday, so we have the day off. As we have often done in past seasons, we went across the river to the city of Luxor (on the east bank of the Nile) and spent the day at Chicago House, the field headquarters of the Epigraphic Survey of the University of Chicago, which has a fantastic library of Egyptological literature. We know the staff at Chicago House well, having boarded there during our first three seasons. The director, Dr. W. Raymond Johnson, has a particular interest in Amenhotep III and has given us important input and essential support since we began planning the project.

View of the west bank

View of the west bank

We took a water taxi from the west bank ferry landing down to the landing near Chicago House. Two years ago, landing in a small boat along this part of the embankment was like navigating an obstacle course, but no more. Now there is a lovely park which gives an amazing view across the river towards the spectacular cliffs of the west bank.
This evening, Diana and I have been printing out plans of the North Village and planning what will be done tomorrow when we go to the site, so stay tuned.

Catharine Roehrig

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

You Never Know What You'll Find

One of the great things about archaeology, and there are many, is that you never know what you are going to find or when you'll find it.  Case in point, the always infamous "last day of excavation." Archaeologists joke that the most amazing finds are always discovered in the last hours of the last day(s) of excavation thereby putting excavators under extreme pressure to "get it done." We had such a day in Grid 44, albeit on a minor scale, at the end of the 2013 field season which, as it turns out, was the last day of excavation in the grid which is now closed.


All summer long we had stared at the corner of a large building just extending into our excavation area.  The majority of the building, of course, remained under the grass.  All we could see of this building were two cemented walls forming a corner and a very small space contained within that corner.  We decided to dig it.  At the top, the space contained a large amount of ash and burned material from nails to cooking pots.  Once we got below it, however, we seemed to encounter a large fill that kept going and going as did the walls.  We were instructed to keep digging until we hit something.  Why?  Well, the remains of the building, though fragmentary and not well preserved at all, were indicative of the type of architecture we expected to find on the top of the South Tell.  (It was, in other words, not like the residential buildings we actually found.)  In the end, we didn't reach the bottom and we never discovered the function of the building.  We did, however, start filling in one of the gaps in Ashkelon's history.


Missing from much of the archaeological record of ancient Ashkelon?  The Roman period.  The 1st- 3rd centuries CE  more specifically.  As we dug in our little corner, a corner that really didn't look like much, we started finding many large pieces of restorable Roman period pottery; 14 whole or nearly complete vessels to be exact.  In addition, we had a number of small finds including the horse head you see above, thought to be part of the handle of a large vessel.  It was a great discovery and as we spend more time studying the ceramics it is likely we will know a bit more about Ashkelon in the Roman period.  And we owe it all to some last minute digging!

February 06, 2014


First Day at the Site

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hiring workmen at the Palace

Hiring workmen at the Palace

Yesterday was taken up with hiring the men who carry out the actual excavation work, as is the tradition in Egyptian archaeology. This morning we arrived at the site at 7 AM ready to begin. Some men began the tedious task of transferring the newly made

Bricks stacked ready to be transferred to the site

Bricks stacked ready to be transferred to the site

bricks for the conservation project from the manufacturing site to the King’s Palace where they were stacked for future use. Since the trucks are small, this chore will continue next week, too. In the meantime, the rest of the workers began the task of cleaning the site for excavation.

A bumper crop of agul

A bumper crop of agul

This year at the North Village the first challenge was the removal of the agul, known as camel thorn in the U.S. There must have been a fair amount of rain this year in Luxor because the “crop” was substantial and a great deal more than last year, especially on top of the clean sand that covers the walls. We are, by the way, delighted to report that most of that sand was still in place, protecting the ancient brick, very little of which was re-exposed to the wind. The wind today was relentless and rather strong, but it is Amsheer, the windy month, so it is to be expected. However, it was a struggle to hold onto papers at times.
The crew was satisfyingly efficient and by mid-morning break the North Village was clear of agul. I breathed a sigh of relief because in recent years the camel thorn

Work at the northern boundary wall (and no agul)

Work at the northern boundary wall (and no agul)

has harbored horned vipers and they are always instantly killed. I am not happy when this happens, but we can’t work with the thorns nor the vipers and there seems to be no way of removing them safely. No vipers were found today, however. Unfortunately the crested larks, a lovely little bird that I wrote about in 2012, also disappear when the agul is cut because there are no more insects to eat.
After our break, we began to work along the boundary between the North Village and the so-called Audience Pavilion to the north. This boundary was an area we had not yet cleaned. The work today clarified the northern boundary wall of the village. This single brick wall is separated with a small gap from the large mudbrick wall marking the Audience Pavilion’s enclosure. It was in just such a gap that the Museum excavators discovered the large deposit of ostraca from jars now in the Metropolitan Museum. Catharine and I immediately anticipated another deposit. But so far no such luck. However in the radim, we did find a large and well-made sandstone rubbing stone that was used to smooth large surfaces of stone like a door jamb.

Sandstone rubbing stone

Sandstone rubbing stone

Diana Craig Patch

February 05, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Grant from Samaria and Jordan Rift R&D!

Today we received word that our project has been awarded a nice grant from the Samaria and Jordan Rift R&D to analyze and compare the pottery productions in Iron Age Judah. Woo-hoo!


Starting up again

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Madame Amira

Madame Amira

The process of excavation takes a good deal of preparation and involves getting supplies, arranging transportation, and inevitably, lots of paperwork. Despite all the upheaval in Egypt over the last few years, our colleagues in the Ministry of Antiquities continue to facilitate our work in the most efficient and helpful manner. Guiding us through the maze of paperwork and permissions is the redoubtable Madame Amria Khattab. She has been the heart and soul of the American Research Center in Egypt for 43 years serving in various capacities and now as the Deputy Director. The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) is a private, nonprofit organization composed of educational and cultural institutions, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Emory University, as well as, professional scholars, and private individuals. ARCE’s mission is to support research on all aspects of Egyptian history and culture from ancient to modern, and strengthen American-Egyptian cultural ties. ARCE also provides fellowships to students and scholars as well as grants for various Egyptian projects. Our work at Malqata this year is in part funded by an ARCE grant (more on that later…)
Once we all arrive in Cairo, we meet with Madame Amira and officials in the Ministry of Antiquities to finalize all our permissions and then it is a matter of obtaining the rest of the supplies we need in Cairo and arranging transportation to Luxor. Since she is fluent in five languages English, French, Italian, German, and Arabic of course, and knows just about everyone in Cairo, Madame Amira is an invaluable guide and resource always with a welcoming smile and humorous anecdote to smooth the way. After a long journey to Cairo, it is always a tremendous relief to be welcomed back to Egypt by such a beloved friend.

Diana Craig Patch
Catharine Roehrig
Peter Lacovara

February 03, 2014

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

Due to continued popular request: A Pirate Bird with a hat as well!

In light of Louise’s request, here’s the Philistine Pirate Bird Sherd (that’s PPBS), not only with an eye patch, but with a pirate’s hat as well!

Aye, Aye matey!

Pirate bird with hat

February 02, 2014

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

Due to popular request: A pirate bird!

Due to popular request (yes, Brent, you are popular :-)), here is a different version of the Philistine bird sherd:

Pirate bird

Combine a “Taglit/Birthright” trip to Israel with excavating!

If you really are interested in digging with us this summer, but you are wondering how to fund a trip to Israel to join the Tell es-Safi/Gath team, here’s an idea:

If you qualify to participate in a Taglit/Birthright trip to Israel, look into going on a Birthright group that will travel to Israel right before the season – and then, back-to-back, stay on for the dig! For those who qualify, the entire trip, including your flights and your stay in Israel with Birthright (10 days) is fully funded. And then, you would only have to pay for your R&B during the period of the dig!

And this way, you can substantially enrich the depth and meaning of your trip to Israel – not only with the Birthright group program – but immediately following it, get a chance to participate, with your own hands, in the exciting discovery of Israel’s past, meet Israelis and foreigners who are interested in these issues, and get a feeling of what life in Israel is like! A real “hands-on” experience – one that you will cherish for year to come!

Check this out!


Nice picture of Philistine bird!

Just for fun, here’s a nice picture of the beautiful Philistine Bichrome sherd with an excellently made depiction of a bird, which was found in the 2013 season in Area F.

2013 bird sherd cropped

January 28, 2014

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

Some stuff going on in the lab: LH pottery and zooarchaeology

Today, in addition to the “regular” stuff going on in the Safi lab, we have two visitors:

* Dr. Philipp Stockhammer (Heidelberg) is in Israel to look at Late Helladic pottery from a few sites in Israel (including Beth Shemesh and Tell es-Safi/Gath). Today, he is in the lab examining the ca. 25 LH sherds that we have discovered in the last few seasons at Safi. I hope he will have some interesting insights from this.

* Dr. Liora Horwitz (HU), who of course has been mentioned often here, and who is the primary project zooarchaeologist, is in the lab, searching for bones to be sent for isotopic analysis.

* And then there’s the rest of us – just working away…



January 27, 2014

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

Great sites for aerial photos of the Levant

In the last week I came upon a couple of great sites at which you can find aerial photos, and most importantly, early aerial photos of the Levant.

I first stumbled upon David Kennedy‘s excellent APAAME website, and the link to their flickr site, where you can find many aerial photos, both from various stages of the 20th cent. and more recent.

Based on a tip from David, I found the absolutely fantastic website of the German Bayern State Archives (Bayerisches Hauptstaatarchiv), which has hundreds upon hundreds of german WWI aerial photos of many parts of the Levant. The include many photos not included in the well-known collections of aerial photos put out by Dalman (1925) and Kedar (1991).

Although I could not find any photos of Tell es-Safi/Gath itself, I did find a few of the site of et-Tine, which is an Arab village which was destroyed in the Israel War of Independence in 1948, and before that served as the location of a German and British airstrip during WWI. This site, et-Tine, is located about a km to the NW of Kfar Menachem, just 4 km or so from Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Here is one of the photographs of et-Tine, courtesy of David Kennedy:

Et Tina

And BTW – if anyone knows of other European collections of early aerial photographs in which sites in the Levant can be seen – I’d be glad to hear about them


January 24, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Thinking About Grid 51


The nature of preservation at Ashkelon is such that it is rare to find expansive architectural material that is visually coherent.  In other words, architecture about which people can look at and say, "Oh, I know exactly what that is."  This pattern is due, in part, to various destruction events throughout the city's history as well as its use as a stone quarry for building projects both near and far.  For those reasons, the street in Grid 51 is all that more impressive and, frankly, visually interesting.  The picture above is looking roughly north-east at a sidewalk lined street on the far side of which an insula is clearly visible.  Three doorways lead towards interior spaces.  There are no plans to investigate that interior but there is still much work to be done in Grid 51 during the 2014 season.  I, for one, can't wait to see what they uncover next.

January 22, 2014

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

Entry on Gath in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology

Today I received a digital copy of the entry on Gath which I wrote for the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology.

This a rather extensive entry on the site (textual references and archaeology), updated to early 2013.

Here is the pdf - Maeir_Gath_Oxford Encyc Bible and Archaeology_2013

The full reference is:

Maeir, A. M. 2013 Gath. Pp. 443–51 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology, ed. D. M. Master. New York: Oxford.




Sarah Klavins’ explains what goes on at Tell es-Safi/Gath

Sarah Klavins, long time team member (with the Univ. of Melbourne team), has prepared a great explanation of what goes on at Tell es-Safi/Gath during the excavation season:

Sarah Klavins what archaeologists really do poster

Summarizes the issue quite well!

Thanks Sarah!


January 20, 2014

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

Save the date – March 10th, 2014: Mini-Workshop on Levantine Ceramics

For those of you who will be in this neck-of-the-woods on March 10th, 2014, save the date for the following event:


The Levantine Ceramic Project – 2014 Mini-Workshop 1: Israel and the Palestinian Territories which is organized by the Levantine Ceramic Project (which is directed by Andrea Berlin of BU)

The workshop will be held at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem (Salah ed-Din St.)

Needless to say, there will be a Safi representation at the workshop:

Technological and Typological Analysis of Early Bronze Age Plastered Ware,” which will be presented by Adi Eliyahu Behar (speaking for her collaborators Itzick Shai, David Ben-Shlomo, Haskel Greenfield and yours truly).

Other papers on various topics related to ancient Levantine ceramics will be presented as well. Sounds like this will be a very interesting day!


January 17, 2014

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

The Offseason

It's been a busy offseason for the members of the Ashkelon staff from participating in the ASOR, SBL and AIA conferences to planning for the 2014 season.

At the ASOR conference, held in Baltimore this year, Dr. Kate Birney presented on Hellenistic Ashkelon, Dr. Ryan Boehm presented on the transition from Achaemenid to Hellenistic rule in western Asia Minor, Dr. Dana DePietro presented on Canaanite lamp and bowl deposits, Dr. Deirdre Fulton presented on feasting and former staff members Dr. Michael Press and Janling Fu also gave papers.  In fact, the ASOR program was littered with scholars who have spent a season or two at Ashkelon or are in some way affiliated with the expedition.

At SBL, Dr. Daniel Master, co-director of the excavation, gave a talk entitled "Philistine Religion at Ashkelon."

At the AIA in Chicago, Shimi Ehrlich co-moderated a workshop on fieldwork and the processes involved in trying to work abroad and Janling Fu presented a talk on aspects of state formation in the Iron Age.  Other staff members attended, in fact I've almost certainly left people of this recap of who presented on their research, and then they all got stuck in the Windy City a few extra days as Chicago was slammed by 10 inches of snow and record cold temperatures.

With the conferences out of the way, attention now turns towards planning for the 2014 field season which is shaping up to be particularly interesting with two new areas opening up.  On the North Tell, Joshua Walton will be opening a step trench in an attempt to get a complete Bronze Age through Crusader, 12th c., sequence.  And, near the city center I will be opening a new trench to look for one of Roman period Ashkelon's main streets: the cardo or the decumanus.  As these two areas get going, everyone's attention will be on Grid 51, under the direction of Kate Birney, which is fast approaching 604 B.C.E. and what we hope will be more evidence for the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar.

Cooking Pot restored in the offseason

Cooking Pot restored in the offseason

Volunteer applications for the 2014 season are now available.  Go the the "Join us" tab on this website to learn more.

Check back often.  I'll start blogging more regularly now that planning for the 2014 season is under way.

January 14, 2014

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

Another review of Safi I

Jeff Chadwick has given me a head’s up (thanks!) to a just-appeared review of Tell es-Safi/Gath I, by Larry Herr, which has been published in BASOR 370 (2013).

Overall, the review is very positive (it commences with: “This is a monumental publication. It is virtually 1,000 pages of archaeological data, illustrations, and interpretations. Perhaps such a huge publication is only fitting, for the site of Tell es-Safi/Gath is even more monumental, one of the largest and most imposing sites in southern Israel at about 50 ha spread over a high, strategic hill. But what really makes this publication a monument is the rigor and seriousness with which Maeir and his large team of 36 authors have approached their project…“), though Larry has some suggestions regarding how to make such a monumental volume easier to use (in particular, regarding the placement of illustrations). His comments are definitely taken seriously – and in fact – we deliberated on many of his very thoughts when we were putting together the volume.

Larry also questions the connection between the siege system around the site to the conquest of Gath by Hazael, feeling that while a possibility, it is not proven. While I agree that we have not found a sign “Built by Hazael” – I strongly believe that all the archaeological, historical and biblical evidence is best interpreted that the the siege system and the contemporaneous destruction level as being related to this event. I see no other explanations that would fit in with the available data.

Larry – thanks for the review – and your appreciation of the immense effort that all the editors, authors, and excavators put into this!


January 13, 2014

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

ASOR Scholarships Available

Andrew taking some measurements Andrew taking some measurements

If you are looking for ways to take part in our excavation this summer – check out ASOR’s various scholarship offerings here. Hurry though, the deadline for application is January 15th for several of the scholarships.

Dallas Theological Seminary Lecture on Burna Friday January 17

Thankfully, we were able to re-schedule a lecture on Tel Burna for Dallas Theological Seminary for Friday, January 17 @ 11:40 am (building TODD 215). Previously, we had to postpone last month’s lecture due to bad weather. Come hear the lecture if you are interested and around the DFW area this Friday!

Update: Chris McKinny will be delivering the lecture on Friday.


January 12, 2014

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

Upcoming lectures on Tell es-Safi/Gath at the Oriental Institute, April 23-24, 2014

I have been invited to give the annual David Kipper Ancient Israel Lecture (for the previous annual lecture in this series, see here) at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

The lecture will be at the OI on Wednesday, April 23rd and will be entitled: “New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel”.

The following day, on Thursday, April 24th, 2014, I will be giving a workshop at the OI (participation may be limited to OI people – do check) entitled: ”The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project: An Overview after 17 Years of Excavation”.

Please follow the announcements of the OI to find out exactly where and when these lectures will take place, and if possible, you are invited to come and listen to them (depending though on the OI’s exact guidelines – check here when relevant).

Hope to see you in the windy city!


January 09, 2014

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

Two sites that should be excavated!

Today, I went on a very enjoyable field trip for students from Bar-Ilan University, along with Dr. Yigal Levin and Dr. Shawn Zelig Aster. We visited a few sites in the Lower Galilee, including Yaham (modern day Yamah, one of the stops in Thutmoses III campaign to Megiddo), Megiddo, Tel Shimron and Tel Hanaton.

We had a great time, and even though at times that wind was quite strong and freezing, overall, the weather played along with us.

Tel Shimron (which I had visited many years ago) and Tel Hanaton (which I had not visited before this trip), are truly great sites, which definitely modern warrant archaeological excavations.

So, if any of you out there are looking for great sites to excavate in Israel – with long cultural sequences and important historical connections – definitely think of either Shimron and Hanaton!

And you can tell the IAA that I suggested this… :-)


January 08, 2014

Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project

What's new for Calixtlahuaca ??

It's a new year --  2014  --  and our analysis of the findings from our fieldwork at Calixtlahuaca continues.

We will try to get some new material posted soon. But in the meantime, check out some of our past posts. These cover several years, from our initial excavations in 2007 up to our current analyses at ASU:

The life and times of Burial 4 (written by anthropology major Kea Warren)

Sounds from the past: The bird-whistle from Calixtlahuaca  (have you ever heard an Aztec musical instrument, 500 years old, played?)

Gambling, tortillas, and Spaniards in hats

Using an artistic touch to bring Calixtlahuaca back to life

The 1563 calendrical relief

Working on ceramics in Toluca

January 07, 2014

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

Oh oh – another castle of king david about to be unveiled…

News is out that the secret Iron Age site which was reported awhile ago with an “Proto-Aeolic” (or “Proto-Ionic“) capital, is about to be “outed” this Friday. While this is nice news, the current news reports that a castle of King David will be revealed are somewhat hard to accept, since, to start with, such capitals, while known from the Iron Age, always derive from later phases of the Iron Age, long after the late 11th/10th cent. BCE.

So, while I would love that a castle of King David be found – including, if possible, a bath in which Bathsheba herself bathed – I’m rather sceptical that this find will be in anyway related to King David – save for the fact that it is most probably connected to a royal structure of the Kingdom of Judah (ruled by David’s descendants) at later stages of the Iron Age.

In any case though, this is an interesting find and I wait to hear more details.

UPDATE: Yuval Gadot (TAU) has kindly informed me that this site was recently published by Daniel En-Mor in volume 7 of “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region” and was presented at this annual meeting a few months ago. In the article, which Yuval kindly sent me, the site is in fact a very nice, Iron Age II water system, which has a hewn column with a proto-aeolic capital within it. So, as I thought – nice site from the Iron Age, but no connection to David – and in fact, not even a castle…


P.S. Last year, when I was in San Diego, I missed a tour of the site that the discoverers arranged for some senior archaeologists in Israel.

January 05, 2014

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

Excellent site – the Archaeological Survey of Israel

Dr. Ofer Sion, who is the head of the survey department at the IAA, sent out an email today from which I first saw the excellent website of the Archaeological Survey of Israel. On this site (here is the Hebrew version and here is the English one [which is still listed as a beta version]), you can get online versions of 83 survey maps that have been published so far, including those that were published in hard and electronic forms. There are maps, photos, pottery plates, and most important, accessible summaries, and hard data, from all these maps.

Do check this out – it is an outstanding resource! Clearly, this has been around for awhile – but I was not aware of it :-(


January 02, 2014

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

Lecture on PNG at the Kimmel Center

As I had mentioned previously, today I gave a lecture at the Kimmel Center at WIS on archaeological (and personal) perspectives on my recent trip to Papua New Guinea. I had a great time preparing the powerpoint for the lecture – and presenting it, and I brought with me some “show and tell” objects to the lecture (bow and arrows, ceremonial stone axe, machete, and various traditional ornamentations and objects). It was a lot of fun – and I think the people at the Kimmel enjoyed it as well!

Steve Weiner took a picture of me when I demonstrated how the ceremonial feather hat (with Cassowary and Bird of Paradise feathers) was worn (notice the objects on the table in front of me):


January 01, 2014

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

Meeting and Visit to Philistine Museum in Ashdod and Ashdod Yam

Today, I had a meeting at the Museum of Philistia and the Philistines at Ashdod, and since I had missed the official opening, it was my first chance to see the totally renewed and expanded exhibit. What can I say – it is simply stupendous! It is a not a large exhibit, but covers the issues of the Philistines and the Sea Peoples, and their background very nicely, and is designed so that visitors of various backgrounds, ages, and interests will all find things that will attract them.

There are also quite a few very nice finds from Tell es-Safi/Gath, including the two horned altar, the two pillar bases of the temple from Area A, and various other finds.


Here’s a picture of the entrance to the exhibit:

photo (10)







I highly recommend a visit – and the very nice catalogue as well!!

After the meeting/visit at the museum, Dr. Alex Fantalkin (TAU) took me on a two hour tour of his recently commenced excavations at nearby Ashdod Yam. The site is really quite something else (I had not been there in over two decades), and the results of the first season are very exciting – indicating the high potential of this very interesting project in the coming years.

I wanted to pop over to Tell es-Safi/Gath to take a look at the rain damage, but in the end did not have time. I’ll have to do this another day.


December 31, 2013

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

A very Exciting End to a Very Exciting Year

Over the past few days, a couple of important things happened to us at the Tel Burna Project, closing out 2013 in a big way.

First of all, Ed and Myrna Weisselberg continued to support the project with a generous donation of $10,000!!!!! Thank you both so much for this wonderful donation, which will go very far in advancing the project! 

In addition, our entry about Burna has now appeared in Archaeology Abroad Email Update No 24 – December 2013 (see link below), which will hopefully bring along some interesting people trying to find an interest in archaeology!

With that, we wish everyone a Happy New Year, with lots of happiness and great finds!

AAEU No 24 – December 2013

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

No excavation due to rain – but what a mess!

Unfortunately, the heavy rains yesterday and today did not allow us to excavate today as originally planned. Amit, Shira and Amuna nevertheless went to the site and to Revadim, and Amit sent back some pictures of the damage from the rains in Area D.

Ho boy – and this is only in the middle of the winter! Looks like there is going to be a lot of cleaning up at the beginning of the summer season…


Damage in D from rains 31_12_13 More Damage in D from rains 31_12_13

December 29, 2013

Lapis Gabinus: official blog of the Gabii Project

Tha Gabii Project and the state of Italian archaeology

An interview with Nic Terrenato just appeared on the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. The article discusses the state of Italian archaeology in light of the recent funding cuts by the Italian government, and highlights the important contribution of US-based and other foreign institutions.

Gabii in the Top 10 Discoveries of 2013!

The Archaeology magazine has selected Gabii's Area F building as one of the Top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2013! A large chunk of this monumental building, which features imposing ashlar architecture and finely appointed floors, was uncovered in 2012-2013. In July 2013 the sensational find was first announced in a short article by Prof. Mario Torelli, featured in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Additional coverage from news outlets in the UK and the US soon followed. Most notable are a piece that appeared in the New York Times, and a release by the University of Michigan's news service. Both include a summary of the finds, and quotes from Nic Terrenato and other team members. A story on the dig was included in the september/october 2013 issue of the UK-based magazine Minerva.

Lecture on Lapis Gabinus at the Kelsey Museum FAST series

Jason Farr (Michigan) will present the results of current research on the well-preserved quarries at Gabii in a a lecture titled "Lapis Gabinus and the Economy of Urban Construction: Recent Fieldwork at Gabii and Rome". The talk is part of the Field Archaeology Series on Thursday, and is sponsored by the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Thursday November 21st at 6:00 pm (Kelsey Museum, Lecture Hall).

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

New Review of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Vol. I

Prof. Peter Fischer (University of Gothenburg) has been kind enough to send me a copy of his book review of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Vol. I, which was recently published in the Weiner Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 103 (2013): 397-399.

All told, a very nice review of the volume, which joins the other positive reviews that have been published so far (for example, see here and here).

Here it is: Fischer_Review of Tell es-Safi-Gath I_WZKM 103_2013

Thanks Peter!

And a happy 2014 to all!



December 28, 2013

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

Upcoming lecture on trip to Papua New Guinea

This Thursday (at 1 pm), I will be giving a lecture at the weekly seminar at the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. The title of my presentation will be:  ”An archaeologist’s observations from a trip to Papua New Guinea”.

As can be understood from the title, I will discuss some of my professional (and personal) observations from my recent trip to PNG – and I’ll be showing some great photos and video clips – and may even bring along some “show and tell” items.

If you are in this neck of the woods on Thursday – you are invited.

Here’s a nice photo from PNG – just for fun:

Dressed to kill in Teptep








December 27, 2013

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

Rona gets the Bahat Prize!!!

The official announcement is out that Dr. Rona Avissar-Lewis (known to many of you simply as Rona) has been awarded the prestigious Bahat Prize for original Hebrew non-fiction manuscripts for the year 2013. The prize, given by the University of Haifa, includes a very nice cash prize – and the manuscript is published by the University of Haifa Press.

Rona was for many years one of the core team members of the Tell es-Safi/Gath team, and as many of you will remember, worked in various supervisory positions in Area A and P. Her MA research was on Bliss and Macalister’s excavations at the site.

The manuscript “Children of the Past: An Archaeological Perspective on Children and Childhood in the Land of Israel in the Biblical Period” is based on her PhD dissertation which she completed at Bar-Ilan University and for which I served as her advisor.

Way to go Rona – Kol Hakavod!!! A great way to start the new year!!



December 24, 2013

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

Season’s Greetings to all!

To all those of you have been on the team, plan to be on the team, dream to be on the team – or just follow this blog for no special reason at all – here’s wishing you a great holiday season! (and this includes even those who may not be celebrating any particular holiday in the coming days…)!!!

Here’s a couple of toasts for the occasion – straight from some Philistine vessels (thanks to Ian and Paul for serving as the models…)!

Ian drinking from a philistine juglet Paul drinking for a philistine jug


December 23, 2013

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Pottery Restoration Progress

Over the last couple of months, Jeremy has been hard at work restoring pottery from Area B. In the past we have reported about finding large amounts of Canaanite local wares and imported Cypriot vessels of various forms and types in Area B. Now we can begin to see what these vessels would have looked like before their destruction. Here are some results of his work. Great work Jeremy!

Canaanite Bowls after RestorationCanaanite Bowls after Restoration




Fragments of a Biconicle LB Canaanite Jug with DecorationFragments of a Biconicle LB Canaanite Jug with Decoration
Cup and Saucer FragmentCup and Saucer Fragment
Various LB Local Bowls Being RestoredVarious LB Local Bowls Being Restored
Sherds Laid Out for RestorationSherds Laid Out for Restoration
Cypriot White Shaved JugletCypriot White Shaved Juglet
The Restoration Process from inside the Burna Lab at Ariel UniversityThe Restoration Process from inside the Burna Lab at Ariel University
Restored Canaante Bowl. Restored Canaante Bowl.
LB Local Goblet without BaseLB Local Goblet without Base
LB Local Goblet with BaseLB Local Goblet with Base

Fragment of Cypriot Bull Figurine/Vessel
Fragment of Cypriot Bull Figurine/Vessel
Head of a Cypriot Bull Figurine/Vessel with Head of a Cypriot Bull Figurine/Vessel 
Complete Cypriot Bull Vessel/Figurine - not from Burna, for comparisonComplete Cypriot Bull Vessel/Figurine – not from Burna, for comparison

December 19, 2013

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

Great conference on Landscape Conservation and Archaeology

Today, I participated in a very interesting conference on Landscape Conservation and Archaeology, a meeting which was convened jointly by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the TAU Institute of Archaeology – and was held at TAU.

There were quite a few very interesting talks in this day long meeting, including one from the Safi team on the environment around the site and conservation and environmental issues, which was presented by Oren Ackermann and Udi Weiss in the name of a whole team of scholars associated with the project.

One of the most important aspects coming out of this day is the need to combine forces of those who deal with natural heritage and those who deal with cultural heritage. Only through a combined, “force-multiplier” effort, do we have a chance to protect various heritage facets against unconstrained development.


Check out the calender for 2014 by the Safi Australian team!

I received notification from Claire Liersch, who was one of the Australian team last season, of a fantastic calender for the upcoming year (for those of you that are not sure – we are talking about 2014), which Claire and a few other enthusiastic volunteers team members from the 2013 season decided to make. The focus of the calender are a bunch of hilarious photos from up on the Tell.

This is now for sale and all proceeds (after covering costs of production) will go towards a worthy cause – to help bring more Aussie team members in the 2014 season!  As all past team members know, the chance to excavate at Safi is a very educational and fun experience and so this is a REALLY worthwhile cause!

Claire has sent me two images of the “Dirty Archaeologist Edition” of the calendar and if you would like to have the most UNIQUE calendar EVER for 2014, please email Claire Liersch. The cost is AU$21.20 including postage within Australia, and AU$26.45 including postage for most other countries. Email Claire your postal address and how many calendars you would like and she will send you a PayPal invoice. Calendars will be mailed immediately once payment is received. If you do not have a PayPal account and would like to set one up, go to www.paypal.com and click on “Sign Up”. The new year is almost here and stock is limited, so get in quickly!

1. Title Page Calendar Months







Clearly, this is something that you all MUST have – I’ve already ordered mine!


December 15, 2013

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

Another view of the flooding Elah river next to Safi

Uri Yehuda, who is a student in my department at BIU, visited the area of Tell es-Safi/Gath yesterday, and was kind enough to send another great photo of the rushing river just to the north of the lower city, taken just opposite Area D.

Take a look! (and thanks to Uri!)

צפית מוצף DSCF4066

December 14, 2013

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

The Mississippi river next to Tell es-Safi/Gath!

Oren Ackermann and his daughter Kerem, visited the tell today, to see if the torrential rains that we’ve had in the last few days throughout Israel had affected the site.

Oh boy – did they ever! See here a picture and a great clip that Oren took of the Elah Valley river bed, which runs just to the north of the lower city of the tell, after the rains – and how it has turned into the Mississippi (well, sort of…), for a short time…

Here’s the clip, followed by a nice picture:










Thanks to Oren and Kerem!!!

December 12, 2013

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

A View about the Interface between Bible and Archaeology on the ASOR BLOG

A short piece on some of my views about the interface between Bible and Archaeology, and what some of the good practices of Biblical Archaeology should be, has appeared on the ASOR Blog.

Check it out.


December 11, 2013

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

The XRF has arrived!

The date 11/12/13 indeed is an auspicious day! Not only did I become a grandfather, but the hXRF arrived in the lab as well!


hXRF in the lab

Persistent rumours…

Persistent rumours out there are saying that the project director has become a grandfather.

This is duly confirmed!


December 09, 2013

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

The ivory bowl at the lab!

Today, I brought in the beautiful ivory bowl from Area A to the Safi lab at BIU to have it drawn and photographed. Here you can see me removing the bowl from its special packaging, carefully handling it with gloves so that the ivory is not adversely affected by its handling. Needless to say, there were a lot of oohs and ahhs from the “crowd”…

It’s quite something – and from our initial study of the bowl and its parallels – it’s quite a special little fellow! :-)

Aren showing ivory bowl in labAren

December 08, 2013

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

Short excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath in 3 weeks

Unless the weather is really bad, in three weeks, on Tuesday, Dec. 31st, we will conduct a short, half day dig at the site, to uncover an interesting stone installation that can be seen on the surface of the tell, in the lower city, about 200 or so meters east of Area D. If all goes well, we will excavate this stone installation, which appears to be similar to the large stone basin which was found in the 9th cent. BCE destruction level in Area A, and most probably served as part of an oil press. If this does in fact turn out to be something similar, this will strengthen our supposition that this type of oil press might represent a type typical of the 9th cent. BCE, prior to the appearance of the types well-known from various 8th and 7th cent. BCE sites (such as at nearby Ekron and Batash), and more developed than a type which is known at various sites in the Iron I (as discussed by R. Beeri in PEQ 2008).

This, by the way, has interesting implications vis-a-vis the question of whether or not olive oil production was a substantial agricultural production activity in Philistia prior to the 7th cent. BCE.

Should be very interesting!

See here a picture of the “bathtub” in the middle of Area A, in a photo taken in the 2004 season.

Area A view of square with inscription


December 06, 2013

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Dallas Theological Seminary Lecture Cancelled Due to Weather

Unfortunately, the icy, windy below-freezing weather in the Dallas Fort-Worth area means that we will not be having a lecture on Tel Burna at DTS tomorrow. We are hoping to reschedule in January… 

December 05, 2013

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

Amit and the hXRF are media stars…

Amit, well-known to all of you who are involved in the Safi project, and the Handheld XRF which we will soon be receiving, are among the stars in a BIU newsletter that just came out.

Check it out! (on page 3)


December 04, 2013

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Lecture on Tel Burna at Dallas Theological Seminary

On Friday December 6 @ 11:40, I (Chris) will be presenting a lecture on the finds of Tel Burna at Dallas Theological Seminary  - building TODD 114. If you are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area come check it out. 

December 03, 2013

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Timeline – The Explorations of Tel Burna

Explorations of Tel Burna Timeline - Prepared by Chris McKinny (updated)Explorations of Tel Burna Timeline – Prepared by Chris McKinny (updated)


Check out a picture of David Gal and his grandson standing with Matt and Itzick – David found the Lamashtu plaque back in the 1960s

Matt and Itzick with David and his grandson who joined us for the day - David discovered a plaque with the depiction of Lamashtu around 40 years ago. How cool!Matt and Itzick with David and his grandson who joined us for the day – David discovered a plaque with the depiction of Lamashtu around 40 years ago. How cool!



November 28, 2013

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

Visit to Safi – and on the way a visit to the very interesting site of Eshtaol

Today, I went down to Tell es-Safi/Gath to meet two architects who deal with landscape/restoration in regards to a proposal that we are preparing on Tell es-Safi/Gath and its environment. To start with, it was very nice to visit the site – I have not been there since the summer. Second, here is a nice view from the north towards the tell. Those of you who are familiar with the site – notice that the large plowed area to the north of the site – where in most years there were various agricultural growths.

View of safi from north 28_11_13








On my way down from Jerusalem to the tell, I stopped at site of Eshtaol, which has been reported extensively in the news in recent days (such as here, here and here). This is a fantastic site, with well-preserved architecture and finds from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, Pottery Neolithic, Late Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze IB (=Erani C). Amir Golani and Benyamin Storchan, two of the directors of the excavations, were very kind to give me a thorough tour of the site, as it was about to be covered over (that very day!). As they said, I was probably the last archaeologist to ever see the site…


November 27, 2013

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

Happy Chanukah to one and all!

To all Safiites, past, present and future, and to everyone else (is there anyone else?) as well – wishing you all a happy Chanukah!


Arik Einstein (sigh…)

Arik Einstein, Israel’s top singer – who has been compared to an Israeli combination of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Bob Marley – passed away last night. Anyone who has even the slightest idea about Israeli music over the last 40 years or so, will know that he really was in a different class than all.

And even though this has nothing directly to do with Tell es-Safi/Gath, here’s a clip of one the nicest songs he ever performed:


November 26, 2013

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Article in PEQ – Explorations of Tel Burna

Check out a new Burna related article which just appeared in Palestine Exploration Quarterly. See table of contents here (also see Joe Uziel’s nice article on Tell Nagila in the same issue). In the article Amit and myself discuss the various explorations of Tel Burna from the Byzantine period until modern times – all of which provide an interesting historical backdrop for our own investigations. You can find the article here

Our article’s bibliographic details are as follows:

2013: McKinny, C. and Dagan, A. “The Explorations of Tel Burna,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 145.4:294-305. 

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

Lecture at the ASOR meeting – update on the 2013 season at Safi

The Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research was just held in Baltimore, and although I did not participate (had too many things “on my plate” and had to act mature and responsible for a change), a paper of mine was delivered in the annual session on Philistia that Jeff Chadwick (aka Akhish Melekh Gath) and I chair. Jeff was kind enough to deliver the paper in my name.

As I gave a general overview of the finds from the 2013 season which might interest those reading the blog, here is the PP presentation, and the text of the lecture as given at the meeting.

Here is the PP presentation: ASOR 2013 Season at Tell es-Safi

And here is the text of the talk: ASOR Safi 2013 update talk



November 25, 2013

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

The Battle of Montgisard

Today, Nov. 25th, 836 years ago (in 1177), the Battle of Montgisard (aka the Battle of Gezer) took place, in which the Frankish army under the command of young King Baldwin of Jerusalem, resoundingly defeated the Muslim army of Saladin.

Without a doubt, the Frankish knights and soldiers standing on the ramparts of Blanche Garde (those of the castle’s garrison who had not joined the battle itself) could see the battle – which was conducted just about 19 km to the north. Even nowadays, with all the smog of our modern industrial age, Gezer can be very clearly seen from the top of Tell es-Safi/Gath, standing on the foundations of Blanche Garde. A decade later, in 1187, the tables had turned, and Saladin completely destroyed the Frankish army at the Battle of Hattin.