Taygete Atlantis: Excavation Blogs (Antiquity)


Tom Elliott (tom.elliott@nyu.edu)

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April 10, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Another New Article on Tel Burna

A new article by  Šmejda, L.; Hickman, M.; Horák, A.; and Shai, I. dealing with the analysis of the “accumulation of nutrients in archaeological soils” at Tel Burna has just appeared in Catena. You can access the paper here. Way to go!

Here is the abstract:

“Human settlement activities are connected with the accumulation of nutrients in archaeological soils. We address the question of whether the large-scale mapping of the elemental composition of the topsoil in contemporary rangeland can be used for the detection of ancient settlement activities.

Using portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF), we mapped the elemental composition of contemporary soils over an area of 67 ha in and around the Bronze and Iron Age settlement of Tel Burna (identified as probably corresponding with biblical Libnah).

Ancient settlement activities substantially increased concentrations of nutrients (P, K, S, Zn and Cu) in the contemporary topsoil owing to the deposition of biomass ashes and organic wastes. Increased concentrations of elements were detected 2500 years after the site was abandoned and we can therefore suppose that changes in the elemental composition of the soil caused by ancient settlement activities are irreversible on a timescale in which human societies operate. Ancient settlement activities increased concentrations of nutrients in contemporary soil to the same level as recent intensive fertiliser application on an adjacent arable field used for vegetable production. Concentrations of nutrients higher than those on the tell summit were recorded only in recent cattle resting areas with intensive deposition of cattle faeces. Changes in the elemental composition of the soil caused by ancient settlement activities consequently result in differential nutrient availability for contemporary vegetation, affecting ecosystem functions for thousands of years. Using pXRF, large-scale mapping of the elemental composition of the topsoil layer at archaeological sites can help to identify the extent and provide basic information on the character of past human activities in the affected landscape units.”

XRF - Michael at Burna

The Full Reference:

 Šmejda, L.; Hickman, M.; Horák, A.; and Shai, I. 2017. “Ancient settlement activities as important sources of nutrients (P, K, S, Zn and Cu) in Eastern Mediterranean ecosystems – the case of biblical Tel Burna, Israel.” Catena (156) 62-73.

April 07, 2017

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

Safi team lectures at the archaeological congress in Israel

As mentioned previously, yesterday, Thursday, April 6th, 2017, the 43rd annual archaeological congress in Israel was held at the Hebrew University.

There were three lectures by Safi team members: Amit about insights on Philistine cult based on the finds from our excavations; I gave a talk about various new finds and research at the site, with a focus on EB and Iron Age materials; and Adi gave a talk about Iron production in the early Iron Age in the southern Levant in general.

All three talks went very well. In general, the conference was a conference, with some good talks – and some less…

What was particularly interesting, from a point of view of the sociology of knowledge, was the very different research narratives about the Iron Age that were particularly dominant in the lectures given at this meeting, as compared to what was presented just two weeks ago at the annual Aharoni day meeting held at TAU. “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet…” :-)

I guess I was an exception – as I spoke at both meetings…

Here are some pictures of the Safi team lectures:


April 06, 2017

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

Jeff Chadwick in the Times of Israel!

Our own Jeff Chadwick (aka Achish Melekh Gath) is the star of an article in the Times of Israel, which deals with the model Passover Seders that he runs at Brigham Young. In addition to being extensively interviewed, the Safi excavations get a nice “plug” – including a great photo!

Way to go Jeff – munch on a matza with some chocolate spread out in the west!



April 05, 2017

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

An early Afikoman!

Looks like that this year, after many years of being too old to get one, I received the afikoman – and even before Pessach!

We just received two new total stations and two new differential GPSs, graciously funded by the Minerva Stiftung!

Woohoo! I love gizmos…:-)

Here are some pictures of our new toys – with Vanessa, Amit and Ibrahim (from the Etkes company who sold us the equipment)!!!

April 02, 2017

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

Delegation of Chinese Religious Studies Scholars Visits the Lab

This past Wednesday (March 29th, 2017) we were honored with a visit by a group of some 30 leading scholars of religion from various prestigious universities and research institutes in China. They were at Bar-Ilan University for a conference on Academic Exchange on Religion and Culture, which was held last week at Bar-Ilan. The highlight of the conference was the performance of the musical “Shimmer” – that tells the story of how the Jews were saved in Shanghai during WW II.

The delegation were invited by the Sir Naim Dangoor Program for Universal Monotheism (comparative religions) team,  headed and initiated by Dr. Danielle Gurevitch

In any case, the group came to the lab, and received an explanation of some of the research that we do on the Safi project. As many of the visitors expressed a lot of interest, I do hope that we may see in the future at the Safi excavations some Chinese students, and perhaps even organized groups from Chinese academic institutions!

Here’s a picture of my explaining about the Safi finds to the group:


David’s Sling

I’m sure you are all convinced that for the last two decades, we have been looking for David’s sling, or at least his sling shots, at Gath. Just be clear – we have not found them – and not even a skull with a hole in its head.

That said, today, the modern day “David’s Sling“, Israel’s latest anti-missile system has become operational.

Why does this concern the Safi project?

If, sometime in the future, the “bad guys” should shoot missiles at us and surrounding areas (as they did in the summer 2014…), we now have an additional layer of protection, in addition to the already existing (and fantastic) “Iron Dome” that protected us then (and provided great fireworks’ displays along the way – see below picture, courtesy of Jeff Chadwick).


April 01, 2017

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

Comic Book Depiction of David at Gath

Nathan P. Daniel is an artist who is preparing a series of comic books depicting the life of Biblical David.

Nathan has kindly sent me a few pages from his very impressive work (which he  hopes to publish in the near future), in which the biblical story of David arriving at the Gate of Gath and meeting King Achish (I Sam 21:10 ff.) is depicted.

Nathan informed me that he regularly visits the Safi blog to get information about the Philistines in general at Gath specifically. So, look at the first image and you can see how he depicts the fortifications of Gath. Notice that the region of the gate is quite similar to the area of the Gate that we found in recent seasons (see, for example, here), and the chalk cliffs of the tell. You’ll notice as well that the Philistines are selling pig (regarding Philistine pigs, see for example here), and their soldiers look like the “Sea Peoples” warriors in the Medinet Habu reliefs (see an example of the Sea Peoples in these reliefs here).

Notice that the Philistines are depicted using a closed oven. While in the early Iron Age the Philistine mainly used open hearths, from the early Iron II (ca. 1000 BCE), the closed “Tabun”/”Tanur” mudbrick oven becomes popular (for a picture, see here).

Check it out – VERY nice!

March 30, 2017

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

New Book for Andrea Squitieri on Iron Age Stone Vessels

Congratulations to Andrea Squitieri, Safi team member, for his newly appeared book:

Squitieri, A. 2017. Stone Vessels in the Near East during the Iron Age and the Persian Period (c. 1200–330 BCE). Archaeopress Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology 2. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Way to go Andrea!!


March 28, 2017

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

Article on 20 years of Iron Age archaeology at Tell es-Safi/Gath

As mentioned previously, a volume on the Shephelah in the Iron Age was just publilshed, edited by Oded Lipschits and myself. In the volume, there is a chapter on the excavations at Safi:

Maeir, A. M. 2017. Philistine Gath After 20 Years: Regional Perspectives on the Iron Age at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Pp. 133–54 in The Shephelah during the Iron Age: Recent Archaeological Studies, eds. O. Lipschits and A. M. Maeir. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

Here is a link to a PDF of the article: Maeir_Iron Age after 20 years at Safi_in Lipschits and Maeir eds. Iron Age Shephelah_Winona Lake 2017

This article is published in:

The Shephelah during the Iron Age: Recent Archaeological Studies, eds. O. Lipschits and A. M. Maeir. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2017, copyright © 2017 by Eisenbrauns; placed here by permission of the publisher. The book may be purchased at: http://www.eisenbrauns.com/item/LIPSHEPHE


March 27, 2017

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

Shephelah volume is out!

The volume on the archaeology of the Iron Age Shephelah, edited by Oded Lipschits and Aren Maeir (previously mentioned here), has appeared! In this volume, there are 8 papers by various excavators of sites in the Shephelah (in fact, almost all current or recent projects), giving an excellent overview of major issues relating to the Iron Ages (and some issues relating to the Late Bronze Age as well). In addition, the volume includes an overview chapter by Aren and Oded, and a chapter by Ido Koch on his observations on various issues relating to the Late Bronze and early Iron Age in Southwestern Canaan. For the table of contents, see here.

Jim Eisenbrauns just informed me that the volume has arrived – and it looks great!

The full title of the volume is:

Lipschits, O., and Maeir, A. M., eds. 2017. The Shephelah during the Iron Age: Recent Archaeological Studies. “. .. as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the Shephelah” (1 Kings 10:27, 2 Chronicles 1:15). Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.


March 25, 2017

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

Visit to Safi with a film crew

This Friday (March 24th, 2017) I was again at the tell, this time with a German film crew. The documentary team, from “Spiegel TV”, was filming a chapter of a very interesting program for the German public TV channel ZDF. The program, “Zeitreise“ (“Timeline“ in English) deals with the general world history, each time dealing with a different time period, with views from different places and cultures throughout the world (see here on the chapter on the year “0”).

The filming at Safi was part of a chapter that will deal with 1000 BCE. In Israel, they have chosen the topic of David and Goliath and the Philistines and the Israelites, and are filming at Safi and Jerusalem. Other parts of this chapter will be filmed in the Pacific, dealing with the Lapita culture, and in Mesoamerica dealing with the Olmec culture, as well as other places in Europe and the world.

The archaeological host of the program is Prof. Matthias Wemhoff, who is the director of the Museum fuer Vor- and Fruegeschichte in Berlin (which as you may know is an astounding museum!). So in addition to it all, it was very interesting to get to meet and discuss various issues with Prof. Wemhoff!

Here are a couple pictures of the crew filming Prof. Wemhoff talking about the 10th cent. in Area F. In addition, see the 360 degree video that I took in Area F Upper. From the pictures and the film, you can see how green the site is at this time of the year – especially for those of you who only get to see it in the summer – when everything, more or less, is dry and brown.

Here is the clip:

And here are the photos:




March 22, 2017

March 21, 2017

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

Vist to Safi for development planning

Today, I visited Safi with a very special group of representatives from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), to do some initial planning, brainstorming and discussions about future plans to develop the cultural heritage potential at the site. This particularly important in light of two possible substantial sources that may fund this.

We discussed the possibilities for heritage development for the lower city, in relationship to the siege system to the east of the tell, and on the tell in general (especially at the summit). There is a lot of more work to do, but it was a very productive meeting.

It was nice being on site. Everything was green – and the flowers and birds were out in droves. We saw 3-4 Imperial Eagles (Aquila heliaca), the usual gaggles of Western Jackdaws (Corvus monedula), and a few Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus). It was especially nice to see how, every time the Eagles came near the   jackdaws and kestrels, the smaller birds went up to intercept the Eagles and chase them away. Sort of looked liked WW II movie of fighters intercepting bombers…

And on the way out, we saw a couple of Little Owls (Athene noctua), a very common Safi inhabitant (see the picture below).

As I was on site with the INPA people, I saw how they use their online biological reporting system. Very cool! The wardens have on their smartphones an application thru which they can report, online, live, a sighting of any fauna or flora, with an exact xyz coordinate, which is automatically uploaded to the INPA data base!

Here are two pictures from the visit:

March 12, 2017

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

43rd Annual Archaeological Congress in Israel: 6th of April 2017, with 3 Safi presentations!

On April 6th, 2017, the 43rd Annual Archaeological Congress in Israel will be held at the He brew University (Mt. Scopus Campus, Rabin Building).

This will be a full day of very interesting lectures, including 3 by Safi team members: 1) I’ll be talking about new finds at Safi in the last few seasons; 2) Amit, Maria and I will be presenting on cult and temples at Tell es-Safi/Gath of the Philistines; 3) And Adi will be talking about steel production in the Iron Age.

Should be very interesting!

Check out the conference’s program here.


March 11, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Spring Visit to the Tel

Last week, Itzick and Debi visited the tel with Prof. Steve Ortiz of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and co-director of the Tel Gezer excavations (Tandy Institute). Besides discussing the remains at the site and enjoying the spring vegetation, they also discussed the possibility of future collaboration at Burna with the Tandy Institute.

March 07, 2017

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

Louise blogs on piracy and the Sea Peoples

See Louise’s very nice piece, on the ASOR Blog, about piracy in general and in relation to the Sea Peoples.



Poster for the University of Kentucky contingent for Safi 2017!

Daniel Frese, of the University of Kentucky, has put out a very nice poster inviting students to join his contingent going to Tell es-Safi/Gath this coming summer.

Check it out:

March 06, 2017

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


As previously posted, next week, on March 15th-16th, 2017, there will be a very interesting conference at Tel Aviv University.

Here is the detailed schedule:

The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 
is pleased to announce the Annual Aharoni Symposium

From Nomadism to Monarchy? “The Archaeology of the Settlement Period”– 30 Years Later

WednesdayThursday, March 15–16, 2017
Room 223, Gilman Building, Tel Aviv University

12:45 Gathering
13:00 Welcome and Introduction
Oded Lipschits, Omer Sergi, and Ido Koch (Tel Aviv University)

Session Chair: Ido Koch (Tel Aviv University)
13:15 Philistines, Canaanites and Egyptians: The Early 12th Century BCE Revisited
Shirly Ben-Dor Evian (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University)
13:40 Settlement Oscillations in the Southern Levant in Light of Climate Changes
Dafna Langgut (Tel Aviv University)
14:05 Notes on Scribal Practices in the Early Iron II
David Vanderhooft (Boston College)
14:30 Break

Session Chair: Omer Sergi (Tel Aviv University)
15:00 The Book of Josiah or the Book of Joshua? Excavating the Literary History of the Story of the Conquest
Cynthia Edenburg (Open University of Israel)
15:25 Geographical Observations on the Old North Israelite Tales in Judges
Oded Lipschits (Tel Aviv University)
15:50 The Role of the Ark in the Conquest Accounts and in the Book of Samuel
Thomas Römer (Collège de France and University of Lausanne)
16:15 Coffee Break

Session Chair: Yuval Gadot (Tel Aviv University)
16:45 Under Hazor’s Shadow: The Upper Jordan Valley in the Iron I
Assaf Kleiman (Tel Aviv University)
17:10 Sixty Years after Aharoni: A New Look at the Iron Age I Settlement in the Upper Galilee
Ido Wachtel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
17:35 The Early Iron Age in the Northern Coastal Plain (Western Galilee)
Gunnar Lehmann (Ben Gurion University of the Negev)
18:00 Canaanites in a Changing World: The Jezreel Valley during the Iron I
Eran Arie (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
11:45 Gathering

Session Chair: David Vanderhooft (Boston College)
12:00 An Untold Story: The Human-like Figures and the Snake on an Architectural Model from Beth-Shean’s Northern Temple
Tallay Ornan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
12:25 Late Bronze/Iron Age Animal Economy – Continuity vs. Change
Lidar Sapir-Hen (Tel Aviv University)
12:50 Production Autonomy to Centralization: The Iron I-IIA Transition from a Metallurgical Perspective
Naama Yahalom-Mack (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
13:15 Break
Session Chair: Dafna Langgut (Tel Aviv University)
13:45 The Iron I Settlement of Tall ZirāꜤa in Northern Jordan: Transitions between the Late Bronze Age and the Iron II
Dieter Vieweger (German Protestant Institute of Archaeology Jerusalem and Amman [DEI], University of Wuppertal [BU])
14:10 From Communities to Kingdoms across Western Jordan: Tracing Uneven Trajectories of Development
Benjamin Porter (University of California, Berkeley)
14:35 A False Contrast? On the Possibility of Nomadic Monarchy in the Iron I Arabah (Early Edom) in Light of Recent Research
Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University)
15:00 Coffee Break

Session Chair: Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University)
15:30 Societal Transformations in Southwest Canaan during the Late Second Millennium BCE
Ido Koch (Tel Aviv University)
15:55 Like Frogs out of a Pond: Identity Formation in Early Iron Age Philistia and Beyond
Aren Maeir (Bar Ilan University)
16:20 The Many Beginnings of Israel: An Archaeological and Historical Perspective from the Central Canaanite Hill Country
Omer Sergi (Tel Aviv University)
16:45 Were There Israelites? The Demographic, Cultural and Political Change of the Iron I “Highlanders”
Yuval Gadot (Tel Aviv University)
17:10 Break

Session Chair: Oded Lipschits (Tel Aviv University)
17:40 Greetings and Awarding of Scholarships
Leo Corry, Dean, The Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities, Tel Aviv University
Ran Barkai, Chair, The Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University
Oded Lipschits, Director, The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University
18:10 The Rise of the Israelite Monarchy in Retrospective
Nadav Na’aman (Tel Aviv University)
18:40 The Rise of Ancient Israel: The Need for Revision on Almost Every Front
Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University)

March 04, 2017

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

Steve Rosen’s new book

Steve Rosen, of BGU, and an active participant in Safi research (such as in this just recently published article) has notified me that a new book of his has just been published.

The book’s title is:

Rosen, S. A. 2017. Revolutions in the Desert: The Rise of Mobile Pastoralism in the Southern Levant. London: Routledge.

Here’s the book’s blurb:
Rosen offers the first archaeological analysis of the rise of herding in the desert, from the first introduction of domestic goats and sheep into the arid zones, more than eight millennia ago, to the evolution of more recent Bedouin societies. Inviting comparisons to the agricultural revolution and the secondary spread of domestication beyond the Near East, this volume examines the archaeological record outlines these societies ecological, economic and social adaptations to the deserts of the Southern Levant. With maps and illustrations from the author’s collection, Revolutions in the Desert is a thoughtful and engaging approach to the archaeology of desert nomadic societies.

See below the link to the flyer – and the offer for a 20% discount!


Congratulations to Steve!


New article for the Safi team – on Early Bronze Age cooking installations

A new article, spearheaded by Adi Eliyahu-Behar, with a large team of Safi collaborators, has just appeared online, in the journal Levant.

In this inter-disciplinary study, a new type of Early Bronze Age cooking installation is identified (a sunken, pebbled hearth-like installation), both at Safi and other EB sites. These installations are studied from a broad range of analytic perspectives.

The full title is:
Eliyahu-Behar, A., Shai, I., Gur-Arieh, S., Frumin, S., Elbaz, S., Weiss, E., Manclossi, F., Rosen, S., Greenfield, T., Greenfield, H. J., and Maeir, A. M. 2017. Early Bronze Age Pebble Installations from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel: Evidence for Their Function and Utility. Levant.

See here for a link to the article.

March 03, 2017


A Stamp of Approval

Diana Craig Patch

Sadly, this is the last day of the 2017 Joint Expedition to Malqata. The equipment is packed and ready to store and we are putting things into our suitcases for a midday flight out of Luxor tomorrow. As always, it is a bit sad to leave our site and our friends in Egypt.

I do not want to end on a gloomy note, so I offer here another interesting observation about the molds coming from the Industrial Site. With the first trowel scrape in 2015, we discovered a small pottery mold used to make a faience decoration. We have found quite a few molds since then, several of which I shared with you last season. This year was no exception and we found numerous molds for rosette, petal, and leaf shapes. The most common by far, however, are molds for openwork beads.

In the last level of N155/E180, two of the molds that were found raised an interesting question. What is used to make the impressions in the pottery that ultimately creates the mold? I had not thought about this question until I found two little rosette molds that must have been made with the same stamp. They look identical in size and style and each seems to have the same small tick on one petal.


So how were the designs in molds created? There must have been master stamps made from a hard substance that could have survived repeated use, especially for the forms that are so repetitive: rosettes, leaves, petals, mandrakes, and openwork beads. Possibly a master stamp would have been carved in a soft stone, like steatite, which allows for the addition of fine details. Steatite also could be baked to make the completed design harder. Then this design could be attached to a handle. I do not see any fingerprints in the pottery surface, which you would expect to see if you used the stamp with your hand.

I have never heard of a piece, however, that has been identified as a master stamp. Perhaps we haven’t recognized it yet, but these two small rosettes suggest one did exist, at least for one pair of rosette molds at Malqata.

ADDENDUM: In a few hours, we leave for Cairo and the United States, and we just wanted to say goodbye to our dedicated followers. We had a great season, and we look forward to sharing our next one with you. Here are a few pictures from our last dinner at the New Memnon. We want to thank Sayed and his wonderful team for making our stay so much fun.

March 01, 2017


Sherd Yards

Janice Kamrin and Peter Lacovara

We are fortunate this season to have with us two talented trainees from the Ministry of State of Antiquities to help us work on the pottery from the site, Aisha Mohamed Montaser and Hussein Fawzi Zaki.  Aisha has trained in ceramic analysis at the American Research Center in Egypt’s Field School at Giza; Hussein is  Chief Inspector in the Valley of the Kings and is interested in the ceramics from the royal tombs of the New Kingdom.


Aisha and Hussein at work

Together, Aisha and Hussein have been helping us sort and record the pottery from both the King’s Palace and the West Settlement. One of their tasks has been to help develop a corpus of the ceramics found at the site to compare with that known from Tell el-Amarna. An exhaustive compendium of the pottery from that site has been published by Pamela J. Rose, and this will serve as a useful comparison to the material from Malqata.  It will not only be important to compare the Malqata ceramics with the Amarna corpus but also to analyze the similarities and differences among the various components of the site, such as the King’s Palace, the North Village, and the West Settlement, to see what they tell us about usage and function.


The cover of Pamela Rose’s Pottery Corpus from Amarna


In the King’s Palace, we have laid out what is known as a ‘sherd yard,’ which is a common feature of many archaeological sites. We have gathered diagnostic fragments, usually pieces of necks and rims, that can tell us what type of vessel the sherds originally came from. We chose an empty area in the palace to lay out the sherd yard and collected sherds from one of the ancient trash pits that the original Metropolitan expedition found chock full of pottery over a century ago.

Photograph and diagram of the sherd yard at the King’s Palace


Aisha and Hussein work with Pam Rose at the King’s Palace

We then sorted the pottery into rough categories based on shape and ware- the type of clay used to make the vessel. These broadly correspond to the classifications developed for the Amarna corpus. Aisha and Hussein began making technical drawings of the examples that show how both the interior and exterior of the vessel would have appeared.  This along with detailed descriptions of each piece will help us create a corpus for the site.



Sample drawing (from Rose, Pottery Corpus from Amarna)

In the West Settlement, we had a different sort of Sherd Yard – in this case a very large rectangle full of clean sand that we used to begin the process of laying out and sorting the sherds that we have collected so far. We were very fortunate to have Pam Rose herself come to Malqata for several days to work with us. She spent time with Aisha and Hussein in the King’s Palace, organizing the corpus there and supervising some of the drawing. She then came over the West Settlement, where she gave me some very useful hands-on training in ware identification, and helped us refine our collection forms.


Overview of part of the West Settlement sherd yard

Aisha, Hussein, and I spent the last few days of the season, while my excavation team was backfilling the site with clean sand, sorting some of the pottery from 2016. We made a great deal of progress, and are looking forward to continuing the process of analyzing this material and building our corpus next year.

February 28, 2017


Under the Halfa Grass

Joel Paulson

One of the various site management activities that the Joint Expedition to Malqata (JEM) undertakes is clearing vegetation to protect the archaeological remains. Vegetation can be extremely damaging to mud brick both by retaining water in the soil and by putting roots into the brick and softer stone, causing them to break apart. This year, the JEM undertook the daunting task of removing the vegetation from the area of the North Palace. Like most of Malqata, the Metropolitan Museum excavated this palace in the early 20th century (1915-1916). But unlike most of the rest of Malqata, the North Palace is surrounded by agriculture on three sides and had become overgrown with halfa grass. During the few weeks we have been here this year, the Egyptian crew has been busy, removing a tremendous amount of halfa grass from this portion of the site, revealing the ground in this area to us for the first time since we started in 2008.


But there has been another benefit to removing the vegetation. When the JEM started its survey work, we could only find a few column bases from the North Palace for aligning and plotting the architectural plans from the original excavations onto the overall map of the site. With the new clearing, though, we are able to establish the pattern of the column bases in the first court of the palace and, from this pattern and with a little scraping and sweeping of the dirt, we relocated four additional limestone column bases. In addition, we can now see another column base in the second court, though it has been heavily disturbed. With seven of the twelve original column bases that existed in the first courtyard, we can now refine our location of the original plans. The fact that we were able to find features of this palace under the former heavy vegetation cover gives us hope that much more of this little-known feature of Malqata still survives, awaiting further investigation.


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

New Book on Ancient Aramaic

Please do note the following new book on ancient Aramaic:

Fales, F. M., and Grassi, G. F. 2016. L’aramaico antico: Storia, grammatica, testi commentate. Udine: Forum.


February 27, 2017


Go Fish!

Salima Ikram

Malqata is a particularly amazing site as it is a settlement—and not just any settlement, but one that contains palaces, temples, workshops, and dwellings for the elite as well as for workers. Such sites are rare to excavate as most places that were convenient to live in during ancient times are still considered desirable dwelling places, and therefore are inhabited continuously and unavailable to archaeologists. Luckily, Amenhotep III’s festival palace complex now lies in the desert margins, so, for the most part, no new buildings have been built on it and we can easily reach the levels of Amenhotep’s time.


Working with the bones from the West Settlement in the shelter of the new guard house built by The Met at Malqata

I am delighted to continue my work at Malqata. For my Ph.D. I worked on bones that had been excavated in the 1970s, and since then have been adding to that material with what the JEM has been digging up in different areas, which is expanding our knowledge not only of the site, but also of what different groups of people were eating there.

This year I worked on the animal bones coming from a series of mud brick structures in the West Settlement, excavated by Janice Kamrin. The bones were found in corners of rooms or courtyards, or along walls, often mixed in with broken pottery. These were meticulously collected by hand—even very tiny fish bones have made it into the sample.

West Settlement: N145/E135

Deposit of bones, sherds, and charcoal along one of the walls in the West Settlement

The bones from this year’s work showed that the people who lived here were eating cattle, probably quite young and tender as they were under two years of age when they were butchered. Clearly, the king’s herds were providing food for the people here. They were also eating sheep, goats, and large quantities of poultry and fish. The poultry consisted mainly of ducks and some geese, all of which are pictured on the pavements and walls of the palace, and were either brought from near the Nile or were maybe even bred along the edges of the Birket Habu, the huge ceremonial lake just east of Malqata. The fish, mainly Tilapia and Nile Perch, might also have come from the same place. But not all the fish were Nilotic—this year there was a fabulous surprise. One of the fish bones that was identified came from a Gilt Headed Seabream (Sparus aurata), which thrives in both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. These fish also venture into brackish water, and thus might have been acquired from the Delta rather than from the sea. This would suggest that some of the fish that was being eaten at Malqata was imported from the Delta, probably coming in as salted fish.


Two fragments from the jaw of a Gilt Headed Seabream from the West Settlement

As there was no refrigeration in ancient Egypt, the Egyptians depended on salt to preserve meat, poultry, and fish. In fact, their salted fish was so famous that it was exported all over the Mediterranean! Once the fish had been caught, it was gutted, washed out, and then packed in salt for a week or two. After that, it would be hung out to dry a bit more, and then packed in jars, and sent wherever it needed to go. Some of the jar labels found at Malqata list Tilapia as their contents—maybe the Seabream was caught, along with the Tilapia, in the Delta, salted, packed into jars, and sent south to be eaten at the royal palace.


February 26, 2017


Our Two Inspectors

Catharine Roehrig

All foreign archaeological missions in Egypt work in co-operation with the Ministry of Antiquities and each year the local inspectorate assigns us an inspector who is responsible for making sure that we are all registered with the proper authorities, that we follow the contract that we signed with the Ministry, and to facilitate our work if we run into problems. We have been very fortunate in the inspectors we have been assigned over the past seven seasons, and this year is no exception.


Megahed, Diana, and Walla at the Industrial Site.

Because of new regulations, we now have two inspectors, one senior inspector with more experience, and one junior inspector. Our senior inspector is Megahed Abd El Mougod Mohamed, who received his degree in Egyptology from the University of Sohag. After working at Sharm es-Sheikh on the coast of Sinai for a number of years, he joined the inspectorate of Luxor and is currently assigned to Luxor Temple. In 2010 he participated in the ARCE Field School conducted at Luxor Temple by Mark Lehner, Mohsen Kamel and Ana Tavares, and in 2016 he was a supervisor for a Ministry of Antiquities Field School conducted at Karnak by Yaser Mahmoud Hussein. He has worked with numerous foreign missions including (but not only) the Polish Mission working in tombs on Sheikh Abd el-Qurna cemetery, with Chicago House working at Luxor Temple, with the ARCE Epigraphic Field School in TT 110. He also worked with Angus Graham, who studies harbors and waterways and who introduced Megahed to the Birket Habu, so this is not his first experience at Malqata.


Our junior inspector is Walla Abd el Moged Hussein, who usually works at the Abu Jud Magazine near Karnak. She received her degree from the University of Qena and has been working with the Luxor Inspectorate for nine years. Joining our team brought Walla to Malqata for the first time, but this is not the first excavation she has worked on. Both Walla and Megahed had the good fortune to work on the excavation of the Avenue of Sphinxes that was carried out by Mansour Boraik, former Director of Antiquities in Luxor (and an old friend of Diana’s). Each of them, at different times, had the experience of uncovering a complete sphinx on the avenue, one of which had original paint.


As it happens, both of our inspectors come from the village of Old Karnak, just south of Karnak Temple. This is the first time they have worked together, but Megahed is a friend of Walla’s brother and remembers her when she was a child. Like many Egyptologists, including me, Megahed and Walla developed a love for the culture of ancient Egypt as children and carried it into their adult lives.

Megahed and Walla have both been very involved with our work this season, and we are delighted to have them as part of the team.


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

Safi 2017 poster for the University of Rhode Island team!

Prof. Will Krieger has put out a very nice poster inviting students from the University of Rhode Island to join the Safi team this summer. Go for it – you will have the greatest time of your life!

Check it out:


February 25, 2017


A Touch of Glass

Diana Craig Patch

A hundred years ago when The Met excavated the King’s Palace, the archaeologists found many pieces of glass, some of which conservators reconstructed into recognizable vessels. These early glass vessels remain quite rare, especially when they survive the past thirty three hundred years in one piece. The ones found at Malqata were not so lucky but still what is in The Met collection speaks to what was in use at Malqata.

A perfectly preserved spindle jar and a bag-shaped jar from the time of Akhenaten, Amenhotep III’s son.   (Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1176); Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.1365)



A fragment from a goblet from the early Met excavations at Malqata. Museum Accession (X.204.2)

We continue to hunt at the Industrial Site for a glass production or processing area. We still have not been successful, but the clues that it was in the area are numerous.


Fragments of unworked glass from a level in N155/E180


The best clue however was a lovely fragment in pale turquoise festooned with white, yellow and dark blue glass rods or canes.


Fragment of decorated glass from a vessel (JEMIS.2017.3)

Although this style of decoration is well known, there are many variations on the theme, perhaps as many as there were creative artists making the glass vessels. Our fragment mostly likely belonged to a wide-mouth, necked goblet, such as this reconstructed example from earlier archaeology. Although no rim is preserved, one edge is cleanly broken retaining a slight curve, this point and the lack of curve over the shard’s surface suggests it was from neck of a wide-mouthed jar, such as a goblet.


A goblet from the early Met excavations at Malqata. Rogers Fund (12.180.161)





February 24, 2017


A V.I.P. Tour of Karnak

Diana Craig Patch and Janice Kamrin

On Wednesday afternoon, our team was treated to a spectacular tour of new work in the precinct of Amun-Re at Karnak. Our guide was Dr. Mustafa Waziri, Director General of Luxor, whose energy, enthusiasm, and ability to get things done is truly remarkable. We have known Dr. Mustafa for many years now. In 2008,when Zahi Hawass, then head of the antiquities department, agreed that building a wall to protect Malqata was an essential task, Dr. Mustafa supervised and directed the work. As we have said before, this wall saved Malqata!


General view of Karnak, looking west

Karnak is a wonderful site, with remains dating from the Middle Kingdom through to the end of the Pharaonic period and beyond. For more than a century, various institutions and missions from Egypt and abroad have carried out excavation, reconstruction, and conservation work at different monuments within this vast enclosure, but there is still much to be done. In recent years, Dr. Mustafa and his team have made enormous progress, accomplishing an incredible amount in a short time on a shoestring budget. The Governor of Luxor has been a great help, always forthcoming with materials, and Dr. Mustafa expressed his gratitude to the American Research Center in Egypt (especially the Luxor director, John Shearman), which has also provided some of the much-needed supplies.


Looking out over the Middle Kingdom court to the Festival Hall of Thutmose III

One important initiative, now well underway, is the replacement of old cement with new, good quality mortar in the columns and walls of the Festival Hall (Akh-menu) of Thutmose III. This project should be finished in the near future.


A relief scene showing exotic animals and plants, with the new conservation material visible (lower right)

We then walked down a newly created and paved path – excellent as a guide for visitors, both to help them know where to go and to keep them off the more vulnerable parts of the site—to the Eastern Gate, where some of the most impressive work has been done.


The east gate of the precinct, from the Temple of the Hearing Ear

There is a Temple of the Hearing Ear built by Ramesses II that has now been reconstructed and cleared of the halfa grass that made it inaccessible to visitors. This opens up a new vista to the west, and adds greatly to the visitor experience. This was not an easy task, and according to Dr. Mustafa’s description of the work, it seems there were many scorpions lurking among the fallen blocks that sent more than one workman to the hospital!


From left to right: Dr. Mustafa, Diana, Janice, and Joel, flanking a newly-installed offering table (photo by Serenela Pelier)


The Temple of the Hearing Ear, looking west. Note the head of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, which seems to peer over the walls

Dr. Mustafa then left us in the hands of his Chief Workman, Mr. Farouk, who is in charge of all the workmen on the East Bank; his brothers also hold important positions in the antiquities department. The Farouk family has done these jobs for several generations now, and are rightfully proud of their heritage. Mr. Farouk showed us his ongoing reconstruction of a colossal statue of Ramesses II that had been discovered first by his father in the area where the village east of the precinct once drew their water. Most of the statue had been buried for millennia, with the exposed parts used by the local population for a variety of purposes, including as a whetstone and as a pumice stone to soften their calloused feet.

Mr. Farouk with the colossal statue of Ramesses II

Dr. Mustafa is also supervising the reconstruction of a colossal statue of Amun at the Luxor Temple. We only have a few days left to finish our work here, but we are hoping we can find time to go and see this important initiative.

February 23, 2017


The Sacred Beetle

Serenela Pelier

Last Saturday one of our workers made an exciting discovery. An Egyptian dung beetle, also known as a scarab beetle, was found within a spoil heap of the Industrial Site that Diana and I are currently excavating. The beetle was already dead when discovered, but that did not reduce our excitement one bit! The presence of the scarab was a wonderful surprise, especially for Catharine and Diana, because even as veteran archaeologists in Egypt they had never come across one before. Intrigued, we asked two of our Egyptian team members, Wallah and Hassan, if they had seen a scarab beetle before. Hassan had seen many of them; however, surprisingly, this was Wallah’s first time so this was an interesting experience for her too.


Scarab found in a spoil heap at the Industrial Site

Several species of the dung beetle, most notably the species Scarabaeus sacer, enjoyed a sacred status among the ancient Egyptians. The scarab beetle was one way the sun god Re could be represented. It was the sun god Re’s role in the daily cycle of renewal that the ancient Egyptians connected to the scarab beetle, whom they named Khepri. The god’s name is homophonous with a verb that means ‘to become’ and makes the connection to rebirth and resurrection. The link between a scarab beetle and the sun comes from the ancient Egyptians’ mistaken assumption that the young beetles hatching from dung balls were acts of self-creation. They also noticed that scarabs rolled their dung balls from east to west and understood this to be the explanation for how the sun moved across the sky: it was pushed by a giant scarab.


Colossal scarab of Amenhotep III, by the Sacred Lake in the temple precinct of Amun-Re at Karnak


Back and base of scarab inscribed with Amenhotep III’s prenomen
Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.6)

The scarab became so important that the ancient Egyptians fashioned amulets in its image; these were popular charms from the end of the third millennium B.C. until the Ptolemaic Period (ca. 300 B.C.). Thousands of these amulets have been found, not only in Egypt but in the Near East and other lands around the Mediterranean Sea as well. They range from naturalistic forms carved in full detail to simplified shapes reduced to a general outline. The bases can display a variety of designs, including hieroglyphic inscriptions, royal names, divine figures, geometric or floral designs, humans, and animals. The sizes of scarabs also vary and can range from small, that is, between 1 and 3 cm, to large, with some examples over 10 cm long. Scarabs have been found in variety of materials, most commonly glazed steatite, but also faience (a type of ceramic that is also glazed), hard stones, and precious metals.

Commemorative scarab inscribed with a text about a lion hunt
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.264)

Although the majority of scarabs were amulets, during the reign of Amenhotep III, our king, and his son, Amenhotep IV−the latter more commonly known as Akhenaten− large scarabs were commissioned to glorify the king and commemorate his accomplishments. Such scarabs were made to be distributed throughout Egypt and Egyptian territories, spreading news through their inscriptions. Texts recorded on these historical scarabs concern marriages, wild bull hunts, lion hunts, jubilees, and the creation of an artificial lake.


Scarab with the name of Amenhotep III. Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.4)

Surprisingly we have yet to find a scarab at Malqata. Perhaps one of these days we will get lucky!

February 22, 2017

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

Yigal Levin’s first volume of a commentary on Chronicles is out!

Kudos to Yigal Levin, my BIU colleague, and and old-time member of the Safi team, who has just published the first volume of his commentary on the Book of Chronicles.

Here are the details:

Levin, Y. 2017. The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah: 2 Chronicles 10 – 36: A New Translation and Commentary. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark

Publisher’s blurb:
The book of Chronicles, the last book of the Hebrew Bible and a central historical book of the Christian Old Testament, has in recent decades gone from being “the Cinderella of biblical studies” to being one of the most researched books of the Bible. The anonymous author, often simply called “the Chronicler” by modern scholars, looks back at the old Israelite monarchy, before the Babylonian exile, from his vantage point in the post-exilic early Second Temple Period, and attempts to “update” the older historiographies of Samuel and Kings in order to elucidate their meaning to the people of his own time.
In The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, Yigal Levin does the same for the modern reader. He offers a brand-new translation and commentary on 2 Chronicles chapters 10-36, tracing the “sacred history” of the monarchy from the division of Solomon’s kingdom to the final exile and return. Each chapter is translated from the original Hebrew into an English that is both faithful to the original and easy for the modern reader to follow. Extensive footnotes provide full explanations of the translator’s choices and of linguistic and literary issues, taking note of alternative versions offered by a wide array of ancient and modern versions and translations. The comprehensive commentary on each section provides historical background and explains the text both on a literary and a historical level, making full use of the most up-to-date research on the text, literature, history, geography and on the archaeological background of the biblical world.
The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah is to be followed by The Chronicles of David and Solomon on 1 Chronicles 10 – 2 Chronicles 9, and then by The Chronicles of All Israel on the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9 and including comprehensive essays on the book of Chronicles, its time, purposes, methods and meanings.

HT: Jack Sasson


Hot Air Balloons Over Malqata

Janice Kamrin

Going up in a hot-air balloon is a great way to see (and photograph) the landscape and monuments of Luxor, although it is not for the faint of heart. Members of our team have taken balloon rides in the past, and gotten some good aerial images of Malqata and its surroundings.


The balloons go out first thing in the morning, and have usually landed by 7:00 or 7:30. We see them out of our window when we wake up, and often watch them in the distance as we head out to the excavation site.


However, the balloons are to some extent at the mercy of the wind, and every once in a while, a balloon will actually land at Malqata, near or even on the ancient remains. This is of course terrible for the site.


We had two balloons pass right over Malqata today – one made it just past the King’s Palace to land outside the “French House,” but the second landed on the road between the West Villas and the West Settlement, with the balloon itself collapsing right on top of the ancient remains.


It is a difficult balancing act for the team. On the one hand we want to support an activity that tourists enjoy and brings much-needed income to the local population, but we are committed to protecting a unique and fragile archaeological site for future generations. We want people in the years to come to be able to marvel at Malqata’s survival and learn about its importance from the archaeological remains we are preserving, and to be able to continue to see Malqata from the air.

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

New article by Cohen-Weinberger, Szanton and Uziel on LPDW from Jerusalem

Kudos to Anat Cohen-Weinberger, Nahshon Szanton and Joe Uziel for the very interesting article that they just published. This study is very relevant for the study of the interactions between Philistia, Judah and other regions in the Iron II (as well as periods before and after) and fits in very well with much of the research we are conducting at Safi.

And needless to say, a special call-out to Joe and Nahshon, who are old-time Safiites!

Cohen-Weinberger, A., Szanton, N., and Uziel, J. 2017. Ethnofabrics: Petrographic Analysis as a Tool for Illuminating Cultural Interactions and Trade Relatoins Between Judah and Philistia During the Iron II. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 377: 1–20.

Here is the abstract:

Recent excavations along the lower eastern slopes of Jerusalem yielded a number of sherds attributed to Late Philistine Decorated Ware. As this family of vessels is generally thought to derive from Philistia, petrographic analysis was conducted on the sherds, as well as on other vessels assumed to be locally made, which served as a control group. Late Philistine Decorated Ware sherds were found to belong to three distinct petrographic groups, two of which seem to originate in Philistia (i.e., the southern coastal plain and Judaean Shephelah), while a third group was found to be local to Jerusalem. The results also indicate that some vessels considered local to the area of Jerusalem were actually produced farther west. This article discusses the results of the petrographic analysis and the implications they have on understanding Judaeo-Philistine relations.

February 21, 2017


Digging the West Settlement

Janice Kamrin

For those of our readers who know nothing about excavating in Egypt, this blog’s for you.

This is our third season in the West Settlement, which, as you may recall, is the area between the West Villas and Diana’s Industrial Site, west of the North Village. We began at the south end of the site, and as we move to the north, we continue to uncover traces of walls that follow the same alignment exposed in seasons 1 and 2. Last year, we found large quantities of pottery, bones, and charcoal. The squares that we have excavated so far this season have produced the same type of material, but far less of it, and we have hardly any small finds. As we move up the slope, the site seems to be petering out, perhaps because it was higher and more exposed to the elements, or maybe because we are reaching the northern boundary. We are excavating the adjacent squares to the north and west now, so hopefully we will know more by the end of the season.


View of the 2016 excavations, looking southwest. In the distance are the West Villas.

When I say we, I mean a whole team of people. I am the site supervisor for the West Settlement. Diana is the “mudira” (director) for the whole settlement area, while Peter is in charge of the palace. Both Diana and Peter are very experienced archaeologists, and I consult with them regularly to make sure I understand what we are uncovering and to decide where to go and what to do next.


Consulting with Diana as we work in the West Settlement

At the West Settlement, we work in 5-meter squares, laid out by our surveyor, Joel Paulson, on a grid aligned with the cardinal points. We put stakes in at each corner, and run strings from north to south and east to west. After we got tired of tripping over the stakes, we started putting empty water bottles over them so we could see them better, but the strings can still be a hazard! We name our squares according to their southwest corners, so, for example, I just finished working in N150/E135 and am now working one square directly north, in N155/E135. We started in the 2015 season at N120/E125, and have cleared fifteen squares so far.


Plan of the West Settlement, from the 2015-16 excavations

Within each square, we first remove the surface layer, which is generally full of large to medium pebbles in a silty matrix. There are usually sherds, but since these could come from anyplace on the site, we only keep the “diagnostic” ones (more on that later). We sometimes find interesting bits and pieces like beads, which we keep and record, but with the understanding that they may not be part of the original history of the area but may have been blown or washed in from someplace else.


Mahmoud (left) and Gahalan (right) working in the West Settlement

Most of the actual excavation is done by two skilled “trowel men,” Gahalan Mohamed Sayed Mahmoud and Mahmoud Mohamed Hassan Mohamed. These men have been with me since the first season, and have really gotten to know and understand the terrain. The West Settlement (like the North Village) is a difficult site, as we are tracing walls of which in most cases only a part of the lowest foundation brick remains. My team has to work very carefully so that they do not inadvertently remove important material. They use, as their unofficial title suggests, trowels and also large brushes.

Gahalan and Mahmoud work a few centimeters at a time, scraping away the surface with their trowels or sweeping with their brushes, paying close attention to features and fill. If the color or consistency changes significantly, they stop so we can decide what to do. They have gotten very good at identifying the different kinds of cultural remains – the walls, of course; tumbled mud brick from decayed walls, most of which is just little jumbled bits and pieces, but some of which we find just as it fell in ancient times; depositional layers of pebbly silt; desert surface, which can be quite hard and uneven, but can also be a little softer and more level; and every once in a while a bit of a level surface associated with the walls.

The fill that Gahalan and Mahmoud clear from the square is swept into a plastic dust pan by a young man with a mattock (a larger, rectangular trowel) and dumped into a “basket” – actually a rubber bucket with short handles. Our “in-betweener,” as I like to call him, is also named Gahalan, although we also sometimes have a younger Mahmoud. I think it’s just a coincidence that the West Settlement trowel men and in-betweeners have the same names! Gahalan the Younger helps our basket carriers, Mohamed Qenawi, Mohamed Ali, and Ehab Mishrigi load the buckets onto their shoulders so they can take the debris off to the dump, which is off to the west in an area that we think has no cultural remains underneath.


Gahalan Jr. helps Mohamed load a basket onto his shoulder

We work down, level by level, in 5 to 10 cm. strata. As we move to the north, the site slopes up, and it seems that the ancient builders terraced the walls that they built here. So we can’t work completely in consistent, level layers, but have to adjust somewhat to the natural contours of the site. As we go, we collect pottery sherds in yellow plastic bags labeled with the part of the square and the level in which we are working. Animal bones and plant remains such as charcoal go in smaller bags along with tags recording the same sort of information. We try to identify distinctive deposits and features so that we can assign feature numbers, which gives us a more exact location for the material (especially animal bones and plant remains) we find. We often leave features pedestalled so that I can map them properly onto our master plan. We also record the location within the square and level for our small finds. I takes notes about the work as we go, describing the matrices that we are digging through, recording feature numbers and descriptions, assigning object numbers to the small finds, and just generally trying to keep track of what’s going on.

As each level is completed, Gahalan and Mahmoud clean the exposed surfaces so that Catharine, our field photographer, can come and take a series of photographs. I also photograph the animal bones, and draw the small finds. Catharine has a field setup over near our lunch canopy, and, when the wind allows, she takes photos of the small finds.


Catharine in her field studio by the lunch canopy

As Gahalan and Mahmoud excavate, I create one or more plans of the square (assisted this season by our senior inspector, Migahid), depending on how complex the stratigraphy is. In this site, I rarely do more than two plans per square, if that: since everything is so close to the surface, we don’t usually have more than 3 strata, and there are rarely interesting features on top of one another. I plan at 1:20, and sometimes map more complex areas at 1:10. To make a plan, I lay a large meter tape along one of the sides of the square, making sure that it is taut so that it starts at the south or west at 0 and ends in the north or east at 5 meters, and take points from the string that marks the edge of the square with a smaller metal tape. When I have walls, I try to draw each brick that I can see, and plan everything as accurately as I can.


1:20 plan of Square N145/E130, excavated in 2016

Once we have exposed and planned all of the architecture, I am able to assign numbers to the walls and “locus” numbers to distinct areas bordered by walls. We don’t give these areas specific identifiers such as “room” or “courtyard” at this point because we are still working to understand their functions – locus is a nice, neutral term.

Once I get back to my office (my very comfortable room at our hotel), I transcribe my field notes into our Filemaker database. I download my photos and collect Catharine’s, add metadata, import the images into the database (where I cross-reference them so they will show up in the right places), and do various other clerical work.


The Object Register in our Filemaker database

You may notice that I haven’t said anything more about the pottery, although I promised. This year has not been so daunting, but in the 2015 and especially the 2016 seasons, we collected huge quantities of ceramics, including quite a few complete (but badly broken) vessels. We will be writing a blog later in the season about how we are dealing with this material, so stay tuned!


From left to right: Gahalan Jr., Mahmoud, Janice, Gahalan Sr., Ehab

February 20, 2017

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

Quick visit to Safi and Area D – and a Chukar

Today, I popped over for a quick visit to Tell es-Safi/Gath, to take a sediment sample from Area D, for an ongoing (and very interesting) research project we are now conducting (and when I can, I’ll provide more details about the results).

As I got the site, I noticed a couple of Chukars (Alectoris chukar; חוגלת סלעים) hanging around, a caught a not-that-great picture of one of them:


And by the way, from what I saw, the site was, so far, in relatively good condition – no significant signs of bad weathering!


The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Lecture by Andrea at Landscape of Archaeology Conference (Hebrew University)

On March 2 @ 10:00 AM – Andrea Orendi, our own archaeo-botanist and flotation specialist/enthusiast, will be presenting on the “Agricultural Landscape of Tel Burna” at the Landscape of Archaeology Conference at the Hebrew University. If you are in Jerusalem, come see Andrea and a number of other very interesting/important lectures! The details can be found at the following link conference-book-19-feb.


Sitting Pretty II

Peter Lacovara

In an earlier blog, from Sunday, February 3, 2013 (Sitting Pretty), we talked about the royal throne platforms and the canopies they supported, and in the blog for Saturday, March 1, 2014 (Pharaonic Dates), we reported on the wooden model dates used to decorate these structures. At the close of last season, mixed in with a large amount of painting fragments piled in a corner of one of the suites of rooms off the central columned hall, we found pieces of painted wood which came from one of these canopies. And this season in another spot we found a fragment that may also have come from this type of structure.


Amenhotep III seated under a canopy (from the tomb of Kheruef)

sitting-pretty-11 sitting-pretty-21 sitting-pretty-31

Painted wood fragments of a canopy found in the 2016 and 2017 seasons: 1. pole; 2. Block border; 3. Roof support with cut outs for crossbars.]

The fragments found last season included a striped pole about 10 centimeters in diameter and about a meter long and a flat crosspiece with vertical stripes of color.  These would have come from one of the poles that held up the canopy and from the flat cross member that attached them to one another.

A few days ago we came across another long piece with regularly squared cut-outs which could have come from the roof of a canopy made of flat boards like a modern gazebo. Unfortunately, these fragments had all been tossed aside by earlier excavators so we cannot tell where they were originally from. Since the palace was dotted with at least 13 throne platforms, that doesn’t help narrow it down!


Reconstruction of the kiosk fragments by Piet Collet

February 19, 2017


Someone’s Trash is another’s Treasure

Diana Craig Patch

My goal this season at the Industrial Site is the identification of an area at Malqata where glass and faience were manufactured. As you may remember from previous blogs, I started working in 2015 in an area west of the Audience Pavilion because I noted that many sizable pieces of slag were scattered on the surface of old spoil heaps from The Met’s earlier excavations. This waste is associated with furnaces, but none of the earlier excavators noted that they had found either slag or kilns in this area.


The spoil heaps west of the Audience Pavilion at the start of the excavations of the Industrial Site


Slag from the Industrial Site. Similar pieces suggested that this was the place to look for kilns or furnaces.

I was not disappointed when, during the 2015 season, the first square I worked in produced not only slag but sherds from crucibles used to melt the glass ingots, tiny fragments of which were scattered among the modern radim (spoil heap). Last year I continued to clear this radim bit by bit in arbitrary levels; there is no observable stratigraphy in these heaps. At the base of last year’s square, I found some intriguing architectural remains, parts of which ran under its north baulk. Having finished the square begun in 2015 and put on hiatus after I broke my arm that season, I excavated to the desert or gebel surface with no clear indications of any burning or kiln structure. So, now I am tackling another portion of the large spoil heap started last season on my hunt for the manufacturing site.

Although excavating spoil heaps may sound a bit unconventional, I find it a challenge. For the early excavators of Malqata, everything at the site was an unknown. As a result, they focused their attention on exploring and recording the large architectural structures: the King’s Palace, the Audience Pavilion, and the Amun Temple. In excavating these large structures, they did not always collect the little broken bits, although it appears they did more of that in the King’s Palace than elsewhere at Malqata.

Our daily work is not without interest because we are finding many little but captivating objects that were overlooked a hundred years ago. These may assist us in developing a clearer picture of what was made at the Industrial Site and how it was done. Many finds are objects broken during manufacture or tools that had worn out, but occasionally the workmen find an interesting bit of raw material.

Two days ago I found a small chunk of obsidian. Its concoidal fracturing –the circular way in which this natural silica glass created during volcanic activity breaks−is quite distinctive and cannot be mistaken for another material. This find is exciting because obsidian does not occur naturally in Egypt. Most people who have studied the sources believe that the Red Sea coast is the most likely source for obsidian used in Egypt.


Chunk of obsidian from the Industrial Site

We know that obsidian was a desirable, although rare, stone in ancient Egypt, because almost all the pieces are small. An example is obsidian’s use for the pupils in pairs of inlaid eyes of elite coffins, for example the inner coffin of Tutankhamun. However, rarely do we have any examples of larger objects in obsidian. The face from a small statue of Amenhotep III in the Egyptian Museum Cairo (CG42101) recovered from the courtyard where the Karnak Cachette was found is impressive in its use of obsidian. An ear (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 04.1941) and fist in two other collections probably belong to the same statue according to Peter. Robert F. Tylecote, then at University College, London, analyzed the ear’s obsidian and found that it was from an Ethiopian source.


A face of Amenhotep III made from obsidian

This last point brings me back to my little chunk of obsidian. This” exotic” material is only one of a variety of stones, including red and yellow quartzite, granodiorite, and Egyptian alabaster, that I find in the spoil heaps. All the pieces are quite small but none is locally sourced. In addition, some pieces have worked edges indicating that they once were part of a larger object. It appears that these chips, flakes and small chunks were discarded from the manufacture of larger pieces elsewhere. The glass and faience manufacture at the Industrial Site indicates the production of only small vessels, beads, and other decorative objects. Thus these scraps of “exotic” stone were probably delivered to this workshop to be reused in creating small decorative elements. Therefore the Industrial Site, like other manufacturing sites in ancient Egypt, was producing objects made from a variety of materials, not all of which required a kiln or furnace.


Two small pieces of stone — yellow quartzite and red granite — that are not sourced locally so were brought to the Industrial Site. All the non-local stones are very small pieces.

Postscript: Yesterday I found a large ball bead, which may have split when the craftsman drilled a stringing hole. The bead’s shiny black color and fine texture immediately identified its material as obsidian. The bead had been roughly shaped and manufacturing scars are still visible as faint facets; polishing would have come after a successful hole was drilled. Discarded, the preform was rediscovered by the workmen, explaining one way in which the ancient Egyptians intended to use the chunk of obsidian we found earlier.


A broken bead made of obsidian

February 18, 2017


100 Years Ago at Malqata

Catharine Roehrig

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Museum’s excavations at Malqata’s Temple of Amun. This mud brick building is at the north end of the site, a fifteen minute walk from the King’s Palace where Peter is working, and ten minutes from the Western Settlement and the Industrial Site where Janice and Diana are excavating. We worked there during the 2010 season and learned some interesting details just by carefully cleaning some of the walls and floors.


Stairways leading to the three sanctuaries at the back of Malqata’s Temple of Amun after excavation in 1917

For those readers who don’t already know, the festival city of Malqata was established for the first heb sed, or rejuvenation festival, of Amenhotep III, who celebrated three heb seds during the last seven years or so of his reign. Stamped mud bricks tell us that the temple was called The House of Amun in the House of Rejoicing. The second phrase (house of rejoicing) probably refers to the festival city itself. The Temple was built for the second heb sed, and we found evidence that it was refurbished for the third.


Layers of flooring in the small hypostyle hall of the Temple of Amun

One way they spruced up the temple was by resurfacing the floors, which were paved with mud brick. We discovered this when we were cleaning the small hypostyle (pillared) hall that leads to three sanctuaries; the central one dedicated to Amun, and the others very likely to his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. At the edge of the floor near the entrance, you can see the mud brick flooring (1), the first thin coat of hard white plaster (2), the thicker layer of mud plaster above it (3), and the second thin layer of hard white plaster that joins with the plaster on the wall (4).


North wall of the vestibule where it abuts the east wall (front) of the temple building

Something else they seem to have done for the third heb sed was to add a small vestibule at the entrance to the temple building. This is suggested by the construction of the vestibule which abuts the front wall of the temple rather than being an integral part of the structure. It was also built on top of the bricks that pave the terrace in front of the temple. The types of bricks used in the vestibule walls are also different from others used in the temple. In the photo above, you can see that the paving bricks are quite large (40 cm in length); the temple wall is made of standard size bricks (30 cm in length); and the vestibule bricks are the smallest (27 cm in length). The vestibule bricks are also greyish in color and have a finer texture.

In the next year or two, we plan to begin doing some conservation work at the temple similar to what is being done at the Palace. In this way we hope to assure that it will still be here one hundred years from now.

February 17, 2017


A Day Out

Janice Kamrin

Friday is our “day off,” which means that we don’t go out to the field. We usually spend part of the day catching up on notes and emails, and then perhaps go sightseeing or spend time with our friends here. Today has been an especially full day.

Right after breakfast some of us went to Medinet Habu, the huge mortuary temple of Ramesses III (r. ca. 1180-1150 B.C.), where we were treated to tours of three separate projects run by Chicago House of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Along the south side of the temple, Frank Helmholz and Johannes Weninger are supervising a large team of stone masons and mud brick experts as they conserve and reconstruct the stone walkway along the temple’s southern wall and some of the mud-brick structures that lay alongside.


The Eastern High Gate at Medinet Habu, seen from in front of the main temple of Ramesses III. To the left is a small Temple of Amun.

Farther west, nearer the great enclosure wall, master conservator Lotfi Hassan is working on the late Ramesside (ca. 1100 B.C.) house of the Necropolis Scribe Butehamun. He showed us how he and his team are carefully distinguishing between the ancient mud brick, the early 20th century reconstructions done by the site’s early excavator, Uvo Hölscher, and the new sections that they are adding now.

Finally, we went to see Jen Kimpton and Keli Alberts at the destroyed Western High Gate. This was once similar to the still-standing Eastern Gate, but was totally destroyed in antiquity. All that remains today are mudbrick structures and scattered blocks of stone. But many of these blocks still bear beautifully carved decoration and traces of their architectural contexts, and Jen and Keli are starting to put this ancient jigsaw puzzle back together on paper and reconstruct some of the original decorative program.


The Malqata team (minus Peter) in front of Stoppelaere House. From left to right: Serenela, Catharine, Diana, Salima, Piet, and Janice

Our next event was the opening of Stoppelaere House, attended by the Minister, Khaled El-Enany, and many of our friends in the antiquities service, This house, which was built in 1951 by the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, has just been restored by Factum Arte / Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation in collaboration with the University of Basel under the supervision of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to use as a training center for the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative Training Centre. This is the group that has, using advanced 3D scanning techniques, made a full-scale replica of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. They have now started their second major project – a complete scan of the Tomb of Seti I, which they will again use to make a replica of the tomb. This copy will be buried underground next to the replicated Tomb of Tutankhamun, so that the original sepulcher will be kept closed and not subjected to the damage created by even the most well-meaning of tourists.

West Bank, Luxor

A view of the excavations at Kom el-Hettan, as seen from the road we travel every day.

We are off now to the East Bank, where we will enjoy some shopping at the souk, and then attend an event celebrating the work of Hourig Sourouzian and her team at Kom el-Hettan, the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. We pass this impressive site every day on our way to Malqata, as it lies just across the road from our hotel. Greeting more friends and colleagues here in Luxor will will be a wonderful conclusion to a full day off.

February 16, 2017


Another Bottle of Beer on the Wall (Part II): Take It Down and Smash It Around

Niv Allon

First, an apology is due. Not for the nerves frayed by suspense from waiting for yesterday’s mystery to be resolved, but rather, if in yesterday’s blog I gave the impression that interpreting an inscription is a straightforward, linear process, I misled you. .



Diana’s field photo again, to remind you . . .


. . .and Diana’s field drawing

Instead, every step brings new questions and possibilities that requires one to revisit previous assumptions and interpretations. As I mentioned yesterday, at first glance, the first sign seemed to be a quite convincing writing of the sound “a” and the second that of an “r.” When I consulted ancient Egyptian dictionaries, however, they offered very few words starting with this combination that would fit this context. A text on shrewmice (arar) would have been greatly appreciated, but seemed unlikely here. This failed attempt at finding a suitable meaning sent me back to the fragment and to a reinterpretation of the first sign as an “s,” as discussed in Part I. Together, the two signs begin a word quite commonly found in Malqata: srmt, “ale;” one of the most common offerings sent to the celebration of Amenhotep III’s Sed-festival.

A similar assumption relates to the relationships between the signs. Seeing the three signs together on one piece of pottery, it is hard not to assume they belong together. Stranded on this small and broken sherd, they almost beg to be read together, either following each other from top to bottom or perhaps even forming one word. Hieratic, however, is mostly written in this period—with the exception of religious texts and a few other genres—in rows and not in columns. The gap dividing the first two signs from the third suggests that the first two are to be read together, while the third is part of its own word. This would mean that more than just one space separates the two signs from the third. A whole line of text ran to the left of the two signs, all of which is now lost, like the rest of the second line of text which followed the third sign.

The third sign itself appears to be partially broken. Its general shape calls to mind a number of signs. Many of these hieratic signs relate to bird hieroglyphs and elaborate on a basic shape.



Bird signs from Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

Unlike the slight curve at the bottom of many of these signs, our third sign ends with a straight descending line, which continues until the break. Most writers pull their reed-pen at the end of signs, creating these small curves, but the writer of this ostracon seems to have done something quite different here. He was probably writing two signs together without raising his pen — like the ligatures, that is two joined letters — found in Möller’s book:



Ligatures from Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)


Unfortunately, none of these offers a happy match. The first, the third, and the fourth ligatures don’t have the upper curve, and the second has almost too many curves. In some examples, its upper part even forms the shape of half a circle. With the lower part of our sign broken, we are left in a difficult position.

The answer comes again from The Met’s jar labels. Looking for possible comparisons to our ligatured sign, I came across a sign in the following jar label:


Jar label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.1516)


Detail from MMA 17.10.1516

With its upper curve and its descending line, this sign resembles our ligature. The sign is in fact a combination of two signs “m” and “r” (m, and r) that write the ancient Egyptian title jm.j-r’ “Overseer,” and the ligature in our pottery fragmentary seems to indicate a similar combination of sounds.

A closer look at our pottery fragment and this jar label (17.10.1516) reveals more than one point of resemblance. Both open with the signs “s” and “r,” writing the word for ale, and both begin their second line with the ligatured signs of “m” and “r.” A second and even a third example from the corpus of jar labels at The Met seem to show a similar inscription:


Jar label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.418)

With these similarities in mind, it is possible to suggest that our pottery fragment once bore a similar inscription, which would have read:

sr[m.t dbH.w]…jm.j-r’

“Ale [(for) offerings] …(by) the Overseer…”

Now, Overseer is hardly a rare title in ancient Egypt and even in Malqata it is well attested in conjunction with various names. Only one Overseer that we know of, however, sent ale to the royal celebrations: an Overseer of a Garrison by the name of Ineni, to whom the abovementioned jar labels belong. Our pottery fragment might very well be a piece of a fourth contribution by Ineni of ale to his king’s festival. This is a particularly exciting identification.

Our inscription would then read:

sr[m.t dbH.w]…jm.j-r’-[jwaa jnnj].

“Ale [(for) offerings] …the Overseer [of the Garrison, Ineni]”

Not much is known about Ineni, except for his evident appreciation of ale. The inscription might suggest, however, one final scrap of information: a date. As William C. Hayes notes in his article dedicated to the jar labels of Malqata, (see Journal of Near Eastern Studies 10, no. 2, 1951, pp. 82-112) more than eighty percent of the jars of ale are associated with Amenhotep III’s first Sed-festival, which he celebrated in the thirtieth year of his reign. None of the jars containing this beverage is associated with the second or third time he celebrated this ritual. If indeed this fragmentary ostracon is to be read as suggested above, then the ostracon recovered two days ago from ancient fill in the Industrial Site, is, in fact not an ostracon but a jar label! Written on the vessel’s exterior, this fragment of inscription indicates it once contained ale, sent by the Overseer of the Garrison, Ineni, in regnal year 30 to his king, Amenhotep III, for the celebration of his first Sed-festival at Malqata.

February 15, 2017


Another Bottle of Beer on the Wall (Part I)

Niv Allon

Over the weekend, Diana sent me a picture of ink marks on a small pottery fragment. Everyone was very excited since this is only the second piece of pottery with an ink inscription that we have found at Malqata.


Diana’s field photo of the ostracon

Although this ostracon might appear too broken and faded to decode, the few fragmentary signs that can be discerned give a clue regarding the vessel to which it once belonged, the contents it once held, and the person who might have sent it. It also provides us with an opportunity to share a bit of the process by which inscriptions of this kind are deciphered.


Diana’s field sketch of the ostracon

Like handwritten inscriptions everywhere, the writing of hieratic signs may vary from one hand to another and from one period to another, depending on styles and trends, as well as the surface on which it is written and the sign’s place in the word. Finding comparable writings from a similar timeframe is therefore essential. These can be found in a book by Georg Möller (Hieratische Paläographie: Die aegyptische Buchschrift in ihrer Entwicklung von der fünften Dynastie), who collected numerous examples of signs and organized them chronologically. Though first published in 1909, this book remains irreplaceable. It only has a limited number of examples from Amenhotep III’s time, but fortunately, the extensive collection of jar labels from Malqata in The Met’s collection provides us with a wealth of handwritten inscriptions contemporaneous with our fragment.

At first it is useful to observe the signs closely and study the manner in which they are produced. Hieratic is always written from right to left, and the first sign (on the top) begins in a curve at the left, turning into long and flat line, and ending with a bigger curve down. Only a few signs carry these characteristics, among which “a” (its hieroglyphic equivalent is ayin) seems very likely.


Sign no. 99 in Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

The sign on our ostracon starts, however, quite awkwardly above the middle of the sign below it. A similar writing appears, in fact, in an inscription on one of the jar labels from our collection (17.10.395), but rather than an “a,” the sign is an s. The sign “s” (bolt) is usually written in a continuous line with two strokes added to the middle of the line:


Sign no. 366 in Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

But the writer of the inscription on the jar seems to have done it differently:


Jar Label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.395)


Detail of 17.10.395

Instead of a continuous line, he divided it into two. It is thus, possible that the writer of our ostracon wrote the sign s (bolt) in a similar manner, but the left part of it was lost along with the rest of the inscription.

The jar label and our ostracon also share the second sign of the inscription. Some hieratic signs closely resemble their equivalent hieroglyphs, but for most part, hieratic developed along its own course, and signs that look very different in hieroglyphs can closely resemble each other in hieratic, and vice versa. The hieroglyphic counterparts of the second sign here might be a mouth (mouth) a hand (hand) or a rope (hobble), whose hieroglyphs are each drawn very differently, but closely resemble each other in hieratic.



Signs nos. 91, 115, 528 in Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)

Of the three, the first choice seems unlikely, but here again our collection of jar labels from Malqata is very useful in providing close comparisons and it is an “r.”



Two examples of “r” from The Met’s collection of jar labels

The final sign is …tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion . . .!

February 14, 2017


A Picture of the Palace?

Peter Lacovara

One of the most interesting places in Luxor is the “Open Air Museum” at Karnak. This is where a number of blocks and even whole temples that were reused in the fill of later structures have been put on display. A recent addition is a famous block that may be a representation of Amenhotep III’s palace at Malqata. This block was found, along with a number of others depicting structures in a desert landscape, underneath the large statue inscribed for the Priest-king Painedjem I in the first court of the Temple of Amun at Karnak. It is thought that these blocks may have come originally from Kom el-Hettan, the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III in Western Thebes.


Block from Karnak possibly depicting Amenhotep III’s palace at Malqata

The block has recently been studied by Aude Gräzer Ohara, who has identified it as a palace at Malqata with a series of paired hills, which she has suggested represent the mounds of the Birket Habu.


Drawing of the block depicting a palace and the Birket Habu mounds

Shown in front of the palace are a corral with cattle, a zoo with antelope, a garden with a square pond, and a vineyard. The palace is shown with a “Window of Appearance,” where the king and queen would appear to a select audience, not unlike the balcony at Buckingham Palace. The window is shown in the upper story of the palace, with columned rooms and storerooms below. Outside stands a buttressed wall and beyond, pens with lions and possibly a food storage facility.


Modern interpretation of Akhenaten and Nefertiti at a Window of Appearance

It is a matter of debate as to whether this is the palace we are working in, an earlier structure, or one somewhere else at Malqata. In any event, it provides an interesting glimpse into how this palace looked in the eyes of contemporary Egyptians.


February 13, 2017


The 2017 Malqata Team

Diana Craig Patch

A successful field season always takes place because a group of people with expertise in excavation, mapping, planning, recording and conserving an archaeological site or the skills to support them comes together as a team. We accomplish our work at Malqata because we support each other in the best way possible to get the job done.


Today we would like to introduce the principal members of the team, shown here. Mohamed, the person on the far left, is our driver. He is a very careful driver and an extremely patient man. Ready early each morning, he gets us to work on time and then drives team members and the SCA inspectors around on the West Bank to carry out different tasks.

Moving to the right, the next person is Janice Kamrin, a colleague of mine at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the excavator of the West Settlement. This is Janice’s third season at Malqata and she is happily excavating an extremely interesting settlement and plugging away at piles of pottery.  She is a whiz at FileMaker and produces all kinds of extremely useful databases to organize our finds.

Behind her is Peter.  He was part of the original team from 2008 when we started surveying Malqata. He has worked in Egypt for over 35 years at many important sites –Abydos, Giza, and Deir el-Ballas– and wrote his dissertation on royal cities, including Malqata. He is recording the architecture of the King’s Palace, which was never recorded in any detail, working with Tony (who unfortunately could not be here this season) on its mudbrick reconstruction, and figuring out the complicated decorative narrative of the palace from tiny pieces of painted mud brick.

I am in front of Peter and he and I are the co-directors of the Joint Expedition to Malqata. I too started with the initial team in 2008 and subsequently worked on rerecording the fragile North Village, the publication of which is underway. Currently I am clearing the Industrial Zone that appears to have been created for the production of glass and faience.

Behind me stands Piet, an architect, surveyor, and talented planner with an impressive career in Egyptian archaeology, although he has worked in many other counties too. This is Piet’s first season at Malqata and he is working with Peter on recording the mud brick architecture of the King’s Palace. He is helping to tie Peter’s line drawings of the mudbrick walls together to create a comprehensive plan.

Catharine stands to my left.  She is another colleague of mine from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who has been part of Malqata from the first season of work.  Catharine is critical to the expedition’s success.  Experienced in the local landscape of Western Thebes where she has worked off and on since 1989, she is interested in the immense causeway at the south end of the site and how it relates to Malqata. She led the team documenting the Amun Temple in 2010, and continues to be the site photographer. She also works with our surveyor, Joel, another original member of the team.

Serenela is new to JEM this year. She is a graduate student at the University of Florida and is here to gain experience in Egyptian archaeology. Serenela is critical to my survival as she is amazing at recording, drawing, and keeping track of all the bags, tags, and objects coming out of the Industrial Zone.

Last, but definitely not least, you see Hassan on the far right. He joined us for JEM’s first season of excavation in 2010. Hassan figures out how to make everything work: hiring workers, getting supplies, making sure people get where they are going and with the right papers or equipment. Just as important to our success is Hassan’s knowledge of excavation. He consults with all the archaeologists and conservators about the work. JEM could not function without Hassan!

Postscript: Tony, our mudbrick conservator, Joel, our surveyor, and Salima, our animal bones guru unfortunately are not in the picture  because their schedules did not allow us all to be together at once.

February 12, 2017


The Sherd Yard

Janice Kamrin

Over the past two years, we have collected bags and bags of pottery from the West Settlement. Proper analysis of this material is essential to our understanding of the site – knowing what type of ceramics we have here, and how much, should tell us a great deal about how the area was used.

West Settlement, pottery

Some of the sherds from 2015 and 2016 laid out for preliminary analysis, with a few more bags in the background

We have done some very preliminary study of the pottery, and the most interesting comes from the floor level, mostly lying along the walls as if it had been discarded there. In many cases, the sherds are mixed with animal bones, now being analyzed by Salima Ikram (see I Wonder What the King is Eating Tonight), sometimes plant remains, and charcoal.

West Settlement: N145/E135

A deposit of pottery and bones along one of the walls in the West Settlement

We don’t have a lot of the really nice blue-painted Palace Ware, as Peter has in the King’s Palace (see Upstairs, Downstairs), and as Diana and Catharine found in the North Village (see Pots). We do have some, and I have to admit that I get excited when we find a sherd of this ware, but we don’t seem to have any complete vessels, and most of it is probably intrusive.


Blue-Painted Ibex Amphora in palace ware from the King’s Palace, from MMA excavations, 1910–11; Rogers Fund, MMA 11.215.460

What we do have are lots of sherds from jars made out of clay from the Nile floodplain (“Nile silt”). These varied in quality and size, and were sometimes given a red or white slip (a type of coating). We also have pieces of many bowls, also of Nile silt and almost always covered inside and out with a red slip. We have already found several bowls that can be almost completely reconstructed, and I suspect we may have more.


Catharine at work sorting sherds in our new Sherd Yard. It looks big, but we will need even more space before we are done!

This year, we will begin the process of analyzing all of this material properly. Catharine and I have laid out a large “sherd yard,” and have started sorting the pottery according to the location in which it was found. We have a young Egyptian ceramicist joining us to help sort and record everything properly, and then 18th Dynasty ceramic expert Pamela Rose will join us toward the end of the season to provide another level of expertise. We are all looking forward to finding out what our pots have to say!

February 11, 2017


Traffic Patterns

Peter Lacovara

Working in the field at Malqata gives us a much better idea of how the community may have been planned and functioned. The published maps and plans do not convey how much the ancient Egyptians used and altered the topography of the site in constructing the Palace-City. For example, people have wondered how the massive harbor, the Birket Habu, was integrated into the site. Unlike the quays and ceremonial harbors at the temples of Medinet Habu and Karnak, the Birket is not centered on any architectural feature. The palaces are situated at the north end of the harbor and there appears to be little on line with what was the symmetrical entrance to the harbor from the Nile. Barry Kemp has suggested that the debris in Site K came from an earlier palace that may have been positioned to the west of mounds B10 and B11, which would have placed it at the median line of the Birket as it is now, but he also suggested this palace was destroyed in a later expansion of the harbor to its present form. In any case, the mounds are regularly spaced with no well-defined route of access to land.


Fig. 1: Route from the Birket Habu to the palace complexes

While this might be surprising when one is thinking of the grand approaches to Egyptian temple and mortuary architecture, it is not if we consider it in the context of domestic architecture. A common feature of both palaces and houses is an off–axis entry, and palaces in particular had long, turning entrance corridors for security. Given this design then, one can easily see the stretch running between the mounds heading north and connecting perpendicular to the wadi between the Palace of the King and the North Palace as an entrance corridor. Even in Amenhotep III’s peaceful reign it was still considered important to restrict access to the royal residence. The two rows of mounds then would have been deliberately designed to produce this feature and were not just simply landscaping, as has been suggested.

The wadi between the palaces directly lines up with the portal known as the West Gate and intersects the ancient road running north-south. This juncture has been remarked upon by David O’Connor as the axes mundi, a term coined by Paul Wheatley in his discussion of ancient Chinese cities, which represent the the cosmos in their layout. This pattern can also be seen at Tell el-Amarna, which may have been following the pattern established by Malqata.


Fig. 2: Route from the Palace complexes to the main road

Although the wadi runs along the north end of the palace, it does not appear to formally connect with it. The main entry would have been through House West 1 (Ho.W.1) that was appended to the entrance corridor at the northwest end of the palace enclosure; there may have been additional conduits to get food and goods to the kitchens and magazines on the east end of the palace complex, but so far, they are not evident.


February 10, 2017


Better Late than Never

Diana Craig Patch

Due to an unforeseen delay — we did not get our security clearance to work at Malqata in January as expected — JEM is late getting into the field this year. When we were offered the chance to start work Thursday (yesterday), we jumped at the chance, but the result was that we had only one day in the field before Friday, the traditional day off in Egypt.


The special Metropolitan Museum of Art bedspreads that our host at The New Memnon, Sayed, had made for us last year. We really feel at home!

We spent the day working on notes (not too many yet), improving the databases where we record the finds, and keeping up through email with other responsibilities.  The New Memnon Hotel, our home away from home, is as welcoming as ever so we work in comfort.  Tomorrow it’s back to the trenches!



February 09, 2017


We’re Here!

Diana Craig Patch, Catharine Roehrig, and Janice Kamrin

Today was our first day in the field. The site is in great shape, although it must have been a wet winter, as there is far more camel thorn this year than last. On the other hand, there mustn’t have been to much wind, because the clean sand that we had laid down to protect the ancient walls is largely in place in the North Village, the West Settlement, the Industrial Zone, and the King’s Palace.


Of course, as has happened most seasons, the first problem was that two hot air balloons landed on the site, in between the mounds of the Birket Habu. As you might remember, these balloons damage the surface of the site. Not only do the baskets get dragged along the ground, but there is also truck and van traffic that passes through the site to collect the passengers and the equipment. This is very worrisome given the fragile nature of the mud brick construction at the site. However, we had strong support from our guards and the local inspectorate, and they have promised that a report will be made.


This year, we have an architect, Piet Collet, working with Peter to integrate the various plans of the mud brick walls in the King’s Palace, and they started that project today.


Over in the West Settlement, Janice laid out a sherd yard in preparation for her analysis of the pottery from last year’s excavations.


Diana returned to the Industrial Zone, where protective sand was removed from the faint remains of a boundary wall, which was then drawn by Serenela Pelier, a graduate student who has joined the team this year. Diana continued work in a square that had been closed after her accident in 2015.


Catharine, meanwhile, did beginning of the season photography and introduced the site to this year’s inspectors.

February 08, 2017

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

Detailed schedule for Finkelstein/Na’aman Honorary Meeting – “From Nomadism to Monarchy?” – March 15-16, 2017

The detailed schedule of the very interesting meeting that will be held at TAU on March 15-16, 2017, had been posted. The meeting, which is in honor of Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, in retrospect of the volumes “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement” and “From Nomadism to Monarchy”.

All told there are fantastic bunch of lectures, covering a broad range of related topics in the two day meeting (including a lecture by yours truly on group identity in Philistia and surrounding regions during the early Iron Age).

Check out the schedule – and do try to make it. It should be VERY interesting!!!



February 05, 2017

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

New Miqne-Ekron report

Today I received a copy of the new report on the excavations at Tel Miqne-Ekron (Dothan, T., Garfinkel, Y., and Gitin, S. 2016. Tel Miqne-Ekron Field IV Lower: The Elite Zone, The Iron Age I and IIC, The Early and Late Philistine Cities. Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Semitic Museum). Much thanks for Sy Gitin to sending me this very important publication!

While I will have to read through this carefully, it is clear that this is an extremely important archaeological publication, which will provide excellent basic data, and very interesting discussions, on the main area of Iron I and early Iron IIA excavations at this important site!

Definitely a very important development in the study of Philistia and the Philistines!


February 04, 2017

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

Trip to Sicily

At the end of this coming week, I will be traveling to Sicily, as a representative of Bar-Ilan University, for a visit organized by the Sicilian Jewish Community.

During the visit, I will be presenting a few lectures. This will include a lecture on the archaeology of Jerusalem (in Noto, on Monday, Feb. 13th, 2017; see notice below), and a lecture at the University of Catania on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath (on Tuesday, Feb. 14th, 2017).

So, if you happen to be in the neighborhood – it would be great to see you!



February 02, 2017

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

Brent Davis on the Philistine Language(s)

Brent Davis, long-time Safi core-staff member, has written a very nice short piece for ASOR blog, on what we know about the language(s) of the Philistines.

Check it out – very nice!


January 20, 2017

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

Hazael destructions workshop – Jan. 19, 2017

As mentioned previously, on Thursday, Jan. 19th, 2017, the first workshop of 2017 for of the RIAB Minerva Center, was held at BIU, and the topic was discussions of sites with possible remains of a Hazael-related destruction, and sites of similar chronological/regional sequences. This included papers on Tell es-Safi/Gath, Gezer, Tel Hamid, Aphek and Jerusalem.

In the 2nd part of the day, a workshop in which pottery from Tell es-Safi/Gath and Gezer were displayed and discussed.

One the things that clearly could be seen from the discussions is that very distinct “micro-regionality” can be seen at sites from the 9th and early 8th cent. BCE in the Shephelah, Philistia and the southern parts of the Israelite (northern) Kingdom, and it may very well be that pottery types that are often seen as indicative of this or that chronological phase, may appear at earlier or later phases at different sites. Similarly, sites which are very close to one another, have very distinct differences in more or less the same chronological horizon.

What is clear from this day was that more research and joint discussions and workshops are needed. We have to have additional ones in the future.

The lectures in the first part were filmed live, using “Facebook Live” – which turns out is an excellent method to live stream an entire series of lectures and discussions, for those who could not be at the workshop.

And here are some pictures from the pottery workshop, with discussions on the Gezer and Tell es-Safi/Gath materials.

img_6498 img_6495 img_6494 img_6493

January 19, 2017

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

ASOR Scholarships Available

Every year, ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) makes several scholarships available for anyone interested in joining an archaeological project (ASOR membership is required to apply). The deadline for applying for these scholarships is February 15.



January 17, 2017

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

Lunch at Safi lecture – on Facebook Live!

Check it out. My short lecture today on Genetics and Isotopes at Tell es-Safi/Gath, as part of the 2nd “Lunch at Safi” meeting, was shown on Facebook Live! For those who missed it (and understand Hebrew…), check it out!


January 15, 2017

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

Workshop on the Hazael Campaign in the “South” – BIU, Thursday, Jan. 19th, 2017

The first workshop for the 2016/2017 academic year of the Minerva Center for the Relations between Israel and Aram in Biblical Times (RIAB), will be held this Thursday (January 19th, 2017) at Bar-Ilan University.

The workshop will deal with the archaeological evidence of the Hazael campaign to the south of the Land of Israel/Canaan, both from sites with direct evidence of this, sites with possible evidence of this, and sites from the same time period.

The title of the workshop is:

”And Hazael set his face to go up to Jerusalem”: Following Hazael’s Campaign to the South – An Archaeological Perspective

The workshop will start with short lectures about the relevant levels and finds from the five sites that will be discussed (Tell es-Safi/Gath, Gezer, Aphek/Antipatris, Jerusalem and Qubur el-Walayda).

Following lunch, a hands-on workshop with pottery from these sites will be presented, in which the participants will be able to see, touch, and discuss representative pottery from the relevant assemblages.

If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr. Amit Dagan or Dr. Omer Sergi, the organizers.

Here is the full invitation and schedule: riab-hazael-workshop_biu-jan-19-2017

Should be very interesting!



January 12, 2017

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

Upcoming meeting: From Nomadism to Monarchy? “The Archaeology of the Settlement Period”– 30 Years Later (March 15-16, 2017)

Heads up for a very interesting meeting that will be held at Tel Aviv University on March 15-16, 2017.

To mark almost 30 years since the publication of the Hebrew edition of the landmark volume, edited by N. Na’aman and I. Finkelstein, “From Nomadism to Monarchy” (Jerusalem: IES; Hebrew edition 1990; English edition 1992), the Annual Aharoni Memorial Conference will be devoted to reassessing this volume after some 3 decades of research.

The two day conference will include lectures by a long list of leading scholars who will deal with related issues, aiming to present reassessments and new perspectives on various topics relating, directly or indirectly, to the appearance and development of the Israelite and Judahite cultures in the Iron Age.

I am very fortunate to have been invited to participate as well. I will be giving a paper: “Like Frogs out of a Pond: Identity Formation in Early Iron Age Philistia and Beyond” – in which I will discuss some issues relating to how the different groups in early Iron Age southern Canaan formed and defined their identities, and how these can, and cannot, be seen archaeologically.

Below is the complete schedule for the day (thanks to Ido Koch for this – and here is a pdf version of it – from-nomadism-to-monarchy-march-2017-program):


from-nomadism-to-monarchy-march-2017-program_page_1 from-nomadism-to-monarchy-march-2017-program_page_2 from-nomadism-to-monarchy-march-2017-program_page_3 from-nomadism-to-monarchy-march-2017-program_page_4
















Should be very interesting!


January 03, 2017

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

New article on the Sea Peoples, the Mediterranean, and “Pulp Fiction”

A new article (see here for the PDF), by Louise Hitchcock and yours truly has appeared in the Festschrift in honor of Robert Laffineur.

In this paper, we discuss some of the misconceptions that have become entrenched in the study of the Sea Peoples and the Philistines and their supposed relationship with the Myceneaen culture.

The full title is:

Hitchcock, L. A., and Maeir, A. M. 2016 Pulp Fiction: The Sea Peoples and the Study of ‘Mycenaean’ Archaeology in Philistia. Pp. 145–55 in RA-PI-NE-U. Studies on the Mycenaean World Offered to Robert Laffineur for His 70th Birthday, ed. J. Driessen. AEGIS (Aegean Interdisciplinary Studies) 10. Louvain: Presses Univesitaires de Louvain.

January 02, 2017

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

Visit with Dr. T. Potts to Safi

Today, I had the honor and pleasure of touring Tell es-Safi/Gath with Dr. Timothy Potts, director of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Tim, by training is an archaeologist, so we had some very interesting discussions during the day.

The site itself, and the surrounding landscape was astoundingly beautiful – and the weather was extraordinary – so all in all it was a great day!

And from what I saw, no major weather damage to the different areas so far…


December 29, 2016

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

2nd meeting of “Lunch at Safi” – 17/1/17 – “מפגש שני של “צהריים בצפית

צהריים בצפית” – נפגשים לסנדוויץ’ ורעיון”

הסטודנטים והמרצים מהמח’ ללימודי א”י וארכיאולוגיה מוזמנים

“למפגש השני של “צהריים בצפית

 ביום ג’, ה-17.1.17, בשעה 13:30

(נושא המפגש: (שיוצג בידי פרופ’ אהרן מאיר

?מה הגנטיקה והאיזוטופים מלמדים אותנו על העבר של תל צפית

בואו עם סנדוויץ’ (או כל אוכל אחר) – ואנו נספק את הקפה/תה

ההתכנסות ב-13:30 – ההרצאה תחל ב-13:37, ותימשך עד 13:52, וכך תוכלו להספיק להגיע לשיעורים שמתחילים ב-14:00

!מצפים לראותכם! כולכם מוזמנים

צוות חפירות תל צפית

And a brief English translation:

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, the 2nd “Lunch at Safi” will be held. Students and faculty of the Dept. of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology are invited at 13:30 a brief talk, given by A. Maeir, on “What genetics and isotopes tell us about the past at Tell es-Safi/Gath”

Safi on the list of “Best Archaeological Finds in Israel in 2016”

A list of the “best archaeological finds in Israel in 2016” was just published, and our excavations at Safi have made the list!

Personally, the finds that are in the list don’t represent exactly what I would see as the 10 most important finds in Israel in 2016 – but since Safi is included – I’ll forgive them…

And what of finds were chosen? The EB donkey burials and that we have an Egyptian donkey – which in fact relates to a study published in 2016 on finds from earlier seasons – even if we did find 3 additional donkey burials in the 2016 season…

HT to Haskel for the link!

December 28, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Happy New Year! and Dig Scholarship Opportunity

Happy New Year to our readers, followers, past participants, staff, etc.!

2016 was a great year in the areas of field work (great volunteers), lab (new lab at Ariel University), funding (ISF – Israel Science Foundation grant for 3 years), and publications. We look forward to 2017 for another fruitful season of research. Happy New Year!

We would also like to point you to another dig scholarship opportunity – Jane C. Waldbaum Archaeological Field School Scholarship through the Archaeological Institute of America.

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

Entries in “The 5 Minute Archaeologist in the Southern Levant”

As mentioned previously, Cynthia Shafer-Elliott has edited a very nice volume – “The 5 Minute Archaeologist in the Southern Levant” (Equinox, 2016) in which a big group of practicing archaeologists in the near east (of which an enormous percentage are past or present Safi team members…), briefly introduce key topics in archaeology.

I wrote chapters on “What is Archaeology?“, “How are Sites Chosen?” and “Why Not Dig a Whole Site?

Check them out!


December 27, 2016

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

Link to our new paper in the Sass Fs – discussing the supposed “Canaanite Enclave” in the Iron I Shephelah

As mentioned previously, a new paper by me and Louise just appeared in the Festschrift in honor of Beni Sass (for a PDF, go here).

In this paper, Louise and I discuss, somewhat critically, suggestions that there was a definable “Canaanite enclave” in the Shephelah, during the Iron I, in between the Philistine and Israelite cultural zones.

The full title of the paper is:

Maeir, A. M. and Hitchcock, L. A.. 2016. “And the Canaanite Was Then in the Land”? A Critical View on the “Canaanite Enclave” in Iron I Southern Canaan. Pp. 209–26 in Alphabets, Texts and Artefacts in the Ancient Near East: Studies Presented to Benjamin Sass, eds. I. Finkelstein, C. Robin and T. Romer. Paris: Van Dieren.



December 24, 2016

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

Holiday Season Present from the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project!

Following up on Eric Welch’s suggestion that a great present for the holiday season would be to pay for a relative’s or friend’s participation in the 2017 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath, the Safi project has been caught up in the holiday season spirit, and is offering a present as well.

So,  in the spirit of the holiday season, the Tell es-Safi/Gath Project will offer the following reduction for anyone who registers and pays for the 2017 season before Jan. 15th:

You will receive a $25 (twenty five US dollars) reduction on the total payment.

Please note: if you do decide to take us up on the holiday offer, please send me an email specifying this, once you register and send payment information.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and a great New Year to you all!


December 22, 2016

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

Richard Walsh recreates Philistine vessels

Richard Walsh, who is an accomplished potter from Australia, was a Safi team member in the 2013 season, and is planning to join the team this coming summer (2017) once again.

Richard has sent me photos of several vessels that he produced that are  replicas of various vessels from Iron Age Philistia. This includes three Iron I deep bowls, an Iron I “spoon flask”, and an Iron IIA decorated chalice!

See below – these are truly impressive creations!


richard-walsh-vessels-2 richard-walsh-vessels-3 richard-walsh-vessels

Aargh! Another pirate paper for ya, Matey!

Louise and I have a new paper on the Philistines/Sea Peoples as pirates out (that is the proofs…).  See the link here.

The full title is:

Hitchcock, L. A., and Maeir, A. M. 2017. Fifteen Men on a Dead Seren’s Chest: Yo Ho Ho and a Krater of Wine. Pp. 147–59 in Context and Connection: Essays on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honour of Antonio Sagona, eds. A. Batmaz, G. Bedianashvili, A. Michalewicz and A. Robinson. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta. Leuven: Peeters.

Check it out!



December 21, 2016

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

Fs for Benny Sass

Last night (20/12/16) a party was held in honor of the publication of the Festschrift in honor of Benny Sass (on the occasion of his retirement from TAU).

Benny was presented the volume by many of the contributors and friends.

The volume is:

Finkelstein, C. Robin, T. Römer eds. Alphabets, Texts and Artefacts in the Ancient Near East, Studies Presented to Benjamin Sass. Paris: Van Dieren.

Among the many papers, Louise and I have a paper as well, which I hope to post about in the very near future.


Kudos to Dr. Chris McKinny!

Kudos, congratulations, mazal tov and mabruk to Dr. Chris McKinny who, as of yesterday, officially has a PhD!!

The Title of his PhD dissertation is:

McKinny, C. 2016 Dissertation – A Historical Geography of the Administrative Division of Judah, Bar Ilan University

So, if any you should ever need emergency treatment for your administrative division – there is now a doctor who can take care of it at a moment’s notice!


Well done Chris!



December 20, 2016

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

Pirates in the Lab! First “Lunch at Safi: A sandwich with an idea” presentation

As mentioned previously, today we had the first meeting of what we hope we will conduct once a month – “Lunch at Safi: A sandwich with an idea”.

The meeting is an informal get together in the lab, to which all students and staff from the BIU department are invited. At the meeting, in addition bringing their own sandwiches and getting a cup of coffee from us, the basic idea is for the participants to hear a short presentation on one of the topics that has been researched recently as part of the project activities.

This time, I have a short talk on the ideas that Louise Hitchcock and me have been writing about recently – the suggestion that some of the Philistines (and other “Sea Peoples”) may have pirate-like characteristics.

Each time we will choose another topic – looking forward to this.

Here’s a few pictures from the meeting:

pirates-in-the-lab_3 pirates-in-the-lab_2 pirates-in-the-lab_1

December 19, 2016

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

New article on archaeological evidence of Arameans in the Southern Levant

An article of mine (see here a link to a proofs of the article, as the final one is under copyright) has just appeared that deals with archaeological evidence of the Arameans in the Iron Age II Southern Levant, covering various sites – including Tell es-Safi/Gath.

The full title of the article is:

Maeir, A. M. 2016. The Aramaean Involvement in the Southern Levant: Case Studies for Identifying the Archaeological Evidence. Pp. 79–87 in In Search of Aram and Israel: Politics, Culture and Identity, eds. O. Sergi, M. Oeming and I. J. de-Hulster. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck.

The paper was published as part of a very nice volume, edited by Omer Sergi et al., in which a very nice collection of papers relating to the relations between Israel and Aram in biblical times were collected, based for the most part on a conference on the topic that was held in Heidelberg some two years ago.

December 17, 2016

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

Amalee Bowen (Safi 2016) is trying for a National Geographic assignment!

Amalee Bowen, who was on the 2016 team at Safi, is competing for a National Geographic Society assignment.

Go to the link, watch the nice clip about her, and press the like “star” at the bottom of the video!

Way to go Amalee!


Article in “Popular Archaeology” on the Safi excavations

A short and very nice article on the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, and in particular, on the finds and fortifications in the lower city, has appeared in the journal “Popular Archaeology“. Apparently, it was published more than a year ago, but – better late them never in noticing it!

In it, both Eric Welch and I are quoted.

Check it out – very nice!


HT – Eric Welch

December 14, 2016

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

French article on the Philistines in Les Cahiers Science & Vie

A nice semi-popular article on the Philistines has appeared in the French journal Les Cahiers Science & Vie, which is sort of a French version of Scientific American.

The article, written by Jean-Francois Mondot, gives an overview of current research on the Philistines. As I was extensively interviewed (by email) for the article, I’m quoted throughout.

Check it out – mondot_en-question_philistins_les-cahiers-science-et-vie_2016


The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Dig Scholarships

If you are thinking of joining our project this summer – you should be aware of a number of available scholarships – we have compiled a list of these scholarships here.

Along those lines – the BAS Scholarship was just posted — Good luck!


December 13, 2016

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

Registration for the 2017 season!

For those of you who have been waiting to start registering for the coming season at Tell es-Safi/Gath (July 2nd to 28th, 2017), good news! The registration will officially be opened at the end of this week!

So, all of those interested in joining our team, for another fun-filled and find-filled season of exploration, discovery and lifelong memories – this is your chance!

Just surf to the registration page – and the rest you will tell your family, friends, and eventually grandkids, in the years to come!

See you in the summer,


BAS 2016 Scholarship Recipients Reports – with 3 Safi team members!

The Biblical Archaeology Society has posted the annual collection of reports by the recipients of the Dig Scholarships. And very nicely, three members of the Safi 2016 team, , Michael Aschliemann, Kasey Nicol Shell and Diona Southcott, who were received the scholarships, have their say!

Check it out – and for those thinking of joining the team this summer – do apply for the 2017 scholarships!


December 09, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Restored Late Bronze Vessels

Check out the recently restored, but “ancient-ly” made (c. 3200 years ago to be exact), Late Bronze Age vessels from Area B1 at Tel Burna. Leah has been hard at work in our new lab putting these back together. The top shelf shows several examples of the goblets and chalices, which were found in high quantities on the bedrock courtyard, as well as the Cypriot tankard. Very cool! Of course – the best part is being the one to find these in the field – which you could do by simply signing up for this upcoming season – right here 🙂

img_6004-2Late Bronze Vessels from Temple in Area B1

December 07, 2016

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

Chongqing University delegation in the lab!

Yesterday, we had the honor to host a high level delegation from Chongqing University during their visit to BIU. I presented to them about the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath and about potential programs in archaeology (especially the summer excavations at Safi) in which students from their university could join.

Needless to say, the discussions and questions were very interesting – and indicated the big potential for programs to be developed between our two institutions. And hopefully, in the future, some of our team will be from Chongqing!

Here’s a picture of the visit:


Monthly meeting for “lunch and an idea” in the project lab

As of this month, we will commence having a monthly meeting in the project lab, in which, over lunch (that everyone brings on their own), a short presentation of an “idea” – some topic which is currently being dealt with in the project related research projects, will be discussed.

The first meeting will be on Tuesday, Dec. 20th, 2016, in which I will talk about the idea of the Philistines as pirates.

See the full Hebrew notice below:

“צהריים בצפית” – נפגשים לסנדוויץ’ ורעיון

הזמנה לקהל הסטודנטים והמרצים מהמחלקה ללימודי א”י וארכיאולוגיה, “לתבל לכם” את ארוחת הצהריים.

 נשמח לארח אתכם, פעם בחודש, במעבדת חפירות תל צפית/גת (במרתף בניין הפקולטה מדעי היהדות). המפגשים יתקיימו בימי ג’, בהפסקה בשיעורים, בין 13:30 ל-14:00.

בכל מפגש, אחד (או אחת) מצוות חפירות תל צפית (וחוקרים וחוקרות הקשורים לחפירה) יציג בקצרה ובאופן חוויתי “רעיון” (לא יותר מ-15 דקות) – אודות אחד ממגוון נושאי המחקר שבהם אנו עוסקים – בזמן שאתם נהנים מארוחת הצהריים שלכם!

מה דרוש? בואו עם סנדוויץ’ (או כל אוכל אחר) – ואנו נספק את הקפה/תה – והחוויה!

  • התכנסות ב-13:30 – ההרצאה תחל ב-13:37, ותמשך עד 13:52, כך תוכלו להספיק להגיע לשיעור אשר מתחיל ב-14:00

המפגש הראשון יהיה ביום ג’, ה-20.12.16

פרופ’ אהרן מאיר יציג את הרעיון:

האם הפלישתים היו פיראטים?

מצפים לראותכם! כולכם מוזמנים!

צוות חפירות תל צפית


December 06, 2016

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

re: New article by Louise Hitchcock on transitions between periods

Louise has brought to my attention a new article of hers that was just published that deals with the issue of how to define a transition between culture, periods, etc.

In particular, she discusses the LB/Iron Age transition in the eastern Mediterranean, with emphasis on issues relating to the Philistines.

The full title is:

Hitchcock, L. A. 2016. “What Does a Transition Mean?,” in P. Armstrong and J. Emerling (eds) Festschrift for Donald Preziosi. Journal of Art Historiography 15 (2016) 1-6.

Check it out – very nice!

December 05, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

2017 Registration Officially Open!

We are pleased to announce that the registration for the 2017 Season of Tel Burna (season number 8!) is officially open, and you can sign up at this link 2017_information_registration_package. You can also use our online application here.

In this upcoming season – we plan to reach into the 9th century BCE layers (and perhaps earlier) in Area A2, hopefully solve some of the riddles in the middle of our SIXTY-FIVE METER LONG(!) trench connecting Areas B1 and B2, clarify a few more details concerning the Late Bronze Age temple in Area B1, and continue to find lots of agricultural installations in Area C. All told, it should be a great season with lots of fascinating finds – come and see for yourself!



December 04, 2016

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

New paper on ground stone objects from EB Safi

A new paper on the ground stone objects from Early Bronze Age Tell es-Safi/Gath has just appeared (see link here)!

The paper, spearheaded by Jeremy Beller (originally part of his MA dissertation at the Univ. of Manitoba), deals with the “life history” of basalt ground stone objects from the Early Bronze Age III levels in Area E.

The full title is:

Beller, J. A., Greenfield, H. J., Shai, I., and Maeir, A. M. 2016. The Life-History of Basalt Ground Stone Artefacts from Early Urban Contexts: A View from the EB III of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. Journal of Lithic Studies 3(3).

And here is the abstract:

Recent archaeological excavations at the early urban settlement of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel present the opportunity to reconstruct the life-history of basalt ground stone artefacts of an early urban domestic neighbourhood. Tell es-Safi/Gath is a multi-period site located on the border between the Judean foothills and the southern coastal plain of central Israel. Survey and excavations over the last two decades demonstrated that it was a major urban centre for the region during the Early Bronze Age (EBA) III. At the eastern end of the site, a neighbourhood of commoner residences (some perhaps associated with mercantile activities) have been exposed. This paper describes and analyses the basalt ground stone tools found in association with this domestic neighbourhood. It seeks to establish the nature of production, distribution, consumption, and discard associated with ground stone tools within a domestic context. The study involved several forms of analysis including typology, macroscopic observations, and excavation data. It is suggested that basalt sources from the northeastern regions of the southern Levant were exploited for the small-scale production of basalt artefacts by nonspecialised craftsmen. These commodities were then transported in more or less finished form to Tell es-Safi/Gath where they were further redistributed or sold to the settlement residents. The residents of the Tell es-Safi/Gath neighbourhood utilised the basalt artefacts for traditionally domestic tasks, and ultimately intentionally discarded or recycled them in a few depositional contexts. In summary, this paper presents a unique investigation into the life-history of basalt ground stone artefacts discovered in the EB III occupation levels of Tell es-Safi/Gath. It further demonstrates the potential of ground stone tools for understanding the behaviour and daily life of non-elite people.

Check it out!



Workshop on Hazael Destructions – Jan. 19, 2017

Please reserve the date for an upcoming workshop (for researchers and graduate students in the field), the first of the RIAB Minerva Center for this academic year, which will be held at BIU on Thursday, Jan. 19th, 2017.

The workshop, organized by Dr. Amit Dagan and Dr. Omer Sergey, will deal with sites in southern Israel at which there is possible evidence of a “Hazael destruction” – as well as some more or less contemporaneous sites. The workshop will include short presentations about the various sites and then a hands-on “table-top” presentation of ceramic assemblages from the relevant sites.

More details will be posted in the future. In the meantime – save the day!

November 28, 2016

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

Delegation of All-China Youth Federation visits the lab

Today, we hosted a delegation of the “All-China Youth Federation” in the lab, coordinated by Dr. Danielle Gurevitch, of BIU. The All-China Youth Federation is a government organization that coordinates most of the foreign programs and activities of Chinese students outside of China.

During the visit, I explained to them about the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath and showed and explained to them about some of the finds. In addition, we discussed the possibility of having Chinese students join us in the dig (and also the possibility of Israeli students participating in archaeological excavations in China!).

Here’s a few pictures of the visit:

2016-11-28-photo-00000033 img_6326 img_6325


New article on Philistine names

A new article dealing with Philistine names and terms, jointly written by Aren, Brent and Louise, has just appeared!

See here a link to the final proofs of the article (as I do not have permission to post the final version)

The full title is:

Maeir, A. M., Davis, B., and Hitchcock, L. A. 2016. Philistine Names and Terms Once Again: A Recent Perspective. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage 4(4): 321–40.

And here is the abstract:

In the last decade or so, new data and interpretations on the onomastics of Iron Age Philistia have appeared.In this article, we review, discuss, and suggest some insights regarding some of these Philistine personal names (e.g., Goliath), names of deities (e.g., PTGYH), and terms (e.g., seren). We assess them from linguistic, cultural, anthropological, and historical points of view. We then propose how they can be understood within the wider socio-cultural context(s) of Iron Age Philistia specifically and the wider eastern Mediterranean in general, and how they can be incorporated into efforts to understand the origins, development, and transformation of the Philistines and their culture(s).

November 15, 2016

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

Article on the EB in the Shephelah by Ayelet Levy

Dr. Ayelet Levy, who was on a Safi team back in the first years of the project, and wrote her PhD under my supervision on the Early Bronze settlement in the Judean Shephelah (foothills), has just published an article (in Hebrew) that summarizes the main points of her dissertation.

The title of the article is:

Levy, A. 2016. Settlement Processes during the Early Bronze Age in the Judean Shephelah. Cathedra 161:37-7 (in Hebrew with English abstract).

Congratulations to Ayelet!


November 14, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Tel Burna Team at ASOR and SBL

Next week, many of our team will be presenting at the ASOR and SBL meetings in San Antonio. These lectures including some very interesting discussions related to our excavations at Burna in the last few seasons, as well as some non-Burna related research. Here is a list of papers that will be presented by the Burna Team.

Archaeology and Biblical Studies I – 11/17/2016

9:05 Chris McKinny, (Bar-Ilan University), “Struck Down for Error: A Discussion of Two Early Iron Age Israelite Temples and Their Possible Connection to the Movements of the Ark of Covenant in Samuel” (15 min.)

Archaeology of the Southern Levant – 11/18/2016

10:40 Casey Sharp (University of Haifa), “In the Shadow of Tel Nami: A Newly Examined MB IIA Settlement on the Carmel Coast” (20 min.)

ASOR – Archaeology of the Southern Levant – 11/18/2016

11:25 – Itzhaq Shai (Ariel University), Chris McKinny (Bar-Ilan University), Matthew Spigelman (Independent Scholar), Avshalom Karasik (Israel Antiquities Authority), David Ben-Shlomo (Ariel University), Dvory Namdar (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Joe Uziel (Israel Antiquities Authority), “Two Cypriot Pithoi from Late Bronze Age Tel Burna” (15 min) 

ASOR – The Archaeology of Feasting and Foodways – 11/18/2016

11:55 Tina Greenfield (University of Manitoba), “Late Bronze Age Feasting in Canaan: A View from Tel Burna” (20 min.)

ASOR – Methods of Historiography in the Study of Ancient Israel and the Levant—Joint Session with SBL – 11/19/2016 8:20-10:25

Co-chaired by Matthew Suriano along with Lauren Monroe

SBL  – Archaeology of the Biblical World 11/20/2016 –  1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Itzick Shai, Ariel University Center of Samaria
New Insights on the Iron IIB in the Shephelah: A View from Tel Burna (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Go Team! 🙂

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

Safi posters at the ASOR meeting

In addition to the Safi-related lectures to be presented at the ASOR meeting in San Antonio this coming week (see here), three posters on Safi-related research are being presented.

See below *.jpg versions of the posters:

A poster by Tina Greenfield et al. on the spatial analysis of the Early Bronze Age neighborhood in Area E (see here for the pdf version):








A poster on analysis of “heavy fraction” from the flotation of sediments, by Annie Brown et al.






And a poster on the stratigraphic sequence in Area F, by Jillian Mather et al. (see here for the pdf):







All very nice!!!




November 11, 2016

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

Safi related lectures at ASOR and SBL

For those of you who will be at the ASOR and SBL meetings next week in San Antonio, here is a list of presentations that are either directly related to the Safi project, or given by people that are, or have been, involved in the Safi project:

Safi-related talks (and by Safi-related people) at the ASOR meeting (San Antonio, Nov. 16-19, 2016 – for full program – see here)

Thursday, Nov. 17th, 2016:

Session: 1D. Archaeology of Israel I, San Antonio Ballroom D & E

9:45 Aren Maeir (Bar-Ilan University), “Excavation Results at Tell es-Safi/Gath and their Implications: An Update for the 2015 and 2016 Seasons” (15 min.)

Session: Archaeology and Biblical Studies I

9:05 Chris Mckinny: “Struck Down for Error”: A Discussion of Two Early Iron Age Israelite Temples and Their Possible Connection to the Movements of the Ark of Covenant in Samuel

Session: 1H. Art Historical Approaches to the Near East I, San Antonio Ballroom I

9:25 Linda Meiberg (University of Pennsylvania), “Decorative Motifs on Philistine Pottery and Their Cretan Connections” (25 min.)

Session 2E. History of Archaeology, San Antonio Ballroom F

11:10   Christina Olson (East Carolina University), “Lost Among Treasures: An Analysis of Forgotten Pots in the Albright Attic” (25 min.)


Session 3D. Archaeology of the Near East: Bronze and Iron Ages I

2:00     Haskel Greenfield (University of Manitoba), “The Early Bronze Age Domestic Neighborhood at Tell es- Safi/Gath, Israel: An Update on Recent Research” (15 min.)

2:20     Shira Albaz (Bar-Ilan University), “Foundation Deposit as Domestic Ritual in EB III at Tell es-Safi/Gath” (15 min.)

3:20     Josephine Verduci (University of Melbourne), “Metal Jewelry of the Southern Levant and its Western Neighbors: Surprising Results Concerning Cross-Cultural Influences during the Early Iron Age” (15 min.)

3:40     Jeffrey Chadwick (Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center), “The 54 cm Canaanite Cubit in Bronze Age Canaan and Iron Age Israel, Judah, and Philistia” (15 min.)

Session 3G. Material Culture and Identities in the Eastern Mediterranean III, San Antonio Ballroom H

3:15 Louise Hitchcock (University of Melbourne) & Aren M. Maeir (Bar-Ilan University), “Pulp Fiction or Tangible Connections?” (20 min.)

Friday, Nov. 18th, 2016:

Session 6A. Object Biography for Archaeologists III, San Antonio Ballroom A

11:15 Brent Davis, A Temple Foundation Peg

Session 6B. The Archaeology of Feasting and Foodways, San Antonio Ballroom B

11:30 Elizabeth Arnold (Grand Valley State University), “Animal Production Over- Consumption? How Stable Isotopes of Animal Remains Can Address These Questions” (20 min.)

11:55 Tina Greenfield (University of Manitoba), “Late Bronze Age Feasting in Canaan: A View from Tel Burna” (20 min.)

Session 6E. Archaeology of the Southern Levant, San Antonio Ballroom F

11:05 Itzhaq Shai (Ariel University), “Two Cypriot Pithoi from Late Bronze Age Tel Burna” (20 min.)


Safi-related talks at the SBL Meeting (San Antonio, Nov. 19-23, 2016 – for a search engine of full schedule, see here)

Saturday, Nov. 20th, 2016:

Session: Wisdom of the Ages, 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM, Theme: The Rise of Israel: Historical Theory and Practice in the First and Second Temple Periods in honor of Lester Grabbe

Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University, Respondent (15 min)


Sunday, Nov. 21st, 2016:

Session Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology, 9:00 AM to 11:15 AM, Theme: History and Memory

Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University, Keys to the past? Archaeological Correlates of Social and Cultural Memory from the Ancient Levant (20 min)

Session: Archaeology of the Biblical World, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: 217A (2nd Level – West) – Convention Center (CC), Theme: New Insights on the Iron Age IIB in the Shephelah (Eric Welch, University of Kansas – Lawrence, Presiding)
Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University, New Insights on the Iron IIB in the Shephelah: The View from Tel es-Safi/Gath (20 min)
Itzick Shai, Ariel University Center of Samaria, New Insights on the Iron IIB in the Shephelah: A View from Tel Burna (20 min)
Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, William Jessup University, Insights on the Iron IIB from Tel Halif: Household Archaeology on the Shephelah’s Periphery (20 min)

My thoughts on the UNESCO decision regarding Jerusalem

“Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women”?  Is UNESCO Fulfilling its Constitution?

Aren M. Maeir

The lofty goals of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as defined in its constitution are: “… to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations”, or as succinctly summarized on the UNESCO website – “Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women.”

But are these goals being attained? And is UNESCO acting in a manner that will build peace for men and women?

The recent, and much debated, UNESCO decision regarding cultural heritage in Jerusalem, Gaza and Hebron, seems to indicate otherwise. The decision, which was crafted by various Arab states, accepts the Arab/Palestinian narrative on a broad range of issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular, on issues regarding the historical and cultural heritage significance of the most important site in Jerusalem – the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif. This location is holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam (which is stated briefly in the beginning of the UNESCO text), but throughout the extended discussion in this decision about this site, including various factually false claims of Israeli mis-doings, it is never called the “Temple Mount” (as Jews call it) but only “Haram esh-Sharif (as Muslims do). In addition, when referring to the “Western Wall” – currently the most important religious site for most Jews, this site is referred to as the “El Buraq Plaza” (the Muslim term for this area) – with the term “Western Wall” appearing only with quotation marks.

This, and other points, in this decision, point to an extremely one-sided approach to the contentious issues at hand, issues relating to probably the most complex issue, in a region wrought with complexities. The across-the-board condemnation of this decision by just about all Israelis – including by groups such as “Emek Shaveh” that are usually very critical of Israeli activities in east Jerusalem – is particularly telling.

But more so, this is unfortunate, and so nonconstructive, to the prospects of building, sustaining and hoping for a peace process, especially coming from an organization that professes to “build peace for men and women.”

Such an organization, with such lofty and admirable aims, must exercise a much more level-headed approach when dealing with a complex and contested narrative. The very fact that the recent UNESCO decision is seen as very one sided by most Israelis, creates a situation where the average Israeli will feel that the UN (or other international institutions) are not “fair brokers.” If the UN, and UNESCO, aim to have a potentially constructive role in moving the Middle East, and Israelis and Palestinians, towards a process of rapprochement and peace, this is not the way.

Without a doubt, over more than a century, archaeology has been used and misused for political purposes, in the Middle East in general and Israel/Palestine in particular. Already in the 19th cent., the archaeological expeditions of various European colonial powers in the Middle East were a reflection of this, in which archaeology was but a thin camouflage for colonial intentions. And since then, in some cases until this very day, the various national ideologies and subsequent nation states (such as Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) have used and/or misused the archaeological remains to push their national agendas.

As an Israeli archaeologist it is clear to me that archaeology was, and is, a central part of the Zionist ideological narrative, and very often, the Jewish historical roots in Israel/Palestine were accentuated, at times exaggerated, and occasionally, done so at the expense of other historical narratives. This situation continued during the first decades of the State of Israel and many examples abound. Nevertheless, despite claims to the contrary, throughout the history of modern Israel/Palestine, archaeologists (including Israelis) have excavated, researched, published and developed archaeological remains relating to a broad range of cultures, periods and heritage narratives.

An excellent example of this can be seen in Jerusalem itself, where a previously unknown, important phase in the history of Jerusalem, during the early Islamic Period was revealed by Israeli archaeologists working just outside the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif, with the discovery of a previously unknown series of palaces of the Umayyad caliphs (ca. 8th century CE).

Nowadays, most Israeli archaeologists have chosen to have a much more inclusive approach to the archaeological sites. Monuments and remains from all periods of the history of Israel/Palestine, from early Prehistoric to Modern are actively and intensively excavated and studies.

Nevertheless, politics and archaeology can be enmeshed – and in particular when politicians attempt to use the archaeological evidence to push their agendas. But this is not only an Israeli problem – it can be seen throughout the Middle East, and in fact, throughout the world.

To illustrate this how archaeological can and should be conducted in an inclusive manner, I can give an example that is close to home. The excavation that I have been directing for the last twenty odd years – at Tell es-Safi/Gath (gath.wordpress.com) – is at a site that was settled, virtuously continuously, from late Prehistoric times (ca. 5000 BCE) until modern times, with cultural remains from many periods, and heritage that can be connected to many different groups. In our research and excavation, while focusing, for the most part, on the Bronze and Iron Age remains (due to research foci), we just as carefully and meticulously excavate and study Crusader and early Islamic levels as those of other periods, or the remains for the village and cemeteries of the Palestinian village of Tell es-Safi, which existed at the site until 1948, as those of the Philistines of the “biblical period.”

Similarly, the team that works on the site is a multi-national team, with participants of many religious, political and ideological backgrounds. On a regular basis, during our summer season, you can find Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and an occasional Buddhist, working together in the same excavation square, and people with very different life styles and political views developing close friendship and long-lasting camaraderie. All this done through a policy of mutual respect and inclusiveness. And as we are now in our 21st year of the project – it is clear that this works!

In fact, I would argue that despite the dangers of enmeshing archaeology and politics, archaeologists, as custodians of the past, should not hesitate to utilize the archaeological remains to teach about, and forge connections, between communities of today, and the heritage and cultural memory of the past (even if this is at times fabricated). The human need to search for one’s roots, and to find meaning today – based on the past, can be seen in all societies throughout the world. This gives archaeologists a unique role, enabling them to utilize the archaeological remains to enrich the meaning and group cohesiveness of peoples today. Enabling a young Jewish child to connect to her history by holding a coin from the time of Maccabees, or a Christian boy through learning about tombs from the time of Jesus, or a Muslim girl by showing remains from the time of Muhammad, can have an enormous impact on the development of their cultural roots and identity. Anyone who has ever seen the excited eyes of someone discovering an archaeological object that can be connected to a tangible past and one’s personal identity, well knows the power of this educational tool. Without a doubt, this is one of the major ways in which archaeologists can “give back” to the societies that enable them, the archaeologists, to study the past. One should not let the misuse of the archaeological remains for political ideologies let us shed these tangible educational opportunities. But we must make sure that this is done in a manner which respects, and does not deny, the various, and at times conflicting narrative. This may be difficult – but it can be done!

So then, in the end, what’s the problem(s) with the UNESCO decision? By choosing a non-inclusive approach to the complex problems of heritage, politics and identity that exist in Jerusalem (and the Middle East in general), and by opting for the easy way out, and caving in to the demands of one of the sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they have not helped move the peace process, or any aspect of reconciliation, forward. In fact, paraphrasing UNESCO’s own credo, more than anything else they are “Building Discord in the Minds of Men and Women.”

Too much is at stake, and too many live are in danger, for such an organization to take such an irresponsible stance.

November 09, 2016

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

New Paper on Kfar Menahem West by Oren Ackermann et al.

Oren Ackermann, longtime geoarchaeologist and core staff member of the Safi project, keeps busy in other research as well!

Oren and colleagues have just published a very interesting paper on the chronology of the Lower Paleolithic/Late Acheulian site of “Kfar Menahem West”, which is situated a two km to the west of Tell es-Safi/Gath. While dealing a period not represented in the archaeological record at Tell es-Safi/Gath, it provides some very nice background information the region in Prehistoric periods (there are several other important Prehistoric sites in the region of Tell es-Safi/Gath).

Here is the full title:

Malinsky-Buller, A., Barzilai, O., Ayalon, A., Bar-Matthews, M., Birkenfeld, M., Porat, N., Ron, H., Roskin, J., and Ackermann, O. 2016 The Age of the Lower Paleolithic Site of Kefar Menachem West, Israel—Another Facet of Acheulian Variability. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10: 350–62.

And there is the abstract:

A salvage excavation at the Lower Paleolithic site of Kefar MenahemWest in the interior of the Israeli coastal plain yielded a flake industry devoid of handaxes and their byproducts. The archeological finds covering an area exceeding 2000 m2 , are found at the contact of two distinct sedimentological units: Quartzic Brown and hamra (red clay loam paleosols). The absence of handaxes hamper placing the site within the relative chronology of the Lower Paleolithic record of the Levant. New paleomagnetic analysis coupled with optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and thermally transferred optically (TT-OSL) dating yielded a chronological range between 780 and 460 ka for the archeological occupation. The techno-typological similarities with Late Acheulian assemblages together with possible variations in the mode of occupations by early hominids at the site, both suggest that the KMW should be conceived as part of the Late Acheulian variability.

Check it out!

November 04, 2016

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

PhD positions in Microarchaeology at Rutgers

Dan Cabanes, who has worked on the Safi project for quite a few years on topics relating to Phytolith analysis, just received a new position in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. Dan has informed me that he has openings for several PhD positions with a focus on “microarchaeology”.

For anyone interested in doing a PhD in microarchaeology – and in particular with focus on phytolith and FTIR analyses – I suggest you check this out. And if you know of anyone (friend, colleague, student) who might be interested, please pass this on to them.

This should be a fantastic opportunity to conduct PhD research dealing with cutting-edge issues in the interface between archaeology and science. And, no less important – Dan is a great guy and a fantastic researcher!

Here is the official notification:


October 28, 2016

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

My take on the Jerusalem Papyrus

Yesterday, at the Jerusalem conference at HU, I was invited to serve as a respondent in the session in which the new papyrus mentioning Jerusalem was presented (see here for the full article [in Hebrew]). This was reported as well by Nir Hasson in Haaretz (see below the English version of the article).

As some of the points I raised are not mentioned, here are some additional issues that I noted:

  1. My comments are as an archaeologist, not as an epigraphist or a linguist.
  2. I’m not sure that it is real or a fake, but various issues are problematic. I would very much like it to be authentic – but first – doubts must be dispelled.
  3. This is particularly so in light of the strong indications that many of the recently acquired fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls may be fakes – indicating that there are some very good forgers working out there – some of whom seem to have an in-depth knowledge in epigraphy, paleography and related issues.
  4. The lack of sufficient details on how the papyrus was obtained, due to the need of the IAA Anti-theft Unit to protect its sources, is understood from an operational point of view (and I fully believe them about this), but it creates a aura of secrecy and lack of credibility around this.
  5. And if in fact the papyrus was known for several years to other scholars as well, this makes the background of its discovery even more obscure.
  6. While I cannot state with certainty that it is fake, there is a strong possibility that it was faked.
  7. Even if did not actually reach the market and was confiscated by the IAA before hand, it could still be fake. One could even envision a scenario, if in fact it is a forgery, that it might have purposely been unveiled, enabling the IAA to confiscate it, so that in future, similar papyri that would surface  would seem authentic.
  8. Due to these questions, I feel that the IAA should not have published the find prior to conducting a much broader range of analytical tests on the papyrus, including analysis of ink content and ink degradation, analysis of possible traces of sediments on the papyrus, and other tests. Even if they would not have proven without a doubt that it was real or fake – it would have demonstrated a much more serious effort for authentication.
  9. This is particularly important as the IAA is a governmental body and should be very careful when giving a certification of authenticity to a problematic object.
  10. It is absolutely clear that the publication of the papyrus and its presentation at the conference, had nothing to do with the recent UNESCO decisions. The publication and conference were planned months before the UNESCO decision. Anyone claiming otherwise is either gullible – or malicious.
  11. That said, the manner in which it was announced to the press, and subsequently used by politicians, is quite disturbing.
  12. The only positive aspect that I see if it is found out to be fake, is that some politicians (including the current “King of Jerusalem”…) can eat their hats…
  13. If the papyrus is authentic, I think that the suggested reconstruction is possible – but only a suggestion. Thus, extrapolating that we can learn about the status of women in Iron Age Judah from this is far-fetched at best.
  14. Also, at the end of the day, there is not that much new information from the papyrus – it’s just a very “sexy” find, mentioning Jerusalem…another bit of knowledge about Iron Age Judah.
  15. I hope that the papyrus is authentic – but more proof is required. In any case, even if bona fide, it can only be related to as a source of secondary or tertiary relevance, due to the lack of clarity on its origin.

See below the English text of the Haaretz article:

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/.premium-1.749603 [English]

http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/local/.premium-1.3105482 [Hebrew]


Oct 28, 2016 2:43 AM


Papyrus With Earliest Ex-bible Hebrew Mention of Jerusalem Likely Fake, Experts Say

 Archaeologists are usually wary of any finds not discovered in a supervised dig, though Antiquities Authority insists ancient scroll is authentic.

Nir Hasson

Scholars are questioning the authenticity of what the Israel Antiquities Authority says is a 2,800-year-old papyrus document bearing the word “Jerusalem” in Hebrew, unveiled by the authority on Wednesday.

The papyrus was found four years ago while pursuing antiquities thieves in the Judean Desert and dates to the seventh century B.C.E., according to the antiquities authority. That would make it the earliest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew outside the Bible. The fragment appears to be a document concerning a wine shipment from Na’arat, in the Jordan Valley, to the king in Jerusalem.

It’s not certain where the thieves found the document, though it appears to have come from a cave along the Hever Stream in the Judean Desert. Archaeologists are usually wary of any finds not discovered in a supervised dig.

But in this case, the scholars who studied it – Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of the Hebrew University and Dr. Eitan Klein and Amir Ganor of the antiquities authority – are convinced that it is authentic. Carbon-14 dating showed that the papyrus was made 2,500 to 2,800 years ago, and an epigraphic examination concluded the letters are typical of the Hebrew writing of the seventh century B.C.E.

But at Thursday’s session of an antiquities authority conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region, archaeologist Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University cast doubt on the document’s authenticity. He also assailed the authority for deciding to publicize it even though “it was clear in advance that it would be controversial.”

Maeir said there were too many unanswered questions about the papyrus. “How do we know it isn’t a forgery intended for the antiquities market?” he demanded, adding that forgers could have deliberately “sacrificed” this document in order to prepare the way for selling other papyri that they would “discover” later.

The fact that carbon-14 dating proved the papyrus’ age is insufficient, he added. “After all, there are well-known cases in which writing was forged on an ancient ‘platform,’” he said. “It’s very possible that only the papyrus itself is ancient.

“In my humble opinion, the need for additional tests is glaring, especially if a government agency is publishing this and giving it a seal of approval. Why wait for the arguments and only then do the additional tests? They should have done them first.”

Prof. Christopher Rollston of George Washington University also voiced skepticism, writing on his blog that he believed the document was a forgery.

“The fact that the papyrus itself has been carbon dated to the 7th century BCE certainly does not mean that the writing on the papyrus is ancient,” he wrote. “In fact, it really means nothing. After all, ancient papyrus is readily available for purchase online (check the web and see!), thus, no modern forger worth his or her salt would forge an inscription on modern papyrus.”

Ahituv, however, rejected the critics’ arguments. First, he said, the papyrus was folded up when it was found, which makes forgery seem unlikely. “Would a forger buy an ancient, dry, fragile papyrus, write text on it that’s typical of the seventh century, and then fold it up and tie it with a cord and thereby endanger all his work?” he demanded.

The text itself also suggests it’s not a forgery, he continued. He and his colleagues read the text as “[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Na’artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima,” meaning “From the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”

But both “Na’artah” and “Yerushalima” are very rare words, and thus unlikely to occur to a forger, “even if he’s an expert in Bible,” Ahituv said. “If I were a forger, I’d choose a more impressive text,” he added.

Ganor also rejected the criticisms. “We tried in every possible way to check the papyrus,” he said. “We used the methods used to check the Dead Sea Scrolls. If someone has an additional method, he’s invited to apply it. We, as a country, were obligated to get our hands on this, and I’m certain it’s authentic.”

October 27, 2016

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

HuffPost article on the history of Gaza

A nice article on the history of Gaza, written by Ben Piven, has just appeared in the Huffington Post. In the article, Ben surveys the history, and ups and downs, of Gaza thru the ages – and quotes me a couple of times along the way.

Check it out!


October 25, 2016

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

Flor blogs about Safi!

Flor Fustinoni, who has been in the Safi team for the last two years, has written a great piece for the ASOR blog about her work this last summer as a square supervisor.

Flor eloquently describes the fun, excitement, camaraderie and professionalism that you experience as a team member.

Way to go Flor!

And here’s a picture of Flor next to the EB city wall in Area F

October 24, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Registration Details for Summer 2017

We are excited to announce the registration details for this upcoming summer’s excavation season (2017) at Tel Burna! We will be in the field from July 2-July 28! Come join us for what promises to be a great season with very interesting finds!

Click 2017_information_registration_package


October 22, 2016

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

New article on Sea Peoples and pirates

A new article on the maritime culture of the Sea Peoples, one of series of articles by Louise Hitchcock and yours truly, is about to appear.

The article’s full title is:

Hitchcock, L. A., and Maeir, A. M. 2016 A Pirates’ Life for Me: The Maritime Culture of the Sea People. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 148(4).

Here’s the abstract:

An anthropological approach to a culture extrapolates social structures, traditions, and general organizing principles of that culture from the careful observation of patterns of behaviour as described in case studies. In the absence of a living culture to record, archaeologists extrapolate this information from behaviour reconstructed from spatially determined patterns in the deposition of material remains and from patterns found in the general organizing principles of historically documented cultures, using arguments based on analogy. This contribution builds on our previous research on the “Sea Peoples” as a piratical culture in order to apply an anthropological approach to understanding the cultural identities of the various tribal groups involved in maritime activities at the end of the Bronze Age who are popularly known as the “Sea Peoples”, and place this within the broader context of the current discussions on the transition between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age in the Mediterranean.

To see the corrected page proofs – see here.



October 19, 2016

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

Short clip about excavations – without any content…

A short clip, supposedly describing “Discoveries where Goliath may have walked” – referring to Gath – was posted today on the youtube channel of the Museum of the Bible (thanks to G. Grena for the HT)

While its really nice that they posted this, once you actually watch the clip, it’s quite astounding that just about no information, insights or new discoveries are mentioned regarding Tell es-Safi/Gath (though they do show low quality still shots of the site off season in the beginning) and then they very briefly describe the discovery of the Philistine cemetery at Ashkelon.

In light of the massive sums of money poured into this museum and related projects, I would expect a little more quality – and research – put into productions that they are producing. And if they are discussing a specific site (whether Gath or any other site), it would make sense to speak to those excavating that site!!!

C’mon guys – you can do better than that…

Here’s the clip – judge it for yourself:

October 18, 2016

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

New publication – not Safi related

Once in awhile, I also publish things not related to Tell es-Safi/Gath…

I just received from Ami Mazar a pre-print copy of a chapter that I wrote for the forthcoming, 5 volume final report of Ami’s excavations at Tel Rehov. The chapter is an introduction to the geography and environmental background of the Beth Shean Valley, as a backdrop for the excavations at Tel Rehov.

The chapter is based on research conducted as part of my PhD (1997; co-supervised by Ami), which was later (2010) published in book form (see here).

The chapter is entitled:

Maeir, A. M. 2016. Chapter 1: The Beth-Shean Valley: Geographical and Environmental Background. Pp. 1–11 in Excavations at Tel Rehov, 1997–2012. Vol. 1, eds. A. Mazar and N. Panitz-Cohen. Qedem Monographs of the Institute of Archaeology. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology.

See the new chapter here.



New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem Conference – and very interesting find to be published!

On Oct. 26-27, 2016, the annual New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region conference will be held in Jerusalem. During the two day meeting, quite a few interesting papers will be presented.

Among others, there will be a very interesting session on a VERY INTERESTING papyrus – which due to “gag orders” – I can’t say anything else about… :-}

I’ve been asked to serve as a respondent for this session – and I believe the session – and discussions that will develop from it – will be quite something…

Be there or be square…

Here is the full schedule of the meeting – the relevant session is at the very end of the program, marked it in bold:


New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region
The Tenth Annual Conference, October 26 and 27, 2016

The 10th annual conference of the New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Environs, will be held on October 26, 27 and 28, 2016. This year, the conference marks its 10th anniversary, making it a very special event for us all. Over the past ten years, the conference and the published proceedings have served as the primary platform for the presentation of archaeological research in Jerusalem and its surroundings, including lectures from across the entire spectrum of Israeli scholars working in the field.

In order to celebrate the event, this year’s conference will not only include the full day of lectures in Hebrew, to be held at the Hebrew University, but an additional venue of international scholarship with lectures from scholars from Israel and abroad, will be given in English.
The program of the English and Hebrew sessions of the conference are listed below. The sessions are devoted to discussions of some of the major topics of research in Jerusalem, crossing both  periods and cultures: Jerusalem and the empires, the city borders, temple and economy and finally the preservation and management of the city’s cultural heritage.

New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region

The first day of the conference will be held in the auditorium of the Yad Izhak Ben Zvi Institute at 14 Ibn Gabirol Street, Jerusalem. All lectures will be presented in English, with simultaneous Hebrew translation available.

Day 1(October 26)
9:30        Opening remarks
9:45        Session 1: Jerusalem and the Empires
Session Chair: Rachel Milstein
Jerusalem and the Empires: Israel Finkelstein, Tel Aviv University
Agrippa II in Jerusalem and the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE: Martin Goodman, Oxford University
Communal Institutions in Frankish Jerusalem: Adrian Boas, Haifa University

11:15–11:30 Coffee break

11:30     Session 2: Cultural Resource Management in Jerusalem
Session Chair: Mike Turner
Whose Heritage? Urban and Architectural Considerations: Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
The Kidron Valley Cyber-Archaeology Project: Thomas E. Levy, University of California, San Diego
The Ancient Ruins of Lifta: A Preliminary Assessment According to Architectural and Archaeological Survey: Gil Haklai, Conservation Department, Israel Antiquities Authority

13:00–14:00 Lunch break

14:00     Session 3: Opening Afternoon Session
Sustainable Rehabilitation of the Holy Sepulchre: An Interdisciplinary Scientific Study and Monitoring, A Scientific Integrated Governance of the Project, Antonia Moropoulou, Chief Scientific Supervisor of the project, Head of the NTUA Interdisciplinary Research Group for the Monuments’ Protection

14:30     Session 4: The City Boundaries
Session Chair: Elhanan Reiner
Jerusalem in the Days of Nehemiah: Gary Knoppers, University of Notre Dame
Aelia Capitolina – An Unusual Roman Colonia in the Light of Its Inscriptions: Benjamin Isaac, Tel Aviv University
Jerusalem’s Borders in the Early Islamic Period: Gideon Avni, Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

16:00–16:15 Coffee break

16:15 Session 5: Temple City and Its Economy
Session Chair: Amikam Elad
Economy and Administration in the Iron Age and Persian Period: Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University
Cult, Pilgrimage and Economy in the Byzantine Period: Leah Di Segni, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Haram al-Sharif and the Field of Religious Goods – Economy, Sanctity and the Developing Urban Landscape of Mamluk Jerusalem: Nimrod Luz, Western Galilee College

17:45 Closing remarks

Day 2 (October 27) will be held at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, in the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies (Rabin) Building. All lectures will be in Hebrew.

8:00        Gathering
8:30        Opening remarks
8:40        Joe Uziel and Ra’anan Kislev: Archaeology, Preservation and Development in the Jerusalem District, 2015–2016
9:10        Keynote lecture – Yvonne Friedman: Jerusalem as a City for Medieval Pilgrims
9:40        Award Presentation of the David Amit Prize for Young Archaeological Researchers, 2016–2017

10:00     Session 1: Approaching the Temple Mount
  Session Chair and Discussant: Gideon Avni
Yuval Baruch, Ronny Reich and Débora Sandhaus: The Temple Mount – Results of the Archaeological Research of the Past Decade
Alon de Groot and Hillel Geva: “Descending the Mount” – A Response to the “Mound on the Mount” Theory
Joseph Patrich and Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah: The “Free Masons Hall” – A Composite Herodian Triclinium and a Fountain to the West of the Temple Mount
Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven: An Arabic Inscription from the Dawn of the Islamic Period from Kafr Nuba

11:30–11:50 Coffee break
11:50     Session 2: “Standing on the Wall” – Jerusalem’s Fortification
  Session Chair and Discussant: Ronny Reich
Johanna Regev, Nahshon Szanton, Joe Uziel and Elisabetta Boaretto: Absolute Dating of the Gihon Spring Tower
Rina Avner and Kfir Arbiv: Excavations in the Russian Compound: The Battle of the “Third Wall”
Shimon Gibson, Rafi Lewis and James Tabor: Going to the Market with Saladin: Finds from the 11th–13th Centuries in the Excavation of the Ayyubid Gate in Mount Zion
13:00–14:00 Lunch break

14:00     Session 3: What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? Jerusalem in the Days of the Procurators
  Session Chair and Discussant: Jonathan Price
Nahshon Szanton, Michal Haber, Moran Hagbi, Joe Uziel and Donald T. Ariel: Monumental Building Projects in Jerusalem in the Days of the Pontius Pilate – A Numismatic View from the Stepped Street in the Tyropoeon Valley
Ortal Chalaf, Peter Gendelman and Hannah Cotton: The Bet Strauss Excavations: Preliminary Results and a new Latin Inscription
Helena Roth and Dafna Langgut: Lumberjacks and Water Wells: On the Use of Wood and Stature in the Lower City of Jerusalem in the Early Roman Period
Yuval Gadot: Urban Judaism under Roman Rule: Dedicating the Kidron for Garbage Disposal in the First Century CE

15:10–15:30 Coffee break

15:30     Session 4: Path, Place and Memory
  Session Chair and Discussant: Rina Talgam
Katia Cytryn-Silverman and Avi Mashiach: Sulayman’s Sabīls: Restoration and Revival
Amit Re’em and Ilya Berkovich: Reassessing the Art, Architecture and Chronology of the Crusader Basilica on Mount Zion
Annette Nagar: A Byzantine Church near Bet Nekofa along the Road from Jaffa to Jerusalem
Lihi Habas: The Cross in the Mausoleum at Horbat Ha-Gardi: The Tombs of the Maccabees and the Christian Cult of the Maccabean Martyrs

17:00 Session 5: A New Old Papyrus
                Session Chair and Discussant: Ester Eshel            
Shmuel Ahituv, Eitan Klein and Amir Ganor:  Papyrus “to Jerusalem”
Hagai Misgav, Aharon Demski, Aren Maeir : Discussion

17:40     Closing remarks

October 05, 2016

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

Clip from SAGU – with Safi excavations starring!

Rob Price (Rob Price, SAGU Communication Arts department) has been kind enough to pass a link to the very nice video clip promoting the Ancient Studies Program at SAGU (Southwestern Assemblies of God University). Rob and team from SAGU participated in the dig in 2014, and others connected to SAGU have been regulars (such as Eric Welch).

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/185312577″>Ancient Studies Program_SAGU</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user5493224″>Rob Price</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The clip was prepared by a SAGU multi-media team led by Rob (Caleb Celestino and Jon Utley), which joined the Safi team during the 2014 season – especially to put together this great clip.

In the clip, you can see shots taken during the excavation (on site and at the base camp at Kibbutz Revadim), as well as various Safi team members talking (Eric, Jeff, Aren, Brian Stachowsky, Kristen Flake) and appearing (the SAGU team, the Area F team, Rob, Mark, and others).

Check it out – very nicely done!

October 02, 2016

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

Shana tova – happy Jewish New Year – to all!

A shana tova u-metuka – a happy and sweet Jewish new year – to you all!

May this year be one of health and happiness, growth and fulfillment, and not to forget – many interesting finds and groundbreaking research!



September 29, 2016

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

Meeting in Warsaw

As previously noted, on this last Tuesday-Wednesday, I participated in a very interesting conference in Warsaw, on the Aegean and the Levant during the transition between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. The meeting was an excellent, very intimate meeting, with about 25 participants, most of whom presented papers.

The papers dealt with various issues relating to the topic of the meeting, but from many various perspectives. By and large, the papers were excellent, the discussions were stimulating – and the hosting and organization (organized by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spano) superb.

What can be seen from the papers is that a lot of very interesting research is being conducted nowadays on related topics!

In addition to the “regular suspects”, I also got to meet some very interesting scholars, as well as interact with some who I don’t usually meet in other contexts.

And best of all – the papers will eventually published – so the public will get to see them as well!

Here’s a group picture of the participants:



September 28, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

The Passing of Ido Ginaton

We are shocked and saddened by the sudden death of our good friend and excavator – Ido Ginaton, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Netherlands. It was always a pleasure and fun working and talking with Ido – who always had an opinion, a smile, good coffee, and a willingness to help any and everyone at Tel Burna. We will miss him!

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September 22, 2016

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

Safi team at Scientist’s Night at BIU

The Safi lab team was at the BIU “Scientists’ Night” open house this afternoon and evening, with a great hands-on booth on ancient board games. Amit, Shira (who has researched the EB games from Safi), Maria and Lindsay set up a great booth, with actual game-related finds from the excavations, and modern recreations that could be played. Shira also gave a TED-like lecture on the games to the crowd.

See here photos of the families (parents and kids) trying to play the games at the booth.

img_6022 img_6023

Well done!


The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Lecture on the Late Bronze at Tel Burna at Texas A&M Corpus Christi

I (Chris) will be giving a lecture at Texas A&M Corpus Christi on the Late Bronze finds from Tel Burna over the last 7 seasons. Here is the announcement and the flyer (Texas themed :).

NEW: Oct. 3: Religious Studies Minor Speaker Series featuring Professor Chris McKinney: The College of Liberal Arts welcomes all to the Religious Studies Minor Speaker Series. The first talk features Professor Chris McKinny, who teaches Biblical Archaeology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. McKinny’s talk, “Beseeching the Storm God? Canaanite Cultic Activity at Tel Burna, Israel,” will take place from 1 – 2 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 3, in Island Hall, room 267. The talk is free and open to the public and includes a Q&A session. For more information, contact Dr. Jennifer Epley, Religious Studies Minor Coordinator, at jennifer.epley@tamucc.edu.


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

New paper on EB fauna from Safi!

A paper discussing the Early Bronze Age faunal remains from the Area E excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath has just appeared (see link to the paper here).

The full title is:

Greenfield, H. J., Brown, A., Shai, I., and Maeir, A. M. 2016. Preliminary Analysis of the Fauna from the Early Bronze Age III Neighbourhood at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. Pp. 170–92 in Bones and Identity: Archaeozoological Approaches to Reconstructing Social and Cultural Landscapes in Southwest Asia, eds. N. Marom, R. Yeshurun, L. Weissbrod and G. Bar-Oz. Oxford: Oxbow.


September 17, 2016

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

17th World Congress of Jewish Studies – Jerusalem, Aug. 6-10, 2017

As a board member of the World Union of Jewish Studies, please let me bring your attention to the official notice (below) on the upcoming congress in Aug. 2017 in Jerusalem.

And, as a member of the committee for Bible and Ancient Near East at the congress, I would like to invite you all to submit suggestions for lectures and/or sessions relating to Bible, Bronze and Iron Age Archaeology, Ancient Near East, and related topics, on the submission page on the website.

Here is the official notice:

17th World Congress of Jewish Studies

We are happy to announce that the Seventeenth World Congress of Jewish Studies will take place from August 6 to 10, 2017 at the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The World Congress of Jewish Studies convenes in Jerusalem every four years, and is the most important event in Jewish studies worldwide. The last Congress in 2013 brought together thousands of participants from over 40 countries, who attended nearly 1600 lectures in various fields and on many diverse topics in Jewish studies. The lectures were presented by scholars from all the important centers and institutions of Jewish learning. The Congress also features a comprehensive book fair, as well as hosted social and cultural events to give participants the opportunity to share various aspects of Jewish culture.
Proposals for lectures to be presented at the 17th World Congress of Jewish Studies may now be submitted. The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2016.

September 16, 2016

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

Louise will be giving a talk in Athens, Sept, 27th, 2016

If any of you are in Athens in the near future, make sure to come to Louise Hitchcock’s lecture at the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens, on Sept. 27th, 2016, at 7 pm.

Louise will be giving a talk entitled: “Yo ho, Yo ho, a Pirate’s Life for Me: The Maritime Culture of the Sea Peoples”.


Paper at the 12th Cretalogical Congress

The 12th International Cretological Congress will be held in Heraklion, Crete, Sept. 21-25, 2016 (for program and abstract, see here).

Louise Hitchcock will be presenting a paper (with A. Maeir as 2nd author) at the meeting, which I believe will be of interest to many of you:

Pirates of the Crete-Aegean: migration, mobility, and Post-Palatial realities at the end of the Bronze Age

Abstract: Our recent research (Hitchcock and Maeir 2014; in press) has used historical accounts of piracy to briefly examine pirate leadership, pirate culture and social organization, feasting activities, and studies of pirate geography to propose an interpretive framework for understanding the migration of the Sea Peoples as, inter alia, pirate tribes who plundered some of the great centers at the end of the Mediterranean Bronze Age (ca. 1177 BCE, e.g. Cline 2014). We suggest that as Mycenaean control over trade routes collapsed with the destruction and/or eventual abandonment of the Mycenaean palaces, that Crete became particularly vulnerable to piracy, because of certain geographical and topographical features that characterized its coastlines. Unless defended, rocky coastlines, natural harbors, promontories, and river valleys were susceptible to piratical activity, as we shall discuss. Historical records indicate that piracy resulted in a desolation of coastlines, as coastal settlements and coastal plains might be attacked at night, with villages burnt and pillaged, and fields devastated. Inhabitants of such areas were motivated to move to defensible places further inland. Such abandonment and move to defensible areas characterized early Iron Age Cretan settlements, such as Karphi, Kavousi, Kephala-Vasiliki, Chalasmenos, Monastiraki, Thronos-Kephala, and many others, which were relatively inaccessible from the surrounding landscape with the numerous sites documented by Nowicki (2000) in postpalatial Crete representing only a fraction of the total. Our paper will consider the role of piracy at the end of the Bronze Age in influencing migration, new realities, social practices, and changes in the cultural environment and social organization of post-palatial Crete. We will also explore the idea that just as certain areas of Crete were geographically suitable for seeking refuge from pirates, other sites in Crete became geographically suitable for pirate activity to take place. This will eventually be incorporated into an understanding of the larger picture of the major transformation, which occurred in the eastern and central Mediterranean in the transition between the 13th and 12th centuries BCE.

September 12, 2016

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

Kudos to Sharon Staub

Sharon Staub, who was a staff member of the Australian team (led by Louise) for several seasons, has just been awarded a very nice award.

Sharon wrote an undergraduate paper (supervised by Brent Davis) entitled “The Importance of Terebinth Consumption in the Late Bronze Age: Evidence, Religion and Trade”.

Subsequently the paper came to the attention of “The Undergraduate Awards”, the world’s largest academic award program.

The results of this program have now been announced: not only did Sharon place in the top 10% of Classical Studies & Archaeology students worldwide, she has now been named the Regional Winner for Classical Studies & Archaeology in Oceania, giving her priority booking to the Undergraduate Awards Global Summit in Dublin this November!!

Way to go Sharon! Well-deserved!


HT: Brent Davis

September 06, 2016

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

Meeting in Warsaw on the Aegean and the Levant at the turn of the Bronze and Iron Ages (27-28/9/16)

Heads up for a very interesting conference that will be held on Tuesday-Wednesday, 27/28/9/16 at the University of Warsaw (organized by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spano).

The meeting includes lectures from various scholars dealing with the Levant and the Aegean in the LB/Iron Age transition (and beyond). Quite a few very interesting papers will be given, including the opening paper by yours truly (A. Maeir), on changes in the understanding of who and what the Philistines are in light of recent research.

Should be very interesting!

Here is the schedule (which can be found online here as well):

The Aegean and the Levant at the Turn of the Bronze and Iron Age

Institute of History, Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, room 108, (new building of the Faculty of History)
9:30 Opening Greetings
Aren Maeir (Bar-Ilan University), The Philistines: ‘Things ain’t what they used to be’
Rostislav Oreshko (University of Warsaw), Ahhiyawa – Danu(na) – Palasti(na). Aegean Ethnica in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Light of Old and New Hieroglyphic-Luwian Evidence
Zsolt Simon, (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), What do we really know about the Philistine language?

Coffee (11:45-12:15)

Ayelet Gilboa (University of Haifa), Foci of Levantine Maritime Trade across the Late Bronze/Iron Age Transition: Sea People, Phoenicians and other Problematic Entities
Jeffrey P. Emanuel, (Harvard University), Warfare or Piracy? Describing and defining naval combat in the Late Bronze-Early Iron Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean
Stefan Yordanov, (Veliko Tarnovo University Sts Cyril and Methodius), Potestary political cultures in change in the times of change: Interactions in Aegean Region and Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age

Lunch (14:15-15:15)

Alexander Fantalkin (Tel Aviv University), The Goddess of Ekron in the context of Philistine Migration in the Early Iron Age
Alexander V. Safronov, (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow), The letter RS 88.2158 and Egyptian-Ugaritic relations under Sethos II
Mariacarmela Montesanto (University of Liverpool), Aegeans in the Northern Levant? A view from Alalakh

Coffee (17:15-17:45)

Jan Paul Crielaard (VU University Amsterdam), Hybrid go-betweens: the role of individuals with multiple identities in cross-cultural contacts in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Mediterranean
Irad Malkin (Tel Aviv University), Greek women and Greek colonies in the Archaic period

Vicky Vlachou, (Université libre de Bruxelles – CReA-Patrimoine), New Images, Old Practices? An Imagery of Funerary Rituals and Cult between the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Laszlo Vilmos, (University of Pécs), Pride and prejudice / Piracy and exchange of goods – warriors and craftsmen
Rik Vaessen (independent scholar), An Ionian perspective on Aegeo-Levantine interactions at the end of the second millennium BCE
Sarah C. Murray, (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Imported Objects in the Aegean as Evidence of Elite Interaction: A Flawed Paradigm?

Coffee (11:15-11:45)

Gunnel Ekroth (Uppsala Universitet), Burn, burn, burn… When, why and how the ancient Greeks performed holocaustic sacrifices
Olga A. Zolotnikova, (University of Athens / Hellenic Open University), Elements of the Syro-Phoenician epic / mythic traditions in the Homeric concept of Zeus
Lech Trzcionkowski (The Jagiellonian University), Tradition and Innovation in the Greek Sacrificial Ritual: Epics and the Prehistory of Ritual in the East Mediterranean Context

Lunch (13:45-14:45)

Ian Rutherford (University of Reading), Mons Kasios and Early Greek Mythology
Ismail Gezgin (Ege University, Izmir), The Making of Ionian Identity in Asia Minor
Jesse Michael Millek (The University of Tübingen), Destruction and the Cessation of Trade between the Aegean and the Levant at the End of the Late Bronze Age
Francisco Jesús Núñez Calvo (Independent Scholar) The impact of the Sea Peoples in Central Levant. A revision.
17:00 Closing remarks and discussion

August 30, 2016

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

New volume on Iron Age archaeology of the Shephelah in press

Eisenbrauns has put up on its website the pre-publication announcement for a new volume edited by Oded Lipschits (TAU) and Aren Maeir (BIU) that deals with recent archaeological excavations and studies in the Shephelah. The volume is based on a session that was held at the World Congress of Jewish Studies in 2013, and includes most of the papers from that double session and a few additional papers. What is nice about this volume is that it enables a very broad view of the rich and varied archaeological research being conducted in the Shephelah in recent years. In fact, almost all the project directors excavating Iron Age remains in the Shephelah agreed to submit papers!

The volume should be out in December 2016, but can be ordered now. Jim Eisenbrauns has promised that a pre-publication copy will be available for viewing at the upcoming ASOR meeting in San Antonio, in November.

The full title is:

Lipschits, O. and Maeir, A. M. eds. In press. The Shephelah during the Iron Age: Recent Archaeological Studies. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, IN.

Here is the publication blurb:

The area of the Judean Foothills – the biblical Shephelah – has in recent years become one of the most intensively excavated regions in the world. Numerous projects, at sites of different types and utilizing various methodological approaches, are actively excavating in this region. Of particular importance are the discoveries dating to the Iron Age, a period when this region was a transition zone between various cultures—Philistine, Canaanite, Judahite, and Israelite. The current volume includes reports from eight of the excavations currently being conducted in the region (Azekah, Beth Shemesh, Gezer, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tel Burna, Tel Halif, Tell es-Safi/Gath, and Tel Zayit), as well as a general study of the region by Ido Koch. The importance of this volume lies not only in the fact that it collects up-to-date reports on most of the current excavations in the region but also demonstrates the lively, at times even boisterous, scholarly discussions taking place on various issues relating to the archaeology and history of the Iron Age Shephelah and its immediate environs. This volume serves as an excellent introduction to current research on the Iron Age in this crucial zone and also serves as a reflection of current trends, methodologies, and approaches in the archaeology of the Southern Levant.

August 24, 2016

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

Lemba and Edgar Peltenberg

I visited the Chalcolithic site of Lemba today – both the site and the experimental village. Very interesting site – even if it is from the Protohistoric periods (:-).

In light of the fact that Prof. Edgar Peltenburg, excavator of this site, passed away last week, it was a nice way to pay tribute to one of the more important near eastern archaeologists of this generation. May he rest in peace!


Maa Paleokastro

Today I had a chance to visit the very interesting site of Maa Paleokastro in NW Cyprus. This is an important LC III site, connected to the changes seen in the eastern Mediterranean in the transition between the 13th and 12th cent. BCE. It is often suggested that this is a site connected to the initial Mycenaean colonization of Cyprus at the time and connected to the Sea Peoples phenomenon (although other suggestions have been raised as well). It is particular interesting to me in the context of understanding the Philistine phenomenon, and more so regarding our recent papers (with Louise Hitchcock) on the role of piracy among the Sea Peoples and Philistines. In any case, it was nice to visit a site that I had dealt with extensively for many years.

Here are some pictures – including some modern pirate ships (:-)

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August 23, 2016

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

Nice article in Haaretz about Safi, Philistia, Tiryns, Cyprus and other aspects relating to the Philistine culture

Phillippe Bostrom has published another very nice article in Haaretz, based on his visit to the excavations this summer, and discussions with me, Joseph Maran, Philipp Stockhammer and others.

Very nice! Check it out here.


August 22, 2016

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

Nice article on a visit to the dig this summer

Nachaliel Selavan came to interview some of the team this last season – and at the same time did some work for a couple of days.

Here is the very nice article that he wrote about his experiences!


August 19, 2016

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

New article on the importance of the donkey in the Early Bronze Age!

It’s nice to report yet another article resulting from the joint efforts of several members of the Tell es-Safi/Gath team (see here a link to the full version).

The article, by Itzik Shai, Shirab Albaz, Annie Brown, Haskel Greenfield and Aren Maeir, deals with the importance of the donkey in the Early Bronze Age Levant, based on the finds from Tell es-Safi/Gath and other sites.

Here is the abstract:

In this paper, we review the evidence for the use of the domestic donkey as a mode of transportation in the Early Bronze Age. The study will present the domestic donkey remains (artefactual and zoological) and their archaeological context from the Early Bronze Age III domestic neighborhood at Tell es-Safi/ Gath. The remains indicate the significant role that donkeys played in the daily life of the inhabitants. This reflects on our understanding of their role in the trade networks and mode of transportation that existed within the emerging urban cultures in the southern Levant during the 3rd mill. B.C.E.

The full reference is:

Shai, et al. 2016. The importance of the donkey as a pack animal in the Early Bronze Age southern Levant: A view from Tell es-Safi/Gath. ZDPV 132: 1-25.


August 16, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

New Article – “Reassessing the Character of the Judahite Kingdom”

A new article entitled “Reassessing the Character of the Judahite Kingdom: Archaeological Evidence for Non-Centralized, Kinship- Based Component” written by Prof. Aren Maeir and Dr. Itzick Shai has just appeared in the feschrift in honor of Prof. Yossi Garfinkel (From Sha‘ar Hagolan to Shaaraim Essays in Honor of Prof. Yosef Garfinkel). Besides the compelling background for describing the historical situation of the Kingdom of Judah, they also give a nice “shout-out” to Tel Burna (and Tell es-Safi/Gath) in the following quote.

“It would be safe to assume that various local elites most probably changed loyalties over time. Just as the רפא family, as noted above, may have been first associated with the Philistines and later with the Judahites, other clans might have changed sides over time. A hint at this might be found in the depictions of the relationship between the Judahite Kingdom and the town of Libnah (Tel Burna?). As noted above, Josiah’s mother is attributed to this town, while on the other hand Libnah supposedly revolted against and was besieged by Jehoram (2 Kings 8:22; 2 Chron. 21:10). Perhaps, then, this reflects the ever-changing relations between this specific site and the Kingdom of Judah, situated in a region that traditionally vacillated between Judahite and Philistine control (on this point, see as well Blakely, Hardin and Master 2014).”

Read the whole thing here.

Full bibliographic entry:

Maeir, A., and I. Shai
2016  Reassessing the Character of the Judahite Kingdom: Archaeological Evidence for Non-Centralized, Kinship-Based Components. In From Sha‘ar Hagolan to Shaaraim Essays in Honor of Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, edited by S. Galon, I. Kreimerman, K. Streit, and M. Mumcuoglu, pp. 323–340. Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem.

August 11, 2016

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

Yossi Garfinkel’s 60th birthday and Fs

Yesterday evening, a large crowd gathered at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, in honor of Yossi Garfinkel’s 60th birthday, and a Festschrift volume that was published on this occasion. The evening was very nice, and the book has many very interesting articles!

Among them is an article by Itzik Shai and myself (that can be downloaded here), which is entitled:

Maeir, A. M., and Shai, I. 2016. Reassessing the Character of the Judahite Kingdom: Archaeological Evidence for Non-Centralized, Kinship-Based Components. Pp. 323–40 in From Sha‘ar Hagolan to Shaaraim: Essays in Honor of Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, eds. S. Ganor, I. Kreimerman, K. Streit and M. Mumcouglu. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

Here is the abstract:

In this study we reassess the character of the Judahite Kingdom during the Iron Age. As opposed to most past discussions of this monarchy, which define it as a highly centralized political structure, we suggest to identify various facets indicating that local elites played a major role in the societal and leadership structure of the Judahite Kingdom. We suggest that many of the supposed indices of centralized bureaucratic control that have been previously identified may in fact reflect the influence and control of local elites within the kingdom. We likewise believe that patronage-based relations, at different levels of society, were of central importance in the social and economic structure of the kingdom.

At the end of the evening, the participants were given a sneak preview of the about to be opened exhibition on Khirbet Qeiyafa, Yossi’s former excavations. The exhibit is very nice – and is highly recommended. It will officially open in a few weeks.


August 04, 2016

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

New paper on provenance of EB basalt ground stone vessels

A new paper by the Safi team has appeared (see here a link to the paper)!

The paper, spearheaded by Jeremy Beller, deals with a geochemical provenance study of basalt ground stone objects from the EB levels at Tell es-Safi/Gath, and attempts to place the results within the context of the EB exchange and trade networks.

Here is the abstract:

On-going excavations at the Early Bronze Age III settlement of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel have recovered a small assemblage of basalt ground stone objects in a residential neighbourhood. As high quality basalt is not found within the Shephelah (the Judean foothills), the occurrence of basalt artefacts at settlements in this region has frequently been cited as evidence of movement of raw material or the exchange of commodities within the southern Levant. However, only a limited number of studies have connected basalt artefacts with sources through geochemical provenance from this area of Israel. Using the geochemical fingerprints from previous studies and an XRF analysis,
we attempt to identify the source of origin of nineteen basalt grinding stones using a meta-analysis of previously identified geological sources in the region and surrounding areas. The results demonstrate that the basalt artefacts originated from a wide variety of sources, including the eastern Dead Sea, Jezreel Valley, and Galilee-Golan regions, thereby supporting previously held hypotheses about the movement of basalt commodities
from sources within the immediate region. No artefacts were linked to more distant sources (e.g. Egypt, Sinai). These data provide evidence that EB urban centres, such as Tell es-Safi/Gath,were socio-economically connected even for quotidian commodities to other regions of the southern Levant through some kind of system for the non-local exchange of traditionally domestic commodities.

The paper is entitled: Beller, J. A., Greenfield, H. J., Fayek, M., Shai, I., and Maeir, A. M. 2016. Provenance and Exchange of Basalt Ground Stone Artefacts of EB III Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 9: 226–37.

The research on which this paper is based was funded by the joint grant to Haskel Greenfield and Aren Maeir from the Canadian SSHRC.


Great visit to Tel Azekah!

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to visit the ongoing excavations at Tel Azekah, hosted by co-directors Oded Lipschitz, Yuval Gadot and Manfred Oeming. They gave me a great tour of the various areas – and the fantastic finds that are coming up.

We also laid the foundations for some exciting joint research between our sites – two close neighbors with ongoing relations, contacts and/or lack thereof in different periods! I’m sure that this will lead to some really interesting, and perhaps ground breaking research in the coming years!

Thanks to the Azekah team for the gracious hosting!


August 02, 2016

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

Dates for the 2017 season: July 2nd-28th, 2017

An early heads up to all those interested for the dates of the 2017 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath – July 2nd to July 28th, 2017.

Start planning your next summer accordingly!


Great news for Brent Davis – a position at Melbourne!

Great news for Brent Davis, long-time member of the Safi team:

Brent has just been appointed to a salaried position at the University of Melbourne, where he’ll be in charge of teaching, restructuring and expanding the ancient Egyptian language program there. Over the next few years, Brent will (1) incorporate significant amounts of Online Learning into the program, (2) refocus the program toward Object-Based Learning, in which students learn extensively from actual inscriptions in addition to those in textbooks, and (3) expand the program from a single semester into a full two-year series of language courses (Egyptian 1, 2, 3 and 4).

Way to go Brent! Well-deserved without a doubt!

August 01, 2016

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

Maddi gives a lecture on Safi!

Madeline Harris-Schober (better known as Maddi), former team member at Safi (2014) has informed me that she just have a paper at the National Archaeology Student Conference (NASC), held at the University of Western Australia in Perth. The paper she gave was a shortened version her undergraduate project Demystifying the Philistines- A Comparative Study of IIIC Pottery from Crete and Philistia, whilst also adding in some general info about the site – including practical information about the dig itself.

Here’s a picture of Maddi giving the lecture – way to go!

Maddi lecturing on Safi NASC 2016

July 26, 2016

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

Kudos for Cynthia – “The Five Minute Archaeologist” volume about to appear

Cynthia Shafer-Elliott (William Jessup University – and a former Safi staff member) has sent out a flyer for the soon to appear “The Five Minute Archaeologist“, which provides an excellent intro to what archaeology is, based on short chapters on a wide variety of topics, covering the basics of “everything you wanted to know about archaeology but was afraid to ask”…

As you will notice from the table of contents in the flyer (Shafer-Elliott-5 minute archaeologist flyer) 22 of the 56 chapters are written by past or present “Safiites” – so I think it is safe to say that Safi rules…


Nice job Cynthia!


July 25, 2016

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

A third drone video clip from the end of the 2016 season

Here is a third aerial video clip from drone (taken by PW) at the end of 2016 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Clip starts with drone just to the east of Area K in the lower city, then flies northwards over the lower city moving west, passing Area D, and then and turns south and climbs up towards the peak of the tell and Area F. After circling around Area F, it turns north, northeast, and heads again towards Area D.

Now, with the three clips – one can get a view of the overall majority of the tell and its immediate surroundings!

Check it out – really nice!

Another great drone video clip from the end of the 2016 season

Here is another aerial video clip from drone (taken by PW) at the end of 2016 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Clip starts with drone just to the north of Area F on the upper tell, then flies over the lower city moving east, passing Area D and then Area E, and turns south and reaches just to the north of Areas A and E.

Once again, great views of the areas, and the beautiful scenery and colors, on and around the tell!


July 24, 2016

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

Video clip from drone of lower city excavations

See below the simply astounding aerial drone clip of Tell es-Safi/Gath, taken at end of 2016 season (by PW). Flying first east over Area D (including the new gate area) and then Area K, the drone continues eastwards, to just north of the eastern section of the siege trench (and Area C6). Then it turns westwards and returns towards Area K.

Note the flock of sheep returning from pasture to the east of the tell, and the black car that I’m driving that comes into the clip just after the drone passes over Area K.

The colors and lighting in the late afternoon/early evening are always fantastic at Tell es-Safi/Gath – and this comes through in an astonishingly vivid manner in this clip!


July 21, 2016

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

2016 aerial group photo!

What you have all been waiting for is now out! The aerial group photo for the 2016 season was taken today at the start of the final aerial photography. We definitely are keeping up with the traditions of cool group photos!

This time, we made a donkey – in honor of the 2 donkeys from the EB levels in Area E

2016 aerial donkey foto

July 20, 2016

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

Some Safi fauna (contemporary…)

For those interested in the animal life around Safi, today I saw a few interesting animals in and around the tell.

This afternoon, while I was driving around the tell with our conservator, I came upon a dead Barn Owl (Tyto Alba; תנשמת), lying on the road on the eastern side of the tell, I believe the first time I saw this species around the site. Sic transit gloria mundi…

Barn owl on Safi July 2016

Later on, I saw a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes; שועל מצוי) running out of Area D, followed by a very long brown Narrow Striped Dwarf Snake (Eirenis decemlineata; שךוון קווים) – who was not that much of dwarf (over a meter long) – just as we walked in to Area K! To top it off, I also saw a nice Short Toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus; חוואי) flying over, and two Great Grey Shrikes (Lanus Excubitor; חנקן גדול) sitting in a tree near Area A! While the last two are very commonly seen on the tell – they are beautiful species as well!

And one more nice bird that we saw earlier today, right after the final photos, was a Little Owl (Athene noctua; כוס החורבות) which we saw to the south of the tell, near the southern part of the siege trench. We see these birds almost every day, usually in the morning as we arrive at the tell. Here is a nice picture that Maria took of it.


All told – splendid species them all!

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Thank You

Today, I am going to beg everyone's indulgence and end regular posting on the Ashkelon blog on a personal note.

Grid 38 1989 -- that's me in the yellow shirt

Grid 38 1989 -- that's me in the yellow shirt

My first season was in 1989. I spent the summer in Grid 38 digging open air sewers in Roman streets. I loved every minute of it. I returned the following year and spent another summer in Grid 38. By then there could be no doubt, the archaeology bug had bitten me and I was hooked.

In 1991 I joined the staff and moved from Grid 38 to Grid 50 which was just a short run down the dump from the Mediterranean and swimming during fruit break. There I dug robber trenches, dog burials (approximately 100) and meters and meters of the Persian period.

Grid 50 -- 2016

Grid 50 -- 2016

In 1997, I opened Grid 51 where I spent the summer excavating the Islamic and Byzantine periods.

Grid 51 -- 2016 (today)

Grid 51 -- 2016 (today)

It was back to Grid 50 for a year and then when I returned, Grids 23, 47, 44, 32, 25 and finally, the cemetery of Philistine Ashkelon. Each excavation area was another piece of the puzzle that told us about the history Ashkelon. There was the bedrock sand and the elusive cardo in Grid 25, the dogs in Grid 50, the dense Islamic and Crusader residential settlement in Grid 44, and so much more. 

My Ashkelon story is one that lasted 20 excavation seasons over the course of 27 years. It is not a unique story. Co - Director Daniel Master also reached 20 excavation seasons this summer. Many of my fellow staff members passed the decade mark years ago (Adam and Kate to name two) and many others are hovering right around it (Josh). I am sure there are others as well. Some have participated only a year or two or three and at least two staff members, Lawrence Stager and Paula Wannish, were here in 1985 and again in 2016.

We all have similar stories, as do the countless specialists from zooarchaeologists, physical anthropologists, microarchaeologists and geologists to archaeobotanists, conservators, and surveyors who have helped to make sense of the material we found.

I believe many of us would tell you that most seasons, we were the least important people in our excavation areas. The people who really mattered? The ones who ensured we learned so much about the history and archaeology of Ashkelon? The volunteers: students, retirees, professors, nurses, computer scientists, artists, architects, engineers, theologians, historians, people from all walks of life. Everyone who got their hands in the dirt, who rode the bus at 5:00 in the morning, who dived into the containers on a compound day, who relished the challenge of sweeping the dirt clean, who collected EVERY sherd, bone, and piece of glass, played an important role in telling the stories of ancient Ashkelon.

With the help of more than 1,000 staff and volunteers, we uncovered the earliest occupation at Ashkelon (Chalcholithic/EB), excavated Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of the city in 604, explored daily life, and death, in Philistine Ashkelon, traced the development of orthogonal city planning in the Persian and Hellenistic cities, revisited the city's Roman period bouleuterion, excavated and restored the MB II Canaanite Gate, tracked urban developments in the Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods, and deciphered the sequence of the fortifications ringing the city.

We have learned a great deal about ancient Ashkelon in the 30 years of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. There is more work to do but not for us. Now we return the archaeological site to the national park in which it is housed. Today Grid 51 is a field of dirt but nature works quickly and it won't be long before it is reclaimed just as has happened with previous excavation areas.

Grid 37 -- excavated 1986-1987

Grid 37 -- excavated 1986-1987

Grid 44 -- excavated 2013

Grid 44 -- excavated 2013

Our excavation is done but our publication work continues as does our commitment to leaving a lasting legacy for the park and the people of Ashkelon. The Philistine house in Grid 38 will be conserved in the future while work on the restoration of the bouleuterion is well under way. Stage 1, an IAA excavation preparing the surrounding landscape, is in process.

Grid 47 -- 2016 IAA excavation preparing for restoration of bouleuterion

Grid 47 -- 2016 IAA excavation preparing for restoration of bouleuterion

Grid 47 -- bouleuterion (2016)

Grid 47 -- bouleuterion (2016)

Good-byes are hard, especially after 30 years, but it's time. On behalf of the 2016 Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon staff, I'd like to thank everyone who helped us excavate Ashkelon, to everyone who ever helped us tell the story of this remarkable city, and to those who will help us finish the publication program. I'd like to thank the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

It was the vision and support of Leon Levy and then the continued and unwavering support of Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation that made it all possible and allowed us to excavate Ashkelon for 30 years. Thank you.

Finally, to the Ashkelon staff, more an extended family than a group of co-workers, thank you. It was a fantastic run and I loved each and every minute of it.

Sunset over the beaches of Ashkelon -- 2015

Sunset over the beaches of Ashkelon -- 2015

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

A new game for Amit – *.gif files on the dig

Amit has a new game to play, making *.gif images on the dig. While we were busy taking final pictures, he was busy with his new game…

See some results below (notice the one where I’m running out of a square and I forget my leg…):

20160720_064728 20160720_063303 20160720_063217 20160720_060507 20160720_055512 20160720_054527 20160720_054232


July 18, 2016

The Tel Burna Excavation Project

Beautiful Drone Video

Check out this beautiful video of the tell after the 2016 season, which was taken by PW with his drone. A lot of work went into each of these excavation squares in the last 7 seasons🙂 thank you to all of the participants of this season and the six before!

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

Shout out for Udi Weiss on Nature Genetics article

Hearty congratulations are called for to Udi Weiss (lead archaeobotanist for the Safi project) and his colleagues for a great article that appeared today in Nature Genetics on the sequencing of the genome of 6000 year old barley from a cave under Masada in the Judean desert!

Here is a nice summary of the research. The Safi angle to this is that one of the PR photos for the BIU press announcement on the article was taken in the Safi project lab at BIU. So we can claim that we have a (very small) part in this admirable achievement…

Udi Weiss and colleagues in lab after Nature Genetics article

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

2016 Postseason

On Friday, Melissa climbed a tall ladder and took the Grid 51 final photos. She also took a picture of grid supervisors Laura and Jonathon as they stood in the grid one last time.

Today, the bulldozer came and backfilled Grid 51. 

That's it.

We're all done in the field. 

The Leon Levy Expedition has completed its excavation of ancient Ashkelon. 

July 17, 2016

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

Pokémon Go at Tell es-Safi/Gath

Well, it appears that Pokémon Go has reached Tell es-Safi/Gath!

Here’s a screen shot – courtesy of Debby Tabacinic:

Pokemon Go at Safi 1

Great find to start the week: Portion of a head-shaped vessel!

Today in pottery reading a great find popped up from Area D (not Area A as previously written) – a portion of a head-shaped vessel! A beautifully made nose, mouth, left cheek and hints to other parts are preserved.

Due to the relatively small size, it most probably is a vessel – and not a mask (such as those found not too long ago at Tel Burna). The iconography and ware seems to indicate an LB dating – which fits in with the other pottery from this context.

Most likely, this is an object used in a cultic or ritual context – perhaps depicting the face of a deity.

Reminds me of the traditional Jewish blessing – that I give my kids and grandkids on Friday night (Num 6: 24-26):

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee
The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace

Really cool! Here’s two pictures of this really nice find:

IMG_5565 IMG_5566



Last week of 2016 about to begin!

This is the last week of the 2016 season at Tell es-Safi/Gath. As mentioned previously, the season up until now has been very successful – and I hope this will continue in this week as well. Hard to believe how quickly the weeks go by…

Promise to update on any developments in the next few days.

July 15, 2016

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

Last day of week 3

Today, Friday, July 15, 2016, was the last day of week three of the 2016 season – and the end of a great week in general. Last night we had the end-of-the-week party – and we said goodbye to quite a few team members who leave Israel this weekend. Thanks to these and other team members for their exceptional work and motivation during the season!

Next week we will be a smaller team – “only” about 75… :-) (as opposed to ca. 200 on some of the days this week!)

We had quite a few visitors today, and many of them joined us for the end of the week tell tour of the various excavation areas.

Here are some of the highlights of the day:

Area A: Deep in Iron I (a lot of animal bones and Iron I pottery, and two very nice blades – one obsidian and one flint) and the Iron IIA (with more of the 9th cent BCE destruction level).

Area D: Lots of more finds in the gate area – and it looks like the gate is making more and more sense from an architectural points of view. Along with it we had nice Iron I and Iron IIA finds – and more and more evidence of the substantial Iron I construction and activity in the area. Johana and Lior Regev from WIS came to the dig today and sampled for 14C dating from various contexts in Area D. This will hopefully provide additional data for the existing 14C sequence that we have for the lower city.

Area E: One of the donkeys is out (and we have the petrous bones from this animal which is the current “holy grail” for DNA and other analyses of skeletal remains). The other donkey is fully exposed and we hope to remove it on Sunday. In addition, the Area E team took out a few floating walls in the area, and discovered a very interesting installation, possibly for cooking.

Area F: Excavation in the MB, LB and Iron IIA levels with various finds – and clarifications of various aspects of the stratigraphy.

Area K: More installations, vessels and other things coming out – and the area is looking great!

Looking forward to the final week. Here are some pictures:

IMG_5542 IMG_5543 IMG_5544 IMG_5545 IMG_5546 IMG_5547 IMG_5548 IMG_5549 IMG_5550 IMG_5551 IMG_5552 IMG_5553 IMG_5554 IMG_5555 IMG_5558 IMG_5559 IMG_5560

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

2016 Field Season Day 41

The 2016 field season is done. Last night we enjoyed all-you-can eat ice cream as we celebrated the end of the season and tonight the volunteers start heading home.

There is still a lot of work to do to shut everything down. One such project had volunteers back in the field this week covering the shrine in Grid 38.

Sunday morning we sleep in until 6:00 at which time the staff will meet to go over the schedule for staff week. We have a few days of post-season until everyone heads home. Check back next week to see what is happening in the Pottery Compound.

July 14, 2016

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

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 on the dig

Another really nice day for a great team! Although we were not as many people as in the previous two days, things moved along really nice in all areas!

Area A: Louise and her team had a good day with a slew of Iron IIA vessels from the 9th cent BCE destruction level.

Area D: More and more finds in the gate area, and a lot of more walls beginning to connect and make sense. In the metallurgical area we had some nice finds as well, including a really nice square tuyère and small pit filled with ash – perhaps remains of some of the production processes.

Area E: Both donkeys are doing well – and coming out. Today it was decided that one of the donkeys should be named Jehoiakim (see Jeremiah 22…). A really cool find was a patch of phytoliths that was found right on the teeth of one of the donkeys – perhaps the donkey’s last meal before burial!

Area F: Great finds today, including a very nice late MB or early LB votive juglet, and some nice LB and Iron IIA levels.

Area K: Lots of more pottery and other finds from throughout the area – including loomweights, vessels and other cool things!

Great day! Here are some pictures:

IMG_5493 IMG_5494 IMG_5495 IMG_5496 IMG_5497 IMG_5498 IMG_5499 IMG_5500 IMG_5501 IMG_5502 IMG_5503 IMG_5504 IMG_5505 IMG_5507 IMG_5508 IMG_5509 IMG_5510 IMG_5512 IMG_5513 IMG_5515 IMG_5517 IMG_5518 IMG_5519 IMG_5520 IMG_5521 IMG_5522 IMG_5523 IMG_5524 IMG_5525 IMG_5527 IMG_5528 IMG_5529 IMG_5530 IMG_5531 IMG_5532 IMG_5533 IMG_5534 IMG_5535 IMG_5536 IMG_5537 IMG_5538 IMG_5539 IMG_5540

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

2016 Field Season Day 40

The season is almost over. Tonight is the final party and the expedition will be celebrating at the 2nd "All You Can Eat Ice Cream Party" at Polar Bear Ice Cream. What's not to love about ice cream?

This morning the expedition had a chance to unwind and celebrate a successful season during Adam Aja's annual Tell Games. The 2016 edition was awesome and fun was had by everyone who participated as well as those who watched safely from the sidelines.

July 13, 2016

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

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Another great, but extremely hectic, day on the tell. Once again, the team was enormous, with something like 200 people in the various areas (most of them in Area D…). We also had quite a few visitors today, including a group from the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, the Tel Burna Team (led by Dr. Itzik Shai), and the Land of Mannaseh Survey team (led Dr. Doron Bar). We were all running around like mad… :-)

But the finds were great!

Area A: In the Iron I square they found a concentration of ca. 25 olive pits, and removed a very nice dipper juglet. In the Iron IIA square there is oodles of pottery, including a complete jug and quite a few jars. A very nice that came out today in the pottery washing is a clay bulla, with two poorly preserved stamps and the negative of the string on the back. Due to its form, the bulla was probably for closing a box and not a letter, and from what could be seen, the two stamps were anepigraphic (which is to be expected in the Iron I)

Area D: The metallurgy area had some nice finds, including a couple of bronze objects (though poorly preserved) and perhaps an installation. So, maybe we will have some insights on how the metal production was carried out – and what was being made.

In the gate area more and more architecture is coming out, and its becoming more and more complicated and massive. We have more finds from the Iron I and IIA levels, including a series of tabuns covering all these periods, a ton of restorable pottery from the Iron I and IIA – including a very nice strainer jug (“beer jug”) of the “Late Philistine Decorated Ware” pottery group – something what we have not yet seen at Safi.

Area E: The donkeys are starting to come out of the ground – and we have most of the skeletons of both of them. In addition, Johanna Regev (WIS) came to take some 14C samples from a probe into the lower levels in the area – hopefully to add lower, earlier phases to the 14C sequence of the EB in Area E.

Area F: The almost complete jar was removed today, and it very much looks like an MB form. If so, this is the first restorable MB jar from our excavations, and also nice evidence of the MB levels within the city wall. In addition, LB and Iron IIA levels were excavated and a nice bone object was found.

Area K: More and more architecture and smashed pottery is coming up in the area, but it is still quite hard to understand the plan and function of the contexts – and the various installations in and around them. Today the K team took out a bunch of loomweights, two nice juglets and a bunch of other vessels. An interesting find was a vessel in which a collection of small pebbles was found! We have no idea what this might have been used for!

All told – a great day – here are some pictures:

IMG_5485 IMG_5486 IMG_5487 IMG_5490 IMG_5464 IMG_5465 IMG_5466 IMG_5472 IMG_5477 IMG_5479 IMG_5481 IMG_5482 IMG_5483

The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

2016 Field Season Day 39

The probe in Grid 51

The probe in Grid 51

They have reached the Iron I, 11th century, in the Grid 51 probe. They hope to reach Phase 21, the Late Bronze Age, by the end of day tomorrow. 

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

Nice MB jar from Area F!

The Area F team just took out a really nice, almost complete MB jar! Nice!