Other Khirbet Qeiyafa Discoveries: A Tower and an Idol

After all the attention surrounding the recent “David’s Palace” announcement, here are details on some other finds from the final season at Kh. Qeiyafa. Because I have worked as a volunteer at the site for five years running, the Qeiyafa archaeological staff has graciously given me permission to post these in advance of official reports.

As reported from the dig, I worked in a new spot (“Area W”) down the slope a bit from the ancient city. Area W is an ancient building that was initially thought to be a military watchtower. It is located on the western slope of its hill. Our excavations revealed it to be an agricultural tower for pressing olives, crushing grapes, etc. The pottery we found dates the structure to the period of King Josiah, during the latter half of the 7th century B.C. This is some 350 years +/- after the period of David and Solomon and just a few decades before the destruction of Judah by the Babylonian Empire.

An agricultural tower from the later 7th century B.C. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

An agricultural tower from the later 7th century B.C. We found storage jars and other vessels, but no domestic pottery. This suggests nobody actually lived here. The building seems to have been a public one, possibly used by area farmers/vintners during harvest season. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Isaiah mentions this kind of tower:

My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it. (Isa. 5:1b-2)

An agricultural installation carved into the bedrock inside the building. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

An agricultural installation carved into the bedrock inside the building. Besides the round hole there are circular and rectangular impressions carved into the bedrock. Fruit was crushed here and the juice/oil flowed into a vessel sitting in the round hole. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The pottery assemblage included several rosette handles. Large storage jars were stamped with these on the handle to mark government property such as olive oil or wine. Judah had a tradition of stamping the handles of government-owned storage jars with the phrase LMLK (“belonging to the king”) since at least the late-8th century BC, the time of King Hezekiah. In the latter half or latter third of the 7th century BC, in the time of Josiah, these kinds of jars were stamped with a rosette flower (KOCH/LIPSCHITS 2013). The presence of several rosette handles helps us to date the tower and suggests some portion of this tower’s production was designated for government use.

One of several rosette handles found in and around the Area W tower. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

One of several rosette handles found in and around the Area W tower. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

This tower appears to have been constructed less than 100 years after Isaiah penned those words. The Area W tower at Qeiyafa provides us a near-contemporary example of what Isaiah and others in his time would think of when reading/hearing those words of Isa. 5:2.

We also found a small idol. It may be the broken torso of an Asherah, a fertility goddess mentioned numerous times in the Bible. Although idols such as Asherah were prohibited in the Law of Moses, Israel and Judah joined other Canaanite peoples in Asherah worship from the time of the Judges until the end of the kingdom period.

If we only found the torso, why would we suggest it is the figurine is an Asherah? As it turns out, Asherah has a pretty standard pose.

An Asherah figurine. (Courtesy of the Louvre)

An Asherah figurine. Notice the pose for this fertility goddess. Many Asherah statutes have been found with this standard look. (Courtesy of the Louvre)

Compare the intact statue in the photo with the broken torso from our square in the photo below.

So was the figurine broken by accident or was it an intentional destruction? (Josiah’s religious reforms described in 2 Kings 23?)

These were a few of the more interesting finds from my area this year. Stay tuned and I’ll post something more soon.

The Asherah figurine from Area W near Khirbet Qeiyafa. Though it appears to be of cruder workmanship, it is clearly the standard pose for this goddess. (Photo by Bob Henry)

The possible Asherah figurine from Area W near Khirbet Qeiyafa. Though it appears to be of cruder workmanship, it is a standard pose for this goddess. (Photo by Luke Chandler. Used with permission by the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation.)

Posted in 2013 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Israel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, New Discoveries | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Palace of David Discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa?

The latest big archaeological news is the press announcement that a Palace of King David has been discovered in the Judean foothills at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a city dating to the time of his reign. Besides the palace, a large pillared storehouse to manage taxes in kind (oil, wine, grain, etc.) was discovered along the northern edge of the city.

These discoveries are from the site I’ve worked the past five seasons. I mentioned the Iron Age fortress (“David’s Palace”) last year in a post that included a photo. The long wall was identifiable as the central building of the Iron Age city and was a large factor in the decision to excavate one more season at Qeiyafa in 2013.

The “David’s Palace” title is certainly tweaked for media exposure. For better and for worse, it worked. The story hit Israeli news sources and moved to American media in less than a day. Some interested parties have already written to criticize the sensationalism of the announcement. I understand that point of view. The media consists of people whose training is journalism, not archaeology. Many will readily soup up a headline and a story to gain readers. On the other hand Bible-related stories tend to hit big, so perhaps we should acknowledge up front that any discovery with Davidic implications will not stay small anyway. In any case, I’ll leave this discussion for others and move on.

I have worked Khirbet Qeiyafa for five years and even helped to uncover the pillared “storehouse” building in 2012. My M.A. thesis addressed the transition of Israelite society in the late-11th and early-10th centuries. Having been involved in the site and the period, here are some of my initial thoughts:

Clarify the terminology: The term “palace” does not refer to an opulent castle or some luxurious, spacious estate. It should be understood as an administrative center or fort that extends the influence of some political or military authority. In a relatively poor society such as early Iron Age Israel/Judah, such a building would have practical rather than aesthetic value. It is no surprise one of the surviving rooms has evidence of metal industry for producing weapons and/or tools. It was not built as a royal residence, though a ruler or governor would probably stay there during a visit.

Parallels? This reminds me of the Iron Age fortress building at Lachish. Like the structure at Qeiyafa, it’s by far the largest building at its site and is clearly public in nature. The Lachish structure is a bigger, later building with a couple of expansions, but probably served some similar purpose. Ancient fortified cities typically had a fort or “palace” that served administrative and defensive functions. There are later Iron Age parallels for “palaces” and storage buildings at other sites in Israel and Judah. I’d be interested in a study comparing/contrasting some of them with what has been found at Qeiyafa.

The foundation of the central fortress structure at Lachish. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The foundation of the central fortress at Lachish. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Implications: At this moment the fortress structure and the site in general point to a centralized authority over the region in the late-11th or early-10th century B.C. Ancient texts, including the Bible, give us Philistine, Canaanite, and Israelite/Judahite possibilities for that place at that time. The city is clearly not Philistine but carries several markers suggesting Israelite/Judahite inhabitants. Was it Canaanite? That must be demonstrated, along with a purpose for building the city where it is. Whoever built it did so under the nose of the Philistines, who apparently were unable to prevent its construction. Did it belong to an Israelite or Judahite polity led by David? Quite possibly, maybe even probably, though we can’t prove anything that specifically right now. Some individuals are professionally/personally invested in a “fictitious David” paradigm to the extreme and will automatically deny anything suggesting the contrary. Still, we cannot yet rule out other possibilities even if they seem less likely.

Don’t want to accept Israelite or Judahite explanations? One must then ask, who else would be defending the Elah Valley corridor from the Philistines, and why? We have no textual evidence for another expansionist polity in that region at that time. In my view, with the present evidence, it’s hard to make a case for a Canaanite polity producing Qeiyafa. The simpler answer is usually the better one, which points to Israelites/Judahites.

Many words have been and will be written about this fortress and its implications. Here are a few more thoughts, in no particular order.

  • Scholars with opposing views of Kh. Qeiyafa still agree on the general timeframe of the Iron Age city – around the late-11th/early-10th century B.C. This date range comes from the pottery assemblage and multiple C14 results. Barring some evidence to the contrary, the central Iron Age fortress should date to the same period.
  • At this point people have only portions of the puzzle with which to work. When all excavation data is published (within the next two or three years, perhaps) scholars everywhere can analyze everything and form grounded conclusions.
  • Scholarly skepticism is a healthy thing. It keeps people honest and raises standards.
  • However… some people have wired themselves to immediately disparage anything that appears to support contested portions of the Bible. Be skeptical of their skepticism.
  • Only a few seem willing to accept the excavators’ conclusions at this point. That’s okay. The Qeiyafa staff have been immersed in the site and its finds for years. We should expect them to have formed strong conclusions. Most everyone else is just now seeing portions of the evidence for the first time. Give it time, publish everything, and we’ll see how people come to think about things.
  • Those of us who believe in the Bible should learn from the past. Well-meaning people, along with some rascals, have repeatedly “discovered” Noah’s Ark (in many different places), underwater chariot wheels in the Red Sea, the Ark of the Covenant, and other remarkable things that ended up being untrue. There is nothing lost by being patient and, like the residents of Roman Berea, waiting to examine the actual evidence “to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
  • Remember… Archaeology can never provide all of the answers.

The Qeiyafa staff is working to publish the remaining seasons. The 2007-2008 volume has been out for a while. Two more volumes will cover the 2009 to 2013 seasons.

The Iron Age fortress wall at the end of the 2012 season. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The Iron Age fortress wall at the end of the 2012 season. As you can see the top surviving course was just a few inches below the modern ground level. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

asd (Photo courtesy of IAA)

The lower outside wall on the bedrock is the Iron Age fortress as it appears at the end of the 2013 season at Qeiyafa. Some inner walls are clearly visible. The walls and corner encompassing the tree are a Byzantine intrusion that obliterated most of the original Iron Age structure.  (Photo by Sky View, courtesy of the IAA)


An aerial view of Khirbet Qeiyafa from the north. The pillared “storehouse” building is the excavated area marked by white sandbags to the right of bottom center. The central fortress building is above the black shade tents in the middle of the photo. (Photo by Sky View, courtesy of the IAA)


The pottery assemblage presented at the press announcement. (Photo by Clara Amit, courtesy of the IAA)

I was surprised by the press release this morning. I had been planning to post on the Area W building down the hill from the city. It dates several centuries later and turned out to be very interesting. I’ll now hold off on that for a few days. What we have here in the early Iron Age is already generating plenty of discussion.

Posted in 2012 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, 2013 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Israel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Lachish, New Discoveries | 8 Comments

What is a Typical Day Like on an Excavation? (or, A Day in the Life… Again??)

Rebekah Dutton has a new post titled “Archaeology Dig – A Day in the Life” describing a typical dig day at Ashkelon. It may be fun to compare it with this post of mine from July, 2009, describing a typical day at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Curiously, we chose similar titles for our posts. (Are we all Beatles fans?) Notice the similarities – and differences – in our daily schedules. Both posts have photos.

Some of you may be aware of a new story on Khirbet Qeiyafa that was announced by the IAA a few hours ago. The Israeli press already has the story along with a blog or two. Its headline guarantees it will hit the US/UK media quickly. I’ll have my own comments and some photos posted shortly.

Posted in Ashkelon, General Archaeology, Israel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Links to interesting stuff | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Short Video: From Jericho to Masada at the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is always an enjoyable place to visit. I make a point of going there during every trip to Israel. A warm float in the Dead Sea and the fresh, cool waterfalls of Ein Gedi wash away every trace of working at a dig.

Here is some new video of the area outside Jericho and in front of Masada.

  • See the relationship of Jericho to Jerusalem.
  • Gain an idea of the descent/ascent between the two cities.
  • Note how close the Dead Sea is to Jericho.
  • See the border region between Israel and Jordan. (Or is it ancient Judah and Moab?)
  • Enjoy a great view of Masada and its snake trail to the top.
  • Consider whether David may have spent time at Masada while fleeing from Saul.

Those who have not yet visited the Dead Sea region can gain a good idea of the relationships between the various dots on a Bible map. There is nothing like actually being there, but this video may tantalize you.

The whole video is just under six minutes in length.

Posted in Bible comments, Interesting places to visit, Israel, Jerusalem, Jordan, Overseas trips, Short videos, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Day with the Duttons (or, How Much Can Gentiles Pack Into a Sabbath?)

Last weekend I had the privilege to be with Trent and Rebekah Dutton. The Duttons are a great couple with an interesting story. Both are computer programmers with experience in military applications. Their interest in biblical geography and archaeology grew as they taught Bible classes at church, and piqued after a tour of Israel with Ferrell Jenkins in 2012. In short, they made a career change and are starting the two-year process to earn an M.A. in Biblical Archaeology at Wheaton College. (They were both accepted to Wheaton and are going through the program concurrently.) The first stage of their program is to excavate at Ashkelon with the Leon Levy Expedition for its full six-week season, followed by a semester of coursework in Jerusalem. They will then move to the Chicago area for the remaining 1-1/2 years of the program (with another Bible Lands dig next summer to boot.)

They and I have mutual friends who helped us to connect in Israel and spend part of a weekend together.

Trent and Rebekah Dutton enjoying the waterfalls and pools of Ein Gedi. Rebekah did, in fact, stand under one of the waterfalls. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Trent and Rebekah Dutton enjoying the waterfalls and pools of Ein Gedi. A few seconds after this photo was taken, Rebekah went over to a waterfall and allowed it to drench her. Trent got some excellent photos of the experience which will no doubt be posted on their joint blog. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

After Ein Gedi we went to the Dead Sea for a long, relaxing float as the sun began to set. I’m afraid I have no photo of that experience since my camera batteries had died, though the Duttons were able to get some nice shots of their first experience in the water. We enjoyed a quiet Friday evening by the Dead Sea as Shabbat (Sabbath) began and rested for our adventures the next day.

Our Sabbath morning began by driving south along the Dead Sea and then moving up into the Negev toward the ancient city of Arad.

We drove up from the Dead Sea to the ancient fortress of Arad. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The ancient fortress of Arad. During the time of Moses, Arad’s king attacked the Israelites and took captives. Later, the descendants of Jethro (the Kenites) settled in this area.  During the Iron Age (kingdom period) the fortress protected the border against Edom and the Amelekites. Arad was destroyed several times in the kingdom period and has produced ostraca (inscriptions on pottery) that reveal something of the development of Iron Age Hebrew. The fortress has been restored to appear as it did during the time of the kingdom of Judah. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

After Arad we drove WNW to Beersheba (Beer Sheva). This city was considered the southern boundary of Israelite settlement. (“From Dan to Beersheba…”) Abraham spent a number of years around Beer Sheva and no doubt would have entered the city from time to time for trade, consultations, negotiations for water/grazing rights, etc.

Trent at Beer Sheva. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Trent Dutton at Beer Sheva. He is standing next to a replica of an altar that was destroyed during Hezekiah’s religious reforms. The original altar was part of a high place in the city and is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Iron Age Beer Sheva had casemate walls with private dwellings abutting the inner wall. This architectural style did not exist in Philistea, Canaanite cities, or in northern Israel. In Canaan, this design was unique to Judah and can be found at other southern sites such as Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel en-Nasbeh (Mizpah).

Rebekah examining Iron Age casemate walls at Beersheba. Visitors are required to wear hard hats to enter the underground water system that was carved into the bedrock during the early Iron Age. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Rebekah examining Iron Age casemate walls at Beersheba. She is standing in an Israelite house that abutted the city wall. Noticing her hard hat? Visitors at Beer Sheva are required to wear hard hats to enter the underground water system that was carved into the bedrock during the early Iron Age (kingdom period). Photo by Luke Chandler.

After Beersheba we drove north to the Judean foothills (Shephelah). Most restaurants are closed on Saturdays due to Shabbat, so we enjoyed a nice gas station lunch by the Elah Valley consisting of sandwiches, chips, and chocolate. As it happens, Khirbet Qeiyafa was just a few minutes from our lunch spot…


Our gourmet lunch from an Elah Valley gas station. It actually turned out quite nicely. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

After giving the Duttons a tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa, we drove to the coast, to the land of the ancient Philistines, where they gave me a tour of Ashkelon.


The Canaanite rampart and gate (under the roof) at Ashkelon. This rampart circled Ashkelon on three sides (the fourth side was the beach) and protected the city in the Middle Bronze Age – around the time of the Patriarchs. Philistines moved in centuries later and became the new proprietors. This was the city where Samson killed thirty Philistines and took their clothes to satisfy a bet he lost in Judges 15. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The view from the top of the rampart by the gate. Yes, there are far worse places to excavate than on a beach with an ocean breeze. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The view from the top of the rampart by the gate. Yes, there are far worse places to excavate than along a picturesque beach with an ocean breeze. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Trent and your truly standing next to Crusader walls at Ashkelon.

Trent and your truly standing next to the ruins of Crusader walls at Ashkelon. Ashkelon was a major base and port for the early Crusaders. Richard III (Lionheart) stayed here for a time during his campaigns against Saladin. The Muslims eventually leveled the entire city to prevent it from ever again being used by crusading Europeans. From an archaeological perspective, this protected the site from further development and preserved many nice things for us to find. (Photo by Rebekah Dutton)

We ended our day with a hot meal by the beach in modern Ashkelon. The Duttons went to their excavation hotel to rest up for work the next day while I drove back to Jerusalem that evening. From the Dead Sea to the Negev, to the Shephelah, to the coast, to Jerusalem – with numerous site visits – all in one day. And with great company.

As I write this, the Duttons are in their last week with the Ashkelon excavation. You can follow their blog as they wrap up the dig and prepare for a semester in Jerusalem.

Posted in Biblical Archaeology, Christians in Other Places, General Archaeology, Israel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Let’s Go to Gezer Together (with video)

Archaeological teams often take field trips to other sites during excavation season. Last Thursday afternoon, we went to the biblical city of Gezer. This site has seen the best of times and the worst of times. What does that mean? Check out this short video of our visit.

Joshua defeated Gezer’s army in the field but did not capture or occupy the city itself (Joshua 10:33). Gezer remained an independent Canaanite city until the time of Solomon, when the Egyptians destroyed it and gave it to Solomon as a dowry for his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 9:16). Solomon rebuilt it as an administrative center as he reorganized Israelite society from one of  tribal networks to centralized governorships (1 Kings 9:15; 4:7-19).

How did Gezer retain its independence from Israel for so long? We don’t have all of the story, but one reason may be economic. As you see in the video, it was a very well-located city at a crossroads of Philistine, Israelite, and Judahite territories. Gezer sat along key highways for commerce and could have easily disrupted the economy of any local aggressor. Add substantial defenses against a siege and you have a tough nut to crack. Governments in Canaan probably found it easier and safer to work with the Canaanites in Gezer.

The Bible doesn’t give us details on Egypt’s destruction of Gezer and its handover to Solomon, but perhaps we can speculate. Egypt had been embroiled in the internal strife of its Third Intermediate Period and an energetic Pharaoh seeking to reassert Egypt’s influence might have found Gezer an attractive way to seize control of key trade routes and reestablish a base of influence in Canaan. Such a move would have carried great risk given Israel’s dominance in that period, along with the reality of Egypt’s decline. Turning Gezer over to to Solomon, along with an Egyptian princess to boot, would be a good way to make nice with an angry Israelite monarch. (Foreign kings didn’t just marry daughters of Pharaoh.) Jerome Murphy-O’Conner comments on this possibility in his book, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (highly recommended for Bible students who visit Israel).

Posted in Biblical Archaeology, Egypt, General Archaeology, Gezer, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Israel, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Food Watch: Make fresh Halvah for your kids! (And for yourself)

One of my favorite things about travel is the chance to taste new things. Here’s a favorite dessert that’s natural, healthy, and easy to make. You only need two ingredients. If you have kids/grandkids, they will love you. Your spouse will love you. You may even love yourself. Watch this video and give it a try…

I’ve found halvah for sale in some U.S. grocery stores, usually in an ethnic food aisle. (I’ve also seen Tahini there.) Sometimes halvah is sold as a munchable finger food (kind of like fudge) rather than a spread. Either way, it’s yummy stuff. I plan to make it for my kids when I get home.

Posted in Culture & Cuisine, Israel, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fiddler on the Roof meets an Archaeological Dig

I am excavating at Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel, but am also in the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Florida about four weeks from now. “Fiddler” is about a Jewish community trying to hold on to its traditions in the revolutionary fervor of 1905 Russia. It’s one of my favorite shows and, amid the humor and songs, holds profound spiritual lessons.

For those familiar with the show, I am playing the role of Lazar Wolfe. So how does one prepare for such a role while doing archaeology? The (somewhat-lighthearted) video below demonstrates one way to do this.

If you live anywhere near the Tampa area, come out and see the production on July 26 or 27. We even have lunch/dinner show options. There are advantages to ordering your tickets now. Visit Broadway Comes to Camp for information and ticket orders.

Posted in Culture & Cuisine, Humor, Israel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Links to interesting stuff, Personal, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Video: The Ramparts Walk atop the Walls of Jerusalem’s Old City

Most visitors to Jerusalem never take the opportunity to walk atop the walls of the Old City. For the equivalent of four or five dollars you can walk along the ramparts and enjoy unique views not available on the ground.

The walls are nearly 500 years old and form the perimeter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The Old City consists of four quarters (Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish) plus the Temple Mount. Most tourists today are familiar with the pedestrian-choked narrow streets lined with shops. The ramparts walk lets you view parts the city you may not otherwise see. It also has a great view south over a biblically historic area. I touch on some of that in the short video below.

I walked along the wall from the Jaffa Gate on the west side to the Dung Gate on the south side. Fantastic experience. See a few highlights on the video.

If you have the opportunity to do this yourself, be advised there are many small flights of stairs along the ramparts. You may get a bit of a workout, especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack in the summer. (Yes, yes… I know.) The video cannot relate the whole experience. If you legs are in decent shape and you have an opportunity, I recommend doing this.

Post Script: I case you are taken aback by my beard, I am growing it out for a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in about a month. It will probably return to normal at the end of July.

Posted in Ancient Architecture, Interesting places to visit, Israel, Jerusalem, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Video: David’s battlefield up close

Since this is our last year to excavate in the Elah valley in Israel, I made a short, up-close video of David’s battlefield with Goliath. You can “be there” as we go over the events of 1 Samuel 17.


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