Lachish Field Report #2: Ancient Jewelry, a Scarab, and more

Today was a very good day at the Tel Lachish archaeological excavation. Our volunteers discovered gold jewelry from the Late Bronze Age plus an Egyptian scarab that may be inscribed with a Pharaoh’s name.

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel and others examining the gold jewelry found by Wayne Galloway at Tel Lachish. More details and a photo will come at a later date. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel and others examining the gold jewelry found by Wayne Galloway at Tel Lachish. This find obviously generated interest among everyone at the site. If inscribed with a Pharaoh’s name, it may be useful in dating (or confirming the date of) the city level in which it was found. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

An upper grinding stone made of basalt. This was used for grinding grain. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

An upper grinding stone made of basalt, used for making flour from grain. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Imported pottery from Cyprus, discovered at Tel Lachish. Imported Cypriot ware tends to be well-made and beautifully decorated. Canaanite and Israelite pottery, on the other hand, is usually of a lower quality.  We do enjoy finding Cypriot vessels. (Photo by Luke Chandler).

Imported pottery from Cyprus, discovered at Tel Lachish. Imported Cypriot ware tends to be well-made and beautifully decorated. Canaanite and Israelite pottery tends to be less impressive. We do enjoy finding Cypriot vessels. (Photo by Luke Chandler).

Scarabs are usually small, oval, and double-sided. One side is carved to look like a dung beetle and the other side frequently contains Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Why a dung beetle, of all things? The British Museum explains:

The image of the scarab beetle (Scarabeus sacer) is prominent in the royal funerary decoration of the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC). After laying its eggs in a ball of dung, the scarab beetle rolls the ball before it wherever it goes. When the young beetles hatch they appear, apparently miraculously, from the dung. Thus to the ancient Egyptians the scarab beetle was a symbol of rebirth and represents the god Khepri, who was thought to push the sun disc through the morning sky, as a scarab beetle pushes its ball of dung.
Views of an Egyptian scarab similar to the one just found at Tel Lachish. Notice (Courtesy of the Oriental Institute)

Views of an Egyptian scarab similar in some ways to one found at Tel Lachish in 2014. Notice the top view (L) and side view (R) showing features of a dung beetle. (Courtesy of the Oriental Institute)

Detailed photos of the jewelry and scarab will be published later, following cleaning and analysis.

The gold jewelry was found by Wayne Galloway, one of the members of my group. The scarab came out of a square manned by two other group members. Not surprisingly, we are all fairly excited. Tomorrow is our last day with the excavation before moving on to several days of touring other sites throughout the country. While we are ready to connect with more biblical places, we cannot help but wonder what will be discovered at Lachish after we leave. In any case, our two weeks at Tel Lachish have been more productive than anticipated, and we still have one more day to go!

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Archaeology: an Ancient Destruction Layer at Lachish

One of the most exciting things to find on an archaeological dig is a destruction layer. A city level destroyed by fire tends to produce rich finds. Valuable things are trapped under ash and debris just waiting to be found. We can usually subject burnt seeds, grain, olive pits, et al. to carbon-14 tests and get an approximate date for the destruction.

Pottery vessels crushed and burned in an ancient destruction level. We often find food particles, animal bones, weapons, and other interesting things in the ash. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Pottery vessels crushed and burned in an ancient destruction level. We often find food particles, animal bones, weapons, and other interesting things in the ash. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

What does a destruction layer look like? We found one in my square at the ancient biblical city of Lachish. Here is a short video highlighting a newly-discovered destruction level.

 

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Why a Fourth archaeological expedition to Lachish?

Why undertake a fourth archaeological expedition at Tel Lachish? This is a good question since this site has been previously excavated over a number years, most recently in 1994. What does our new expedition hope to achieve?

Tel Lachish has multiple layers with remains of different civilizations going back thousands of years. Even after previous work at the site, important questions remain about the history of this biblical city. One key debate involves the dating of several Iron Age (biblical kingdom period) levels at the site. Here is a sketch of the most recent levels of the site’s occupational history according to current scholarship. Beginning with the top and working down to earlier periods:

Level 1: Persian (after Babylonian Exile – see Nehemiah 11:30; site permanently abandoned in 2nd century BC)

Level 2: Iron Age (destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon)

Level 3: Iron Age (destroyed by Sennacherib of Assyria)

Level 4: Iron Age (dating disputed)

Level 5: Iron Age (dating disputed)

[Site abandoned for a period of time]

Level 6: Late Bronze (ca. Joshua’s time)

Scholars debate the beginning and end of Levels 5 and 4. Some believe the level 5 city began in the time of David and Solomon (early-mid 10th century BC), but others place its beginning in the time of Rehoboam (late 10th century BC) or the time of Joash (late-9th century BC). Another school of thought proposes that level 5 was more akin to an unfortified village, and that level 4 represents the first true Iron Age city. In short, scholars contest both the date and the character of the level 5 city.

The Bible text states that Rehoboam “built” Lachish and other cities for defense in 2 Chronicles 11:5-9. This indicates major construction in the late-10th century BC but does not rule out the prior establishment of an Iron Age city/town at the site. Does the level 5 city belong to Rehoboam? Was it rebuilt as a much smaller city than the previous one, such as level 10 at Hazor?

Adding to the debate is the incomplete publication of the first large-scale excavations of Lachish in the 1930’s. Some of the excavated areas along the northern slopes were never published. We thus lack a good picture of the site in some important areas.

Our new excavation aims to locate the Iron Age levels and gather evidence, including carbon-14 datable materials, to help resolve the beginning and end of levels 5 and 4. This has implications in the debate over the existence and nature of the early biblical kingdoms. Did a centralized government/kingdom exist in Judah the 10th century BC, in the time of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam? Evidence regarding this lies in ancient sites such as Lachish.

We hope to gain other insights during this project, including the location of the city gate during the Early Iron and Middle/Late Bronze periods. (The current visible gate is linked to levels 3 and 2.) After just a week and a half, we have already collected a substantial amount of new data with (re)dating implications for some of the previously excavated architecture.

 

The gate associated with levels 2 and 3 at Tel Lachish. The gate for earlier levels has not yet been located. (Photo by Catherine Bishop)

The gate associated with levels 2 and 3 at Tel Lachish. Any gates for earlier levels have not yet been located at the site. (Photo by Catherine Bishop)

More to come in later posts…

Posted in 2014 Tel Lachish excavation, Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Lachish | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An ancient grinding stone perfectly designed for a woman’s hand

We finished our first week of the Tel Lachish excavation with some nice finds, including the perfectly-designed grinding stone shown in the video below. Women’s hands in the Late Bronze age (ca. 1400-1200 BC) were apparently the same size as many women’s hands today. Cindy Fite, one of the members of my group this year, explains and demonstrates:

This kind of stone (also called a millstone) was used to create flour from grain. Millstones/grinding stones are common finds in archaeology. They were among the day-to-day sounds of home life, as we perceive from this prophecy of doom in Jeremiah 25:10.

I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp.

There is nothing like digging something out of the ground that was last seen thousands of years ago. Whose was this? What things were talked about by the people who last used this object? What personal or family stories were connected to this object? We will never know the answer to these kinds of questions, but we are illuminating the daily life of ancient people. Excavators become part of the history of these objects from archaeology.

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The Tel Lachish Excavation: Field Report from Week 1

We have almost finished the first excavation week and have already (quickly!) found notable things. The first week in an archaeological dig can often be slow. One has to remove topsoil and gradually work down to the remains. Those interested in biblical periods may have to wait longer for the “good stuff” since many sites have remains from later centuries covering those layers. One may have to excavate Ottomans, Mamlukes, Crusaders, Arabs, Byzantines, and others before arriving at a layer from biblical times.

So how was our first week at Lachish? On the first day, we discovered a city wall dating back to biblical periods. On the second day we discovered a bronze figurine (idol) dating to the Late Bronze Age (aka the time of Joshua).  The figurine must undergo cleaning in a laboratory before its identification will be confirmed. On the third day we unearthed a large vessel whose contents included burnt seeds from a destruction layer in the city. This find is especially valuable because the seeds can be tested for Carbon-14 and produce a date for the destruction. (I will point out that all three of these finds happened in squares manned by my group.) On the fourth day we finally had “normal” results with “normal” finds including pottery, more architecture, household items, weapons/tools, and so on.

On an interesting note, it took six full seasons of work on our previous dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa to find a single vessel full of burnt seeds for radiometric dating. With this first season at Lachish, it took a total of three days. Could this be a good omen?

Collecting large quantities of burnt seeds from a vessel at Lachish. These may help to resolve a debate about when certain biblical layers of the city came into/fell out of use. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Collecting large quantities of burnt seeds from a vessel at Lachish. These may help to resolve a debate about when certain biblical layers of the city were built and destroyed. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

I will update soon with more news from the field. Many of the most interesting discoveries cannot yet be shown since the archaeological staff has the right and responsibility to publish them first. The finds mentioned and shown on this blog are presented with the permission of the Fourth Expedition to Tel Lachish. I can update with more details and photos at a later date.

Today’s post will conclude with a photo showing the versatility of archaeological field work.

Tal, one of our square supervisors, at work in his field office. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Tal, one of our square supervisors, at work in his field office. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Posted in 2014 Tel Lachish excavation, Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Lachish, New Discoveries | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Photos from Lachish (part 1)

My group of 13 people arrived safely in Israel and are in the middle of our first week with the new archaeological excavation at Lachish. Internet problems prevented updates on our activities and finds until now. Lachish was a prominent biblical city in Judah. It is featured in Joshua’s Conquest and became the Second City of Judah during the Divided Kingdom period. In a later post, I will cover the remarkable convergence of biblical references, historical records, historical art, and archaeological data that highlights our site of Lachish. For now, here are selected photos covering our first three days at the dig.

lkajdslk;fj (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Most of my group enjoying lunch shortly before our first venture to the dig site. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Timothy Chandler making measurements in his excavation square. Notice the black ash to the bottom left. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Timothy Chandler making measurements in his excavation square. Notice the black ash and broken pottery to the bottom left. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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JT Ray sifting sediment from his square. This process frequently produces smaller finds such as animal bones and Egyptian scarabs, among other things. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Dr. David McClister collecting sediment and cleaning the baulk in his square. The baulk is the edge of a square that shows the strata (layers) as you excavate down to different levels. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Dr. David McClister collecting sediment and cleaning the baulk in his square. The baulk is the edge of a square that shows the strata (layers) as you excavate down to different levels. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Jeffrey Kemper at work along the slope of ancient Lachish. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Jeffrey Kemper at work along the slope of ancient Lachish. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Michelle Moody enjoying her archaeological experience. Her excavation square, which includes Jeffrey, JT, and her father David, was the first in our area to produce significant finds. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Michelle Moody enjoying her archaeological experience. Her excavation square, which includes Jeffrey, JT, and her father David, was the first in our area to produce significant finds. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Catherine Bishop collecting sediment in the shade. What this photo does not show is the tremendous view of the Judean foothills around Lachish. The area is simply beautiful, but we also enjoy the large shade nets that keep out the sun's heat while we work. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Catherine Bishop collecting sediment in the shade. What this photo does not show is the tremendous view of the Judean foothills around Lachish. The area is simply beautiful, but we also enjoy the large shade nets that keep out the sun’s heat while we work. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

 

Wayne Galloway pointing at a layer of collapsed mud bricks. (They are easier to identify up close.) This was a common building material in ancient times. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Wayne Galloway pointing at a layer of collapsed mud bricks. (They are easier to identify up close.) This was a common building material in ancient times. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Dave Galloway demonstrates his handle on things. (Photo by Luke Chandler0

Dave Galloway demonstrates his handle on things. (Photo by Luke Chandler0

Cindy Fite showing off a remarkable find from her sifting work today. No, it's not pottery. More on this at a future date. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Cindy Fite showing off a remarkable find from her sifting work today. No, it’s not simply pottery. More on this at a future date. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Jonathan Biesecker soaking in the view around Lachish as the shade tents are prepared. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Jonathan Biesecker soaking in the view around Lachish as the shade tents are prepared. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Samuel Biesecker "supervising" (?) as new excavation squares are being opened. Seriously, Samuel has worked hard at the dig. I know because he's in my square. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Samuel Biesecker “supervising” (?) as new excavation squares are being opened. Seriously, Samuel has worked hard at the dig. I know because he’s in my square. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

These photos show most of our group. The entire expedition currently has around 90 members from all over the world. The internet quagmire here is being sorted out, so hopefully more photos and posts will come soon!

Posted in 2014 Tel Lachish excavation, General Archaeology, Israel, Lachish | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

From David to Jesus: The Mount of Olives

One of the best views of the Mount of Olives can be found from the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The Rampart Walk is cheap (around $4 at this time) and permits unique views of Jerusalem. I posted on this experience last year and included a short video from the experience. The walls were built from 1537-1541 when the Ottoman Turks controlled the city. They are nearly 500 years old – built just after Columbus discovered the New World – but in a city continuously occupied for thousands of years, some locals joke that the walls are “new.”

Here is a broad view of the Mount of Olives taken from the ramparts of Jerusalem’s southwestern walls. We are looking east in the photo. This view shows most of the mountain without including the buildings on the Temple Mount. The right portion (the southern end) of the mountain is covered with hundreds of thousands of Jewish tombs, some of which date back many centuries. These graves are here in the hope that their Jewish occupants will rise at the coming of the Messiah from the east and enter Jerusalem with him.

The Mount of Olives viewed from the ramparts of Jerusalem's Old City walls. This perspective gives an idea of the size of this mountain lying east of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The Mount of Olives viewed from the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. This perspective gives an idea of the size of this mountain lying east of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Interestingly, the Bible mentions this mountain by name in conjunction with only two men: David and Jesus. David fled over it during the coup d’etat of his son Absalom. The following Bible passage describes how David planted an agent in Jerusalem as he was fleeing, and indicates there was an active “high place” for worship on the summit.

David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.

While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. David said to him, “…If you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king…’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel [Absalom's chief advisor]…  So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.(1 Samuel 15:30-37)

David’s city was just off to the right in the above photo. The biblical text states that David went over the mountain and down the other side to the Jordan River Valley, where he crossed the river and proceeded to set up a base at the defensible site of Mahanaim. From here, David gathered his strength and defeated Absalom’s revolt.

Jesus climbed and crossed this mountain numerous times, most notably during the week prior to his crucifixion. He taught daily on the Temple Mount (just off to the left of the above photo) and spent his last nights in the village of Bethany on the opposite slope. Jesus was eventually arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, located along the visible slope above.

More could be said about the Mount of Olives, but we are about to join the new excavation at Lachish and time is precious. Lord willing and internet connection permitting, I will post more on the experiences of our tour and excavation experience in Israel.

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Arrival in Jerusalem

Our group all arrived safely (and with all luggage) to begin our tour of Israel and join the archaeological dig at Tel Lachish. Today was a day to explore Jerusalem’s Old City and rest up for the excavation, which begins tomorrow afternoon.

One of our first stops was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, about 50 yards or so from our hotel. This building marks the traditional location of Jesus’ crucifixion site and tomb. It may in fact be, but that analysis is for a later post.

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Our 2014 dig group, minus one member who is holding the camera, at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

To get an idea of the in-depth scholarship and adventurous spirit that characterizes our group, I offer a photo of Dr. David McClister, Chair of the Biblical Studies Program at Florida College, demonstrating the proper use of a Roman-era tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Dr. David McClister

Dr. David McClister occupying (temporarily) a Roman-period burial niche in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nothing compares to experiencing the Bible in up close and personal ways.

Look for more photos and posts directly from Israel over the coming days and weeks.

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Do finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa improve Bible translation?

If you read 1 Kings 6:31-33 in the Bible, you may see a margin note that the meaning of some Hebrew words is uncertain. Similar margin notes may also appear in Ezekiel chapter 41. Read 1 Kings 7:1-6 in different Bible versions such as the King James, Revised Standard, or New American Standard, and you will notice phrases that read very differently in the various translations.

Why is biblical Hebrew yielding markedly different English translations?  Do we not know how to translate the Bible? Does this have implications for the rest of the biblical text?

The explanation is actually straightforward. These chapters in Kings and Ezekiel all provide detailed architectural descriptions of temples and other buildings in Jerusalem. The uncertainty is only with certain technical terms in the Hebrew whose meanings were lost after many centuries. These terms were rarely if ever used in ordinary conversation. Some specific technical vocabulary was simply forgotten over time.

Recent archaeological finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa may clarify some of these lost words. Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu propose that two model shrines discovered in 2011 provide insights to resolve some of this long-standing uncertainty. You can download the article for yourself by clicking here.

Besides suggesting new translations for the aforementioned Bible passages, the article offers other intriguing proposals, including the following suggestion about a feature of “Greek” architecture.

“For millennia, classical Greek architecture has been considered among the highest achievements of human aesthetics. The stone model from Khirbet Qeiyafa indicates that one of its characteristic features, the row of rectangular triglyphs forming the Doric frieze, originated in the Levant… The triglyphs at Khirbet Qeiyafa are nearly 400 years earlier than the earliest stone-carved triglyphs of Greek Doric temples.”

Sketch showing a triglyph (highlighted) above a Doric column.  (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Sketch showing a triglyph (highlighted) above a Doric column. These are famous in Classical Greek architecture and adorned many ancient building, including the Athenian Parthenon. (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

9. Khirbet Qeiyafa stone ark

The late-11th/early-10th century BC stone shrine discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Among its distinct architectural features is the set of triglyphs above the door. This indicates the triglyph was utilized in Canaan some four centuries earlier than the Parthenon’s construction. (Courtesy of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Expedition)

This and another shrine have specific architectural features not normally found in Israel/Judah around the early 10th century – the days of the early kingdom. Here is a selection from the article’s concluding points:

“The building models uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa indicate that an elaborate Iron Age architectural style had developed as early as the tenth century BCE. Such construction is typical of royal activities, suggesting that state formation, the establishment of a social elite and urbanism had existed in the region in the days of David and Solomon… From the Khirbet Qeiyafa stone model we can glean that the [Bible] text described architectural elements that were known in that region and during that period, thus strengthening the historicity of this particular biblical tradition.” [emphasis mine]

Again, you can read and evaluate it for yourself here.

Posted in 2011 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, Ancient Architecture, archaeologists, Bible comments, Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Roman Legionary Camp Identified at Megiddo

The Sixth Roman Imperial Legion Ferrata established a permanent base at Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley during the early 2nd century AD. This display of Roman muscle, along with the Tenth Legion Fretensis in Jerusalem, was intended to stabilize a region that had already produced the Jewish War (AD 66-73) and would soon give birth to the destructive Bar Kochba Revolt (AD 133-136). As it turned out, the Sixth Legion Ferrata may have done its job. The Bar Kochba Revolt centered itself in Judea with little impact on the Jezreel Valley.

The Roman Sixth Legion stayed by Tel Megiddo for at least a century. Centuries later, an Arab village in the area continued to show its legionary roots with the name Lejjun (or, Lajjun). The village of Lejjun endured until 1948, but the exact site of the original Roman camp was just recently located. In 2013 an archaeological team uncovered buildings from the camp in a field just south of the tel. The area of the discovery is a field labeled “el-Manach” just below-right of center in the photo below. You can read a well-illustrated summary of the excavation’s finds here.

(Courtesty of the JVRP)

Aerial photo showing the tel of Megiddo (top center) and other nearby locations. The area of the Roman VI Legion camp was in the field labeled el-Manach. (Courtesty of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project)

Just below el-Manach is a crossroads that has been strategic for millennia. The road coming up from the bottom center is the exit from the Megiddo Pass (also called Wadi Ara or the Aruna Pass), connecting Megiddo to the Coastal Highway. The el-Manach field is perfectly located to guard the crossroads, and it was here that the Sixth Roman Imperial Legion established its  permanent base.

Excavation squares from the 10-day expedition in 2013 are visible below.

(Courtesy of JVRP)

Excavation squares in the field south of Tel Megiddo. This dig uncovered buildings of the original VI Legion camp in the early 2nd century AD. (Courtesy of JVRP)

Below is a photo I took of this same field during a visit to Megiddo in 2012, one year before the excavation.

(Photo by Luke Chandler)

The field of the Roman VI Legion camp, viewed from Tel Megiddo. The strategic crossroads is located immediately to the left of the trees. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The first recorded battle in history occurred in this field. Pharaoh Thutmose III came here in 1457 BC to put down a Canaanite rebellion. He ignored his generals’ advice to advance over easier terrain and instead sent his army through the narrow Wadi Ara pass. The Canaanite coalition was caught off guard as the full Egyptian army suddenly poured onto the field before Megiddo. The Canaanite army panicked and fled, and Thutmose eventually achieved a total victory. During the First World War, British General Allenby used this same maneuver against the Ottoman forces at Megiddo and routed the entire army. (The British government later granted him the title, “Lord of Armageddon.”)

(Courtesy of JVRP)

An aerial view of the 2013 excavation squares. You can see remains of 2nd century AD buildings below the modern ground level.  (Courtesy of JVRP)

I plan to be at Megiddo in just a few weeks and will try to post another photo of this area. If you want to see this yourself, come with me to Israel this fall. The tour registration closes next month, so now is the time to decide to go. You will not regret it!

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