The new King David exhibit (video, photos)

The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem has opened a new exhibit, In the Valley of David and Goliath, featuring artifacts from the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations. I worked with this dig from 2009 to its conclusion in 2013. The discoveries are illuminating the culture and political situation in Southern Canaan during the earliest days of the Israelite/Judahite kingdoms.

The time of David, around 1000 BC, has until recently been problematic in archaeology for a lack of finds. The Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations changed this equation with abundant discoveries illuminating many aspects of life and faith in that period. It is the first fortified city we have found in Judah that dates specifically to the time of the biblical kings Saul and David.

This short video explains the importance of the excavation results and the aims of the exhibit. It is worth watching.

Here are photos of the new exhibition:


Discoveries from Khirbet Qieyafa on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The displays from left to right: a standing stone (massebah) with offering table for worship, a group of chalices, shrine/temple models, and other religious/cultic finds including a basalt altar. (Credit: Oded Antmann)


Model of a typical residential building in Khirbet Qeiyafa.  (Credit: Oded Antmann)


Examples of storage vessels from Khirbet Qeiyafa. We found hundreds of these jars and/or their stamped handles. (Credit: Oded Antmann)


Cooking ware and flint knives from Khirbet Qeiyafa. (Credit: Oded Antmann)

The Bible Lands Museum is dedicated to understanding and appreciating the history of the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Most of its permanent displays are the private (and extensive) collection of Dr. Elie and Batya Borowski. I visited this museum for the first time in the summer of 2016 and enjoyed the experience. An informative English-language tour was included in my admission price. I look forward to visiting again, especially if the David and Goliath exhibit is still running in June of 2017. It is located next to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

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Archaeologists restore floor tiles from 2nd Jerusalem Temple

What did people see beneath their feet when walking on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago? What surface did people stand on during events such as the Passover, or when listening to a favorite rabbi’s discourse?

The Temple Mount today is mostly paved with the honey-colored stone typical of Jerusalem, but this was not the case in the time of Jesus. The walking surface of the ancient temple courtyards appears to have been made of imported stones, cut and polished to create ornate geometric designs.


Reconstructed floor tiles of the Second Temple courtyards. Each of these two reassembled squares measures around 1 foot in diameter. (Credit: The Temple Mount Sifting Project)

In 1999, tons of Temple Mount sediments were illegally removed and dumped by Islamic authorities during construction of an underground mosque. To sift and analyze the massive piles of dumped debris, archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira established the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Volunteers working at the project have since found thousands of objects from all periods of Jerusalem’s history. Among the finds are, currently, more than 100 pieces of floor tile that can be dated to the time of Herod’s temple.

This article in the Jerusalem Post contains many interesting details and is worth reading in full.


TODAY… the Temple Mount as it appears now, with even-colored paving stones. The walking surfaces were  once very different. We have evidence of colorful inlaid work some 2,000 years ago. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The image below shows a section of reassembled floor tiles from the Temple courtyards. They are made of cut, polished, high-quality stone imported from across the Roman world. This is what priests, worshippers, Christians, and Jesus Himself walked on while visiting the Temple Mount.


Restored floor tiles from the Second Jerusalem Temple. The inlay work is so exquisite, no one on the research team could fit a sharp blade between the stone segments, even after 2,000 years. (Photo credit: Zachi Divira/Temple Mount Sifting Project)

When I think of New Testament events such as Jesus teaching in the Temple, or 12 year-old Jesus staying behind to discuss the Law with scholars of the day, or of the early church meeting underneath the porticos that surrounded the temple platform, these elaborate stone surfaces will now come to mind. With such costly and labor-intensive courtyard floors, it is no surprise the buildings themselves were remarkable to behold. The words of Mark 13:1-2 really come to life.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

We can see evidence of both the beauty and the destruction in these recovered floor stones. Below are additional examples of reconstructed floor tiles from the  1st centuryTemple Mount.


Reconstructed stone floor tiles from the 1st century Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Temple Mount Sifting Project)


Reconstructed stone floor tiles from the Second Temple. (Temple Mount Sifting Project)


The fine and expensive craftsmanship evident in these reconstructed floor tiles is similar to other projects associated with Herod the Great. (Temple Mount Sifting Project)

Posted in Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem, Jesus, Links to interesting stuff, New Discoveries, New Testament | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

10th Century BC “Solomonic” Palace Found at Gezer

The Tel Gezer Expedition just announced the discovery of a palatial building tentatively dated to the 10th century BC, around the time of King Solomon in the Bible. The Bible says Solomon fortified Gezer, so a large building from this period attracts public interest. Is this a structure of Solomon’s government?


Aerial view of the palatial building found in ancient Gezer, which archaeologists have tentatively dated to King Solomon’s time. This image shows the building is adjacent to the city’s well known 6-chambered gate (left). Credit: Tel Gezer Excavation Project, Steven M. Ortiz

In the biblical record, Gezer (pronounced geh-zer not “geezer”) came under Israelite control when a Pharaoh destroyed the Canaanites there, burned the city, and gave it as a dowry for his daughters marriage to Solomon. (The current expedition recently found this destruction layer as well.) Geer joined Megiddo and Hazor to become one of three administrative centers for the Jerusalem government as Solomon created new centralized bureaucracy to replace the clan-based system that had been in place for generations. (1 Kings 4:1-19)

The text from the Ha’aretz article by Philippe Bohstrom is below along with photos. You can also view this article on the Ha’aretz site before it goes behind a paywall.

It will be interesting to see if the preliminary dating holds up after further analysis and the radiocarbon results. The article includes information on the building’s architecture. It will be good to see further results on how it compares/contrasts with the palatial buildings at Megiddo, Lachish, and other regional sites from late Iron I and early Iron II. How much of the building, if any, remains to be excavated?

Expeditions at Gezer have been difficult since Macalister’s work there over a century ago pretty much butchered the site. It is encouraging to see more of the current expedition’s success.

HT: Joe Lauer

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King Solomon-era Palace Found in Biblical Gezer 

 Monumental 3000-year-old ruins, Philistine pottery support biblical tales of Gezer’s rise, and fall to a jealous pharaoh. 

Philippe Bohstrom

A palatial building dating to the era of King Solomon 3000 years ago has been discovered in the royal city of Gezer, though there is no evidence which of the Israelite kings lived there, if any.

The monumental building dates to the 10th century BCE, the era associated with King Solomon, who is famed for bringing wealth and stability to the newly-united kingdom of Israel and Judah. The American archaeological team also found a layer featuring Philistine pottery, lending credence to the biblical account of them living in the city until being vanquished by King David.

The complex features a large central courtyard, like contemporary palace-like buildings found throughout the southern Levant, including at Hatzor and Megiddo. Though there’s no telling who ruled from there, if anybody did, the edifice is significantly larger than the size of ordinary houses of the time, excavation co-director Prof. Steve Ortiz, representing the Tandy Museum of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of Fort Worth, Texas, told Haaretz. Among the features not found in usual domestic structures is ashlar masonry – large rectangular-shaped monolithic hewn stones – in the corners of rooms, Ortiz said.

Violent 6000-year history

Gezer, located in the Shephela (foothills) region of Israel overlooking the coastal plain, at the junction of a pass leading up to Jerusalem, goes back way before King Solomon. The site was occupied as far back as the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE), and 3400 years ago, its Canaanite population was closely tied with far-off Egypt, as we know from cylinder seals and a large cartouche of Pharaoh Amenhotep III uncovered there in previous seasons.

Excavations have proven that the city did suffer violent destruction at the hands of the Egyptians, who mention Gezer time and again in their records. Thutmose III recorded its capture on the walls of the temple at Karnak; The city later played a prominent role in the Amarna Tablets, mentioned by name at least nine times. Pharaoh Merneptah boasted on his stele that he “seized Gezer.” Later an Egyptian pharaoh turned on Gezer, for reasons we no longer know, burning down the city and slaughtering its Canaanite population.

According to the Old Testament, the city was also associated with the Philistines in David’s time: the king broke their power “from Geba to as far as Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25; 1 Chronicles 14:16). This excavation season has proved the Philistine link too, when the archaeologists revealed a layer with Philistine bichrome pottery. The archaeologists also found a tell-tale fragment of a so-called “Ashdod figurine,” long-necked, bird-faced female figures that many believe depict an Aegean goddess. Such figurines have been found associated with Philistine remains in other excavations, such as in Ashdod, Timna, Ekron and Ashkelon.

Ortiz puts these discoveries into proportion: Archaeologists still believe Gezer was mainly a Canaanite city, but during their era from about 1200 to 600 BCE, Philistines either lived in it alongside the Canaanites, or the two peoples had trading relations. “Gezer sits at an important crossroads. By location, it was an important border city,” Ortiz says.

Dowry to Solomon’s wife

The newly discovered palace is west of the so-called Solomonic Gate, a six chambered inner gate, although it is doubtful that a Jerusalemite king actually spent time at Gezer. The excavation team calls the building “Solomon’s Palace” because of the biblical tradition of Solomon building grand projects at Hatzor, Megiddo, and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15: “And this is the reason of the levy which king Solomon raised; for to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer“).

The bible says that Egypt’s powerful monarch gave Gezer as a dowry to Solomon’s wife (or one of them – legend says his harem consisted of 700 wives and 300 concubines) and that Solomon rebuilt the city: “Pharaoh king of Egypt had come up and captured Gezer and had burned it with fire, and he had also killed the Canaanites dwelling in the city. So he gave it as a parting gift to his daughter the wife of Solomon. Solomon built up Gezer” – (1 Kings 9: 16-17). The excavations have uncovered tantalizing evidence that this biblical passage was based on actual events.

The city was destroyed in the late Iron Age I (around 1200-1000) BCE. On the ruins, a new city with fortifications, the famous gate complex, and a palace were constructed, dating to the second half of the 10th century BCE – Solomon’s era. The sheer scale and craftsmanship of the palace shows that only a ruler with vast resources and a highly organized and skilled labor forces could afford, let alone organize, the construction of this palace complex.

The main feature is two parallel long rooms, or courtyards, surrounded on all sides by various rooms, numbering at least 15. The palace has two entrances from the east and west. The entrance from the west also connects this building to the monumental six-chambered gate associated by most scholars with Solomon. This entrance is more robustly built than the rest of the building: The walls are constructed with two to three rows of stones wide, built of roughly dressed field stones somewhat smaller in size than those used in the rest of the building.

Egypt invades Israel and Judah

Several of the rooms and the courtyards, which had once been thickly plastered, suffered destruction, judging by roughly meter-thick layer of building stones and rubble on the floors. This destruction is tentatively associated with the Shishak invasion in 925 BCE: the pharaoh (also known as Sheshonk I in the Egyptian records) is famous for his invasion of Israel and Judah, as recorded in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 12:1-12).

When Solomon died, his kingdom descended into chaos. With a mighty force of chariots and horsemen, Shishak attacked ancient Israel, seeking control of trade routes with Egypt and to extend his power and influence in the region. Ample evidence of his assault remains in Israel and Judah. A fragment of a stele found at Megiddo mentions Sheshonk (Shishak), possibly indicating that the stele was erected there to commemorate his victory. Also, a relief on a temple wall at Karnak (in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes) lists numerous local cities or villages that Shishak conquered.

Archaeologists had assumed that once they cleared the massive stones left behind from the destruction, they would find storerooms filled with artifacts. To their dismay, most of the rooms were empty. “It appears that everything was cleaned out before the destruction. Perhaps they knew of the impending attack and removed most of the objects,” Ortiz says.

Several finds indicate the relative wealth of the inhabitants. One is a lid from an ivory gamebox, consisting of 20 squares with elaborate rosette carvings. The diggers found faience amulets and a Canaanite-type female fertility figurine that was missing its head. That figurine was either a leftover from earlier occupants or an indication of continuity from the Canaanite tradition into the 10th century BCE.

The researchers also found three ovens in the courtyard, but no complete vessels associated with them. One room had a complete cooking pot and a baby rattle.

Dr. Sam Wolff, an archaeologist employed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and co-director of the excavation along with Ortiz, urges caution in connecting the finds from the excavation with biblical texts.

Regarding attribution of the palace to the time of King Solomon, Wolff tells Haaretz, “Our 10th century date is tentative, pending further study of the ceramic assemblage and the results of carbon 14 analyses. Others may claim that the pottery we are calling 10th century is in fact 9th century.

“In this regard, I would point out that we have found a significant stratum between what we are calling the 10th century and the 8th century strata, and we date this stratum to the 9th century,” Wolff says. “For the earliest stratum to be 9th century as well is certainly possible, but it would then squeeze two significant strata into one century. For the time being we prefer to date this earlier stratum, along with the six-chamber gate and the fortification wall connecting the two, to the 10th century; that is, to the time of Solomon.”

Philistine ptty_Gezer

Pieces of typically Philistine-style bichromatic and multicolored pottery found at ancient Gezer. (Credit: Sam Wolff)

Gezer_IronBldg 2

A building dated to 10th century Gezer, the era of King Solomon. (Credit: Tel Gezer Excavation Project, Steven M. Ortiz)


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Still Feeling the Burn: Excavating an Ancient Destruction Layer

My previous post featured an interesting discovery in my dig square at Lachish: a circular feature surrounded by ash, located several feet below the modern ground level. The new video below shows our progress in excavating the circular structure and the stone features nearby.

As noted in the video, the dig square contains some kind of wall near or attached to a Canaanite temple from the Late Bronze Age. (For Bible students, this is the period of the judges.) The wall contains a corner with a line of stones running into an adjacent dig square, plus a possible threshold entrance. Some kind of stone installation is also nearby. Did all of these exist together at the same time? How does the circular structure relate to the stone features, if it does at all? We still do not have these answers, though they will probably come in the next week or two.

We excavated some more and cleaned everything after shooting the new video. Here is a final photo of the square at the end of my group’s last day. What are we seeing here?


My dig square at the end of our last day with the 2016 expedition. The stone and mud brick installations have been clarified and cleaned. How do they relate to each other? This is for the ones after us to discover. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Beginning next week, new volunteers will arrive and finish our square. We hope they will find the remaining answers to the puzzle we have left behind.

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Feel the Burn: Destruction from 3200+ years ago

We discovered clues to an ancient destruction in my dig square yesterday. See what we found and hear what we think it means in this 2-minute video.

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Tests Indicate Underground Shaft at Tel Lachish; Possible Water System

Results from last week’s geophysical survey at Tel Lachish show what appears to be an underground shaft at the site. The survey team and the excavators at Lachish believe the shaft is likely part of an ancient water system similar to ones found at Jerusalem, Megiddo, Gibeon (el-Jib), Gezer, or Hazor. The Lachish shaft, if confirmed, may be up to 10 meters wide and at least 20 meters deep.

Ancient water sources were often located outside city walls, down the slopes of the mounds. Water systems allowed city residents to safely access water via underground tunnels or shafts during an enemy siege.

Who w0uld have built a water system at Lachish? It was most likely a Canaanite or Judahite king. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, fortified Lachish in the late 10th century BC (2 Chronicles 11:5-7). Hezekiah constructed a famous water system in Jerusalem and could have undertaken a similar project at Lachish. Even if any tunnel turns out to be Canaanite, it would likely have been utilized by the Kingdom of Judah.


A computer receiving data during the recent Geophysical survey at Tel Lachish. This test indicated the existence of an underground shaft at least 20 meters deep. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

It is impossible to know more until the shaft has been excavated, a process that will take months and require professional workers.

Perhaps a few readers can play a role in the Lachish Tunnel project. The estimated cost to excavate this ancient water tunnel is around $300,000. Are you in a position to consider taking a financial stake in this project? Israel’s National Park Service is currently upgrading Lachish as a tourist site. Any water system would be a tangible, visible connection to the ancient (perhaps biblical) past. If you have an interest in funding this project, contact Prof. Yosef Garfinkel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


The water system at Megiddo. City residents walked though this tunnel to access the city’s water spring from the inside. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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Progress in a Dig Square: What Are These Stones?

We have a small mystery in our dig square. Want to track it with us as we uncover the details?

After some work at leveling this part of the slope, this is what we had. There are a few revealed stones toward the top in this photo but nothing else other than pottery and some animal bones.


After some leveling work, a mostly empty square. This will not continue to be the case, however…

Steve Braman suddenly discovered a long, flat stone along the right side of the above photo. Our director Dr. Yossi Garfinkel was there at the time and personally helped to clear its top. This stone could be any number of things. A wall? A threshold or entrance to an ancient building? A fallen “standing stone” that used to represent a deity? Notice there is a small stone standing vertically just above Prof. Garfinkel’s brush. What relation, if any, does it have to the long, flat stone?


Steve Braman found a large, flat stone. Notice his glee at being the one to discover it. At this moment we became the most interesting square in the area, an honor that frequently changes locations.

We continued to lower the section and encountered more stones. The small vertical stone now seems a bit random. Maybe it is part of a collapse? The first one Steve discovered (the big one) looks less like a fallen standing stone. Most of these new stones are also flat on top and all are smaller than the first one. Do we have a pavement? A collapse? A wall? Could this still be an entrance to something? Our imaginations kick into gear as we continue to remove dirt in an even, methodical fashion.


More stones reveal themselves but the new ones are all smaller. Whatever this is, it is growing in size.

After a good bit of work we uncover a few more stones. This is a good point to clean everything and get some photos. What does the image below look like to you?


What we have grows more interesting. What is it? At a glance it may look like a random pile, but there is more to it.

This collection is not a scattered pile of rocks. Most are flat on top and are laid out to create straight lines. Some are marked in the image below.


This pile of stones has corners and lines. Most of the stones are basically the same size but the first one, also flattened on top, is much bigger than the rest. Why is this? 

This is where we are at the time of this writing. We have numerous flat-topped stones laid out to form at least one corner and several straight lines. It is clear someone made this with a purpose. We must keep digging to find out what that purpose was. It could be an entrance, a cultic (religious) installation, a wall, or something else entirely.

Any guesses? Check back later for updates as we continue at the Tel Lachish excavation.

Posted in 2016 Tel Lachish excavation, archaeologists, General Archaeology, Lachish, New Discoveries | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

High-tech meets muscle: Searching for an ancient water system

After excavating in Israel for 7 years in a row, I observed something new this week. A group of specialists literally hammered the ground, looking for an ancient underground water tunnel in the biblical city of Lachish.

Water sources for many Ancient Near Eastern cities were located outside the city walls, leaving populations vulnerable during a siege. A water system would permit residents to safely access the water from inside the city. In ancient Canaan we have examples of underground water systems in Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Jerusalem, Beersheba, and Gibeon, among other places. Will Lachish soon join this list?

At Lachish, surveys with Ground Penetrating Radar and other high tech methods have revealed a possible underground tunnel near our excavation area. A team of specialists came out this week to conduct a geophysical survey that should confirm whether such a tunnel exists.


Specialists at Lachish laid out special sensors in a line along the area to be surveyed. (Photo by Luke Chandler)


These men pounded a sledgehammer to a metal plate near each sensor down the line. The seismic waves reveal information about subterranean features. (Photo by Luke Chandler)


The sensors transmitted seismic data to a computer. This data will be processed over the next two or three weeks to determine if a large tunnel exists under this area. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Previous visitors to Israel may recognize some of these ancient water systems from ancient Israel and Judah.


Inside the water tunnels of Jerusalem. (Photo by Luke Chandler)


Walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem. This water system carries water from the original spring to a pool that was inside the city walls 2,700 years ago (Photo by Luke Chandler)


A portion of the water system at Megiddo. City residents used to walk though this tunnel to access the original spring from the inside. (Photo by Luke Chandler)


Illustration showing the ancient water system at Beersheba (Beer Sheva). Aqueducts brought water from the nearby wadi/stream into underground chambers under the city walls.

Secure water systems were key to many cities’ defenses but could also lead to their abandonment. Cities frequently blocked and camouflaged the outside springs to deny them to attackers. If the interior tunnel entrances were buried or forgotten after a destruction event, the city could no longer support a population. A lack of water access may have led to the abandonment of once-great cities such as Megiddo, Hazor, Beersheba, and even Lachish.

Will we find a long lost underground water system at Lachish? We may know in just a few more weeks. Stay tuned for updates!

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The Khirbet Qeiyafa Puzzle

Someone has turned a photo from Khirbet Qeiyafa, the recently excavated city from the time of Kings Saul and/or David, into an online jigsaw puzzle. The image is from one of the earliest two seasons and only shows one of the gate areas, but it’s still a fun thing to try.

Click here to play. I finished it in what seemed like record time. How will you do?



The puzzle does not use this image of Khirbet Qeiyafa, but it should. The Bible puts the David v. Goliath battle in the valley below. (Courtesy of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Expedition)

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Grinding stones to make your bread: Cooking in ancient times (short video)

Even simple things such as bread required serious work in ancient times. Most people grew or purchased barley, wheat, or other grains and used grinding stones to turn it into flour. This first step was the most strenuous, requiring real muscle power from women and girls. Yes, bread-making fell to the females.

How did grinding stones work? How does an archaeologist recognize them on a dig? You may enjoy this short video about a grinding stone we found yesterday at Tel Lachish in Israel. This specimen is from the time of the biblical Judges or kings. It will be more accurately dated tomorrow when we analyze the pottery found with it.

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