A new excavation in the Judean foothills may reveal details about the arrival of the Philistines, the decline of the Canaanites, and the development of the Kingdom of Judah. The site is called Khirbet Arai and is located near Tel Lachish, along the ancient border of Judah and the Philistines in the southern Shephelah (foothills). Initial results show levels from the Late Bronze/Early Iron transition as well as two other levels from the Iron II period. These are the biblical periods of the later Judges and the Israelite Kingdoms, respectively.
Excavators Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor did a week of test squares in October and are planning a two-week excavation next month. Here is a summary from Garfinkel and Ganor with preliminary results and photos. All photos are courtesy of the excavators.
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[Khirbet Arai] is located 3 km west of Tel Lachish (Fig. 1). It was tested during one week in October 2015, and a two week season is planned for April 2016. The project is directed by Prof. Yossi Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority), with the help of Joey B. Silver. The main results are:
- A Massive Stone building, dated to the 12th century BC. A large concentration of bowls was found here, typologically very similar to the pottery of Level VI at Lachish. In this assemblage an undecorated Philistine bell-shape bowl was found (Figs. 2).
- In another excavation area a classical Philistine layer was found with typical painted Philistine pottery (Fig. 3). This layer is probably dated to the late 12th or early 11th century BC.
- A massive Iron Age structure, standing for nearly 2 m. It was suddenly destroyed by fire and a large quantity of pottery vessels was found here. This pottery is decorated by red slip, and irregular hand-burnish, like Level IV at Lachish. This building is probably dated to the 9th century BC (Figs. 4).
- A debris layer with LMLK handle and pottery decorated with red slip and wheel-burnished pottery. This layer was probably destroyed by the Assyrians at 701 BC.
These are preliminary observations, based on the excavation of three squares of 5 by 5 meters. We hope to get organic materials for radiometric dating, which will clarify various questions about the end of the Canaanite culture, the appearance of the Philistines, and the spread of the Kingdom of Judah into the lowland.
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As noted above, the above layer from the 12th/11th centuries BC contains pottery similar to that of Level VI at Tel Lachish, which was destroyed around this time. Perhaps Khirbet Aria will offer clues as to who destroyed Lachish (the Philistines?) and why it was abandoned for some time afterward. The Iron Age levels are also interesting, dating to the approximate time of Asa/Jehoshaphat of Judah and the Omride kings of Israel, including Ahab.