New Dig at Khirbet Arai may reveal Philistines, Kingdom of Judah

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:

  1. 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).
  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.
  3. 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).
  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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(Figure 1) A general view of Khirbet Arai, located in the Shephelah (foothills), 3 km west of Tel Lachish.


(Figure 2a) A massive stone building dated to the 12th century BC.


(Figure 2b) A pottery assemblage from the massive stone building. One of these vessels was an undecorated Philistine bowl.


(Figure 3) Painted Philistine pottery dated to the 12th or 11th centuries BC.


(Figure 4a) A large Iron Age structure destroyed by fire. This is preliminarily dated to the 9th century BC, the period of the biblical Divided Kingdoms.


(Figure 4b) Mud brick wall from the Iron Age structure.


(Figure 4c) Excavation of the C9 BC Iron Age structure.


(Figure 4d) Large quantities of pottery were discovered in the Iron Age structure.


(Figure 4e) Intact vessel from the Iron Age structure.

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.


About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister with the North Terrace Church of Christ and has participated in multiple archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke leads informative, meaningful tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Israel, Khirbet Arai, Lachish, New Discoveries, Philistines and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to New Dig at Khirbet Arai may reveal Philistines, Kingdom of Judah

  1. chrismckinny says:

    Thanks for posting this. Very nice photos and description – nice to see yet another LB-Iron Age site come to light in this area. Any ideas as to where the name Khirbet Arai comes from? I have looked in the Survey of Western Palestine maps and other places and best that I can tell is that it seems to be in the vicinity of what the SWP call’s Khirbet Furut.

    • LukeChandler says:

      Hello Chris, and thanks for your question. Yossi Garfinkel notes the site was mentioned by the PEF, and that the name means “Ruin of the Shepherds.”

  2. chrismckinny says:

    Luke (and Prof. Garfinkel) – thanks! Very nice results – I look forward to visiting the site in the summer 🙂

  3. G.M. Grena says:

    Thanks! Nice to be able to chalk up another LMLK site! Looking forward to a photo for specific seal typology ID…

  4. arenmaeir says:

    From what I can see from the picture of the decorated sherd in figure 3 – this does not seem to be a Philistine sherd – but rather a bichrome sherd in the LB Canaanite tradition.
    Once a drawing is published – or I see the actual sherd – I will be able to be sure.
    But if this ID is so, it might change the dating and/or the cultural affiliation of the relevant stratum.
    Something to look into as the dig develops.

  5. Jo Wheeler says:

    Love reading about ancient times in lands of Biblical places.

  6. Pingback: Khirbet Arai Archaeological Dig | Israel's Good Name

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