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.

Posted in 2016 Tel Lachish excavation, Culture & Cuisine, General Archaeology, Lachish, Short videos | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Beginning an Excavation: Day One at the Dig (Short Video)

We began the 2016 dig at Tel Lachish this afternoon. This biblical city was a prominent Canaanite center and later became one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Judah.

How does a dig begin? The archaeologists conduct research and make other preparations, then their assembled team goes into the field to uncover the remains of past civilizations. Most excavations are in the field for only a few weeks a year. The most time is spent analyzing and preparing to publish the finds for all to see.

This short video shows some of what we did on our first day in the field. Check back for more videos and photos in coming days. Hope you enjoy!


Posted in 2016 Tel Lachish excavation, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Israel, Lachish, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“Spectacular” ancient shipwreck discovered at Caesarea’s harbor

A shipwreck with bronze statues, thousands of coins, and other finds has been discovered at ancient Caesarea Maritima, the same harbor used by the Apostle Paul. The Israel Antiquities Authority calls this the largest underwater discovery in 30 years. The wreck dates to the late Roman period and appears to have been a ship that had just left the safety of the harbor.

The coins bear the images of Constantine, the Roman emperor who legalized Christianity in early 4th century AD, and Licinius, a rival and co-emperor whom Constantine eventually defeated in battle. These coins from the shipwreck number in the thousands.

The shipwreck itself tells a story:

A large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated [for] recycling, which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbor and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks. A preliminary study of the iron anchors suggests there was an attempt to stop the drifting vessel before it reached shore by casting anchors into the sea; however, these broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in.”

You can download the official press release with further details of this discovery. The Israel Antiquities Authority has provided a number of photos, most of which are shown below.


Rare bronze artifacts discovered in the shipwreck. (Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

צילום-מועדון צלילה קיסריה העתיקה.2

The divers who discovered the shipwreck and its treasures by the ancient Caesarea harbor: Ran Feinstein (right) and Ofer Ra’anan. (Photo credit: The Old Caesarea Diving Center)


Bronze figurine of the moon goddess Luna. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


The Luna figurine as discovered on the seabed. (Photo credit: Ran Feinstein)


Bronze lamp with image of the sun god, Sol. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


Lamp with image of the head of an African slave. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


Figurine of Dionysius, the god of wine. (Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


Ship anchor as discovered on the seabed. (Photo credit: the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


Lumps of late Roman coins discovered in the shipwreck. The lumps retain the shape of their original containers. These coins weigh nearly 45 lbs./c. 20 kilos. (Photo credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


An ancient balance scale. (Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Caesarea National Park is a favorite stop for tour groups. It has spectacular ruins of the Roman city and harbor plus a well-perserved Crusader fortress. In recent years the park authority has added trendy restaurants, cafes, an art gallery, two short movies on the history of the ancient city, and interactive technological displays for visitors to enjoy. I am planning to be there with my group in a few weeks.

HT: Joe Lauer

Caesarea harbor view

View of the Caesarea harbor interior ruins. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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“Methuselah” Date Palm Fertilizes other Tree, Bears Fruit

Many readers are familiar with the 2,000 year-old seed that sprouted and brought back a single specimen of the extinct Judean Date Palm. Scientists named the new sprout “Methuselah” and raised the possibility of reviving the species.

Date palms have gender and the Methuselah plant is a male, so it will not directly produce fruit. Scientists recently took pollen from Methuselah to fertilize another date palm and succeeded in getting fruit. This raises the possibility that the Judean Date Palm, famed in antiquity, may be brought back from extinction and even reintroduced to commercial markets.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released this short video on Methuselah’s newest accomplishment.

HT: Barnea Selaven

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