Hi all! Now that the 2008 season is over and I have had a day or so to regain my sanity and rest up a little (and before I go on a short vacation in the Galilee), I wanted to make a short wrap up on the season.
First of all, I wanted to thank all the team – staff, volunteers, students – you were all simply fantastic! We could not have had a better team. Each and every one of the team simply made the season. Such motivation, interest, hard work and good humor – is what made this season what it was – a huge success! With out all of you hard work – we would not have had such great results.
Now that I review the season, we really have added a lot of knowledge about the site.
Here are what I see as the main points, period by period:
Early Bronze Age:
In addition to excavating additional portions of the late EB quarter in Area E, on the eastern side of the tell, we can now say quite clearly that there is an EB II presence in this area. Also, we excavated what may be the earliest known equid (probably a donkey) burial in the Levant. Importantly, we have now found evidence for the EB on the opposite side of the tell – in Area F, just below the MB fortifications. This further strengthens our understanding that Gath was a very large and important city during the EB (perhaps somewhat similar to nearby Yarmuth). We may have found evidence of an EB fortification wall below the MB fortification, although this will be seen for sure only in further seasons. Unfortunately, while I had hoped that we would expose a portion of the EB fortifications in the new Area G, we appear to have uncovered a terrace wall only.
Middle Bronze Age:
We continued to expose the MB fortification wall and associated glacis (sloping revetment – pronounced “glasee”…), which may be based on an earlier EB fortification. From the pottery that was found in association with these features, we can say that there was activity on the site during the mid/late MB IIA and MB IIB/C.
Late Bronze Age:
We did not work in many LB contexts this season. Nevertheless, several noteworthy finds can be noted. In Area A and G, several intersting LB objects were found (in later contexts), such as figurines and imported Cypriote and Mycenaean pottery. In Area P, below the very interesting Iron I level with remains of food storage (see below), we have the remains of what appears to be a very large LB building, with rich LB pottery on its floors, possible evidence of the final stage of LB Gath (as found already in previous seasons in Area E).
Iron Age I:
Several interesting finds date to this period: In Area P, we uncovered parts of a large stone built building (or maybe a casemate fortification?) which seems to have been used first during the LB, but was reused in the Iron Age I. On the floors of the Iron I level, we uncovered one, as well as a possible second, room with a rich “phytolith” level, evidence that the room was used for vegetal food storage during the Iron I. In this level we also found quite a lot of skeletal remains of rodents, apparently mice and co. who were eating the foodstuffs in the room. In Area A, we excavated mid/late Iron I remains, mostly courtyard deposits and garbage pits of the Iron I, with a rich collection of animal and fish bones, charred materials, pottery and other finds. In Area F, we have apparent evidence of two very early Iron I phases, that of the earliest stage of the Philistine culture, the period in which the locally made Mycenaean IIIC pottery appears. In addition to showing quite clearly that this stage exists at Tell es-Safi/Gath (despite continued doubts to this by certain parties …), we may have found evidence a plastered bath (or other installation) which is similar to similar features from Cyprus and the Aegean.
Iron Age IIA:
We had several very important finds from this period. First of all, in Area A, we uncovered a clear level dating to the early Iron IIA, below the later phase of the Iron IIA that is dated to the late 9th century BCE and connected to the conquest of the site by Hazael of Aram. In this earlier level, we uncovered a round Philistine pebbled hearth, perhaps the latest evidence so far of the continuation of this method of cooking in the Philistine culture (brought with them from their places of origin when they arrived in Canaan). In addition, and most importantly, in this level we found clear early Iron I pottery, a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE), and several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide nice 14C datings for this phase. One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia.
The later phase of the Iron Age IIA was excavated in several areas on the site. In Area A, we continued excavating the Stratum A3 structure that was found last year in which a collection of cultic objects was discovered. Although we are far from understanding this structure, it is looking more and more like a cult-related structure, one that has a long history (pre-A3?). In Area D, in the lower city, we continued to expose impressive remains of this same stratum, the late 9th century BCE destruction of the site, which we relate to Hazael’s siege and conquest of Gath (see II Kings 12:18). Impressive remains of this destruction were found, including parts of several large structures, scores of vessels (several complete) and a selection of finds. Besides displaying evidence of this destruction, similar to that in Area A, these finds demonstrate conclusively that our original assumption that during the Iron Age IIA, Gath was very large, reaching ca. 45-50 hectares in size, making it perhaps the largest site in Philistia, and perhaps the entire Land of Israel during this period. As such, it appears to mirror the role that Gath is portrayed as playing in the biblical text in the early monarchy, that of the major Philistine city, primus inter pares among the five Philistine cities.
Finally, in Area F, on the top of the tell, evidence of this stage is emerging, beneath the late 8th century BCE levels.
Iron Age IIB:
While we previously found a late 8th century BCE level in Area A, above the 9th century destruction level, in Area F we now have two clear levels dating to the late 8th century BCE. Both levels appear to contain pottery similar to the Lachish III horizon (which was destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 BCE) and appear to be oriented to the Judean culture. It would appear that these two levels mirror the post-Philistine history of Gath in the Iron Age. Apparently, after the Hazael destruction, the site was abondoned for awhile, and then resettled, for a short time, under Judean rule (as seen in the clearly Judean-oriented finds, such as LMLK handles). These two levels may perhaps have been destroyed respectively by Sargon II and Sennacherib during their campaigns to the region.
Additional portions of the very large Crusader period tower in Area F were discovered this year. This tower, part of the outer fortifications of the Crusader fort “Blanche Garde” had been uncovered in previous seasons and this year we uncovered an additional section of it.
In addition to the regular excavations, we had some very interesting additional activities on site. In particular, the work of the archaeological science team, members of the joint Bar-Ilan/Weizmann Institute program in Archaeological science is to be noted. This work, directed by Steve Weiner, Elisabetta Boaretto and Ruth Shachak Gross, included several aspects: 1) A “decapage” (meticulous, horizontal excavation using method usually seen in Prehistoric Archaeology) of a square in Area A, excavating part of the A3 destruction level. This excavating enabled a very fine-tuned analysis of the destruction and related finds, and will hopefully assist us in understanding the processes connected to the destruction and the various functions carried out in this area. In particular the in-field laboratory, which was supplemented by the additional laboratories back in the base camp, enable us to get “on-line” results of these analyses – which enabled “real-time” undestading of the archaeological finds; 2) In addition, the archaeological science team conducted on-site analyses in the various excavations areas, providing important answers about the physical and chemical properties of various finds; 3) A very interesting program on experimental archaeology was conducted in relationship to this program. Shira Gur-Arieh, a long-time member of the project, was in charge of an attempt to replicate and study the use of the Philistine rounded pebble hearths. Throughout the season, she carried a wide range of experiments, attempting to recreate and understand, how exactly these hearths were used, and how they effected vessels that were placed on them.
All told, the season was great, the team was fantastic and the find were extraordinary!
See you all next year!!!