For thirty years, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon has excavated at the ancient seaport of Ashkelon in Israel. Below, Dr. Tracy Hoffman provides an introduction to the 2015 field season at Ashkelon. This summer will be the second to last expedition to the ancient seaport. For more on Ashkelon’s 2015 field season, read “A Midseason Night’s Dream … and Day’s Work” and “Wrapping Up Ashkelon’s 2015 Season.”
As the sun rises on the first day of excavation, members of the Leon Levy Ashkelon Expedition team step off the bus and into the unknown. Night still blankets the sky, bathing the ancient city of Ashkelon in dim, shadowy light, as our feet tread familiar paths from tool containers on to the excavation areas. Staff members call out greetings and talk of what might lie under the dirt, while volunteers follow more slowly, but no less excitedly, as they wonder what they have gotten themselves into. Following on the heels of our abbreviated 2014 field season, this year’s campaign has taken on added importance. Over the next two years, we have a total of twelve weeks of excavation remaining and much work to do before the expedition comes to a close in 2016. This season, we will finish the processing, cataloging and proper storage of artifacts excavated last year—even as we continue to ask important research questions in our three excavation areas.
This is the second season in Grid 16 on the North Tell, and the question remains the same: What is the nature of the occupational sequence in this part of the site? Excavation began with the hypothesis that in the mid-13th century, a Crusader fortress—complete with a moat cut through an outcrop of bedrock—was constructed on the North Tell. Excavation revealed, however, that the cut through bedrock must have happened much earlier, that it was in fact a more ancient feature. This season we hope to figure out if the North Tell was a citadel, and, if so, when.
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This is the twelfth season of excavation in Grid 51, and it promises to be as interesting and complex as it has been in the past. The season will begin with the excavation of the Persian period, which should be complete within a week. Then, the entire grid will be excavating Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city in 604 B.C.E. This event is well documented in commercial and industrial areas of Ashkelon, but Grid 51 presents an opportunity to assess the extent of destruction in a densely occupied residential area. Was the destruction of Ashkelon in 604 as extensive here as it was in the Grid 50 marketplace and the Grid 38 wine press? We should know by the end of the season.
Finally, this season we are opening a new area in Grid 25 with the goal of uncovering and investigating one of the defining urban features of ancient Ashkelon: the Roman-period cardo (the main north-south street in Roman cities). Lined with colonnades and multistory buildings, as described in texts and depicted in mosaic images, the cardo has remained elusive until, we hope, this season. When was the cardo constructed, and how long did it influence the urban development of Ashkelon? We hope to begin answering those questions as we excavate right alongside the park’s main road this summer.
With tools in hand and research questions in mind, we step into the excavation grids, and within moments, familiar words ring out: “Okay, everyone, time to clean the dirt.”
Read about the Philistine marketplace at Ashkelon in Bible History Daily >>
Tracy Hoffman is a senior member of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon’s professional staff, serving as the supervisor for Grid 25 and as part of the publication team. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. This will be her 19th year excavating at Tel Ashkelon, Israel.