The Tel Burna Archaeological Project is exposing a Canaanite town in the Shephelah region of Israel believed by some scholars to be Biblical Libnah. In this final guest post on the 2015 field season at Tel Burna, project staff member Chris McKinny details the excavation of a Canaanite cultic building.
Area B1 at Tel Burna has been excavated for five seasons (2011–2015) under my supervision. This season, I was assisted by veteran team members Casey Sharp and Benjamin Yang (a 2015 BAS scholarship winner). Area B1 is characterized by two main features: 1) a single archaeological period—the Late Bronze Age, and 2) very high bedrock.
In the past four seasons, we have uncovered what appears to be a very large building or courtyard with at least 15 meters (45 feet) of a well-built wall on the western side and an open courtyard with two tabuns (ovens), two huge Cypriot pithoi and a mix of many other local and imported small finds (e.g., ceramic masks, seals, chalices, figurines, etc.). Taken together, these finds point to the possibility that at least part of the large courtyard was used for cultic and/or ritual feasting activities.
From 2011–2013, we uncovered a long section of the western wall of the structure (Building 29305). In 2014, we were able to trace what we believe is the northern edge of the building—this evidence pointed to the structure having a courtyard measuring at least 16×16 meters (53×53 feet) in size. This season, our main goal was to find the eastern edge of the complex (Building 29305). In order to accomplish this, we decided to open four squares in the center of the lower terrace that we have defined as Area B1. These four squares are situated in a straight line running east to west between the main area of cultic activity (square NN7) and Area B2. Beyond our goals of finding the eastern edge of the structure and excavating the inside of the courtyard/structure, we also have a long-term goal of creating a section from Area B1 until A2 in order to determine the full stratigraphic sequence of Tel Burna.
Read more about this cultic building in dig director Itzick Shai’s Archaeological Views column “How Canaanites Worshiped” in the September/October 2015 issue of BAR.
Over the course of the 2015 season, we reached bedrock in three out of the four squares. In the easternmost square, we were able to trace a series of fragmentary walls—two of which may be related to the main walls of the structure. While we have to continue to pursue this line of thought next season, it now appears probable that the structure is larger than we previously thought and measures around 23 meters (75 feet) east to west by at least 20 meters (65 feet) north to south. In the westernmost square, which is located right next to the main cultic area of the building, we uncovered an enormous amount of pottery in a deposit only 1 meter (3 feet) below the surface. In fact, we found more pottery in this square than all of the other squares in the entire excavation combined! We also found four arrowheads, a few complete vessels and a Canaanite plaque figurine (see image above). During the last couple of days of excavating, we began to uncover a large flat slab of chalk that has a carved hole in its center. The fact that this stone was found near the masks, the chalices/goblets and various other cultic finds seems to suggest that the stone had a special function within the confines of this building, although it is too early to determine its exact purpose.
With four seasons now completed in Area B1, we have uncovered the northern, western, eastern and possibly the southern main walls of Building 29305. The level of preservation continues to be extraordinary considering the c. 3,200-year-old civilization is located a few centimeters below the surface and around 1 meter above the bedrock. Next season, we will hopefully answer a few more questions related to the architectural layout of the structure and learn more about this highly interesting structure from what may be Biblical Libnah.
Thank you for following our 2015 excavation season at Tel Burna through Bible History Daily!
Chris McKinny is the supervisor of Area B1 at Tel Burna. Chris is a Ph.D. candidate at Bar Ilan University and an adjunct professor at The Master’s College. To follow his research, visit his academia.edu page.