The Tel Burna Archaeological Project is exposing a Canaanite town in the Shephelah region of Israel believed by some scholars to be Biblical Libnah. Below, excavation staff member Chris McKinny discusses the discovery of Iron Age fortifications at Tel Burna.
In the final three entries for this season, we will briefly discuss the results of each excavation area (B2, A2 and B1). To begin with, we will look at the fortifications that were exposed this season on the western side of the tell in Area B2 (Ron Lev is the supervisor) in comparison to our past work in Area A1, which is located on the east side of the tell.
The existence of Tel Burna’s Iron II fortifications along with the lack of latter classical (Greco-Roman) occupation were two of the main reasons for choosing Tel Burna as a site for a major excavation project. Over the course of several seasons of work in area A1 (2010–2013), our team revealed a 10 m x 10 m wide section of the Iron II casemate walls on the northeast corner of the tell.
Casemate fortifications are particularly popular in the Iron Age II. They consist of two parallel fortification walls that are connected by an inner perpendicular wall at various intervals. Fortification walls usually measure c. 5 meters in width, with the outer wall being c. 1.5–2 m, a gap of c. 1.5 m, and an inner wall of c. 1–1.5 m. The fortification wall at Tel Burna falls within this general measurement, as the total width is c. 5 m. These types of fortifications were found throughout Judah and Israel during the Iron II (e.g., Beersheba, Lachish, Khirbet Qeiyafa, etc.)
In Area A1, we found a series of occupational periods relating to these fortifications that point to the following stratigraphic picture:
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With this occupational sequence in mind, we had several research questions and objectives concerning the fortifications on the western side of the tell (Area B2).
After only a single season of working in B2, these first two questions seem to have at least been partially answered. Ron’s team clearly traced the outer wall of the casemate fortifications, which is attached to one of the perpendicular walls that should connect to the inner wall. The outer wall measures exactly 1.62 m—the exact measurement of the A1 outer wall. This would be equal to 3 “cubits,” if a cubit should be understood as 54 cm, as argued by our dear colleague Dr. Jeffery Chadwick (cf. the “cubits” used in the Solomonic temple in 1 Kings 6:2).
Although it is way too early to speak with certainty, it seems that there may not have been significant Iron IIA or IIB (10th—8th centuries B.C.E.) occupation outside of the walls to the west. Instead, and somewhat surprisingly, Ron’s team found evidence of restorable Late Bronze pottery that looks to be very similar to what has been excavated in Area B1. Significantly, the presence of Late Bronze Age remains c. 5 meters higher (in elevation) than B1 indicates that the western slopes have remains earlier than the Late Bronze IIB (13th century B.C.E.)—perhaps even an Early Bronze and/or Middle Bronze rampart or fortification. We will have to find out next year! Additionally, they also found a silo, which is probably Iron II, below the fortifications to the west. This latter piece of evidence seems to corroborate our understanding that the casemate fortifications were no longer in use after the presumed 701 B.C.E. destruction.
Besides these interesting developments, Area B2 also produced the biggest surprise of the season: metallurgic activity just outside the walls. These finds include several fragments of crucibles with remnants of copper, several tuyeres (clay pipes meant to pump air into the smelting furnace), and, thanks to Ladislav and Michal’s expertise on the portable XRF scanner, a much higher degree of copper in the soil where the crucibles and tuyeres were found than anywhere else in the vicinity.
Since we have not reached a clean stratigraphic sequence or floor outside of the walls, it is too early to associate this metallurgic activity with any particular period. However, next season we will continue to explore this very interesting element of Tel Burna’s history.
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.