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 post, excavation staff member Chris McKinny provides an introduction to the site of Tel Burna.
Over the course of the next several weeks, we will present our preliminary “field interpretation” of the finds/architecture in Bible History Daily. We hope that you will enjoy this first-hand account of recovering the ancient heritage of the Canaanite and Biblical site of Tel Burna. In this first post, I will provide a brief background of the archaeological history of the site and its proposed identification as Biblical Libnah.
Tel Burna is a Bronze and Iron Age tell located along the Nahal Guvrin in the southern Judean Shephelah. Due to this geographic position between the coastal plain and the Shephelah, Tel Burna functioned as a border site between Judah and Philistia during the days of the Judahite Kingdom (Iron Age II: c. 1000–586 B.C.E.). This strategic position was strengthened by its close proximity and connection to the International Coastal Highway (i.e., the “trunk route”) by way of the Nahal Guvrin.
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Under the direction of Itzhaq Shai (Ariel University), our explorations of the site of Tel Burna began back in 2009 with an initial surface ceramic survey and then subsequent excavations from 2010 until the present. These excavations have included the uncovering of the Iron II fortifications (Area A1 and now B2), Iron II activity at the center of the tell (Area A2) and a very interesting large cultic building on the western lower terrace, which dates to the 13th century B.C.E./Late Bronze Age II (Area B1). Over the course of this season (2015), we will continue to explore each of these features of the site.
Tel Burna is often, although not unanimously, identified with the Biblical site of Libnah. Libnah is mentioned several times in the Biblical Book of Joshua. Libnah is included in the “southern campaign” of Joshua (Joshua 10:29–31, 39; 12:15) and the town lists of both the tribes of Judah and Levi (Joshua 15:42; 21:13; cf. 1 Chronicles 6:57). While it is too early to make any correlation between the narrative account in the Book of Joshua and Tel Burna (Libnah?), it is quite clear that Tel Burna was a Canaanite site and inhabited during the Late Bronze Age, although habitation before or after the 13th century B.C.E. has yet to be shown conclusively through excavation. In Area B, we have exposed a large public structure that has numerous clues that point to cultic/religious functions (e.g., two ritual, human-sized masks, goblets/chalices, local and imported figurines and abundant animal bones).During the Divided Kingdom (931–586 B.C.E.), Libnah is mentioned as a town that rebelled from the rule of King Jehoram (c. 853–841 B.C.E.) of Judah (2 Kings 8:22; 2 Chronicles 21:10). Around 140 years later, Libnah was the last site destroyed by Sennacherib before the Neo-Assyrian king turned his attention to Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:8; Isaiah 37:8). Finally, in the seventh century B.C.E., Libnah was mentioned as the hometown of Hamutal, the wife of King Josiah and mother of Jehoahaz and Zedekiah, two of the last kings of Judah (2 Kings 23:31; 24:18; Jeremiah 52:1). From an archaeological perspective, these texts can be related to the late Iron IIA (ninth century B.C.E.), Iron IIB (eighth century B.C.E.) and Iron IIC (seventh century B.C.E.).
Thus far, our work at Tel Burna has found evidence of abundant remains from the seventh century, when the site was apparently an unfortified site, but filled with numerous small grain silos. The eighth century is the most impressive period at the site, and we have substantial architectural finds that include a large, so-called “four-room” house and important artifacts that speak to the significance of the site within the kingdom of Judah (LMLK seal impressions, Judahite Pillared Figurines and a personal seal impression). The well-built casemate walls were apparently constructed by at least as early as the ninth century, but we have not yet reached the base of the wall in order to determine the period of origin, which may have been even earlier.
We hope that you follow our progress and look forward to presenting our finds over the next several weeks! If you would like to stay current with our work, please check out our excavation blog at telburna.wordpress.com and our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TelBurna!
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.