How old is the water system at Tel Gezer?
The largest and oldest water system in the ancient Near East can be found at the site of Tel Gezer, according to archaeologists. Well situated on the Via Maris (the major international highway in antiquity) and the trunk road leading to Jerusalem, Tel Gezer was a prominent fortified city-state in Middle Bronze Age Canaan. In the Archaeological Views column “One Thing Leads to Another” in the May/June 2017 issue of BAR, Tel Gezer Water System Project codirectors Daniel Warner and Eli Yannai describe the methods they applied to date the monumental water system at Gezer.
The Tel Gezer Water System Project has spent the last seven years excavating Gezer’s rock-hewn water system, which would have provided water for the residents of the city. The water system is comprised of a keyhole-shaped entrance measuring 26 feet high and 15 feet wide, a long shaft stretching down at a 38-degree slope and a basin for water collection. Over the course of the excavation, the archaeologists have removed over 550 tons of thick, rock-filled mud and have dug about 145 feet underground. But there is still more to go—Warner and Yannai estimate that perhaps another 550 tons of mud would need to be removed to get to the bottom of the system.
Who built the Tel Gezer water system? How old is it, exactly? Since the system is so large and has been exposed for so long (Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister first excavated it in the early 1900s), it’s possible that the shaft may be contaminated with pottery sherds from other periods.
Given the enormous depth at which the archaeologists would have to continue digging and the unreliability of the potsherds to provide firm dates, is there any other way to date the water system? Warner and Yannai believe that the answer can be found by investigating structures in the vicinity—a monumental Canaanite gate and the neighboring courtyards and storerooms, which have been dated to the Middle Bronze Age IIC (c. 1650–1550 B.C.E.) by previous excavations at Tel Gezer.
Warner and Yannai describe in BAR why they believe the Canaanite gate is the key to understanding the water system:
Although the gate lies only about 35 feet southeast of the water system, no one had previously thought to compare the level of the gate entrance with the level of the entrance into the water system. When we finally did, we realized that they are at about the same level. If one were to walk through the gate, he or she would not miss the water system almost directly in front of him or her. In addition, both the water system and the gate went out of use at the same time—the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200 B.C.E.), when the water system became a refuse pit. This is significant because there was no other major water source at the site. These observations make us suspect that there is a connection between the gate and the water system.
Warner and Yannai discovered intriguing artifacts from the Canaanite period, including an infant burial and a foundation deposit comprised of a scarab and silver pendant. To get an inside look at more of what Warner and Yannai found and to learn how this informs their dating of the Tel Gezer water system, read the full Archaeological Views column “One Thing Leads to Another” in the May/June 2017 issue of BAR.
BAS Library Members: Read the full column Archaeological Views column “One Thing Leads to Another” by Daniel Warner and Eli Yannai in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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