Excavating at Jezreel in Israel
As the Jezreel Expedition’s fourth season of excavation comes to an end, we would like to report on some of the most interesting discoveries we made this year. As in previous seasons, our excavations have focused on the lower of the two tels at Jezreel: Tel Ein Jezreel, situated immediately south of the spring of Jezreel. As we discovered during our 2012 survey season, there is evidence of occupation at this site from the late Neolithic period through recent times. However, the majority of the pottery collected during survey and excavation dates to the Early Bronze Age (EBA), indicating that there was a series of large settlements here ca. 3300–2300 B.C.E.
This year we revealed EBA levels in two of the excavation squares in our Area S, which was supervised by Noga Blockman and Field Director Ian Cipin. In one of our western squares and located near the current high point on the site, a large cache of broken ceramic vessels, a basalt lower grinding slab, burnt animal bones, part of a figurine and a nicely-worked basalt standing stone were found, suggesting cultic activity. Square supervisor and University of Evansville (UE) alumna Katie Mickus and her team carefully excavated around the standing stone, which was found toppled over, and retrieved restorable pottery, took laboratory samples of vessel contents and sifted the earthen debris. A square located 10 m (30 ft) to the east contained a large amount of fallen mudbrick debris, indicating that an EBA building must have been located nearby. Interestingly, the EBA levels in the eastern square are 1 m (3 ft) lower than in the western square, demonstrating that, even in the EBA, the standing stone once stood on the summit of the site.
A very different picture emerged in three squares located between the two squares with EBA material. In each of these squares we found evidence of stone robbing that had taken place in antiquity: where well-built walls had once stood, there are now robber trenches filled with rubble and debris. One of the squares yielded such an incredible quantity of pottery sherds and finds that documenting them kept the square supervisor, UE alumnus Tim Smith, very busy! The pottery sherds were from all periods, including interesting Iron Age and Persian period pieces, but the latest pottery dates to the Roman period, suggesting that the pottery was deposited there during that time. The explanation for such a large amount of pottery was initially a mystery, but we soon realized that it was fill material that was once contained within the robbed-out walls. The site must have sloped down sharply to the east in the Roman period, and the substantial building that was constructed in this area necessitated a constructional fill to raise up and level out the surface. At a later date, but possibly still in the Roman or early Byzantine period, the building was robbed of its large stones, and the trenches were intentionally filled with rubble and debris.
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Just north of our main 2016 excavation area are the remains of a late Roman/Byzantine building that we excavated in 2015. This season, we returned to this area in order to investigate what we thought was the southern extension of the building. Surprisingly, the team, supervised by Deborah Appler and Inbal Samet, found that the building abutted an earlier north-south wall. The location of this new wall, which runs parallel to the ancient path that connected the spring to Tel Jezreel to the south, seems to have been a perimeter wall at the possible entrance to the site. But to which period does it date? We plan to continue excavating this wall next year, and all we can say at this point is that it must have been built sometime between the Middle Bronze Age and Roman period! A rubbish pit from the Crusader period was cut into the wall that contained sherds of beautiful pottery characteristic of that time.
Investigations were also carried out on the rocky hillside west of Tel Jezreel and north of Kibbutz Yizre’el, our home during the dig season. In our Area Q, a small team led by Philippe Guillaume cleared the entrance to a monumental shaft tomb complex that appears to date to the Middle Bronze Age. Although very few finds were recovered during the clearing of this area, the evidence suggests extensive quarrying and the modification and reuse of the tomb for storage in the Medieval period. Nearby, the Area Q team excavated the base of an olive-crushing installation dating to the Roman period. This will be added to the list of olive- and grape-processing installations known throughout greater Jezreel, including the large rock-cut winery excavated by Guillaume’s team in 2013. These installations clearly demonstrate the agricultural plenty for which Jezreel—and the valley named for the site—was known in ancient times.
The 2016 excavations at Jezreel have provided something for everyone. What surprises will our next season bring?
For more on the 2016 Jezreel Expedition, read “You Don’t Have to Be an Archaeologist to Dig the Bible” and “It Takes More Than Moving Dirt to Dig the Bible.”
Jennie Ebeling is Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville and Co-director of the Jezreel Expedition. Her research interests include ancient food and drink technology, women in Canaan and ancient Israel, and religion and cult in the Bronze and Iron Age Levant.
Norma Franklin is a Research Associate at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and Co-director of the Jezreel Expedition. Her research has focused on the three key cities of the Northern Kingdom of Israel: Samaria, Megiddo and Jezreel.
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