Uncovering the largest archaeological site in Israel’s Jezreel Valley
Excavations have launched at the largest archaeological mound in Israel’s Jezreel Valley: Tel Shimron. In the summer of 2017, archaeologists opened up multiple excavation areas. They uncovered remains from a variety of periods that shed light on the site’s dramatic history, which spanned the late Neolithic period (c. 5500 B.C.E.) to the modern era.
Led by Daniel M. Master of Wheaton College and Mario Martin of Tel Aviv University, the Tel Shimron Excavation is the first expedition to explore the ancient mound. Although the site has appeared in significant ancient documents—from Egyptian execration texts (c. 2000 B.C.E.) to the Talmud (fourth century C.E.)—this marks the first time we have extensive archaeological evidence to flesh out its story.
Daniel M. Master explores this significant site in his article “Launching Excavations at Tel Shimron,” published in the September/October 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. He explains that part of what drew him and Mario Martin to Tel Shimron was its historical breadth: “It was never far from the forefront of events in Galilee during the Amarna period of the Late Bronze Age, during the times of the Hebrew Bible, and even during the time of the First Jewish Revolt when the Jewish historian Josephus was defending Galilee.”
Previous to the 2017 excavation season, the Tel Shimron archaeologists conducted surveys and dug probes to help them determine where best to excavate. Their efforts paid off, and the 2017 season was full of intriguing discoveries, including a Middle Bronze Age cylinder seal, stone vessel fragments, and a ritual bath from the Roman period. Further, they uncovered buildings from the Bronze Age and Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.
On the edge of the Jezreel Valley, the major thoroughfare of the region, Tel Shimron was well connected to the hill country to the south, Galilee to the north, and even the Mediterranean world to the west. Its position on a major trade route meant that goods from all over the ancient world—from Egypt to Rome to Babylon—passed through their lands. During some periods, such as the Hellenistic period, the residents embraced imports. During the Roman period, however, they began eschewing them. Daniel M. Master explains this shift in attitude:
[I]n the Roman period, we saw all the hallmarks of the reaction of the Galilean Jewish communities to Herodian cultural impositions. The pottery forms became relentlessly local, stone vessels (often linked with ritual purity) appeared, and we even saw the introduction of ritual baths in houses. In short, we saw the Judahized culture of highland Galilee at Tel Shimron. This was a fitting setting of the stories of the famous rabbis of the Mishnah and their visits to the Jewish communities of Tel Shimron.
The preliminary findings at Tel Shimron from the Roman period—including the stone vessel fragments, ritual bath, and lack of imports—provide insight into the boundaries of Jewish and Hellenistic cultures in ancient Galilee.
Excavations at Tel Shimron will continue in the summer of 2019. Learn more about Tel Shimron in Daniel M. Master’s article “Launching Excavations at Tel Shimron,” published in the September/October 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Subscribers: Read the full article “Launching Excavations at Tel Shimron” by Daniel M. Master in the September/October 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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