Tel Kabri: The 2013 Excavations

Storage magazine sheds light on Canaanite palatial economy

Tel Kabri at the end of the 2013 excavation season. Photo: SkyView Photography, Ltd.

The 2013 excavations at the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1750–1550 B.C.E.) Canaanite site of Tel Kabri uncovered architecture and artifacts from one of the largest palatial sites in Israel. I had the good fortune to be a member of the excavation team and wrote a series of blog posts about life on the dig mid-season. However, a view from the trenches is never complete, and the excavation directors recently released a preliminary report on the results of this summer’s fieldwork. The full “Preliminary Report on the Results of the 2013 Excavation Season at Tel Kabri,” written by excavation co-directors Assaf Yasur-Landau (University of Haifa) and Eric H. Cline (George Washington University), associate director Andrew Koh (Brandeis University), and area supervisors Nurith Goshen (University of Pennsylvania), Alexandra Ratzlaff (Boston University) and Inbal Samet (University of Haifa), is available as a free pdf download here.

Pottery from the northern storage room in D-West. Photo: Eric H. Cline.

Since the onset of the renewed excavations in 2005, the Tel Kabri team has exposed unique elements beyond the palatial architecture. In 2009, the team uncovered fresco fragments highlighting the relationship between Kabri and the Bronze Age Aegean. In 2011, the team uncovered a one-of-a-kind building lined with Aegean-style orthostat blocks and dowel holes similar to those found in Minoan palaces. The 2013 discovery of an extensive magazine containing “nearly 40 restorable large, mostly handle-less, Canaanite storage jars” is “the first time that such a storeroom with jars still present has been uncovered within an MB palace in Canaan and has been made available for residue analysis as well as pottery provenance studies,” according to the preliminary report. The magazine, which was uncovered in an area not intended for public or ceremonial use, “should allow us exciting insights into the Canaanite palatial economy during the early-mid second millennium B.C.E.”

August 28, 2014, update: Read the publication of the organic residue analysis by Andrew J. Koh, Assaf Yasur-Landau and Eric H. Cline in “Characterizing a Middle Bronze Palatial Wine Cellar from Tel Kabri, Israel,” PLoS ONE 9(8): e106406.

The excavation was divided into three areas: D-West, D-West-East and D-South (details about the research in each excavation area are available here). We began our excavations in D-West in order to locate the western edge of the palace and the area adjacent to the orthostat building. While this research agenda yielded interesting results, including red-painted wall plaster within the stones in the walls of the orthostat building (possibly from an earlier structure), the discovery of the storage magazine became the primary focus in D-West.

The entrance to the northern storage room, facing south. The eastern entrance chamber is in the foreground, and sandbags protect in situ storage vessels.

The team excavated the northern storage room (of two discovered in the magazine) and one of its entrance chambers, which itself contained four restorable storage jars. According to the preliminary report, this northern storage room “has a white plaster floor and mudbrick walls that were also plastered … on the floor were the remains of nearly 40 restorable” jars. “This is the largest concentration to date of restorable pottery found anywhere in the palace of Kabri and the only place on site where we have found an entire room still full of artifacts.” Because the site appears to have been peaceably abandoned, personal artifacts, which are often left behind in times of conflict, are relatively rare at Kabri.

The northern storage room connects to another room to the south; while mostly unexcavated, the team uncovered six additional storage jars from the southern storage room, which will be excavated in a future season. More insights from D-West are still to come—we are looking forward to the results of LiDAR laser scans and organic residue analysis (ORA) at the site. The unique preservation of the magazine will provide clues into the tax and trade economy of the palace and surrounding region. In personal correspondence during the second half of the field season, Tel Kabri associate director Andrew Koh highlighted the exciting future of the storage room finds:

Drawing of the magazine in D-West, courtesy of Eric H. Cline.

We are always hoping to hit upon pristine deposits at Kabri, especially for ORA, but we really hit the mother lode this summer in D West. As I’m sure you’ve heard, it’s quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. Though it’s not especially flashy from a lay perspective, it’s quite important for archaeology. One rarely finds the storage magazines of a palatial complex largely intact. In Israel, later major phases typically prevent preservation (cf. Hazor, Lachish). Even if this weren’t the case, what are the chances that storerooms wouldn’t be cleared out or exposed for some time before abandonment? Understanding how rare this opportunity is motivates us to study it as comprehensively and responsibly as possible. More than any immediate authority, we feel the glare of history when studying such a unique context.

Our goals remain the same, but the degree, or “resolution,” of study has increased accordingly [with the discovery of the magazine]. We’ve taken residue samples from every jar possible (over 30) and are conducting LIDAR studies as we speak [correspondence mid-season: the LiDAR study is now complete, and we are looking forward to the results]. LIDAR holds the promise of presenting millions of accurate datum points accurate to 3mm, allowing us to reconstruct a highly accurate 3-D model of every sherd and plaster floor as preserved. The angle and elevation of every vessel could tell a story of what happened near the end of the room’s life. It could tell us whether the irregular plaster floor experienced unusual geomorphological activity consistent with flooding and/or earthquakes. The ORA can tell us whether certain commodities were grouped together in areas of the room, perhaps even differentiating different qualities in the same general type of commodity (e.g., wine from different regions or seasons). So we’re not doing anything radically different, just more comprehensively thanks to the uncommon opportunity presented to us.

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Painted plaster fragment with red paint and a string line from D-South. Courtesy of the Tel Kabri project.

Excavations in D-South uncovered fragments of painted wall plaster, including a piece with “red paint and an incised string line.” This type has been uncovered at Kabri in the past. Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, who co-directed an earlier expedition to Kabri, noted the similarity between the string impressions and art from the Minoan world: “Such string impressions served as guiding lines for the principal directions of the lines, a technique found also in Cretan and Theran fresco painting but not in tempera and fresco secco.”1

The discovery of painted wall plaster, which establishes an artistic connection with the Aegean world, is a unique feature of Kabri, but a familiar element for the excavators. In a mid-season interview, co-director Eric H. Cline discussed the discovery of six pieces of painted plaster: “In 2009, that would have been tremendous—but now we’ve come to expect that. Not that we are jaded; this is still exciting. But we know that we’ll be finding it throughout the palace.” D-South may contain the palace’s ramparts, but the excavations were closed mid-season to focus on other areas of the site. We are looking forward to seeing more out of D-South in future seasons.

Iris Liu excavating an entranceway in D-West East.

Excavations in D-West East revealed the largest monumental architecture of the 2013 season. By digging in areas between investigations from the 2005 excavations and an earlier project (directed by Aharon Kempinski and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier), the team expanded our understanding of the architecture of a central part of the palatial complex. Discoveries included layered plaster floors, a possible fire installation (likely a hearth) and a very large courtyard or hall, measuring at least 12m x 12m (and likely much larger) according to the preliminary report. The D-West East excavations, which exposed several other rooms near the center of the excavated site, provided a bridge connecting the excavation areas. The Kabri team has now uncovered “an architectural continuum of ca. 75m in length within the palace, along its northeast-southwest axis, extending from Area D-North excavated in 2005 at the northeast to the westernmost part of Area D-West excavated this year. The projected extent of the palace may be between 5,000 and 6,000 square meters.”

A Canaanite storage vessel from D-West.

Residue analysis on the vessels from the newly uncovered storage rooms will provide unparalleled insights into the economy at Tel Kabri, the agriculture of the region and potential trade goods. Upon arrival at the site, the directors discussed the successes from the 2009 and 2011 excavation seasons. Before the start of the excavation, I wrote “Discovering what comes next is up to us.” Working with the erudite directors and staff at Tel Kabri this summer was a personal joy, and looking back, it is rewarding to see that the 2013 excavations produced tangible insights into life at the Middle Bronze Age palace.

Click here to download the preliminary report by Assaf Yasur-Landau, Eric H. Cline, Andrew Koh, Nurith Goshen, Alexandra Ratzlaff, and Inbal Samet as it was originally published on the Kabri website The report is shared here on Bible History Daily with the consent of Eric H. Cline.

BAS Library Members, read “Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri” by excavation directors Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau as it appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of BAR.


1. W.-D. Niemeier, “Minoan Artisans Traveling Overseas: The Alalakh Fresco and the Painted Plaster Floor at Tel Kabri (Western Galilee),” in R. Laffineur and L. Basch, eds., Thalassa, l’Egée préhistorique et la mer: Actes de la troisième rencontre égéenne internationale de l’Université de Liège, Station de recherches sous-marines et océanographiques (StaReSO), Calvi, Corse, 23–25 avril 1990 (Liège: Université de Liège Histoire de l’art et d’archéologie de la Grèce antique, 1991), p. 197.

More on Tel Kabri in Bible History Daily

Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri: Aegean Art in Bronze Age Israel

The Evolution of a Dig Site

The Field School at Tel Kabri by Alexandra Ratzlaff

Testimonials from the Field at Tel Kabri

And much more on our Tel Kabri page:

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