Excavating Ashkelon in 2014

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Volunteers excavate a step trench in Ashkelon’s Grid 16 on the north tell of the site. Photo: Courtesy of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

Welcome to sunny Ashkelon, Israel, where the days are long, the temperatures are hot and the work is dirty. In other words, perfect working conditions for an excavation! For almost thirty years the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon has worked to uncover the hidden stories of the ancient seaport of Ashkelon.

The 2014 season is here: The volunteers and staff have arrived, the tools are distributed and the grids (excavation areas) are prepped for excavation. This season will start in exactly the same way as previous seasons, with several days spent cleaning. Volunteers and staff will use brooms to sweep the dirt and trowels to scrape off the winter wash as we work to clear away the debris left by winter rains.

Once everything is cleaned up, it will be time to start excavating. Let’s check in with each of our excavation areas:

In the center of the city, they are excavating a Persian period insula, or apartment building. This city was founded in the late sixth century B.C.E. by the king of Tyre who wanted to expand his trading empire. But we can see, from a narrow probe excavated in 2011, that Nebuchadnezzar’s 604 B.C.E. destruction of the Philistine city lies half a meter below. Once the Persian buildings have been fully understood, team members should uncover evidence of the catastrophic end of the Philistines.

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In Grid 20, volunteers and staff prepare to excavate the Snake Tower, part of Ashkelon’s Medieval fortifications. Photo: Courtesy of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

Another group is opening a step trench in the side of one of Ashkelon’s great mounds. This method of excavation—digging into the side of a mound instead of from the top down—offers us the opportunity to get a complete occupational sequence from the beginning of Ashkelon’s history until the end. If we’re lucky, excavation in this trench will reveal pieces of the Canaanite, Philistine, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader-period cities. That’s a lot of history in 50 square meters!

More students are peering into Ashkelon’s fortifications. Ashkelon’s defenses were built and destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly during its history. During the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries, Ashkelon was fought over by Muslim and Crusader armies because it occupied a strategic position between Jerusalem and Cairo. Those battles left their mark on the city, and the excavation of a well preserved tower promises to help shed light on the process of fortifying, maintaining and destroying the ancient city’s defenses.

To finish off the season we are assisting the Israel Nature and Parks Authority with a salvage excavation in the center of the National Park. Tell Ashkelon is both a modern national park and an ancient city that is thousands of years old. The two identities exist side-by-side, and through our work we not only learn about this fascinating city and its contributions to the ancient Mediterranean world, but we also help to provide a park where the people of Ashkelon can learn about their city’s place in history.

Our season is just beginning, and we invite you to follow along at throughout the summer as we continue uncovering the history of ancient Ashkelon.

For more on Ashkelon in 2014, read about the dig’s midseason progress and about the end of the season, which was cut short by dramatic events in the region.

tracy-hoffmanTracy Hoffman is a senior member of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon’s professional staff, serving as the supervisor for Grid 32 and as part of the publication team. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. This will be her 18th year excavating at Tel Ashkelon, Israel.

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