The Tel Burna Archaeological Project is exposing a Canaanite town in the Shephelah region of Israel believed by some scholars to be Biblical Libnah. Below, Tel Burna staff member Chris McKinny discusses the excavation of a possible Judahite administrative building.
Area A2 is located on the summit of the tell at Tel Burna near the center of the square-shaped Iron II fortified town. A2 has been excavated since the beginning of the project and is supervised by Debi Cassuto. In past seasons, we uncovered the remnants of a large structure that possessed a stone-paved courtyard. This building, which we initially thought was of the so-called “four-room” house type, is well dated to the eighth century B.C.E. based on the abundance of Iron IIB finds, including LMLK seal impressions (impressions bearing the Hebrew letters lmlk—lemelech, or “belonging to the king”—which are typical to the reign of Hezekiah of Judah) and Judahite Pillared Figurines. It also appears that the building was adapted and re-used during the seventh century B.C.E. (Iron IIC) and perhaps the Persian period. When we started this season, we hoped to uncover more of this large structure to the south and west, but after four weeks of excavating, it seems that either the south wall was not preserved or that the building is much larger than we had initially reasoned. We will have to investigate this question in future seasons.
Although we ended up with more questions than answers with regard to the architecture, we had some very nice finds in Area A2. We added two more LMLK seal impressions and a nice fragment of a zoomorphic figurine and a few more fragments of the Judean Pillar Figurine type. Additionally, we found more traces of Persian imports (Attic ware) that indicate that the area around the large central building was used from the eighth–fifth centuries B.C.E. (although this may have been intermittent).
These layers provide a nice mini-parallel to the stratigraphic picture of the large palatial structure at nearby Lachish, which was in use during the eighth century B.C.E./destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 B.C.E., re-used in the seventh century B.C.E./destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E., and re-used as a Persian administrative center in the following period. The synthesis between these two sites illustrates the fortification/administrative system of the Judahite Shephelah during the Iron II. Lachish and Azekah seem to have functioned as the key administrative centers, which were linked to smaller fortified towns such as Tel Burna (Biblical Libnah?). This reality is hinted at in the Bible in Jeremiah 34:7, which reads,
“When the army of the king of Babylon [Nebuchadnezzar] was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah; for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained”
and in Lachish Letter 4 (lines 6–12), which states,
“Then it will be known that we are watching the (fire-)signals of Lachish according to the code which my lord gave us, for we cannot see Azekah.”1
It is worth noting that both of these sites can be seen from the summit of Tel Burna (i.e., Area A2).
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Chris McKinny is the supervisor of Area B1 at Tel Burna. Chris is a Ph.D. candidate at Bar Ilan University and an adjunct professor at The Master’s College. To follow his research, visit his academia.edu page.
1. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, Jr., The Context of Scripture, Vol. 3: Archival Documents from the Biblical World (Leiden: Brill, 2003), p. 79.
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