Tel Burna 2015: The Iron II Fortifications in Areas A1 and B2

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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, excavation staff member Chris McKinny discusses the discovery of Iron Age fortifications at Tel Burna.

In the final three entries for this season, we will briefly discuss the results of each excavation area (B2, A2 and B1). To begin with, we will look at the fortifications that were exposed this season on the western side of the tell in Area B2 (Ron Lev is the supervisor) in comparison to our past work in Area A1, which is located on the east side of the tell.


Overview of the 2015 excavation areas. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

The existence of Tel Burna’s Iron II fortifications along with the lack of latter classical (Greco-Roman) occupation were two of the main reasons for choosing Tel Burna as a site for a major excavation project. Over the course of several seasons of work in area A1 (2010–2013), our team revealed a 10 m x 10 m wide section of the Iron II casemate walls on the northeast corner of the tell.


Area A1 Iron II fortifications. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Casemate fortifications are particularly popular in the Iron Age II. They consist of two parallel fortification walls that are connected by an inner perpendicular wall at various intervals. Fortification walls usually measure c. 5 meters in width, with the outer wall being c. 1.5–2 m, a gap of c. 1.5 m, and an inner wall of c. 1–1.5 m. The fortification wall at Tel Burna falls within this general measurement, as the total width is c. 5 m. These types of fortifications were found throughout Judah and Israel during the Iron II (e.g., Beersheba, Lachish, Khirbet Qeiyafa, etc.)

In Area A1, we found a series of occupational periods relating to these fortifications that point to the following stratigraphic picture:

• Late Iron IIA/ninth century B.C.E. (period of such Judahite kings as Jehoshaphat, Joash and Amaziah): Both the inner and outer casemate walls were in use and it is not yet clear if the fortification was built in this period or earlier (i.e., the early Iron IIA/10th century B.C.E.). Interestingly, two Iron IIA surfaces were found outside of the walls to the east of the fortification walls. It should be noted that this side is facing toward Judah, the inland Shephelah sites (e.g., Lachish and Mareshah) and the hills of Hebron.

• Iron IIB/eighth century B.C.E. (period of such Judahite kings as Uzziah and Hezekiah): Both the inner and outer casemate walls were in use and probably destroyed c. 701 BCE in conjunction with Sennacherib’s campaign.

• Iron IIC/seventh century B.C.E. (period of the Judahite Kings: Manasseh, Amon and Josiah): The inner wall of the casemate was no longer in use, as several grain silos were cut into the wall.

• Persian/sixth–fifth centuries B.C.E. (period of Nehemiah/Ezra—rebuilding of the Second Temple): Minimal remains.


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Ron Lev, Area B2 supervisor. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

With this occupational sequence in mind, we had several research questions and objectives concerning the fortifications on the western side of the tell (Area B2).

1. Would the fortifications be as well preserved as in Area A1 and noted at other locations of the tell?

2. Outside of the walls, would we find a similar or different stratigraphic sequence, since the western side faces the Philistine coast and the dominant city of Gath?

3. We also wanted to begin our main section that would join Area B1 and A2 in order to provide a continuous vertical section across the western platform (B1), the western slopes (B2) and summit of the tell (A2).

After only a single season of working in B2, these first two questions seem to have at least been partially answered. Ron’s team clearly traced the outer wall of the casemate fortifications, which is attached to one of the perpendicular walls that should connect to the inner wall. The outer wall measures exactly 1.62 m—the exact measurement of the A1 outer wall. This would be equal to 3 “cubits,” if a cubit should be understood as 54 cm, as argued by our dear colleague Dr. Jeffery Chadwick (cf. the “cubits” used in the Solomonic temple in 1 Kings 6:2).


Area B2 Iron II fortifications and metallurgic area. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Although it is way too early to speak with certainty, it seems that there may not have been significant Iron IIA or IIB (10th—8th centuries B.C.E.) occupation outside of the walls to the west. Instead, and somewhat surprisingly, Ron’s team found evidence of restorable Late Bronze pottery that looks to be very similar to what has been excavated in Area B1. Significantly, the presence of Late Bronze Age remains c. 5 meters higher (in elevation) than B1 indicates that the western slopes have remains earlier than the Late Bronze IIB (13th century B.C.E.)—perhaps even an Early Bronze and/or Middle Bronze rampart or fortification. We will have to find out next year! Additionally, they also found a silo, which is probably Iron II, below the fortifications to the west. This latter piece of evidence seems to corroborate our understanding that the casemate fortifications were no longer in use after the presumed 701 B.C.E. destruction.


Metallurgic area in Area B2, prepared by Ron Lev. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Besides these interesting developments, Area B2 also produced the biggest surprise of the season: metallurgic activity just outside the walls. These finds include several fragments of crucibles with remnants of copper, several tuyeres (clay pipes meant to pump air into the smelting furnace), and, thanks to Ladislav and Michal’s expertise on the portable XRF scanner, a much higher degree of copper in the soil where the crucibles and tuyeres were found than anywhere else in the vicinity.


Sharna showing a nice figurine. When she found it, she exclaimed, “Ron! A face!” Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Metallurgic area tested via XRF by Michal Hejcman. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Tuyeres (clay pipes for pumping air into bellows for “stoking the flame”) found in the metallurgic area in B2. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Image of a crucible. Notice the remnants of green copper that melted onto the clay vessel during the smelting process. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Since we have not reached a clean stratigraphic sequence or floor outside of the walls, it is too early to associate this metallurgic activity with any particular period. However, next season we will continue to explore this very interesting element of Tel Burna’s history.

chris-mckinnyChris 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 page.


More on the 2015 field season at Tel Burna:

Tel Burna: An Introduction to the Biblical Town

Opening New Squares with People from All Over the World

The Specialists

iPads, PlanGrid and GoPro

Team Impressions

Area A2—A Judahite Administrative Building?


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