Scorched Wheat May Provide Answers on the Destruction of Canaanite Tel Hazor

Bible and archaeology news

**In the July/August 2013 issue of BAR, Hazor excavation director Amnon Ben-Tor describes the destruction of Hazor at the hands of the Israelites. Read more in Bible History Daily.**

The palace entryway appears in this reconstruction drawing, which shows Canaanites walking from the courtyard in the foreground, across a raised porch, toward the throne room entrance. Maria Teresa Rubiato

The recent discovery of massive jars of scorched wheat at Canaanite Tel Hazor may shed new light on the destruction of one of Israel’s most prominent sites. The discovery of the 3,400 year-old wheat in a Late Bronze Age palace structure give a more complete image of the area’s agriculture before the destruction, and can help date the fire through carbon-14 analysis.

Joshua 11:10-13 describes the Israelite destruction of Hazor:

(10) And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote its king with the sword; for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms.

(11) And they put to the sword all who were in it, utterly destroying them; there was none left that breathed, and he burned Hazor with fire.

An excavator sits amidst the ashes and broken storage jars of the destruction layer. The oil stored in these jars brought the fire that destroyed the palace to a scorching 2350° F. Studio Sztulman-Kessel, Jerusalem

(12) And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took, and smote them with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded.

(13) But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor only; that Joshua burned.

This destruction is a highly debated subject in Biblical archaeology. The Book of Joshua suggests that after the conquest of Hazor, Joshua quickly took all of the land between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. The Book of Judges (4:1-2, 4:23-4) presents a different picture, in which the settlement of Canaan is a slow, generally peaceful infiltration of scattered tribes gradually coexisting with the Canaanites.

Whatever the case, the destruction is well attested. The jugs of wheat are far from the only evidence of a large fire in the palace: excavations have produced burnt cedar beams, a collapsed ceiling, bricks cemented from heat exposure, and soot on the walls. The palatial building containing the massive wheat jugs is attached to another palace. The two structures would have served differing purposes; one administrative, the other ceremonial.

Excavation directors Amnon Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman have different takes on the destruction. In the article “Excavating Hazor, Part Two: Did the Israelites Destroy the Canaanite City?” Amnon Ben-Tor and Maria Theresa Rubiato write that “the ‘Israel’ of the Merneptah Stele seems to be the most likely candidate for the violent destruction of Canaanite Hazor.”

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.


The destroyers of Hazor deliberately beheaded this 15-inch tall Canaanite statue of a seated man. In this photo of the statue in situ, the head lies behind the figure’s high-backed chair. Yigael Yadin Expedition

In the BAR article “Where Is the Hazor Archive Buried?” Zuckerman states that “More recent dating of this destruction places it too early for the Israelites. Yet Ben-Tor is right in excluding the Sea Peoples (who included the Philistines), the Egyptians and rival Canaanite cities. Who is left? I believe it was an internal revolt within the city that was responsible for the destruction. The city was then abandoned until the arrival of the Israelites.”

The expedition to Hazor in the mid-1950s, led by the late Yigael Yadin, was the largest and most important archaeological excavation undertaken by the young state of Israel.

Tel Hazor, the largest archaeological site in northern Israel, features an upper tell of 30 acres as well as a lower city of more than 175 acres. The excavation team discovered the large clay jugs of burned wheat in what they call a palace from the Bronze Age city, which occupied more than 200 acres of land.

Read more about the discovery of the wheat in the Times of Israel.


More on Tel Hazor in Bible History Daily:

Hazor Excavations’ Amnon Ben-Tor Reveals Who Conquered Biblical Canaanites

Where Are the Royal Archives at Tel Hazor?

Crafty Israelites: Iron Age Crafts at Tel Hazor

In Hazor: Canaanite Metropolis, Israelite City, a popular summary of 30 excavation seasons by long-time Hazor dig director Amnon Ben-Tor, discover ancient Hazor’s remarkable history.


More on Tel Hazor in the BAS Library:

Sharon Zuckerman, “Where Is the Hazor Archive Buried?” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2006.

Amnon Ben-Tor, “Who Destroyed Canaanite Hazor?” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2013.

Amnon Ben-Tor, “Excavating Hazor, Part One: Solomon’s City Rises from the Ashes,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1999.

Amnon Ben-Tor and Maria Teresa Rubiato, “Excavating Hazor, Part Two: Did the Israelites Destroy the Canaanite City?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1999.


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  • Daniel says

    It is now 2015. Where are the carbon 14 dates from the grain? Maybe they did not like the results?

  • Brent says

    We don’t have to wait for Radio Carbon Dating methods to tell us the date, the Bible has done all the work for us. The invasion of the Israelites into Canaan can be very easily worked out from the starting date of 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s temple. Simply adding all the dates given in the Bible we come to c.1439 BC for Joshua crossing over the Jordan. Generally most Theologians place the entry at about 1410 BC while most historians favor a later entry in the time of Ramses. In summing up, Joshua crossed the Jordan c.1439 BC, and the Israelite Exodus from Egypt was c.1479 BC. The Pharaoh – Tutmoses 11

  • Scott says

    I believe some dendrochronological measurements (tree rings) indicate older ages, like 1500-1800 BC. No doubt, many of those pieces of furniture or roof beams were older, reflecting when they were 1st built rather than the time of their destruction. But the considerable age still seems to reflect significantly older age than 1300 BC.

    My chronology ( ) indicates a 1453 BC entry into Canaan. No dendro dating can be found that late. Further, I have read about Hazor reflecting many Middle Bronze traits rather than Late. New dates will be interesting.

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