EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, co-directors of the Tel Gezer archaeological excavations in Israel. Ortiz is professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology in Fort Worth, Texas. Wolff is senior archaeologist and archivist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.
NEVE SHALOM, Israel (SWBTS) – An international team of archaeologists has excavated the remains of the Solomonic city at Tel Gezer. The site is known as one of the three major cities that Solomon fortified according the biblical account of Solomon’s reign as recorded in the Book of Kings (I Kgs. 9:15-17).
Toppled building stones, accumulating over 1 1/2 meters in height, were found in two rooms of a building and in an adjacent courtyard, apparently the sign of an attack. The initiator of this attack could have been Shishak, the Egyptian pharaoh, around 918 BC, as recorded in the biblical text (I Kgs. 14:25-26) and Egyptian documents.
One of the surprises found within the destruction was an extremely rare ivory-carved game board. The game board was found in pieces that were retrieved in the field by volunteers who meticulously sifted the soil. It was expertly reconstructed by the expedition’s conservator, Rachael Arenstein.
The discovery is a well-known game from the ancient world (Levant, Cyprus) called “The Game of 20 Squares.” Similar game boards were found inlayed into the top of a box. Several game pieces and die were found in the same destruction debris. Two similar game boards carved out of stone were found in a previous season.
The team has affectionately dubbed this area ‘Solomon’s Casino.’ While the project’s research is focused on the process of urbanization and Gezer’s role as a border site, reconstructing ancient life ways is also an important goal. That the ancient inhabitants enjoyed leisure time adds an otherwise unrecognized facet to our knowledge.
The excavations focused on an area west of the city gate where a casemate fortification wall was uncovered. Up against the interior of the wall was a large courtyard area with a tabun (clay cooking oven), storage jars, cooking pots, and burnt beams lying atop a plaster surface. Just to the north of this courtyard were two rooms with walls preserved to a height of over a meter and a half. In one of these rooms the remains of a cow jawbone was found within the large boulder stone collapse. The adjoining room contained the game board.
Excavations also revealed pre-Solomonic building remains. The most impressive finds from this period (12th-11th centuries BCE) included a perfectly preserved bronze spearhead, the head of a Philistine-type (“Ashdoda”) ceramic figurine, and the ceramic six-toed foot of a possible feline. Largely unexcavated remains from the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE) lay below.
The Tel Gezer Excavation Project is directed by Steven Ortiz of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Samuel Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority. It is sponsored by the Tandy Institute with the support of the following consortium schools: Ashland Theological Seminary, Emmaus Bible College, Lancaster Bible College, Lycoming College, and the Marian Eakins Archaeology Museum at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The current team was made up of about 50 students and staff, mostly from the United States. The team has enjoyed the cooperation of the National Parks Authority and the local residents of neighboring Karmei Yosef.
An additional aspect of the work at Tel Gezer is the regional survey conducted in the immediate vicinity of the tel. The highlight of the previous season’s work was the discovery of the thirteenth known boundary inscription cut into bedrock to the east of the tel, beyond Ein Vered. This season’s work concentrated on the northeastern slope of Karmei Yosef, resulting in the discovery of additional tombs, wine presses and terrace walls. Clearance of the ancient water system at Tel Gezer was also undertaken this season under the joint sponsorship of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the National Parks Authority.
This summer, several foreign excavation projects had to cease digging due to their proximity to military operations. Since Tel Gezer is located beyond major populated areas, archaeological work was able to continue despite the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The team consists of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish staff and volunteers. While there is a wide spectrum of political beliefs, the staff focused on the scientific investigation of the ancient city. Despite hearing occasional sirens and witnessing the intercepts of incoming rockets, work continued unabated.
The team plans to return to the field in the summer of 2015 in order to continue excavations of the 10th-century BCE stratum, to further clarify the earlier Iron Age stratum (12th-11th centuries), and to continue to expose elements of the 14th-century Late Bronze Age stratum. Before then, a conservation team will begin restoration of an 8th-century Israelite four-room house revealed several seasons ago, and to strengthen the exposed walls of the 10th-century stratum, providing additional highlights for visitors to the national park at Tel Gezer to view.