This week, I learned a lot about the Iron Age II (IAII). This is the period of the biblical kings of Israel and Judah. It covers the years 1000–586 BC.
I attended a conference hosted by Ariel University. The topic was “Hinterland economy and daily life in the Iron Age II.” The good news for me was that the entire conference was in English. They brought in speakers from various universities in Israel and the US.
Presentation topics all focussed on economic factors in IAII Judah including studies on wine, olive oil, and textile production, metal smelting, and animal and plant use. There were also geographical and demographic studies and reports on recent archaeological excavations.
The conference included a field trip to Shiloh. I was excited to be back at the site for the first time in two years. Reut led the tour of the site. She is an archaeologist who works for the Israel Antiquities Authority. She has dug in various areas at Shiloh, and we have worked closely with her in our excavation there. The tour focussed on the IAII remains at Shiloh, which was the topic of Reut’s recent Master’s degree, so she knew all about it.
While we were at Shiloh, I noticed a wine-treading floor. I’ve seen it there before, but I never knew what time period it dated to. Based on what I learned at the conference, I was able to immediately identify it as an Iron Age installation. It felt good to put my new knowledge to use!
On Thursday, I helped set up for the upcoming archaeological dig at Khirbet ‘Auja. I helped David Ben-Shlomo and Michael Freikman take tools and supplies from a storage room at Ariel University. We left the supplies at the Kibbutz where we will be staying during the dig, and we took the tools to a storage shed belonging to a farmer who lives near the site.
Our next stop was at Khirbet ‘Auja. A gravel road led through a Bedouin camp to a parking area which doubled as the Bedouin goat feeding area. We parked there and went on foot up a steep trail to the summit. The site covers the top of the hill and provides an excellent view in every direction. The Jordan valley stretches out to the east, while hills rise steeply to the west. Jericho is visible to the south.
There are two main archaeological strata at the site. The most visible one dates to the Ottoman period (1299–1922 AD). Round, poorly-built structures from that period honeycomb the site. Some of the walls still stand to about five feet tall. Beneath these structures lies a fortress from the IAII. The site is located in the borderlands between the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah, meaning that it could have belonged to either one. Based on the stye of the pottery at the site, the excavators believe that it was Israelite.
The IAII fortress has a casemate wall surrounding the site. There are a number of structures within the enclosure. It appears that there was likely a tower in the center of the site, but they have not yet excavated that area.
We walked around the site so that David and Michael could make a plan for the coming excavation season. They decided that part of the team will excavate structures within the site while another group will excavate at the point where we hope to find the city gate. If we have enough volunteers, we can form a third team to excavate the rooms within the casemate wall.
After our planning session, we left the site and went to meet up with a media team from a popular TV channel. They are planning to film at several sites, and they wanted to scout them out in advance. We headed back to Khirbet ‘Auja and hiked up it for the second time that day.
When we were finished at Khirbet ‘Auja, the media team wanted to visit Khirbet el-Mastara, a site which David had excavated before he began the Khirbet ‘Auja dig. This turned out to be quite the adventure. David had not been there in several years, and was not quite sure of the way. To complicate the issue, recent rains had wreaked havoc on the dirt roads, making them difficult to navigate.
After driving down various dirt roads and hiking up to the top of a hill to scout out the area, we finally figured out which trail we needed to take. We drove as far as we could, and hiked the rest of the way. The site lies on a bluff above a seasonal river.
Adam Zertal’s survey team first discovered the site in 2004. Based on the pottery that they found on the surface, they dated the site to the Iron Age I and II. In 2017, David excavated at the site along with Ralph Hawkins. Although they uncovered the remains of structures, they didn’t find anything they could use to date the site. They found very little pottery from a wide range of dates, so it was difficult to know to which period the walls belonged (Ben-Shlomo and Hawkins 2017).
Since they weren’t able to date the structures using standard methods, they employed a new technique: Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). OSL measures the amount of luminescence in a particle, which can provide a date for the last time that particle saw the light of day. By testing soil taken from beneath various walls, they were able to determine when those walls were built. The dates that they obtained ranged from the IAII to the Islamic period (Ackermann et al. 2021).
While I enjoyed visiting and learning about the site, I also really liked the adventure of finding it. I’m not sure that the media crew felt the same way, but they were good sports. When we were finished at the site, we had to navigate the washed-out trails back to the main road. This was slightly easier than our trip out, but we breathed a collective sigh of relief once the car tires were safely back on the pavement.
Ackermann, O., Y. Anker, D. Ben-Shlomo, R. Hawkins, and N. Porat. Single-layer multi-periods? A Case Study of the Enclosure Site of Khirbet el Mastarah, Jordan Valley , EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-14163, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-14163, 2021.
Ben-Shlomo, David, and Ralph Hawkins. “Excavations at Khirbet el Mastarah, the Jordan Valley, 2017.” Judea and Samaria Research Studies 26:2 2017. *49–*8