Monday, November 14, 2016

A Summer of Surprises: Gezer excavation uncovers exciting finds and possible date for water system construction

Fig. 1, Gezer Water System
By Dan Warner and Eli Yannai, 
Co-Directors of the Gezer Water System Excavation

KARMEI YOSEF, Israel – During the summer of 2016, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary conducted its seventh excavation season in the Tel Gezer Water System (Fig. 1). The dig has removed over 550 tons of debris from the system to date reaching a depth of about 145 ft. Still the bottom of the system has not been reached. This summer’s work revealed hidden secrets of the water system which place it alongside some of the remarkable engineering achievements of the ancient world. It is one of the oldest of its kind.

Determining the date of when the system was first carved has been a top goal for the excavation team. From the time R.A.S. Macalister first discovered it in the early 1900s, to the modern excavations at Gezer in the 1970s, no firm date has been established, until now. From the excavations inside the water system and the gate complex, significant finds were made this summer that have substantial impact on the dating research.

In the quest to determine a date, several factors were realized:

  1. The massive Canaanite gate (Fig. 2) is located southeast of the water system at the same elevation as the system's entrance;
  2. The gate and water system are separated by only 35 ft.;
  3. Both the gate and the water system appear to have gone out of use about the same time (early during the Late Bronze Age, ca. 1550-1200 B.C.);
  4. No later water system has been found after the abandonment of this gate and water system. 
Fig 2, Canaanite Gate

The connection between the gate and the water system appears obvious. To confirm the perceived connection, this summer’s excavation expanded into the gate complex (Area D) and its associated storerooms west of the gate (Area C). In addition to their connection/relationship, the team wanted to determine if any earlier construction lay under the gate and storerooms. Presence of earlier structures may suggest an even earlier origin for the water system. These areas were supervised by dig co-director Dr. Eli Yannai of the Israel Antiquates Authority with his assistant supervisors Dr. Chet Roden (Area C) and Gary Myers (Area D).

Fig. 3, East-West Axis, Canaanite Gate.
An Earlier Occupation
At the Canaanite gate the team discovered earlier, previously unknown construction. Sinking a probe along the northeastern corner of the southern gate, two parallel walls appeared, both running on an east-west axis (Fig 3.). The walls are clearly below the stone foundation of the gate. These walls were not known until this summer. The extent and function is yet to be determine, but the importance of these walls lies in the fact that they predate the gate. Based upon the ceramics found within the fill associated with these walls, this suggests a Middle Bronze Age II A (2000-1750 B.C.) date. The gate has been dated to a later period, namely the MB IIC (1650-1550 B.C.). The existence of these walls changes the understanding of the gate complex’s development and the understanding of the development of the MBII culture at Gezer. The gate area includes at least three phases of construction.

The first phase includes the construction of the two walls. A second occupation phase can be witnessed that predate the construction of the gate. This phase was confirmed by a tomb – a jar burial (Fig. 4) which likely contains the remains of an infant. What is significant about the tomb is that it was cut deliberately into one of the two parallel walls. This clearly demonstrates that the burial is from a latter occupation. It is yet to be determined who put this tomb there, but it is clear that the burial came after the walls were built. The final phase is the gate itself. The foundations of the gate were constructed over both the tomb and the parallel walls. This is the only gate from MBII. This new revelation has significant implication for dating the construction of the water system – one could now argue for an early hewing of the system (during MBIIA, close to the time of Abraham and closer to the time of the Jebusite water system in Jerusalem). This pushes construction earlier than most have thought. Interestingly, this is approximately the time Macalister dated the system when he discovered it. This makes the Gezer Water System one of the oldest system of its kind in the ancient world. The dig supervisors will return to Israel this fall to oversee the clearing of the rest of the material in the system -- still a monumental task. The complete clearing of the system could provide additional answers regarding the date.
Fig. 4, Jar burial under a wall.

Silver and Gold
Fig. 6
The most interesting finds of the seven-year dig came this summer in Area C. In the course of excavating the storerooms the team discovered a void under a series of flat stones near the foundation of the northern wall. In the void excavators found a “pottery box” (a pot with a lid) with a small horde of metal objects fused together (Figs 6, 7). Upon first examination, the team noticed what appeared to be a silver bull amulet with horns. A stone scarab wrapped (Fig. 8) with a gold band was attached to the sliver amulet (Fig. 9). A cluster of unidentifiable silver objects were also found. All the objects were wrapped in a fine linen fabric and carefully placed under the wall in this pot. This is known as a foundation offering. It was placed in the room before the construction because the ancients believed it would provide stability for the structure. This deposit was found and excavated by one of the dig volunteers, Savannah, a college student from Tampa, Fla.

Fig. 7, Foundation deposit

Figs. 8 and 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11.

Fig. 12
The objects were quickly taken to the Israel Antiquities Authorities lab for preservation and analysis, under the supervision of Dr. Naama Sukenik (Fig. 10). The objects appear to have survived a fire and after careful unraveling, all together six objects were noted. Objects included a silver disk, a crescent-shaped piece (the two were first thought to be a bull motif), a possible ring, an arrow-shaped pendant, a yet unidentified silver cluster and the golden banded scarab. The disk includes an engraved image and is still being studied. The team cleaned the scarab and disk with crescent (Fig. 11) and will release additional details when more is known about the designs. The linen in which the objects were wrapped contained silver chips and other elements yet to be determined. Parts of the linen were fused to the silver pendant. The “golden” scarab was sent to Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor for analysis. She dated it to the end of the Middle Bronze Age IIC, a date very consistent with the dating of the building as a whole. It appears to be Canaanite in origin, but mimics Egyptian symbols. Only one other scarab of this design has been found to date. Macalister discovered it at Tel Gezer (Fig 12). It did not include the golden band which allowed the scarab to be worn as a ring. Another scarab was found in the center of the floor of storeroom with the horde, but it has yet to be dated.  

Questions Remain
Some technical questions still remain. Where did the metal come from? Who were the artisans? Were they from Gezer, Egypt or even north into Syria? The IAA is not finished with their analysis. Their research could help answer questions or origin and chemical makeup of the pieces. Foundation deposits are not uncommon in the ancient world, but this deposit stands as one of the best documented at Tel Gezer.

In the five storerooms, our probes reached earlier walls like those found in the gate complex. As with the gate complex, all pottery dated to the MB IIA. Bedrock has not been reached in these areas, which leaves the possibility of an even earlier stratum. Further work in both areas C (Storerooms) and D (Gate complex) will address lingering questions next season.

Fig. 13

Up from the Mud
Another interesting find this summer was removed from the packed mud near the bottom of the water system. After years of removing massive amounts of discarded storage jars (mostly from the Late Bronze Age), the team uncovered the most interesting find to date – half of a clay mold for making idols.

Known as the “Lady of the Abyss” (Fig. 13) by the dig team, the mold measures approximately 2 and a half inches square. It appears to be an Egyptian or Egyptian-inspired design. A wax imprint of the mold will be made to give a clearer picture of the research. What is the mold's relationship to the water tunnel? It is difficult to say. It may have been used to produce idols for the workers – a “security blanket” of sorts to keep them safe while digging this monstrous system – or it may have been discarded in the system after it was broken. If the mold can be dated, it will help determine the dates the water system was in use. It was an exciting season, but there is much work yet to be done. Stay tuned for further updates.

Dr. Dan Warner (left) and Dr. Eli Yannai (right).

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Twelve

The Tel Gezer dig officially wrapped, with some exciting and unexpected findings. We are excited about returning to dig further next year, and to discover more about the ancient Canaanites and this heavily fortified city. Until then, we will miss Israel and our archaeology friends!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Eleven

By Gary D. Myers

Finished. Today we wrapped up the 2016 Tel Gezer Water System Expedition. We removed the last few buckets of dirt and pottery from each of the excavation area and began the clean-up process by 10:30 a.m. yesterday. Today we took final photos of each area, took down the dig tent, and packed all the tools and equipment for storage.

This was a great dig season – with important finds that we cannot mention and new questions to answer. Each year we are inching closer to a firm answer about the date of the water system – the primary question we are looking to answer.

We collected countless pottery sherds, charcoal samples and ancient material items. Much study will take place in the months to come. Databases of pottery information were created and will be studied closely. The pottery evidence is the most important aspect of our research – the pottery will help us determine the date of the system and who built it. Experts in archaeology have developed finely tuned typologies of pottery in Israel – these experts (like Dr. Eli Yannai) can date a piece of pottery within a 100 years or less.

Even with all the research left to close out the books on this season’s dig, before we left the tel today, the directors began planning for next season’s dig.

End of dig updates with Dr. Warner are coming soon. Watch the video below for a walk through our site on a typical work day, and go all the way into the cavern in the water system!


Photos and video by Sarah Simon

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Ten

By Gary D. Myers

You may have noticed that the blog has been less active this dig season and especially less active this last week of the dig. There are several reasons – the addition of a third digging location makes this our busiest dig season at Tel Gezer. More people, more pottery, more contemplation, more paperwork, and more work. The extra work leaves us ready for bed much earlier than usual.

Another reason for the lack of blogs is the complicated and theoretical nature of our work this season. We are trying to answer complicated questions regarding the dating of the water system construction and we are trying understand the relationship between the water system and fields C and D. It was much easier to blog when we were only focused moving dirt from the tunnel. Once we broke through all the fill material in the tunnel several years back, even the discussions of our progress in the water system became more complicated.

The main reason for the lack of blogs is the wonderful season we are having. We have made our best finds to date at the Tel Gezer Water System Expedition. We would love to tell you all about the finds, but we can’t until each has been studied and published.

The team is well and we are trying to finish strong.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Nine

Felipe Ocampo sifting at the Canaanite Gate.

Tsvika Tsuk and Eli Yannai discussing Eli's House.

Chet Roden and John Delancey digging at Eli's House.

Supplies needed for the dig include...

Pottery Washing at the main tent.

A view of Karmei Yosef.

Video Updates:

Canaanite Gate


Eli's House

Photos & Videos by Sarah Simon

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Eight

First video update from week 2 of digging - watch for more from our other areas!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Seven

Morning view of Modi'in from Gezer. 

Sifting at the Canaanite Gate.

The Big Sifter for the tunnel dirt.

Digging at the Canaanite Gate.

Asi, our crane operator and barista.

Dr. Cole, Eli Yannai and Tsvika Tsuk reading pottery.

Dr. Warner and Lyn Pruitt working on pottery and artifacts.

We had a great work day today at all three areas -- 50 bags of material were pulled from the water system and the two above ground locations continued to carefully excavate. At this mid-point of the dig, everyone is equal parts excited, exhausted, and home sick. We still have much to do before we leave and many questions are left that we hope to answer ... in the coming week and in the next few years.

For those of you who are not acquainted with the history of Gezer and the history of the site's archaeology, below is a portion of last year's report regarding the dig.

Tel Gezer Water System
Added evidence that an ancient water system at Tel Gezer in Israel could be the product of Middle Bronze Age Canaanites living between the time of Abraham and the Israelite conquest was uncovered by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s archaeology team during a challenging dig season in the summer of 2015.

The Bible provides one tantalizing possible parallel to the Gezer system in the accounts of King David. In 2 Samuel 5:6-9, David’s men utilized a “water shaft” to invade and conquer the fortress of Zion/Jerusalem. This rock-hewn system has been located in Jerusalem’s “City of David” area. Visitors can walk the entire length of that Canaanite system.
Based on all the available data, Dan Warner, co-director of the NOBTS Gezer dig, believes the City of David tunnel and the Gezer system are both products of the Middle Bronze Age.
The Gezer water system excavation is a joint project of the Moskau Institute for Archaeology at NOBTS and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). The dig is co-directed by Dan Warner, an NOBTS professor, and INPA chief archaeologist Tsvika Tsuk. Jim Parker, NOBTS professor and executive director of the Moskau Institute, and Dennis Cole, professor and chairman of the division of biblical studies, also provide leadership for the three-week dig.
Warner estimates that the Canaanites built the water system during the height of Gezer’s prominence as a Canaanite city-state. Though this would place construction approximately 600-700 years before the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the water system can shed light on the Canaanite people and their culture — a culture which plays a formidable role in the Old Testament.
Canaanite Gezer is mentioned multiple times in the Israelite conquest narrative recorded in the Old Testament book of Joshua. The most notable mention occurs in Joshua 10:33. When Joshua and his men attacked Lachish, approximately 20 miles south of Gezer, the army of Gezer came to that city’s aid. The Israelites defeated Lachish and the army of Gezer, killing King Horam of Gezer.
Another important reference to Canaanite Gezer is connected to the Israelite failure to take the entire land that God had given them. In Joshua 16:10, the biblical author notes that the Israelites “did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer.” And though the Israelites set aside Gezer as a “city of refuge,” the Bible indicates that the Canaanites controlled Gezer until the time of Solomon when they were finally defeated by an Egyptian pharaoh (1 Kings 9:15-17).
The Canaanites had experienced a time of cultural decline in the years before the conquest but were still a frightening foe with heavily fortified cities. The water system, along with the massive defensive walls and gate, illustrate an advanced society with great technical know-how, significant engineering skills and a desire to build things on a large scale, Warner said.
The 2015 Gezer dig
“The pottery retrieved from the system this past season appears to date either from the end of the Middle Bronze Age or the beginning of the Late Bronze Age,” Warner said. “Either way, the system had to be dug before the pottery was deposited, giving the earliest possible date in the Middle Bronze Age.”
The massive rock-hewn water system was created with flint and bronze tools as early as 2000 B.C, Warner noted. Already the largest known of its type, evidence suggests the Gezer system may be one of the oldest.
“We know of nothing this massive from the Middle Bronze Age anywhere in the Ancient Near East,” Warner said. “This system fits well with other [Canaanite] features in close proximity: to the south the massive gate and stone tower and to the northeast the large standing stones.”
The ancient water system, which provided a water source inside the walls of Gezer, consists of at least three parts: a keyhole-shaped entrance, a long diagonal shaft and a basin to collect water which may extend into a cavern located just beyond the basin. The massive water system measures 12 feet wide and 24 feet high at its opening, stretching 130 feet into the ground at a 38-degree slope. For the past six years, a team of archaeologists and volunteers has been investigating the site in an effort to determine who constructed the ancient water system and when it was constructed.
In previous years, the team encountered a highly concentrated area of Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-1200 B.C.) pottery sherds. This discovery led the dig leaders and Eli Yanni, who serves as the dig’s pottery expert, to speculate that the tunnel may have been used as a pottery dump after it was no longer used as water source. Why it ceased use as a water system remains a point of speculation. This year Yanni noticed a clear transition from Late Bronze Age pottery to Middle Bronze Age pottery dating between 1800 and 1500 B.C. under the “pottery dump.” The pottery finds make a 2000 B.C. construction date more likely, Warner said.
Gezer water system history
In the Middle Bronze Age, Gezer grew from a small village into a heavily fortified city-state. The Canaanites built high stone walls, massive towers and a mud-brick gate system to protect the city. According to Warner, the city met a violent end, most likely at the hands of Pharaoh Thutmose III, who lists Gezer as a conquered city on the walls of the Karnack temple.
King Solomon launched another construction boom in the Iron Age 1,000 years later. Solomon rebuilt and fortified Gezer and strengthened the defenses at Hazor, Jerusalem and Megiddo (1 Kings 9:15-17). Because of the dating of water systems at Hazor and Megiddo, many archaeologists argue that the Gezer water system was constructed after Solomon, during the reign of Ahab.
When Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister excavated the system from 1906-08, he attributed it to Middle Bronze Age Canaanites. However, his primitive archaeology methods along with persistent theories about the systems in Hazor and Megiddo led many to dismiss his claims about the Gezer system. Recent evidence suggests that the Megiddo system also is a product of Middle Bronze Age Canaanites, providing additional evidence for an early dating of the Gezer system.
Shortly after Macalister’s excavation at Gezer, a retaining wall collapsed and refilled the water system with dirt rocks and debris. It remained untouched for 102 years.
During his dig, Macalister laid a “causeway” of stones across the muddy basin to reach the cavern. While the causeway helped Macalister’s team reach the cavern, it also protected materials resting in the basin from contamination following the retaining wall’s 1908 collapse. The NOBTS/INPA team discovered Macalister’s causeway during the 2012 dig season. For the past four seasons, the team has been removing datable pottery samples from the area Macalister left untouched.
How the Canaanites could build such a system remains a mystery. Many have attributed the system to outside influences such as the Minoans, Egyptians or Mesopotamians. But the Middle Bronze Age dating removes that option. Warner maintains the possibility that the Canaanites developed the technology.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Six

No full update tonight, but we do have two great videos produced by Sarah Simon.

It was another great day at the Tel Gezer dig, but we are all tired and turning in early tonight. Enjoy these video updates from Dr. Warner.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Gezer 2016 – Update Five

By Gary D. Myers

The Tel Gezer Water System Expedition welcomed the second week of the 2016 today. It was a beautiful, somewhat cool day – another great day to dig. Due to our travels, lectures and other commitments (the need for sleep), we weren’t able to publish an update last Thursday or post Dr. Dan Warner’s week one video update. So, I will attempt to get you up to date with our progress and Sarah Simon has edited and posted the week one video update (see above).

The Water System – Field A-B
When Thursday came to an end, the team in the water system had cleared the width of the tunnel just below what we are calling the “bottom step.” For several years the south half of this area has been cleared. However, we left the northern half (actually a little more than half) as a staging area for the bag removal process. This year removing that mass of dirt, pottery, rocks and debris was a top priority. Since the area was sealed under the causeway of stones laid over the pool area by Macalister in the early 1900s, the material may be helpful in establishing the date of the system’s construction. Removing the material necessitated a reworking of the wooden ramp used as a track for pulling up the bags of debris. After the ramp system was removed for reconfiguration, the team photographed and documented the whole area, because it does not appear in Macalister’s record. After all the dig seasons, seeing the entire width of the pool area clear of debris is thrilling. The cleaning for photography, photography, and documentation procedures took most of the morning. After that was complete, the ramp was reinstalled and the diggers will be filling bags at a steady pace again Monday morning.

The Intramural Complex – Field C
In Field C, called the intramural complex in the Dever/Seger digs (Eli’s house in our reports last year), the work slowed considerably to carefully excavate a sizeable vessel. Worked slowed again on Sunday when the team carefully investigated several areas of in situ pottery in one of the rooms. Both are very interesting finds which are still in the interpretive stage. Very cool stuff, unfortunately, not something we can share on the blog without further study, and possibly, the final publication of the dig reports.

The Gate – Field D
At the gate (Field D), the team continued to search for information to link the gate system to the rooms in Field C and to the water system. Work slowed a bit on Thursday as some of the team members were needed to wash pottery. However, the team did find the dividing line between Macalister’s backfill and what appeared to be leveling layers installed by the gate’s builders. On Sunday, the team expanded the square to encompass more of Macalister’s backfill. The effort (which was difficult) was designed to create the necessary room to dig a probe in search of bedrock. At some point the team seems to have broken through the layers of Macalister’s fill to another level of undisturbed dirt. The jury is still out on that. The probe will continue tomorrow.

Sunday Service
The day began with a devotion on the tel and because it is Sunday, after the dig and a lecture for Dr. Warner on the Middle Bronze Age, we had another devotional/worship time before supper. All in all, it was another wonderful day in Israel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gezer 2016 - Update Four

Just posting a video today of the first couple of days in Israel and the beginning of the dig.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gezer Dig Day Three Update

By Gary D. Myers

Today we reached full operational capacity at all three of our excavation areas. We are actively excavating in the water system (Fields A and B), in the buildings near the gate (Field C), and at the Canaanite gate (Field D). Exciting things are happening at each of the locations.

Though today ended on a high note, it started very slow. One of our drivers (this blogger) lost the keys to one of our vans. Quickly we figured out that the keys were lost while I was blogging in the lobby at Neve Shalom. The only problem is that the lobby does not open until 7 a.m. So instead of leaving at 6 a.m., one group did not get to leave until after 7 a.m. The slow start was accentuated by rain, of all things. I have spent many days in Israel and can remember a light rain only a few times. Three or four times there were significant showers. Between rain showers, the teams took starting measurements at the above ground fields and completed the water system sandbagging of the water system before lunch. After our lunch break, each area was able to begin excavating.

The water system team removed 19 bags of material. The water system and the two other fields generated enough pottery for us to start our daily task of washing pottery.

Dr. Dan Warner, Tsvika Tsuk and Eli Yannai talking about the excavation.

Sifting to find artifacts.

Field C excavations.

Brad Biddy at Field C. Sorry for calling you Bruce, Brad.

Dr. Chet Roden at Field C.

Mrs. Renee Roden recording dig details at Field C.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tel Gezer 2016 – Day Two

By Gary D. Myers

Setup days are always tough. It’s hot, dirty and we are all a bit out of physical shape when the excavation begins. We round up the tools and equipment, set up camp, raise shade cloth, make an unreasonable amount of sandbags, and a thousand other tasks. It takes lots of time and it is some of the hardest work we do during the excavation.

Day two at the Tel Gezer Water System Exploration brought much cooler temperatures and more setup at all of our major work areas. In the water system (Fields A and B), the team repaired and installed the wooden stairs which allow access to the tunnel. Others began the long process of placing sandbags over the ancient steps – 85 steps total, each requiring two to four sandbags. Once setup is complete, the team will begin clearing out the NW quadrant of the pool (Area A). Removing this will expose the full width of the pool area at its shallowest point.

Just as the team began laying the sandbags, we encountered the first real problem of the season. The switch used to control the winch shorted out and, for a time, we were unable lower additional sandbags into the tunnel. This minor setback was repaired within two to two and a half hours, but the lost time means at least one more set-up day in the water system.

Other fun tasks of the day included clearing weeds from the Middle Bronze Age wall and gate area and covering the long, black water pipe with weeds to help maintain a tolerable water temperature.

In Field C (sometimes referred to as “Eli’s House,” last season), setup was complete on day one. Today the crew began clearing the area and digging. The goal of this work is to determine how these structures relate to the gate and the water system. This year the team opened a new surface excavation area near the Canaanite Gate (Southern Gate). Known as Field D, the new area could help provide a clearer picture of the relationship between the gate, the water system and the structures in Field C. According to the archaeologists on site, portions of these two areas have never been excavated. Other portions have been excavated, but have not been fully described or photographed for the archaeological record.

With setup nearly complete, the excitement is building among the Tel Gezer participants. As many of you know, we will not be able to publish much about our most important finds. Information about the important finds will trickle out in academic publications and later in the final dig publication. So bear with us. We are hoping to answer important questions about Gezer this year. We will share as much as we can.

Welcome to Tel Gezer!

Setting up at the tent.

Our main tent at the entrance.

Digging at Area D.

Pottery findings from around the Canaanite Gate.

The Canaanite Gate at Area D.

Digging at Area D.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Gezer 2016 Update One

By Sarah Simon

Today marked the beginning of the 2016 dig season at Tel Gezer. We arrived on site, and the first-year participants toured the tel while the others began setting up. The day continued with set-up tasks, such as making and placing sandbags, shade areas and lighting the water system, among other activities.

Tel Gezer was a significant city in ancient Israel. It is located in the Shephelah, and was a heavily guarded city. The Mediterranean can be seen from Gezer in this photo.

Gezer is the only Canaanite city where standing stones have been unearthed.


A wider view of the standing stones.

Dr. Dan Warner giving an explanation to the first-year diggers.

The group of newcomers touring the site. 

Dr. Warner explaining the site.

This is the Solomonic gate at the entrance to the city.

Going down into the water system.

The cavernous water system as lighting is being set up.

Sand-bagging and sending the bags down to the walkway below by crane.

The set-up is taking place for sifting under the tent.

The archaeologists talking excavation.

A wide view of the area where the crew is working.