EL-MAQATIR 2000 DIG REPORT
By Bryant G.
May 22 to June 15 a fifth season of excavation was carried out at Kh.
el-Maqatir, 15 km (9 mi) north of Jerusalem. The project is sponsored by
the Associates for Biblical Research, endorsed by the Near East
Archaeological Society, and under the direction of the author. Two
groups of volunteers, with over 60 in each group, participated in the
dig. In addition, a tour group of about 50 joined the dig for one day,
and a number of people living in Israel volunteered one or more days to
help excavate. Participating consortium members included Berkshire
Institute for Christian Studies, Bryan College, Dallas Theological
Seminary, Master's College IBEX (Israel Bible Extension), Southeastern
Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southwest Institute of Biblical and
Theological Studies. The
following institutions were also represented: Francis Marion University,
Gordon College, Grace Theological Seminary, Northwestern College, Ozark
Christian College, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of
North Carolina, Washington Bible College and Wheaton College.
work by the core staff and dedicated volunteers during the 2000 dig
season allowed a great deal to be accomplished. It was a breakthrough
season in that solid evidence for the burning of the Canaanite fortress
was recovered and the lines of both the east wall and the west walls
were located. Tomb excavation was initiated under the direction of John
Davis, professor at Grace Theological Seminary. One negative note is
that between the 1999 and 2000 seasons, the southwestern sector of the
Canaanite fortress was fenced off as part of an agricultural plot.
Because of this, it was not possible to investigate the circular wall
and possible southern defense wall discovered in 1999.
CENTURY BC (LATE BRONZE I PERIOD), THE TIME OF THE CONQUEST
Ashes of Ai
the sacking of Ai, the Israelites burned the fortress as described in
Joshua 8:28. In 1999 a layer of ash was discovered in Square G24. This
season the ash was traced south into Square F24 where it was some 10 cm
(4 in) thick. It lay on top of what appears to be a well-preserved
flagstone pavement. On the east side of the square is a north-south line
of stones, perhaps collapse from the eastern wall. The flagstone
pavement here and a similar pavement in Squares R13 and R14 might be
part of a "ring road" inside the fortress adjacent to the
R13 and R14 are west of the gate and just inside the northern wall. On
top of the pavement exposed in these squares was a thin layer of ash, as
well as clumps of burned material. In addition to this graphic evidence
for destruction, there was also indirect evidence. On both the east and
west sides of the fortress pottery from the early fortress phase was
found that was "metallic" hard. It is clear that this pottery
had been refired, quite possibly when the fortress was burned by the
puzzling feature of Squares R13 and R14, as well as Square S14 excavated
in 1998, is the presence of large megalithic stones in random positions.
In Square R14 several of the stones are lying on 20-25 cm (8-10 in) of
soil above the flagstone pavement. Similar stones have been found on the
east side of the gate in Squares Q19 and P19. Evidently, these stones
were part of the fortification system on either side of the gate. They
later collapsed, perhaps from earthquake, and gravitated to their
over the past several seasons to locate the western wall of the fortress
have been futile. The western portion of the fortress was heavily robbed
out by the builders of the Byzantine monastery a short distance away on
the summit of the hill on which Kh. el-Maqatir is located. Persistence
finally paid off. This season in Square M8 the inner face of the west
wall was found. It appears that the outer face, in Square M7 to the
west, was robbed out. The wall core of smaller stones remains, however,
resulting in a surviving width of 3.3 m (11 ft). To the east is a stone
fill, or terrace, 4.7 m (15 ft) wide which runs parallel to the inside
of the western wall. In 1998 the retaining wall for the terrace was
traced for a distance of ca. 40 m (130 ft). The terrace evidently was
built on the sloping west side of the fortress to provide a foundation
for the ring road.
P19--The First Well-Defined Structure Inside the Fortress
of the LB I fortress have generally been found at or just below the
surface. Because of extensive agricultural activity, these remains are
badly disturbed. That was the case in Square P19. What appears to be the
corner of a building was found on the north side of the square. It is
formed by two poorly-preserved walls ca. 0.9 m (3 ft) wide. The
northernmost wall is oriented northwest-southeast, parallel to the line
of the fortress wall, which was originally a few meters to the
northeast. Inside the structure were remnants of a paved floor with some
of the stones heavily calcined, possibly from the fire that destroyed
the fortress. Calcination of the bedrock from extreme heat has also been
observed in Squares P17, P18, Q17 and Q20 in the vicinity of the gate.
N23 Storage Pit (Did the Israelites do it?)
test probe was made in Square N23 40 m (130 ft) southeast of the gate
for the purpose of locating the east wall of the fortress. Although the
wall was not found here, a very interesting feature was found. A storage
pit was cut into the bedrock on the north side of the probe trench. Its
covering stone was still in position. It is bottle-shaped and squarish
in cross section, measuring ca. 1.5 x 1.5 m (5 x 5 ft). The pit is 2.2 m
(7 ft) deep with an opening ca. 45 cm (18 in) in diameter. Filling the
pit to a depth of about 1.3 m (4 ft) was soft, fine, soil. It appears
that the soil sifted in through the crack between the covering stone and
the edge of the opening. In addition to soil, there were a number of
pottery sherds, evidently having also sifted in through the crack. All
of the pottery was from the time of Joshua and had been refired, i.e.,
subjected to a very high temperature subsequent to its manufacture.
all this evidence together, it seems that the pit was emptied of its
contents at the end of the life of the Canaanite fortress and the cover
carefully put back in position. The fortress was then burned and the
cover became hidden from view. Over the centuries soil filtered into the
pit along with pottery sherds from the time of destruction. Could the
Israelites have emptied the pit of its contents when they plundered Ai
(Joshua 8:27)? Was it an Israelite who replaced the cover, not to be
touched again until our ABR team excavated Square N23 3400 years later?
IRON AGE I PERIOD, THE TIME OF THE JUDGES
continued along the north wall of the LB I fortress. Approximately 200
years after the destruction of the fortress, in the latter part of the
period of the judges, new occupants built structures along the ruined
north wall. These new occupants were most likely Israelites, as the
Israelites dominated the central hill country at that time. They cleared
away the fill stones of the north wall, but left the outer face as the
back wall of their new buildings. The Iron Age I structures have been
found so far in Squares Q9 and R11. They were poorly constructed of
stone walls one stone wide. A hard-packed clay floor was found in one of
the rooms in Square R11. Beneath the building in Square Q9 a nearly
complete cooking pot from the construction phase of the fortress was
PERIOD (1ST CENTURY BC)
Fortress Wall Identified
the 1999 season a 3.6 m (12 ft) wide wall was excavated in Square G24.
There was not time to section the wall for dating purposes. Pottery from
a section completed this season indicates that the wall was constructed
in the Hasmonean period. The wall continues for some distance to the
east and appears to be the southern wall of the Hasmonean fortress.
Square P18 the foundations of a northwest-southeast wall and an
intersecting northeast-southwest wall were found just below the surface.
The continuation of the northwest-southeast wall was found in Square P17
in 1997. Although no intact floors were found in conjunction with these
walls, the pottery found and the location of the P17 wall in front of
the LB I gate suggest a Hasmonean date for the structure.
test probe was dug in Square L26 in search of the eastern wall of the
Canaanite fortress. Steps were found cut in the bedrock that lead to an
arched entrance to an underground chamber. Inside the chamber the steps
continue to the back. It was plastered and measures 2.2 x 2.5 m (7.5 x 8
ft) x 1.7 m (5.5 ft) high. The design of the chamber indicates that it
was a Jewish ritual bath, a miqveh, common in the first century BC. The
presence of a miqveh at the site verifies our contention, based on
dating, that the second fortress at Kh. el-Maqatir was built and
occupied by the Hasmoneans.
PERIOD (6TH CENTURY AD)
Square N23 where the storage pit was found, a small fire pit was
discovered 1 m (3 ft) to the southeast. It was carved into bedrock and
contained Byzantine pottery. A substantial wall oriented
northeast-southwest was built over the pit. It extended into the east
balk and was at least 1.5 m (5 ft) wide. Since the pit dates to the
Byzantine period, the wall most likely was built in this period and is
perhaps related to the nearby monastery.
tombs representing each of the three major phases of occupation at the
site were excavated in the vicinity of Kh. el-Maqatir. All three had
been robbed in antiquity. Human remains in the form of bone fragments
and teeth were found in two of the tombs. Small finds were sparse.
4, dating to the late Middle Bronze-early Late Bronze period, is located
in Square AA5 outside the southwest wall of the fortress. It is a
single-chamber tomb ca. 1.5 x 2.2 m (5 x 7 ft) and 1 m (3 ft) high. The
entrance was blocked by a rectangular sealing stone ca. 60 cm (24 in)
wide, 50 cm (20 in) high, and 26 cm (10 in) thick. In addition to a few
bone fragments and teeth, 5 beads, 3 stone tools and the rim of an
alabaster vessel were found.
2, located 426 m (466 yd) southeast of the O23 benchmark is from the
Late Hellenistic-Early Roman period. It has a rectangular entrance and a
main chamber measuring ca. 2.5 x 2.5 m (8 x8 ft). Off the main chamber
are seven kokhim, or burial chambers, each one being ca. 50 cm (1.6 ft)
wide and 1 m (3.3 ft) high. The depth varies from 55 cm (1.8 ft) to 2.2
m (7 ft). The only ancient remains in the tomb were pottery sherds and
human bone fragments and teeth. Tomb robbers removed whatever offerings
might originally have been placed in the tomb.
1 is Byzantine in date and is a single-chamber tomb located 384 m (420
yd) southeast of the O23 benchmark. The tomb robbers left the blocking
stone, 55 cm (1.8 ft) square x 20 cm (8 in) thick, in position in the
entrance. Inside, the chamber is ca. 1.7 m (5.5 ft) wide, 1.5 m (4.9 ft)
deep and 1.1 m (3.6 ft) high. Other than pottery sherds and fragments of
glass vessels, there were no ancient remains in the tomb.
years of hard work at Kh. el-Maqatir have produced significant results.
The plan of the fortress from Joshua's time is slowly coming into focus.
With the discovery of evidence for the burning of the fortress, we now
have all the proof needed to make a strong case that Kh. el-Maqatir is
the Ai of Joshua 7 8. Should we terminate the project? Hardly! Although
we have plenty of common pottery from the time of Joshua, we are still
lacking imported and painted
pottery, the primary diagnostic indicators for the LB I period. Imported
and local painted pottery were the expensive fancy wares of the time and
would not have been the everyday pottery in use at a military outpost.
The only place it might have been used was in the commandant's house. In
addition, officials at a 15th century BC border fortress would have
needed to maintain contact with other centers. One type of communication
in use at that time was written communiqués‚ in the form of cuneiform
tablets. These most likely would have been kept at the administrative
center the commandant's house. So, the search is on for the commandant's
house! In addition, the more of the fortress we uncover, the stronger
will be the evidence that we have discovered a 15th century BC fortress
that should be identified as the Ai of Joshua 7-8. There are many more
years of work yet to be done at Kh. el-Maqatir.