A press release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University announces the recent discovery of a holy place that was not always a holy place.
Tel Aviv University researchers have uncovered a unique 11th-century BCE sacred compound at the site of Tel Beth-Shemesh, an ancient village that resisted the aggressive expansion of neighboring Philistines. The newly discovered sacred complex is comprised of an elevated, massive circular stone structure and an intricately constructed building characterized by a row of three flat, large round stones. Co-directors of the dig Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of TAU’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology say that this temple complex is unparalleled, possibly connected to an early Israelite cult — and provides remarkable new evidence of the deliberate desecration of a sacred site.
After ruling out the use of the site as a domestic structure, the researchers knew that they had found something unique. Excavations revealed almost only shards of painted chalices and goblets found spread on the floor but no traces of domestic use. One of the three flat stones was surrounded by animal bone remnants, and the two other stones were seemingly designed to direct liquids. These clues convinced Prof. Bunimovitz and Dr. Lederman that they had uncovered a likely place of sacred worship.
But the temple didn’t remain sacred. Samples of earth taken from layers above the destroyed temple and analyzed at the Weizmann Institute of Science revealed astonishing results. Directly above the temple was a packed-in layer containing phytoliths (remains of weeds that are commonly eaten by livestock) and spherulites (microscopic remnants of manure produced by grass-eating animals), indicating the presence of animal pens directly on top of the sacred site, explains Prof. Bunimovitz. Intermittent burning in order to clean the pens likely resulted in the concentrated state of the layer.
This desecration was no accident or coincidence, the researchers believe. Instead, it represents the see-saw of political might between the Philistines and the local population. Presumably the Philistines gained temporary control of Beth-Shemesh, and brought in livestock to live on what they knew had been a sacred site to their enemies.
The article does not mention Samson, but this is roughly the period when he lived in the town across the valley.
HT: David Coppedge