Friday, May 9, 2014

Summary of papers on Abel Beth Maacah presented in a conference at Tel Hai Academic College

On May 1, Tel Hai Academic College held their Annual Galilee Research Conference. This year’s symposium included a session on Abel Beth Maacah. The conference was well-attended by students and faculty of Tel Hai Academic College and other local academic institutions. There was also a solid representation of interested locals from nearby kibbutzim, moshavim and towns. The Tel Abel Beth Maacah session included four lectures. What follows is a summary of each presenter’s main points.

Prof. Nadav Na’aman (Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University) analyzed the various written and archaeological sources relating to the history of the kingdoms of Geshur and Maacah as remembered in biblical tradition. Na'aman stressed that the location of these independent Aramean kingdoms on the northern border of Israel was known only vaguely to the Judean scribes operating in Jerusalem long after their existence, which is why the information appears so conflicting and inexact. For this reason, archaeological data is key to understanding the economic and political relationships between these two kingdoms at the beginning of the first millennium BCE, especially for Maacah, which is even less well-known than Geshur; a kingdom whose capital was apparently located at the site of et-Tell (Bethsaida). The current excavations at Tell Abil el-Qameh should shed light on whether this was the capital of the kingdom of Maacah or a satellite town within the realm of Geshur.

Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen and Ruhama Bonfil (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) surveyed the historical geography of Tel Abel Beth Maacah and presented the main results of the 2012 survey and 2013 excavations. This included the architectural remains in two excavation areas (domestic in Area A and secondary occupation adjoining an earlier fortification in Area F), photos of the accompanying finds, and a chronological summary of each area (Iron Age I in Area A and Late Bronze Age in Area F). They also presented the goals for the upcoming 2014 season, including the expansion of Areas A and F, as well as the possibility of a new area on the upper mound.

Dr. Nimrod Marom (Haifa University and Tel Hai Academic College) is the zooarchaeologist who is analyzing the fauna from Abel Beth Maacah. He gave an interesting survey of how animal bones augment our understanding of many social and economic aspects of occupation at ancient sites. He then presented the data collected from Area A in 2013. Despite the collection’s small size, Marom pointed to a number of interesting trends: (1) the inhabitants did not practice herding and probably obtained their animals as meat for consumption from other sources; (2) a lion bone (a rare find), as well as two gazelle and antelope bones, indicate the possibility of hunting, an elite practice at the time; (3) he noted a preference for left hind limbs in the faunal record, with possible cultic connotations based on comparative data from nearby Dan and more distant sites.

Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack (Weizmann Institute of Science and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is the archeometallurgist for Tel Abel Beth Maacah. She presented a preliminary analysis of the silver hoard found in Area F in 2013. Her study shows that the earrings in the hoard are paralleled by earrings from the Late Bronze Age; a date corroborated by the jug in which they were found, as well as the archaeological context. The hoard consisted of complete and broken earrings, a piece of scrap metal, a piece of ‘chocolate-shaped’ hacksilber and an ingot, each of which had a particular technological and socio-economic implication. Within the context of other such hoards found in Israel, the one from Abel Beth Maacah is apparently the earliest to contain ‘chocolate-shaped’ hacksilber, typically used as a form of payment in the Iron Age pre-monetary economy. Chemical and lead isotope analysis of four of the pieces in the hoard showed that the source of the silver might have been Huelva, Spain. This might be related to Phoenician expansion to the west that began as early as Iron Age I. If Spain was the origin of the silver in the Abel Beth Maacah hoard, this westward expansion might be dated even earlier.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

This summer at Abel Beth Maacah

May 1 is the official deadline date for registration, but now is a good time to start updating everyone on what will take place this summer.

Team members are fortunate to be working with an exceptional team of professionals. The directors (Bob Mullins and Nava Panitz-Cohen) have about 25 years of excavation experience each. Both are former students of Amihai Mazar, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; one of the best known and most respected archaeologists in Israel. The joint Israeli and American staff are very experienced and want to make this an enriching time for everyone.

Last summer we focused in two areas of the lower mound. In Area A we uncovered houses of the 11th century BCE (Iron Age I); in biblical terms, the time of Samuel and Saul. While we cannot independently confirm it yet, the biblical texts suggests that Abel Beth Maacah was an Aramean city, perhaps the capital of "Aram-Maacah". Since little is know about the various Aramean kingdoms bordering Israel, we hope that our work will shed new light on Aramean identity and material culture.

We are also debating the possibility of opening a small area to the west of Area A where the topography is slightly higher. We want to determine whether the 11th century BCE was the latest period of occupation in the lower city (before settlement shifted entirely to the upper tel), or if there is later occupation from the 10th century BCE, also known as the period of the United Monarchy. Whether or not we discover remains from the time of David and Solomon here, it is nevertheless important to determine the latest period of occupation on the lower mound. 

In Area F at the southern end of the tel we encountered a possible tower belonging to a fortification wall that encircled the city. We are not yet sure of its date. (Something you will help us find out this summer!) It may be Middle Bronze Age or Late Bronze Age. It was against the inner face of this tower, in layers dated to the transitional Late Bronze-Iron Age I, that we found the jug containing a silver hoard which included five hoop earrings and bits of scrap silver (hacksilber) used in monetary exchange. Press links to this discovery have been posted in this blog. We even made it into the "La Cucaracha" syndicated cartoon strip.

This season we hope to date when the tower was first built and hopefully determine when it went out of use. We will also expand Area F further to the east in order to find out whether the large features are indeed part of the city's fortifications. If so, then the city wall here may link up with the presumed city gate on the eastern side of the tel.

We finally hope to open a new area on the upper mound. While parts of the upper city are covered by Medieval and modern structures, we think there are places where we can go down and get a sense of the earlier periods of habitation. While we cannot say for sure which periods we will encounter, we would like to find remains of the Iron Age II city destroyed by Tiglath-pileser III in 733-732 BCE.

If the beautiful "donut flask" recovered in the 2012 survey and the silver hoard found in the 2013 season are any indication, Abel Beth Maacah is likely to yield several other hidden secrets this summer that YOU will be part of discovering. To give you a better sense of the story of Abel Beth Maacah, its biblical relevance, and a summary of the results of our past work, I have attached a copy of an article authored by the Abel Beth Maacah Triumvirate - Nava Panitz-Cohen, Bob Mullins and Ruhama Bonfil. Reading this article before you join us this summer will help you to better appreciate the importance of this site - the last major biblical site to be explored in Israel. And you are part of it!

A few other matters of importance:

Passports: To enter Israel, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your planned departure date. This means that if you are with us for the entire 4 weeks, and plan to leave after the dig closes, your passport cannot expire before January 22, 2015 (6 months after the end of the excavation). If you are from North America you will not need to get a visa to enter Israel in advance. You will get a 3 month tourist visa for free when you go through passport control at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. The current procedure is for passport control to issue you a small card with your visa information on it which you keep inside your passport. Passport control will retrieve this card when you leave the country. This procedure avoids one having Israeli stamps in their passport if they wish to visit a country that does not have diplomatic links with Israel. If you are not from North America you may have to get a visa in advance. Check your nearest Israeli consulate for information.

Team Member Guides: If you haven't yet done so, be sure to check out the "ABM Volunteer Guide 2014" posted on our website in PDF format at Click on the "2014" tab to find the link. Many questions that you may have, including what to pack, how to prepare for the dig, and how to get to the site if you are arriving independently are there. Otherwise, if you have specific questions, don't hesitate to write and ask. If this is your first time digging, there is also a document called the "ABM Field Manual" that will introduce you to our methods of excavation. If you have not dug before, don't feel insecure about this. Most people who join us have never dug before. You will be working with a trained staff who will help you and show you what needs to be done. By the end of your time with us you will be seasoned diggers ready to join us again or move onto another project!
After registration closes on May 1 we will be posting updates in Facebook and in this blog. We will also send out e-mail announcements to all registered volunteers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A shout-out from the Abel Beth Maacah staff and team to our illustrious co-director Nava Panitz-Cohen, who just published a short piece in the ASOR Blog about her experiences as a dig director in honor of ASOR Women of Archaeology month. Many women out there will not only identify with what Nava shared in this article, but will appreciate her candor and authenticity. Soon after its appearance on the ASOR Blog, Cynthia Shafer-Elliot wrote the following: "Nava was my supervisor at Tel Rehov. She has been one of the most influential women in my professional life and a great role-model to me. Thank you to Nava for being part of the solution!" All of us who know and love Nava concur. As for her archaeological "other half," I (Bob Mullins) could not ask for a better partner in this venture. In fact, Nava was the first person I thought of when Azusa Pacific University first proposed the idea of excavating Abel Beth Maacah. Nava is not only a first-rate archaeologist; in my opinion, she is one of the best in the field today. We would not have accomplished all that we did last season without Nava's hard work, excellent leadership, and guidance. And I include Ruhama Bonfil in these accolades as well. I have known both women for many years, and I am proud to be their friend and colleague. In fact, thanks to all of the women who are a part of the Abel Beth Maacah team. You have all made this dig the special project that it is! You can read Nava's piece at
Some of you may have seen the recent flurry of press activity about the silver hoard in Area F. It all started when Owen Jarus of Live Science got a hold of the article that Nava, Ruhama and I wrote on the results of our first season in the British journal, Strata. (You can access the article from our website and Facebook page). Owen asked if we would provide him with some photos and additional information for an article he wanted to write on the jewelry in particular. Of course, we agreed, not expecting the story to be picked up by other news services. We are thrilled that the news of Abel is spreading. I've gotten numerous notifications from of people who have accessed our article. We are grateful to Owen for starting the ball rolling on this. Of all the articles, my personal favorite is the one by Noah Wiener of the Biblical Archaeology Society.

More than anything, all of this press is a tribute to our team members who made it possible through their dedication and hard work. Without you this would have never happened! Now join us again this summer and help us find even more! :-) Remember that our arrival and departure dates are different this summer to help team members avoid the hassle of traveling on Shabbat. Instead of Sundays, the arrival day will be on Tuesdays with the actual digging taking Wednesday through Friday (Saturday and Sunday free), followed by digging again on Monday and Tuesday. The departure day will be on Tuesday after lunch.

If you are eager to read through the various articles that appeared about the silver hoard, here are the links. They should help put you to sleep on those restless nights :-)

Live Science:

Yahoo! News:

Fox News:

Archaeology magazine:

Times of Israel:

Biblical Archaeology Society:

The Blaze:

Huffington Post:

International Business Times (UK Edition):

Ancient Origins:

Popular Archaeology magazine:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I know, we haven't posted to this blog since July 2013. How uncyberlike of us. Since the end of our first successful season, we have been busy processing our great finds, writing articles, lecturing at the ASOR Annual Meeting, and you know -  just life. But now that we have begun registration for summer 2014 and are accelerating the preparations for this second season in the field, we would like to share with you some of our accomplishments and goals.

First of all, the dates for 2014 are Tuesday June 24 to Tuesday July 22. We decided to try this different dig week schedule so as to make travel to and from the kibbutz easier. We found that due to Sabbath public transportation restrictions in Israel, it was difficult for team members to travel to the kibbutz on Saturday, Sunday morning, or from the kibbutz on Friday afternoon. We hope this new schedule will help. Thus, we will be digging in the field from Wednesday to Friday, then Monday to Tuesday, instead of the 'traditional' Monday to Friday. Weekends (Saturday and Sunday) are, of course, free to rest, enjoy and tranvel. Full details are posted on our website ( under the heading '2014' 'Volunteer Guide', Of cousre, feel free to write to us with any questions and comments:
You are most welcome to join us.

We will be staying at Kibbutz Kefar Szold, like in 2013. They promised us even faster and stronger WiFi in the rooms and an improved menu in the dining room(!!). The beauty and serenity of the kibbutz, and the warmth and friendliness of the staff people there, remain the same!
view of the kibbutz center
 Now that we've finished secondary sorting of all the pottery from Area A, we can say that our first sense in the field has been corroborated and indeed we are in an Iron I context; about 90%(!) of the pottery is composed of collared-rim pithoi (both the wavy-band -Tyrian?- and the central hill country type) and straight-rimmed cooking pots. Restoration of selected loci in Area F, as well as the comparative material to the silver hoard (both the jug in which it was found and the jewelry and ingots from the hoard itself), point to a late Late Bronze/early Iron Age date. This context seems to be secondary to the large stone structure (tower?) so the latter must be earlier. How much earlier? This is one of our goals in 2014 - to examine the extent and nature of this impressive structure. In Area A, our goal is to expand westwards and to see if the 'missing' Iron IIA occupation (10th-9th centuries BCE) will be found there, far from the eroded eastern slope. And in Area A we will g down to the level of our 'logo' ring flask. I think I 'smell' a destruction level down there, judging by the material recovered there during our suvey. That's the kind of smell we like....!

a central-hill type collared rim pithos, Area A

the silver hoard from Area F as found, before cleaning
the silver hoard after cleaning and conservation-earrings, ingots and scrap metal

One more update for now - our first article about the excavation has been published in a scholarly journal - Strata, the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeology Society. We thank David Milson, the editor, for his encouragement and careful editing. We hope this will be the first of many more to come in wake of interesting and enriching finds and insights. This article can be accessed through or our Facebook page.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

This is our final week of excavation. We will dig as usual on Monday and Tuesday, but will start to close down on Wednesday and Thursday when we take final photos. On Friday we will leave for Jerusalem. Here is a brief summary of the finds from this past week.

Area F

The main item of interest is a large L-shaped structure of uncertain plan and function at the southern edge of the tel. Its walls average 90 cm wide. It was three large stones forming the north-south wall line that first attracted our attention to this area. Already in the first week we uncovered the structure's northeastern corner and its east-west wall line; however, it seems that later pits and disturbances destroyed part of it. The stone foundations of this structure continue to go down, so we are not yet able to give a firm date for its construction. Yet, walls of apparent Iron Age II date abut the northeastern corner, so the structure would seem to be earlier than this. The big discovery last week was the jug with the small hoard of silver inside. The jug was found abutting the east-west wall of the structure. The jug now appears to have been on a floor with other objects, including some nice pottery and two basalt ring weights. The latest news from our faunal expert, Nimrod Marom of Haifa University is his discovery of a possible lion bone (a phalanx) from one of our loci.

Area A
Already in the first week we uncovered a series of rooms that appear to be domestic in nature. The pottery is predominately cooking pots, pithoi, and a few jugs. There are very few bowls. The rooms to the west are better preserved than those in the east. This is largely due to erosion near the slope. But in general, the more we go down, the better preserved it is. The date of this phase seems to be Iron I, which is very strange, since the ring flask that we discovered in the 2012 survey is way below this level. We hope to learn more next season. We are close to the next phase below, which is the uppermost wall exposed in the road cut during the 2012 survey.

All of the dates stated above are provisional, since we will be going over the diagnostic pottery again in Jerusalem and firming up our phasing of the site.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A small silver hoard discovered in Area F

Area F has been very patient. For most of the season, team members have skillfully manuevered around a complex series of walls, pits, and fills. The central feature of interest from the beginning has been a massive structure whose walls measure nearly a meter thick. Unfortunately, most of the building is no longer preserved. The two walls that survive form an L-shape. At the western end of one of these two walls, Diane Benton and Leah DeWitt came across an apparent Iron Age jug. You can see pictures on our Facebook page at The body was intact but the neck and handle were missing. The interior was chock full of earth. After breakfast, we took the jug over to our lab at Kefar Szold, where our office manager, Laurel Tilton, skillfully cleaned the exterior and gently removed the packed earth in order to bag it for analysis. Our practice is to never clean the interior of an intact vessel, since it may be possible to do residue analysis and get an idea of what substance the vessel contained. Close to the bottom of the jug, Laurel noticed some "ring-shaped" material that was clearly different than the dirt matrix surrounding it. After shining a flashlight into the interior, we were able to see what looked like three bluish "rings" and an additional blue colored fragment. At first we thought they might be rings made from faience. But after calling our majordomo, Shmulik, who happens to be a professional conservator, he immediately recognized the mystery material as corroded silver. Shmulik then properly packaged the jug so it can be sent to Mimi, the Hebrew University conservator, for proper removal and treatment. After Diane removed the jug from its context in the field, the directors told Area F team members about the Megiddo team who found a jug in 2010 containing a hoard of gold, silver and bronze jewelry; however, they only learned about the hoard one year after the jug's initial discovery, when they emptied the jug of its contents for molecular analysis. In our case, we joked about the very slim chance of finding anything inside this vessel. But the rest is now history. Such finds are rare in archaeology, but when they occur, they can provide us with a tiny glimpse into daily life in ancient times. In this case, it looks like someone hid the three rings and what might be a small silver ingot in the jug for safekeeping, but then was never able to retrieve them.