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.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

We have reached the half-way point!

Our apologies for not keeping up better with the blog, but now is a good time to summarize where we are in the process of excavation after two weeks. Hopefully you have "Liked" us on Facebook and are following us at

We have averaged around 35 team members (not including staff), enough for us to dig two fields - both of which are located in the lower city. Based on the May 2012 survey, Area A in the east and Area F in the south produced architecture and pottery from the Iron Age; a period that interests the primary investigators. Our working assumption has been that Abel Beth Maacah was the capital of the Aramean kingdom of Maacah, known to us from a few brief passages in the Bible. Since so little is known about these Iron Age kingdoms, we hope that our work here can shed more light on this important city bordering Aram, Israel, and Phoenicia.

Area A: In the 2012 survey at least three phases were identified in a cut made by the eastern approach road to the village of Abil el-Qamh. The upper phase appeared Iron IIA in date (10th-9th cent. BCE) and the two phases below this appeared to be Iron I (12th-11th cent. BCE). It was the lowest of these three phases that produced the ring flask featured on our website and Facebook page. Only a broader exposure can confirm or revise these proposed dates. After removing over a meter of agricultural soil, we reached well preserved Iron Age domestic architecture. And by the end of the second week, we have reached the floors of these buildings, or in some cases, we are very close to the floors. The best assemblage of finds so far have come from a square at the southern edge of Area A where team members found an intact dipper juglet and nearly intact storage jar. Interestingly, the architecture of this phase covers the uppermost Iron IIA phase identified in the road cut. Though we suspect we are still in Iron IIA (no 8th century types have been identified to date), we have several cooking pot rims that look closer to Iron I types (even though such rims are known to continue into Iron IIA). We also found the rim of a collared rim pithos, which is usually dated to the 12th century BCE in Cisjordan. Clearly, we will need to study the entire assemblage before we draw any definitive conclusions about the date of this stratum.

Area F: In the May 2012 survey, team members found a north-south wall line of three worked stones measuring approximately 0.90 m in width. A broken Iron Age IIA store jar was incorporated into this wall. During the first week of excavations a fourth stone was found, and in the second week, an east-west wall was uncovered that made a corner with the first wall. So far only these two walls which form an L-shape have been found of this massive structure. It seems that the remaining walls were robbed, though this still needs to be checked by further excavation. With so little preserved, it is hard to date this structure with certainty, though the exposure of better preserved remains below should provide us with a reasonable terminus post quem date. The Scythian-style arrowhead found by Adam last week lay close to the foundations of this structure; however, the reliability of their association remains in question. We should have a clearer picture of the Area F stratigraphy by the end of the season in another two weeks.

The directors and staff have been very pleased with our progress, due in large part to our remarkable, hard working crew. Moreover, the weather has been remarkably kind. After working for so long in the "blast furnace" of the Beth Shean Valley, it has been nice to excavate in a cooler climate and to see so many green fields and the pictureseque Lebanese town of Addaisseh nearby. We have also benefited from the capable hands of our administrator, Dr. Oren Gutfeld of Israel Archaeological Services. His co-workers, Shmulik and Mansour, have worked hard to keep our shade cloths functional, our tools in repair, our dumps in order, and much, much more. We highly recommend Oren to anyone who needs a capable majordomo that is also an archaeologist and understands the needs of an archaeological expedition.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Early Thursday morning

Early Thursday morning, Nava, Ruhama and Bob drove up north to prepare the areas for our first dig season starting on Monday. The tel and the surrounding region was quiet and serene, despite recent news about the fighting in Syria. Ruhama worked with the surveyors to set up the 5 x 5 m grid in Areas A and F, while Nava and Bob discussed strategy. The sun was strong, but a nice, cool breeze swept over the mound. And once we were in the shade, we felt noticeably cooler. One harbinger of summer is the disappearance of the many wildflowers on the mound, though we found a few of them still surviving. By the time we quit at 13:15 we were famished, so we headed over to a quaint cafe for lunch, and then went to Kfar Szold to meet briefly with the kibbutz staff, who anticipate our arrival on Sunday. We then headed back to Jerusalem. Though the drive was long (a good 3 hours each way), we had great conversations about all things archaeological, tempered by a little gossip and good cups of coffee at Aroma at Tzomet Prachim near the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, some team members have been on a study tour led by John Monson of Trinity International University. Other participants are arriving now to spend time in Jerusalem before heading north on Sunday morning to check in at the kibbutz. On Friday, some team members met Danny Herman at the Dung Gate for a guided tour of the City of David. Kudos to Carroll Kobs for organizing this trip, which included a walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel. For many visitors to Israel, a walk through this water system from the time of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE is one of the highlights of their trip.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Medieval depiction of Sheba ben Bichri's beheading adapted to the dig...

Our own Carroll Kobs has updated the Medieval illustration of the Biblical story of the Wise Woman of Abel Beth Maacah tossing the rebel Sheba ben Bichri's head over the walls to the waiting Joab below....
Bob Mullins in the role of Joab, a role he was born to play....
Carroll is one of the 'Wise Women' of Abel Beth Maacah, along with numerous wonderful women (and men) ready to dig next week! But no head tossing please!!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Our cap runneth over....

We not only have a really great T-shirt for the first season of the Abel Beth Maacah excavations (isn't that the point of digging - the t-shirt?!) - we also have a cap.
Thanks to the generosity of our team members, Carroll and Jeff Kobs, who created them and are bringing them from the U.S., we will also have a great cap - to keep safe in the sun and remember to keep our excavation at the top of our heads at all times!
 Carroll modeling the cap...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Here is the logo that is on our dig T-shirt

Here is the logo that is on our dig T-shirt. This special ring flask, dating to the late Iron Age I (end of the 11th century BCE), was found intact in the survey we conducted last year in preparation for this year's first season. Our Area A is positioned above the walls where the flask was found and we hope to be able to get down to that level this season.

Tel Abel Beth Maacah Blog

Here we are, one week and two days to D-Day (Dig Day). All is going according to plan and excitement is mounting. We will use this blog to relate what is going on and to share our experiences with you. Your comments and questions are welcome.

!!Don't loose your head over the new Tel Abel Beth Maacah excavation