In November–December 2018 and over the course of 2019, an excavation was conducted at Rujum el-Masha‘ala south of Kibbutz Gal’on (Permit Nos. A-8363, A-8412; map ref. 185905/614992; Fig. 1). The excavation took place as part of a course to train Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors and as part of two projects: a site-development project in the Jewish National Fund (JNF) forests, and the Kings of Judah Road project. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by S. Ganor (field photography) and S. Weiss, with the assistance of Y. Alamor (administration), E. Aladjem (surveying, aerial photography and photogrammetry), D. Eisenberg-Degen (field photography), R. Elya (logistics), V. Lipschitz (Lakhish Region archaeologist), Y. Abadi-Reiss (scientific guidance), A. Ganor (director of inspectors course), J. Bukengolts (pottery restoration), A. Gyerman Levanon (digital documentation), D. Gazit (studio photography), M. Oron (flint and stone objects), A. Inbar and Z. Nagar (conservation of structure) and T. Livshitz (JNF southern district), as well as F. Kobrin, J. Goldberg, E. Haddad, M. Hemed, S. Bloch, members of the pre-army program at Kibbutz Gal’on, the Israel Studies department at the Ramot Be’er Sheva Interdisciplinary High School and many more volunteers.
The site is situated on a spur (197 m asl) south of Nahal Govrin, in the Govrin Forest (Fig. 2). It overlooks the ancient main road that ran along the stream and connected the coastal plain in the west with the Judean Shephelah and the central mountain ridge in the east. The site is situated between two key nearby sites—Tel Zayit, c. 2 km west of the site, and Tel Burna, c. 2 km to the east. Before the excavation, the solid walls of a structure were visible on the surface. The excavation revealed that this was a single-stratum structure from the Late Bronze Age III/Iron Age IA (twelfth century BCE; Fig. 3).
The structure is square (18 × 18 m; Fig. 4). Its walls were preserved to a maximum height of three courses (0.4–0.7 m). The outer walls (W104–W108; average width 1.9 m) were built of two rows of large stones interspersed with medium and small stones; these courses seem to have been the foundations of the building, which carried a mud-brick building. The four corners of the building were buttressed with particularly large stones, creating pier-like or tower-like protrusions of about 0.5 m from the walls’ facades. The entrance to the building (width 1.5 m) was in the eastern wall, flanked by two door jambs (L111, L112); a rectangular threshold was set in front of it (L142; 1.2 × 2.2 m, thickness 0.2 m). The structure consists of a courtyard (A), a tower (B, C), a main hall (D, E) and six rooms (F–M), two of which were divided into two units each (F/G, J/K).
The entrance led into the courtyard (3.5 × 6.5 m) with a packed-earth floor. In the northeastern corner of the courtyard was an oven (L131; diam. 0.6 m; Fig. 5) lined with potsherds; a few charred olive pits were found in the oven. In the center of the courtyard were two flat stones (L171—0.65 × 0.70 m; L175—0.7 × 1.0 m; Fig. 6), which may have served as tables associated with the nearby oven.
The tower (6.8 × 7.8 m), which lay south of the courtyard, was divided by a wall (W109) into two long, narrow spaces (B, C); this wall apparently supported a staircase to a second story. Space C seems to have led to the staircase, as it contained a larger amount of sherds than Space B. Space B contained a concentration of ash (L121); this space was apparently situated under the upper part of the staircase.
The main hall was an elongated space. Four column bases (L166, L172–L174)—apparently for columns that supported the roof—ran through the center of the hall and divided it into two sub-spaces (D—1.70 × 8.75 m; E—2.00 × 8.75 m). The opening to this space was set in the eastern wall (width 1.2 m), with two large door jambs (L133, L134) flanking it; Jamb 134 was found leaning on its side. This opening was the only internal entrance preserved in the structure. Space D had a beaten-earth floor, while the floor in Space E was made of medium and small stones; the latter abutted the column bases and the southern wall of the structure (W125). Unit E may have served as a shelter for animals.
The six rooms of the building flanked the main hall, three on each side. Most of their floors were made of packed earth, except for the floors of Unit G and of Rooms I and L, where the bedrock was also utilized. Room F/G was divided into two units by a partition wall (W119), built of one row of stones and preserved to a height of one course. The opening of the room apparently led to Unit F. Unit G revealed rich pottery finds. Room I (2.55 × 2.85 m) was the largest of southern rooms. Room J/K was divided into two units by a partition wall (W149), built of one row of large stones preserved to a height of two courses. It seems that the opening in this room led into Unit J. The floor of Unit K was lower than the floors in the rest of the structure, and it contained a particularly rich cluster of finds (Fig. 7). Room L (2.8 × 3.7 m) was the largest of the structure’s northern rooms. The lower part of the wall separating Room L from Room J/K (W150) was buttressed with a row of large stones that strengthened the foundations of the wall.
Numerous finds were discovered in the rooms of the structure. These comprised mainly pottery, but also flint and stone objects, pieces of plaster, animal bones and olive pits.
Pottery. The pottery assemblage from the structure is typical of assemblages of the twelfth century BCE (the Late Bronze Age III/Iron Age IA), which are well known from sites that were destroyed in the second part of this century (Fig. 8). Most of the pottery was found in Units G and K. These included complete vessels and sometimes even intact ones—mainly bowls, and a few kraters, ‘cup-and-saucer’ vessels and simple stands. The rest of the fortress revealed mostly potsherds. Space B was almost devoid of finds, perhaps because it was originally situated under a staircase. In Courtyard A, especially in the northern part near Oven 131, fragments of bowls, as well as rims and bases of jars and of cooking pots were found. Space D yielded fewer potsherds than Courtyard A, and these consisted of a relatively significant amount of jar rims.
A preliminary analysis of the assemblage revealed the presence of very few decorated vessels and what seems to be quite a significant quantity of Egyptian-style vessels. Prominent in the assemblage are flat-based open bowls, pared or with signs of string detachment, having straight walls and in many cases everted rims (Martin 2011: Fig. 2: BL2b, BL3a, BL3b). Other types of bowls, as well as kraters, a few cooking pots, jars, juglets, jugs, stands, lids and ‘cup-and-saucers’ were also found. Among the juglets were several globular ones, including an intact globular juglet decorated with reddish brown horizontal stripes. Juglets of this rare type are known from twelfth-century BCE assemblages at other sites in the region, such as Lakhish (Level VI; Tufnell 1958: Pl. 76:725; Weissbein et al. 2019:95, Fig. 24). Tel Sera‘ (Stratum XI; Oren 1984: Fig. 7:4) and ‘Azeqa (Kleinman, Gadot and Lipschits 2016: Fig. 5:10). In Room H, asymmetrical bowls (scoops) were found. These are quite rare in Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I assemblages; they were apparently used to rake and collect grain or food products associated with administrative and cultic contexts (Gitin 1993; Zuckerman 2007).
Similar pottery assemblages were found, for example, in Level VI at Lakhish (Clamer 2004; Yannai 2004), in Stratum IX at Tel Sera‘ (Oren 1984: Figs. 4–7) and at ‘Azeqa (Kleiman, Gadot and Lipschits 2016). Despite the close proximity of the fortress to Lakhish, there are several differences between the two pottery assemblages, and it is possible that the assemblage from the structure is more similar to that of Stratum IX at Tel Sera‘.
Flint and groundstone tools. The excavation yielded a small quantity of worked flint, including a core, some debitage and tools. The indicative items in the assemblage are three sickle blades, attributed to the group of large geometric sickles typical of flint assemblages from the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age (Manclossi and Rosen 2019). A few groundstone tools were also found, including one limestone mortar and five grinding stones, two made of kurkar and three of limestone.
Animal bones were found in Courtyard A and in Units D, G, J and K. No animal bones were found in other parts of the building.
The structure was identified as a fortress. Based on the pottery finds, it should be dated to the twelfth century BCE (Late Bronze Age III/Iron Age IA). No remains or finds were discovered in the excavation indicating the existence of the fortress prior to this time, and therefore it seems that it was built during the twelfth century BCE. No evidence of a conflagration was identified in the building. In most of the rooms the only sherds found could not be restored, and only Units K and G were found full of pottery vessels; these may have been used for storage. Judging by the finds and their distribution, it seems that the fortress was abandoned in the second half of the twelfth century BCE. This abandonment may explain the lack of valuable items, such as scarabs, amulets and metal objects, as well as the meager quantity of storage jars, as probably only few were left behind when the inhabitants abandoned the fortress.
The plan of the fortress and its dimensions resemble those of a series of structures commonly called ‘governors’ residencies’ (Oren 1984; Hasel 1998:93–95; Higginbotham 2000:263–302). Based on the plans of these structures and the finds discovered in them, it has been proposed that they were associated with Egyptian rule in Canaan during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties. Such ‘governors’ residencies’ have been identified, for example, at Tell el-Far‘a (South), Tel Hasi (Tell el-Hesi), Tel Gamma (Tell Jemma), Tel Sera‘ and Afeq. Structures found at Tel Mor and at Deir el-Balah, which were identified as Egyptian fortresses (Hasel 1998:96–98; Barako 2007:20–26; Brandl 2010:77–81), were built in relatively isolated locales and typically feature piers or towers in the corners, as in the fortress discovered in the current excavation. The plan of the fortress, like the Egyptian-type vessels discovered in the excavation, points to a possible connection between this structure and the Egyptian administration network.
As for the location of the fortress in the geographical-political sphere during the first half of the twelfth century BCE: It was built on a low hill near the southern bank of Nahal Govrin, along which ran one of the main roads of the period that linked the coastal plain with the Judean Shephelah and the mountain region. Scholars have suggested that during the Late Bronze Age, and particularly in the el-‘Amarna period, this stream served as a boundary between the kingdom of Lakhish and the kingdom of Gat (Na’aman 1988:95–97; Finkelstein 1996:232, Table 1). A similar geopolitical situation existed in the Iron Age II, when the stream marked the border between Judean Lakhish and Philistine Gat. During this period, nearby Tel Burna was a Judean border city facing the Philistines (Shai et al. 2019:91). It is possible that the construction of a fortress with several Egyptian attributes along this border in the twelfth century BCE should be ascribed to the reorganization of the Egyptian Empire’s presence in Canaan, which apparently took place during the reign of Ramses III. This followed the settlement of the Philistines in the southern coastal plain around 1175 BCE and a wave of destruction at the beginning of the twelfth century BCE, associated at least in part with the invasions of the Sea Peoples (e.g., Lakhish VII, Tell es-Safi/Gat E4b, Ashdod XIV, Afeq X12; Mazar 1985:101–102, 107; Stager 1995:334–335; Gadot, Kleiman and Lipschitz 2018:212).
According to this interpretation, the fortress was a border site, possibly part of the renewed Egyptian deployment of forces overlooking the area that had just been conquered by the Philistines. The fortress may have been occupied by an Egyptian military force or by local Canaanite forces associated with their Egyptian patrons at Lakhish and/or the settlement at nearby Tel Zayit (Stager 1995:342–344). North of Nahal Govrin, 8.2 km from the fortress, is Tell es-Safi, which is identified with Gat of the Philistines. Stratum E4a at Tell es-Safi, which was contemporaneous with the fortress, represents a small settlement with an early Philistine presence, as evident by monochrome Philistine pottery (Myc IIIC/Philistine I; Gadot et al. 2018:212–213; Maeir et al. 2019:12–13). Additional important centers of Philistine power at that time, with a clear indication of Philistine presence, were ‘Eqron (Stratum VIIA; 16.7 km from the site), Ashdod (Stratum XIII; 23 km from the site) and Ashqelon (Grid 38:20; 29 km from the site; Ben-Shlomo 2003:84–90; Dothan and Zukerman 2004:42–45; Stager et al. 2008:257–258).
The fortress at the site stood on the northern boundary of Canaanite Lakhish (Level VI), 6.8 km south of the site. At the time, Lakhish was closely associated with Egyptian rule (Ussishkin 2004:64–65). The close connection between the fortress and Canaanite Lakhish and the Egyptian hold on Canaan manifests itself also in the fate of the fortress, which was abandoned in the second half of the twelfth century BCE. This abandonment was the result of the Egyptian withdrawal from Canaan, usually dated to around 1130 BCE (as also emerges from radiocarbon dating; Webster et al. 2017; Garfinkel et al. 2019). The withdrawal was accompanied by the destruction of Canaanite cities that had been under Egyptian protection, first among them Lakhish and ‘Azeqa, which were violently destroyed. Based on the meager published data from nearby Tel Zayit, it is possible that it too was destroyed at this time (Tappy 2008:2082). It may reasonably be posited that these destructions were caused by the expansion of the Philistines following the Egyptian withdrawal.
Barako T.J. 2007. Tel Mor: The Moshe Dothan Excavations, 1959–1960 (IAA Reports 32). Jerusalem.
Ben-Shlomo D. 2003. The Iron Age Sequence of Tel Ashdod: A Rejoinder to ‘Ashdod Revisited’ by I. Finkelstein and L. Singer-Avitz. Tel Aviv 30:83–107.
Brandl B. 2010. The Stratigraphy of the Settlement. In T. Dothan and B. Brandl eds. Deir el-Balah: Excavations in 1977–1982 in the Cemetery and Settlement I: Stratigraphy and Architecture (Qedem 49). Jerusalem. Pp. 63–208.
Clamer C. 2004. The Pottery and Artefacts from the Level VI Temple in Area P. In D. Ussishkin. The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish (1973–1994) III (Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series 22). Tel Aviv. Pp. 1288–1368.
Dothan T. and Zukerman A. 2004. A Preliminary Study of the Mycenaean IIIC:1 Pottery Assemblages from Tel Miqne-Ekron and Ashdod. BASOR 333:1–54.
Finkelstein I. 1996. The Territorial-Political System of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age. Ugarit-Forschungen 28:221–255.
Gadot Y., Kleiman S. and Lipschitz O. 2018. A Tale of Two Cities: Tel Azekah and Tell Es-Safi/Gath During the Late Bronze Age. In I. Shai, J.R. Chadwick, L. Hitchcock, A. Dagan, C. McKinny and J. Uziel eds. Tell it in Gath: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Israel – Essays in Honor of Aren M. Maeir on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday (Ägypten und Altes Testament 90). Münster. Pp. 206–221.
Garfinkel Y., Hasel M.G., Klingbeil M.G., Kang H.G., Choi G., Chang S.Y., Hong S., Ganor S., Kreimerman I. and Bronk Ramsey C. 2019. Lachish Fortifications and State Formation in the Biblical Kingdom of Judah in Light of Radiometric Datings. Radiocarbon 61/3:695–712.
Gitin S. 1993. Scoops: Corpus, Function and Typology. In M. Heltzer, A. Segal and D. Kaufman eds. Studies in the Archaeology and History of Ancient Israel in Honour of Moshe Dothan. Haifa. Pp. 99–126.
Hasel M.G. 1998. Domination and Resistance: Egyptian Military Activity in the Southern Levant, ca. 1300–1185 B.C. Leiden–Boston–Köln.
Higginbotham C.R. 2000. Egyptianization and Elite Emulation in Ramesside Palestine: Governance and Accommodation on the Imperial Periphery (Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 2). Leiden–Boston–Köln.
Kleiman S., Gadot Y. and Lipschits O. 2016. A Snapshot of the Destruction Layer of Tell Zakarīye/Azekah Seen against the Backdrop of the Final Days of the Late Bronze Age. ZDPV 132/2:105–133.
Maeir A.M., Chadwick J.R., Dagan A., Hitchcock L.A., Katz J., Shai I. and Uziel J. 2019. The Late Bronze Age at Tell es-Safi/Gath and the Site’s Role in Southwestern Canaan. In A.M. Maeir, I. Shai and C. McKinny eds. The Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages of Southern Canaan (Archaeology of the Biblical Worlds 2). Berlin–Boston. Pp. 1–18.
Manclossi F. and Rosen S.A. 2019. Dynamics of Change in Flint Sickles of the Age of Metals: New Insights from a Technological Approach. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies 7/1:6–22.
Martin M.A.S. 2011. Egyptian-Type Pottery in the Late Bronze Age Southern Levant. Wien.
Mazar A. 1985. The Emergence of the Philistine Culture. IEJ 35/2:95–107.
Na’aman N. 1988. The Southern Shefelah during the Late Bronze Age according to the Cuneiform Documents. In E. Stern and D. Urman eds. Man and Environment in the Southern Shephelah – Studies in Regional Geography and History. Givatayim. Pp. 93–98 (Hebrew).
Oren E. 1984. “Governors’ Residencies” in Canaan Under the New Kingdom: A Case Study of Egyptian Administration. Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 14:37–56.
Stager L.E. 1995. The Impact of the Sea Peoples (1185–1050 BC). In T.E. Levy ed. The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. London and Washington. Pp. 332–348.
Shai I., Tavgar A. Soriano M., Cassuto D, Locatell C. and McKinny C. 2019. Ten years of Research at Tel Burna: a Canaanite Cultic Center and Judahite Border Settlment. Qadmoniot 158:83–85 (Hebrew).
Stager L.E., Schloen J.D., Master D.M, Press M.D. and Aja A. 2008. Stratigraphic Overview. In L.E. Stager, J.D. Schloen and D.M Master eds. Ashkelon 1: Introduction and Overview (1985–2006). Winona Lake. Pp. 215–326.
Tappy R.E. 2008. Zayit, Tel. NEAEHL 5. Jerusalem. Pp. 2082–2083.
Tufnell O. 1958. Lachish (Tell Ed-Duweir) IV: The Bronze Age. Oxford.
Ussishkin D. 2004. A Synopsis of the Stratigraphical, Chronological and Historical Issues. In D. Ussishkin ed. The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish I. Tel Aviv. Pp. 50–119.
Webster L.C., Sergi O., Kleiman S., Lipschits O., Hua Q., Jacobsen G.E., Tristant Y. and Gadot Y. 2017. Preliminary Radiocarbon Results for Late Bronze Age Strata at Tel Azekah and their Implications. Radiocarbon 60/1:309–331.
Weissbein I., Garfinkel Y., Hasel M.G., Klingbeil M.G., Brandl B. and Misgav H. 2019. The Level VI North-East Temple at Tel Lachish. Levant 51/1:76–104.
Yannai E. 2004. The Late Bronze Age Pottery from Area S. In D. Ussishkin. The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish (1973–1994) III (Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series 22). Tel Aviv. Pp. 1032–1146.
Zuckerman S. 2007. Late Bronze Age Scoops: Context and Function. In S. White Crawford, A. Ben-Tor, J.P. Dessel, W.G. Dever, A. Mazar and J. Aviram eds. “Up to the Gates of Ekron”: Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin. Jerusalem. Pp. 313–330.