Tel Azekah is located at the northern tip of the Goded-Azekah ridge that separates the higher Shephelah in the east from the lower Shephelah in the west. The excavations were initiated at the site in 2012, since when seven seasons have been carried out in ten excavation areas (E1, E3, N1, S1, S2, T1, T2, W1, W2, W3; Fig. 1). Settlement remains have been unearthed from Early Bronze III (Areas S1, W3), Middle Bronze Age (Areas E3, N1, W2, W3), Late Bronze Age (Areas E3, N1, S1, S2, T2), Iron II (Areas E3, N1, S1, S2, T2, W1, W2), and from the Persian (Areas N1, S1, W1), early Hellenistic (Areas E1, W1) and Hasmonean periods (Areas E1, E3). The main objective of the Tel Azekah excavations is to understand the site’s stratigraphical sequence, and the settlement size and urban layout in the different periods (Lipschits, Gadot and Oeming 2017).
The tell was first explored by Bliss and Macalister (1902), who dug trenches on the summit and exposed a significant part of the acropolis. The tell was only re-investigated when surveys were conducted by Dagan in the 1980s and 1990s in the context of a regional survey of the Shephelah (Dagan 2001; 2004; 2011). Dagan proposed that the tell was occupied from EB II to the Byzantine period (Dagan 2011, and see references therein). In 2009, the renewed Tel Azekah Expedition conducted an archaeological survey and a ground-penetrating geophysical survey (Lipschits, Gadot and Oeming 2012:199). The survey results indicated the existence of a significant settlement at the site in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age II (Emanuelov 2012). The seven excavation seasons conducted on the tell so far have uncovered settlement remains from EB III (twenty-sixth–twenty-fourth centuries BCE), Middle Bronze Age (twenty-sixth century BCE), Late Bronze Age (fifteenth–twelfth centuries BCE) Iron Age II (ninth–sixth centuries BCE), and the Persian (sixth–fourth centuries BCE), Hellenistic (fourth–first centuries BCE) and Roman (first century BCE–second century CE) periods. The stratigraphy is designated by ‘phases’ characterizing each area (local stratigraphy), and by ‘strata’ that relate to all the areas (overall or comprehensive stratigraphy). The comprehensive stratigraphy of the site will be presented in Azekah I (for the local stratigraphy of the different areas, see Kleiman, Gadot and Lipschits 2016; Koch et al. 2017; Lipschits, Gadot and Oeming 2017; Webster et al. 2017; Kleiman et al. 2018; Lipschits et al. 2019).
The seventh excavation season in 2019 focused on four areas that were opened on the upper part of the tell and on its slopes (N1, Upper E3, S1 and W1). Area N1 was excavated to examine the northern side of the tell and uncover as extensive an area as possible. Upper Area E3 was excavated on the upper southeastern side of the tell, exposing Late Bronze Age remains, as well as remains of the Hellenistic citadel that was first excavated by Bliss and Macalister (1902:15–19). In Areas S1 and W1 on the southwestern and western sides of the tell respectively, trenches were dug on the tell slope in order to investigate the settlement strata in these areas.
Upper Area E3. In the 2015 season, Upper Area E3 was initially excavated as part of Area E3; from the 2018 season onwards it was excavated as a separate area. In the previous seasons, two large walls (W15/F507, W18/F550; Sqs F11, F12) were identified as the corner of Tower VI from the Hellenistic period, first excavated in 1898–1899 (Bliss and Macalister 1902: Plan 3). Six courses of W15/F507 have been excavated to date, but the wall’s base has not yet been exposed. A fill composed of layers of small stones, earth and pottery found on the slope below the tower (Sqs G11, G12), was lain with an opposite gradient to that of the slope, and it was therefore probably tipped against a wall that has not yet been discovered. The pottery in the fill dates from Iron Age II. Earlier Late Bronze Age buildings were found buried beneath this fill. The main architectural complex in this part of the slope includes Late Bronze Age buildings that were destroyed at the end of the period, probably in the mid-twelfth century BCE. It is not yet possible to reconstruct the plan of the main building in the complex, but it includes two walls (W15/F504, W15/F513; Sq G11; Fig. 2) that enclose a paved courtyard where large quantities of smashed pottery were found, buried beneath stone and mud-brick rubble that had collapsed from the building’s walls. Most of the pottery is decorated and manufactured of a non-local fabric. Wall 15/F504 was built on top of a larger wall (W15/F514) that served as a foundation for the building. At this stage, it cannot be ruled out that W15/F514 is an earlier wall that was reappropriated for building in the Late Bronze Age, although it has so far not been associated with any other walls. A destruction layer abutting the lower wall included collapsed stones and numerous smashed and burnt storage jars, the pottery in this layer dating from the same period as that retrieved in Sq G11. In the previous seasons, a few special finds, such as standing stones, a metal figurine of a seated deity, and an Egyptian amulet depicting three deities and a hieroglyphic inscription, were recovered near the building. All these artifacts suggest that some kind of ritual activity may have been practiced in the building.
Area N1. The excavation aimed to better understand the Late Iron Age entrance threshold and water channel that were unearthed in previous seasons. These elements were probably part of the monumental complex of a large building or citadel. Six squares opened up near the entrance threshold extended the excavation area southwards. Buildings from the Late Iron Age were encountered directly beneath the surface. Noteworthy are a room and floors overlain by a destruction layer (Fig. 3), containing numerous broken vessels found in situ, together with loom weights and other finds. Clear evidence was found here for the reuse of this area in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods, including the secondary use of a large stone basin that was incorporated in a wall in association with Roman pottery. Excavation to some depth in one of the new squares, exposed part of the Late Bronze Age destruction layer that has also been recognized elsewhere in the site (Fig. 4).
Area S1. The excavation, focused on the plateau on the summit of the tell and on the upper part of the slope, had several aims: to investigate the remains from the destruction layer dated to Iron Age IIB (late eighth century BCE); to discover the association between the Iron Age IIA and the Iron Age IIB remains (late ninth–eighth centuries BCE); and to clarify the changes that occurred in the settlement during the Late Bronze Age (fifteenth–twelfth centuries BCE). Remains from the Iron Age IIB destruction layer, including a variety of intact in situ vessels, figurines, and clay loom weights, were found (Fig. 5). Habitation layers from Iron Age IIA, unearthed in the northwestern part of the area, provide additional insight into the nature of the settlement during this period, and in the transition to Iron Age IIB. Remains of a domestic Iron Age IIA building, included thick plaster floors and narrow walls, were sealed beneath the remains of a larger building with wider walls from Iron Age IIB (Fig. 6). The earlier Iron Age IIA walls were rendered obsolete, and their stones were robbed, and the new Iron Age IIB building had a different layout. The remains provided evidence of a hiatus between the destruction of the Iron Age IIA building, and the construction of the Iron Age IIB building. Architectural remains were also found from LB II, showing a change in building alignment in the latter part of the period; this change enables us to re-evaluate the nature of the two construction phases within the LB II. Soil samples for sediment analysis were taken from the period’s later phase.
Area W1. In previous seasons, the excavations focused on the Persian-period ‘silo compound’ (Phases W1–W3). In the current season, the excavations continued on the slope that was excavated in 2012, with the aim of uncovering earlier strata and answering questions concerning the segment of the Middle Bronze Age fortification wall, which encompasses the entire western side of the mound (Phase W1-9), and understanding the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. A large balk between Sqs O6 and O7 was removed, and new half-squares (N9, O9) were excavated in order to understand the Middle Bronze Age fortifications (Fig. 7). The excavation proved that the different parts of the fortifications (e.g., 12/F507, 12/F518, 19/F658) belong to a single architectural unit with a mud-brick superstructure (19/F656). Furthermore, a later phase of the fortifications (Phase W1-9b) was uncovered in the new half-squares, including a wall and abutting plaster floors covered with pottery dated to the Middle Bronze Age. In Sqs P6 and P7, Iron Age and Persian-period walls were removed (Phases W1-3, W1-4), revealing collapsed debris from the Late Bronze Age (Phase W1-8b) that included large stones and layers of burnt limestone blocks and mud-bricks. Beneath the rubble layer (19/L139; Fig. 8), complete storage jars were unearthed, as well as a stone installation, partially preserved stone paving, and a wall that may belong to an earlier stage in the period (Phase W1-8a). The wall was cut into by a silo/pit and a tabun. Among the artifacts attributed to this phase are broken storage jars, on one of whose fragments a hieratic inscription was found (19/L148, Basket 53465/1). In the same layer, between the wall and the eastern section, a potter’s wheel, made of two stones that had been smoothed to fit together (Basket 53470; Fig. 8) was found.
The new data uncovered in the 2019 excavation season, mostly relates to the LB III destruction, the Iron Age IIA settlement, and the Iron Age IIB destruction. The analysis of the excavation findings may also lead to new insights regarding Iron Age IIC.