Tel Esur is situated in the northern Sharon, near ‘En Arubot spring to the east and c. 1 km east of Moshav ‘En ‘Iron (Fig. 1). The tell was excavated in 2001–2003 by A. Zertal (2003). In 2010, an experimental community excavation was conducted on the tell with the participation of pupils from the Menashe Regional Council schools. Following the success of this excavation, community excavations continued at the site in 2011–2018 with the participation of additional schools (Bar 2016; Shalev and Bar 2017; Shalvi et al. 2019; Bar, Pinsky and Shalev 2021).
The 2017–2018 excavation seasons took place in four areas (Fig. 2), three extending across the main tell (Areas A, B, B1) and one (Area D) on the summit of a small tell just east of Tel Esur and south of ‘En Arubot. The excavation in these seasons had several aims: to continue investigating the Middle Bronze II stratigraphic sequence in Area A; to complete the excavation of the buildings abutting the Middle Bronze IIA fortification wall and to uncover some of the late Middle Bronze IIB and Late Bronze Age strata in Area B; to excavate beneath the destroyed Late Bronze IIA building to ascertain whether an earlier phase existed in Area B1; and to investigate the stratigraphy east of the previously excavated Iron IIB administrative building in Area D,.
Area A. A stratigraphic section was dug in the southern, higher part of the tell (Fig. 3). On the summit in the northern area of the excavation, the removal of the first-century BCE strata and the excavation of the Iron Age pits cutting into the MB II strata, was completed. The excavation was also extended to the area where Middle Bronze Age strata were revealed in the 2013–2016 seasons, with the aim of creating a stratigraphic and architectural sequence; at the end of the 2018 season, this area was leveled in order to excavate four excavation squares in the coming season.
In the southern part of the area, the excavation reached the top of the MB IIA city wall. A wide wall (over 3 m), plastered on the external face, was exposed. The large stone foundation of this wall was previously uncovered in Area B. Simple walls adjacent to the north side of this wall probably belonged to MB IIB residential buildings, which apparently postdated the MB IIA fortified phase.
Area B (Fig. 4). The excavation of the rooms adjacent to the MB IIA wall was completed in the greenhouse area of Zertal’s previous excavation. Work also continued in squares opened at the top of the tell and south of the greenhouse. The last two unexcavated rooms in the greenhouse area were uncovered here, abutting the interior face of the fortification wall; finds dating from MB IIA came from the floors of the two rooms. As part of the conservation work at the site, most of the MB IIA rooms south of the wall were backfilled with soil. The excavation of the squares opened in the 2014 season to the south of the greenhouse was continued, exposing the foundations of a massive structure, possibly dating to MB II. Beneath the foundations of this structure were the scant remains of two strata dating to the MB IIB.
Area B1. Part of the destroyed MB IIA structure revealed in the 2010–2013 seasons was removed. Beneath it, an MB I stratum, comprising mainly stone floors and pillar bases, was uncovered in a limited area (c. 50 sq m; Fig. 5). These two strata yielded rich Egyptian style finds.
Area D. In the previous seasons, the excavation of the eighth-century BCE administrative building was completed in the western part of the area (Fig. 6). The current season extended the area eastward, to the highest point of the tell. Floor patches at surface level apparently date from the end of the Ottoman period. Iron Age pottery was found sealed beneath the floors. In most of the excavation area parts of a large, well-preserved Iron Age building (max. wall height 1 m; Fig. 7) were exposed. The building technique, wall orientation and the elevation of the only floor uncovered align entirely with the administrative structure that was completely excavated to the west in previous seasons, indicating that this is probably another large building from the same period. As the previously excavated administrative building, this building also yielded meager finds, dating to the ninth–eighth centuries BCE. The paucity of finds suggests that the building was abandoned in an orderly manner, possibly prior to the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The 2017–2018 excavation seasons revealed that, in addition to the MB IIA fortified city located on the tell, the site was also important in the Late Bronze Age and Iron IIB. The discovery in Area D of a second large Iron IIB structure dated to the first half of the eighth century BCE, suggests that the site housed an administrative center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the time of its expansion toward the northern coastal plain, prior to the Assyrian conquest in 734–732 BCE. The MB I stratum may support the identification of the tell as Zephath (Djefti), mentioned in the annals of Thutmose III’s council of war at Yehem before the Battle of Megiddo (Pritchard 1969:235). At the council, the generals describe the lines of advance in the region and note that Zephath/Djefti lies on the other side of the ‘Arona pass (Nahal ‘Iron, Wadi ‘Ara) and beyond it lies the northern pass to the Jezreel Valley. This proposal is supported by the Egyptian style finds at the site. In the Late Bronze Age, the site may have housed a road station associated with the trade routes and the Egyptian control of Canaan.