Tel Qedesh is one of the largest biblical mounds in Israel’s Upper Galilee, and one of northern Canaan’s most important sites. The tell rises above the western side of the Qedesh valley and is located near ‘En Qedesh, the valley’s main water source. It is divided into the upper northern tell and the lower southern tell and covers an area of c. 100 dunams at the top and c. 200 dunams at its base (Fig. 1). The site has a settlement sequence spanning more than 5000 years, lasting from the Early Bronze Age to the Shi’a village of Qadas, which was located there until 1948 (Frankel et al. 2001: Site 369). The tell, whose name was preserved for thousands of years, is associated with Qedesh in the Galilee, a city mentioned in various contexts in the Bible, from the time of the Israelite conquest and settlement to the city’s destruction by the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III in 733/2 BCE. The site is also mentioned in historical records from the Second Temple period, such as the Zenon Papyri, the First Book of the Maccabees and the Jewish War by Josephus (Sabar 2018). A town called Qadas is documented in medieval Arab sources, including the writings of al-Balādhurī and al-Muqaddasi from the ninth and tenth centuries CE. Under Ottoman rule and until the establishment of the State of Israel, the Shi’a-Metawali village of Qadas existed at the top of the tell, has preserved the site’s ancient name to the present day.
Several surveys were conducted on and around the tell by the pioneer generations of archaeologists in the southern Levant (Albright 1925; Aharoni and Amiran 1953). In 1953, a small trial excavation conducted in the northern part of the upper tell revealed its history for the first time (Aharoni 1957:10–13). In 1981–1984, an expedition from Tel Aviv University excavated the remains of the Roman temple on a hill to the east of the tell (Fischer, Ovadiah and Roll 1984). In 1997–2012, an expedition from the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota uncovered administrative buildings from the Persian and Hellenistic periods in the southeastern corner of the southern tell (Herbert and Berlin 2003). Despite the important findings from these excavations, the history of the site throughout most of its existence remains unknown — including its size, structure, population composition and place in the regional settlement array in the mountains and foothills of Galilee.
In 2014–2016, a systematic survey was conducted at Tel Qedesh and in its immediate surroundings (Sabar 2017; Wachtel 2018). Apart from the tell and the eastern hill, a wide slope overlooking the tell from the west was also surveyed (Fig. 1: Qedesh West), at the top of which a small site from the Chalcolithic period and the Early Bronze Age was previously documented (Frankel et al. 2001: Site 370). Most of the surveyed area yielded potsherds from EB I–II, suggesting that the site was probably a regional ‘megasite’. The survey showed that apart from the tell itself, all of which was inhabited, the adjacent areas on the eastern, northern, and especially the western sides of the tell were also occupied during this period, covering an area of at least 600 dunams. This is twice as extensive as the largest previously known urban sites from the Early Bronze Age in the Southern Levant, and much larger than other peak periods in the history of Qedesh itself, such as the Iron Age I and the Hellenistic period. These findings raised the possibility that at the end of the fourth millennium or early in the third millennium BCE, the site housed a city that held a significant political and economic status within the ancient urban setting of northern Canaan (Wachtel 2018:102–112).
The current excavations were conducted as part of a research program aimed at studying the settlement complexity and interrelationships between lowland and highland regions in northern Canaan in the Early Bronze Age. Two areas (B1 and C1) were excavated on the slope of Qedesh West. Area B1 (map ref. 249475–95/779455–65; 12.5 × 17.5 m) was opened in the central part of the slope, c. 200 m to the west of the tell; it contained architectural remains from the Early Bronze Age, mainly from the period’s second phase, together with a few remains from other periods. Area C1 (map ref. 249440–60/779235–45; 10 × 20 m) was opened on the slope’s upper, southwestern segment, c. 400 m from the tell; at least two fortification phases from the Early Bronze Age were exposed.
Area B1 (Figs. 2, 3)
The initial excavation was conducted in this area in order to confirm the results of the survey and examine whether the area contained settlement remains belonging to the EB. The excavation uncovered parts of residential buildings, thus confirming the survey results. Walls of buildings began to be discovered from the outset of the excavation; by the end of the 2019 season, the excavation of two rooms from the EB II was completed, along with the remains of walls of other buildings that were just beginning to be revealed. Although the excavation in the area was relatively shallow (depth c. 1 m), five stratigraphic phases were discerned from different periods (V–I; the number of phases is preliminary and may change in the future).
Phase V. In a limited part in the south of the area, beneath the walls of the buildings from Phase IV, a wall segment (F19B1012) abutted by a tamped earthen surface (L19B1021; Fig. 4) was exposed. The surface was overlain by a layer of grayish soil that was also found elsewhere beneath Phase IV walls and contained EB I pottery.
Phase IV (Fig. 5) is the main stratigraphic phase in the area. Remains of a building with two rooms were exposed along with other walls of buildings that are just beginning to be revealed. The building’s walls were founded partly on bedrock and partly on the grayish layer from Phase V. The jagged bedrock surface was uncovered in several places, and elevated rock outcrops were incorporated in the construction. A partially preserved wall dividing the two rooms was founded mostly on elevated bedrock. Next to the wall were several natural niches in the rock, whose outer perimeter was hammered into shape; vessels may have been placed on top of them. The eastern room was trapezoidal in plan (4 × 5 m) and only partly preserved. The room’s floor and its southern and eastern walls were cut into by later graves (Phase II, below). The western room was rectangular (c. 5 × 7 m) and well-preserved. Remnants of white plaster were preserved on its floor and walls. An elliptical installation made of fieldstones, possibly a work surface, was discovered in the center of the room. Additional walls that probably belong to other buildings were discovered to the north, south and west of the building. All the walls in the area were built along a similar alignment, suggesting preliminary planning.
The ceramic finds include an abundance of South Levantine Metallic Ware, which is typical of the EB II. Flint assemblages that include Canaanite blades were also found in this phase, as well as fragments of basalt ground-stone tools, part of a horned animal figurine and part of a Metallic Ware jar bearing a seal impression.
Phase III. Sparse architectural remains found near the surface in the western part of the excavation area were accompanied by dense concentrations of stones that partially covered the building remains from Phase IV. One wall (F19B1013) that was firmly attributed to this phase was built on top of Phase IV walls (F18B1013, F19B1006; Fig. 6). Although no clear floors from Phase III have yet been identified, Intermediate Bronze Age pottery, including fragments of Megiddo Ware (Black Wheel-Made Ware), that was found in the upper excavation levels in the western half of the area should probably be attributed to this phase.
Phase II. Six graves were identified in the eastern part of the area (Fig. 7); they were not excavated. The tombs penetrated into the Phase IV architectural remains and accumulations. Flat cover slabs surrounded by small stones were identified on the surface. In the northern part of the area, non-articulated human bones were discovered in a natural niche in the bedrock. The bones were placed near the lower part of a large pottery vessel and a few bronze artifacts. It became apparent that this was another grave, that its cover slabs had been removed in antiquity. Beside it was yet another grave, probably of a girl, that contained more bronze items. Preliminary dating for the graves places them in the first millennium BCE.
Phase I. The latest phase in Area B1 includes a long wall carelessly built on a general north–south alignment; it created a low step on the surface prior to the excavation. The wall is attributed to farming activity on the slope associated with the settlements on Tel Qedesh in the later periods of its history.
Area C1 (Figs. 8, 9)
The area (10 × 20 m) was opened perpendicular to a prominent terrace-like feature that was identified in the survey and in aerial photographs prior to the current excavation. Wall remains and stone collapses are visible in some sections along this terrace. The excavation in this area set out to test the hypothesis that the terrace was created by an ancient fortification that surrounded the Early Bronze Age city in this area. And indeed, the remains of impressive fortifications—wide stone walls, a tower and a glacis, probably from at least two phases—were uncovered.
In the eastern part of the area, a wide fieldstone wall (F17C1001; width 1.7 m) built on a southeast–northwest alignment was unearthed. A broad stone foundation (F19C1005) uncovered to the east of the wall contained large flat stones that were densely packed on an elevated bedrock outcrop. To the west of the wall was a soil accumulation (L17C1012) rich in brick fragments and potsherds, the latest of which date from the EB I. The southern half of this locus was excavated down to virgin soil.
West and above these remains, a massive tower was unearthed (F17C1007; width 8 m), aligned in the same orientation as Wall F17C1001. The foundation trench of the northwestern wall of the tower cut into a glacis (F18C1001) made of layers of earth and stones placed on a stone foundation sloping from northeast to southwest. The layers of soil in the glacis contained brick fragments and abundant finds, mostly from the EB I with a few from the EB II. At the top of the stone foundation of the glacis, next to the tower wall, several long stone slabs were placed side by side (F17C1006) that probably postdate the glacis; their function is currently unknown. Another wall (F18C1002) was uncovered to the north of the tower, but its relation to the tower is unclear; it may be an element added at some point next to the tower, but this possibility awaits further clarification in the coming excavation seasons.
Excavations season 2018 and 2019 at Tel Qedesh showed clearly that the Early Bronze Age settlement extended far beyond the ancient tell, and that it covered large swathes of the Qedesh West slope. A residential quarter is beginning to be revealed in the central part of the slope, and the tops of walls protruding above the surface in other parts of Qedesh West suggest that more residential quarters lie beneath the surface. A complex fortification system with at least two phases was uncovered in the southwestern part of the top of the slope. Conclusive dating of the fortification system’s various phases will only be possible after the fortification components and the correlation between them are thoroughly understood; however, it can already be suggested that the later fortification stages are broadly concurrent with the main construction phase in Area B1 and that they both date from the EB II. The nature of the site at Qedesh West during the EB I has not been clarified in either of the two excavation areas; nevertheless, the prevalence of EB I pottery indicates that there was already a significant settlement expansion during this phase, thus corroborating the results from the survey. The fortifications in Area C1—c. 400 m in a direct line from the fringes of the tell—and the remains in Area B1 leave no doubt as to the impressive extent of the Early Bronze Age settlement at the site.