Saturday, January 23, 2010

Khirbet Qeiyafa

This morning the boy and I set out for the Beit Shemesh area. Off we went to vist the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa (or "The Ella Fortress" or perhaps "Sha'arayim"). We had studied this site and the controversy around it in my archaeology class. There is an ongoing dig here run by the Hebrew University (here is it's site). The question about this site is when was it in occupied. According to the C14 dating of four olive pits found near one of the gates, its use was somewhere around 1000 BCE. One of the big controversies in biblical archaeology revolves around the date of the "Kingdom of David". If this site comes from 1000 BCE and it has huge fortifications and big gates, then perhaps there was a centralized kingdom that did extensive public works around that time. But, four olive pits do not a kingdom make. The opposing view states that there was no big kingdom around that time and that population growth only happened later.

On top of all this, an Ostracon (a piece of pottery with writing on it - a sort of Iron Age sticky note) was found at the site that is claimed to have the oldest writing known in Israel (check the ostracon's site here). There has been a lot of media hubbub about this ostracon and the implications of when it was written and what it says.

One of the big issues with this site is that the excavations are sponsored by "Foundation Stone". These guys have a clear nationalistic agenda and are interested in "redrawing the map in education", which seems a little loaded to me. I personally have a lot of issue with organizations like Elad (who control the City of David, although their name appears nowhere on the site) and Foundation Stone. I (naively) believe that archaeology and politics should be separated.

Back to our visit. Our gazia sadly is not working all that well and so we gave up on the coffee. We parked quite a long way off from the site and had to go bush bashing and climb the hill. It was quite cold when we arrived, but we soon warmed up with the walking. The Insight did a decent job of getting over the bumpy road, it's no 4X4 but it certainly gets better mileage.
This is the view of the fortress from where we parked. It looks quite intimidating up there on the hill overlooking the Ella valley.
The rakafot are in season and the hillside was covered with these pink flowers. Most beautiful.
This is the Eastern gate, facing Jerusalem (This is wrong, this gate faces West and what was Philistina). There are unusually for settlements of this period, two gates. Hence the theory that this is biblical Sha'arayim (two gates in Hebrew). The Western gate features later in the pictures.
There are nice and clean walls. They have done a lot of excavation and the Hebrew University team seems to be very professional and neat.
This is a cistern. It goes down quite deep. The boy did not want to climb in, no matter how much I encouraged him.

This is the other gate. Huge stones were cut and moved in order to make the fortifications and the gates. A huge amount of work. The excavators say the site was only populated for about 20 years in the Iron Age IIA. That's a short time for so much work, don't you think.
Here are more of the spectacular walls and gate.

This is the reason for building a fortress in this area. That's the Ella valley that we are looking over. It's extraordinarily green at this time of the year. Khirbet Qeiyafa is only 12KM from the mighty Philistine city of Gath, who was a leading player in those days. So this was a border area and a good place to build a fortress.


dmew59 said...

I don't really know how many people read this blog, but nevertheless, I'll take the liberty of setting the record strait. Firstly, the name "Elah Fortress" was a term that was agreed upon in an early meeting with Yossi Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, myself, and Barnea Selavan. I coined the name so I guess I have a right to correct this first mistake.

Then you say "these guys have a clear nationalistic agenda". Well - I've never said nor thought that. I'd be grateful to hear what my nationalistic agenda might be. I've been around myself for half a century and it's still not clear to me, so any help in this regard would be appreciated.

I do have a clear educational agenda. But that's not what you wrote. If you'd like to find out what my educational agenda is, I'm happy to share it.

Thirdly, neither one of the two gates face Jerusalem (as you wrote). The eastern gate faces Philistia and the second gate faces southeast - directly towards Givat HaTurmusim (Tel Socho perhaps) and the southern Judean Hills in the area of Gush Etzion region.

Finally you wrote that having 2 gates was "unusual". Actually it is a unique feature as researched so far. There are walled cities with more than one gate, but none from this period, where the original walls were constructed with two gates at the outset. I'm a tad sensitive on the issue as I was the one who identified the second (blocked) gate.

Wishing you much luck in your archaeological studies, but you might want to spend a little more time on the research end.

David Willner, MA Ed
Foundation Stone

dmew59 said...

On another note, your photo of the "Eastern Gate" is actually a picture of the "Western Gate" - you can see Tzomet HaElah" in the top left-hand corner of the picture in this view to the (south) west.

David Willner
Foundation Stone

blackpetero said...

Thanks for stopping by Mr Willner. I appreciate your setting the record straight on the direction of the gates. It's true I had no compass with me, and what I claimed was the "Eastern Gate" faces more west than east. By the way, the whole "facing Jerusalem", comes from page 3 of Garfinkel and Ganot's article in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. I hope you have corrected them as well.

As far as your issue with my claim that Foundation Stone has "a clear nationalistic agenda", I am not sure what your problem is. Are you upset because your nationalistic agenda is not clear or because I claim you have one? You are certainly entitled to your opinion, and I, as a tax paying Israeli am entitled to mine. But to claim that there is nothing "nationalistic" (using the standard Israeli definition of the word) behind your organization, is completely disingenuous.

All that said, you guys did a great job on the site. It is in a beautiful spot and more people should go see it.