EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, co-directors of the Tel Gezer archaeological excavations in Israel. Steven Ortiz is professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology in Fort Worth, Texas. Samuel Wolff is senior archaeologist and archivist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.
NEVE SHALOM, Israel (BP) — An international team of archaeologists has excavated the remains of King Solomon’s city at Tel Gezer. The site — located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — is known as one of the three major cities that Solomon fortified, according the biblical account of Solomon’s reign as recorded in the Book of Kings (1 Kings. 9:15-17).
Toppled building stones, accumulating more than 1 1/2 meters in height, were found in two rooms of a building and in an adjacent courtyard, apparently the sign of an attack, the team reported. The initiator of this attack could have been Shishak, the Egyptian pharaoh, around 918 BC, as recorded in the biblical text (1 Kings. 14:25-26) and Egyptian documents.
One of the surprises found within the destruction was a rare ivory-carved game board, the team reported. The game board was found in pieces retrieved in the field by volunteers who sifted the soil. It was reconstructed by the expedition’s conservator, Rachael Arenstein.
The discovery is a well-known game from the ancient world (Levant, Cyprus) called “The Game of 20 Squares.” Similar game boards were found inlayed into the top of a box. Several game pieces and dice were found in the same destruction debris. Two similar game boards carved out of stone had been previously discovered, the report noted.
The team has dubbed this area “Solomon’s Casino.” While the project’s research is focused on the process of urbanization and Gezer’s role as a border site, reconstructing ancient life is also a goal of the team. That the ancient inhabitants enjoyed leisure time adds an otherwise unrecognized facet to our knowledge, the report noted.
The project focused on an area west of the city gate where a casemate fortification wall was uncovered. Up against the interior of the wall was a large courtyard area with a tabun (clay cooking oven), storage jars, cooking pots, and burnt beams lying atop a plaster surface. Just to the north of this courtyard were two rooms with walls preserved to a height of more than a meter and a half. In one of these rooms the team discovered the remains of a cow jawbone. The adjoining room contained the game board.
Excavations also revealed “pre-Solomonic building remains.” Discoveries from this period (12th-11th centuries B.C.) included a perfectly preserved bronze spearhead, the head of a Philistine-type (“Ashdoda”) ceramic figurine, and the ceramic six-toed foot of a possible feline, the team reported. Largely unexcavated remains from the Late Bronze Age (14th century B.C.) lay below.
The Tel Gezer Excavation Project is sponsored by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with the support of the following consortium schools: Ashland Theological Seminary, Emmaus Bible College, Lancaster Bible College, Lycoming College, and the Marian Eakins Archaeology Museum at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The team was made up of about 50 students and staff, mostly from the United States.
An additional aspect of the work at Tel Gezer is the regional survey conducted in the immediate vicinity of the Tel site. The highlight of the previous season’s work was the discovery of the 13th known boundary inscription cut into bedrock to the east of the site, beyond Ein Vered. This season’s work concentrated on the northeastern slope of Karmei Yosef, resulting in the discovery of additional tombs, wine presses and terrace walls. Clearance of the ancient water system at Tel Gezer was also undertaken this season under the joint sponsorship of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the National Parks Authority.
This summer, several foreign excavation projects had to cease digging due to their proximity to military operations. Since Tel Gezer is located beyond major populated areas, archaeological work was able to continue despite the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Tel Gezer team consists of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish staff and volunteers. While there is a wide spectrum of political beliefs on the team, the report said, the staff focused on the scientific investigation of the ancient city.
The team plans to return to the field in the summer of 2015 to continue excavations.
This article was provided by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).