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Strata: A Lot More than Oranges, Judith Sudilovsky, BAR 26:02, Mar-Apr 2000.

Egyptian Finds Uncovered in Jaffa

Old Jaffa PortIn a Jaffa public garden—not far from a favorite vantage spot for tourists gazing at Tel Aviv’s coastal skyline—archaeologists have discovered traces of the city that stood here from the 15th to the 13th century B.C., when Egypt held sway over Canaan.

“By the style of the bricks and thickness of the walls we can determine that the city at the time was most probably an administrative center for the Egyptian authorities. But so far we have very few clues,” says Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University, who headed the dig. “The thickness of the walls indicates it was most likely not a domestic center.”

According to Herzog, the cities of Jaffa, Gaza and Beth-Shean were the three main administrative and commercial Egyptian centers in Palestine during the mid-second millennium B.C. Ancient Egyptian records indicate that Jaffa—located just south of downtown Tel Aviv, on a promontory jutting into the Mediterranean Sea—served as an important port during that period. Jaffa’s population at the time was probably very small, consisting primarily of administrators who maintained a military presence and collected taxes, Herzog says.

According to legend, Jaffa was named after Noah’s son Japhet, who built the city after the Flood. In the Biblical Book of Jonah, the prophet attempts to flee from God by embarking on a ship that sails from Jaffa.

In the late 1950s, archaeologist Jacob Kaplan discovered the gateway of the Late Bronze Age city, replete with hieroglyphic inscriptions mentioning Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.). When Kaplan finished work at the site in 1974, he backfilled most of the excavation, leaving exposed only the small area where the gateway had been found; the gate-way itself was put on display at the nearby Jaffa Museum.

Kaplan died before he could publish his findings; what few notes he left are in the hands of his widow, who prefers not to relinquish the material. So the current dig, led by Herzog under the auspices of Tel Aviv University and the Old Jaffa Development Corporation, is starting fresh.

“The gateway was very monumental and nice,” says Herzog, “but we want to see the inside of the city.” By expanding the area where the gateway was found, his team discovered 15-foot-thick brick walls, on which the gateway had stood. On the bedrock they found the charred remains of the gate’s wooden roof; the team is conducting carbon 14 tests on the ashes.

Inside the gate, the team discovered the walls of a large fortress from the Egyptian period and buildings from the Persian period (539–332 B.C.), when Jaffa was one of a chain of ports dominating the Mediterranean coast. Scores of coins, a stone anchor and sherds from imported Greek vessels were among the Persian period finds.

The team also found a 3.5-inch Egyptian scarab, dating to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390–1352 B.C.). The eight lines, engraved in hieroglyphs, enumerate the pharaoh’s achievements, proclaiming his prowess as a hunter and declaring that he had killed 102 lions during the first ten years of his reign. According to the team’s Egyptologist, Deborah Sweeney, such seals were typically sent to the edges of the Egyptian kingdom to praise and glorify the king.

The excavation has been a challenge for Herzog, who must work in the middle of a grassy garden in a populated area. Nevertheless, the excavator hopes to continue for another five seasons, keeping an eye out for the chariot workshops that are said by the Amarna Letters to have been in Jaffa at the time.

Posted in: The Exodus

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