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The Regional Study—A New Approach to Archaeological Investigation, Amnon Ben-Tor, BAR 6:02, Mar-Apr 1980.

western-jezreel-valleyYoqne’am Regional Project looks beyond the tell.

In the center of Israel there is a wide, fertile, well-watered plain called Jezreel (pronounced Jezre-el). Today it is the agricultural heartland of Israel—an area of open wheat, cotton and corn fields, fish ponds and agricultural settlements. In the past it was the battlefield where Barak, the commander of the prophetess Deborah, routed the chariots of Jabin, King of Hazor (Judges 4), where Gideon marched from his camp at Ein Harod and surprised and defeated the Midianites (Judges 7), where Saul and his son Jonathan were slain by the Philistines on the slope of Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), and where Pharaoh Necho massed his army at Megiddo against the forces of King Josiah of Judah (2 Kings 23-29ff). The plain of Jezreel continued to be a stage for important events through the Crusader and Moslem periods up to Israel’s War of Independence.

Jezreel is bordered by the hills of the Galilee on the north, the Samarian hills on the south, and the mass of Mount Carmel to the west. To the east the plain drops off sharply into the deep gorge of the Jordan river. Today the western portion of this historic area is the focus of a regional archaeological study, a relatively new approach to archaeological investigation which is replacing the study of isolated tells. Our project is known as the Yoqne’am Regional Project. Several other regional research projects are taking place now in the land of Israel- in southern Sinai, in the region of the Yarkon River near Tel Aviv, and in the Beersheva valley in the Negev. These regional projects recognize the impossibility of excavating every site within a region. Difficult choices must be made. But it is better to make these choices than to limit one’s focus to a single tell without consideration of the region as a whole.

Choosing the sites within the region for excavation requires setting goals and priorities. Limitations of time, money, and manpower must be considered, as well as the effort and obligation required to prepare preliminary and final reports and to plan for future archaeologists who might return to the sites with different questions and perhaps with better training. Significant unexcavated areas on the tell must be left for these archaeologists.

It is essential to conduct a thorough survey of the region at the earliest stage of the project in order to choose the sites for study and to decide how much effort to devote to each such site. Should it be extensively excavated, or will a few trial trenches be enough, or will a surface survey suffice? Can we gather the necessary professional staff to do all that we would like? Field archaeologists, technical staff, geologists, geographers, paleobotanists, zoologists, and a long list of other specialists in related fields are required in a regional study and their availability place limitations on what can be done.

The regional approach, in contrast to the traditional, single site investigation of the past, asks new kinds of questions and analyzes information along new lines.

The Yoqne’am Regional Project covers a triangular area of the western Jezreel Valley with Tela Megiddo, Tellb ‘Amar and Telc Shimron at the three points. It covers about 100 square miles (150 sq. km)

It is no surprise that a large number of rich settlements dotted the western Jezreel Valley throughout most of its history. This is true even today. The region enjoys fertile soil, abundant water and a pleasant climate; it is also an ancient crossroad where travelers, traders, and armies moved on their way between Egypt and Mesopotamia and between the Mediterranean coast and the interior of the country. Several important ancient routes crisscross the western Jezreel Valley. These routes connect the region with the interior of the country via Megiddo, with the coast and Egypt to the south via Megiddo and Yoqne’am, and with Phoenicia and Mesopotamia to the north via Tell ‘Amar and the plain of ‘Acco.

One group of ancient sites is situated along the major route crossing the entire region of study; they are Megiddo, Shush, Zariq, Qiri, Yoqne’am, Qashish, ’Amar. Other sites are spread within the valley—Risim, Reala, Shaddud. The settlements are of different sizes- The largest of all, and one of the largest sites in the entire country, is Tel Shimron—about 150 acres. This site is followed in size by Megiddo and Yoqne’am, the two other major cities of the region—measuring roughly 20 acres each. Then there are smaller sites- Shush (10 acres); ’Amar (5 acres); Qashish (2 acres) and finally several nameless sites of one-half to one-quarter acre each. We decided that Tel Yoqne’am on the western edge of the region would be the focal point of the study, but we will also examine a number of other sites to answer questions such as these-

What does the difference in size among settlements signify? Is the size of a site related to whether or not it is fortified or to its wealth? What is the relation between a city like Yoqne’am and what the Bible refers to as “daughters,” or small dependent settlements? Is the material culture of a village like Qiri more closely related to that of a nearby village of similar size like Qashish or to that of a nearby city like Yoqne’am?

We also ask questions about the daily life of the people. After all, people are more than political-geographical units. What was life like in a village as opposed to a city? From many excavations in the past we know something about life during most historic periods in major cities such as Megiddo, Shomron, Dan, Hazor, Gezer and Ashdod. But what about the majority of the population, living in countless, little villages, whose names are unknown to us; how did they live? How did they build? Will luxury items, local or imported, be found in these small villages?

From the annals of the kings of Assyria (Tiglat Pilesser III and Sargon II) as well as 2 Kings 15-29, 17-5–6 we know that in the eighth century B.C. the Yoqne’am region was conquered by the Assyrians and became the “Province of Megiddo.” How do the material remains of the cities and villages reflect this political change? Will the material culture of the region be more “Assyrian” after this conquest?

Our first excavation in the Yoqne’am Regional Project was at Tell Qiri. We began here because bulldozers threatened the site. In 1975 the entire ancient site, located at Kibbutz haZorea, 1 ½ miles east of Yoqne’am, was about to be destroyed by ground-breaking for a new housing project. As is often the case in Israel, the past takes precedence over the present; the bulldozers were held off for three years while we conducted salvage excavations.

The excavation at Tell Qiri provided a wonderful school for us, introducing us to the study of the region. To our surprise, we unearthed at this little settlement 12 phases of occupation spanning the 12th–8th centuries B.C. At Tell Qiri we were able to study thoroughly the material culture of a typical village in the region. We also developed there a new method for measuring the extent of similarity among ceramic pottery assemblages at different sites. The method requires an analysis of the distribution of various pottery types, which in turn depends on the formation of a detailed typology of the main ceramic families from a site, and then counting how many examples of each ceramic family appear in each layer of occupation. A computer processes this data and calculates the relative quantities of the various types and sub-types in any particular stratum of the tell. This “ceramic picture” may then be compared with “ceramic pictures” from other sites dating to the same period. These differences in ceramic pictures may reflect important differences in the socioeconomic setting of the particular stratum at the site. Moreover, the differences in distribution of different ceramic types may be a useful datum for dating purposes; it can supplement the use of diagnostic vesselsd by which strata are customarily dated.

In addition to the impressive pottery assemblage at Tell Qiri, we found a large number of animal bones and a collection of cultic vessels. These were all found in a room of what we thought to be a domestic dwelling built in the 12th century B.C. and occupied into the 11th century B.C. After careful examination of these finds, we realized that the bones were almost exclusively the right forelegs of goats. We immediately thought of two biblical passages enjoining the Israelites to sacrifice “the right leg … [of] a ram of consecration” (Exodus 29-22) and to give “the right hind-leg [of an animal] … to the priest for a heave offering (terumah) … ” (Leviticus 7-32). This type of sacrifice is also known among non-Israelites (for example, in the Late Bronze temple at Lachish).

The discovery of these bones at Tell Qiri puzzled us- Why were cultic objects and animal bones in a house? The book of Judges provides us with an example of cultic artifacts found in a domestic setting. In the story of Micah, a man from Mount Ephraim, Micah’s mother went to an artisan “who made [for her] a graven image and a molten image.” These images were then put “ … in the house of Micah.” The next verse continues, “Micah had a house of God, and made an ephod and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest” (Judges 17-4–5). Perhaps this is the kind of house-shrine we found at Tell Qiri.

After the excavation of Tell Qiri we turned to Tel Yoqne’am. Yoqne’am is one of the three major sites in the western Jezreel region, Megiddo and Shimron being the other two. Megiddo had already been excavated by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in 1925–1939 and by the Institute of Archaeology of Hebrew University in the 1960’s. Tell Shimron has never been excavated. It is a most tempting site, but we decided not to excavate it. It is simply too big- its excavation would require all of the resources available for the entire project. Someday we hope that Shimron will attract the major archaeological expedition which the site demands.

Tel Yoqne’am, in contrast, is not only a site of manageable size which has not been excavated, but it is also a site with strategic and historic significance. Yoqne’am was occupied continuously for a longer time than any other site in the region—from c. 3000 B.C. to the 14th century A.D. The tell extends over 10 acres on its upper terrace and twice that area if the slopes on the mound are included. The tell rises almost 150 feet above the surrounding plain with its highest point, the acropolis, located in the southwest quadrant. From the acropolis the mound slopes gently towards the north and west and then drops off steeply on the slopes. Within the steep slopes are probably buried the remains of massive and well-preserved fortifications.

The mound of Yoqne’am commands the outlet of the Wadi Milh into the plain of Jezreel, a strategic position comparable to Megiddo at the outlet of Wadi ‘Ara. Armies and traders travelling north from Egypt along the Via Maris (the Mediterranean coastal road) came to the massive blockage of Mt. Carmel. Thus Yoqne’am guarded a strategic pass and sat squarely on a major ancient route which itself is an important interest of our study. (As recently as the 18th century a caravanserei was built on the summit of the mound, thus continuing the long tradition of the site as a waystation for travelers.)

Yoqne’am is mentioned several times in ancient records—no surprise given the strategic position of Yoqne’am and its location astride an important route of passage.

The earliest reference to Yoqne’am is in a topographical list of 119 names (most of them place names in Syria-Palestine) incised on the walls of the temple of Amon at Karnak. The list commemorates the military victories of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmoses III (c. 1470). The hieroglyphic signs ‘-n q-n-’-m probably read ‘n(Y)qn‘m, and refer to the “Springs of Yoqne’am” or Biblical Yoqne’am. In Joshua 12-22 the king of Yoqne’am is mentioned in the list of 32 kings defeated by Joshua. The site is mentioned again in Joshua 19-11 in a description of the border of the tribe of Zebulun and in Joshua 21-34 as a Levite city within the territory of Zebulun.

Eusebius’ Onomasticon from the fourth century A.D. refers to Yoqne’am as “the village of Kammona.” The Onomasticon is a compilation of place names mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. The place names of each book of the Bible are arranged alphabetically and identified by Eusebius with geographic locations of his time. The Onomasticon mentions Kammona on the road from Legio (near Megiddo), to Ptolemais (Akko), six miles from Legio. Kammona is identified with Yoqne’am because Yoqne’am is precisely in the location described by Eusebius for Kammona.

At Yoqne’am, as at almost all archaeological sites, it will be impossible to excavate the entire surface of the 20 acre mound. Priorities must be set and choices made. Often they are painful choices. To decide which part of the mound to excavate we considered the topography of the tell, the architectural remains visible on the surface, features revealed in aerial photographs and the results of five test trenches sunk in different parts of the site. All gave us clues as to where the most significant remains might be found.

Contrary to most excavation practices, we decided that the acropolis of the city, usually considered the most important part of any city, would not be excavated at Yoqne’am. Close surface investigation and aerial photographs showed clearly that the large 18th century A.D. caravanserei had covered the entire acropolis, and the subterranean halls of this structure inevitably must have damaged most or even all of the remains below the surface.

The southeast corner (area D) was chosen because here we expected to find the site’s gateway and adjoining fortification systems- Even today it is the easiest corner to climb. A topographic survey showed that the approach route to the tell encircled it; the route began at the base of the tell in the north, came around the west, then to the south, until finally it reached the top at the southeast corner. Throughout Yoqne’am’s history, the city gate was most likely located on the southeast corner of the hill.

In neighboring area E the remains of a very large building were easily discernible even before excavation. The building had been identified as a church by Claude R. Conder and Horatio H. Kitchener in their classic Survey of Western Palestine (London 1883). This church was assumed to be Byzantine and was included in the Corpus of Byzantine Churches in the Holy Land by Asher Ovadiah (Bonn 1970). Our investigation, however, proved it to be a crusader church- the church held Crusader pottery and the apse at the end of the nave was polygonal. Byzantine apses are semicircular. The Yoqne’am church was different from Byzantine churches and later churches of the triapsidal type in one other respect- Both of these have an apse at the end of the central nave and an apse at the end of each aisle flanking the nave. In contrast, the Yoqne’am church has only two semi-circular apses- one at the end of the northern aisle and one at the end of the nave. This nave apse is encased in a polygonal structure, although inside it is rounded. The southern aisle’s terminus is rectangular and gives no sign of ever having had an apse.

Area C is located in a crater-like depression which is both clearly visible on the site’s surface, and in line with the spring at the foot of the northeastern side. We speculate that the water supply system might be below the crater. Such water supply systems are known from various sites such as Hazor, Gezer, Gibeon, and Megiddo. They have in common a vertical shaft which leads to a tunnel which in turn leads to a water source which can thus be reached from inside the city walls; with such a system water could be obtained in times of siege by descending into a shaft within the protective walls. We suspect that the “crater” at Yoqne’am is the result of the collapse of later strata and debris into the hollow shaft and tunnel of the water supply system, just as happened at Hazor. Because of the enormous amount of work needed to excavate the filled-in tunnel and shaft of the supposed water-system, work in Area C has been postponed. (For details on the Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Jerusalem, and Gibeon water systems, see “How Water Tunnels Worked,” by Dan Cole.)

We targeted a fourth area (A) for excavation because of its strategic position directly above and commanding the strategic junction of the Milh pass where the road continues to the north and connects Megiddo with the Acco Valley along the northeastern side of the Carmel.

After manpower was allocated to these four areas it became clear that enough people remained to open one more area. The location of this last area, (B), was determined by following a principle established by Sir Flinders Petrie, the father of Palestinian archaeology. One of the most prominent figures in the archaeology of the Land of Israel, and the first to use pottery to date the strata of a tell, Petrie excavated several sites where he opened a large area in the northwest. Petrie claimed that the northwest is where one should expect to find palaces and other important buildings, because, he reasoned, this is the direction from which the cool summer winds come, so this is where the wealthy and influential people would choose to live. At Yoqne’am too, a very strong wind blows toward the northwestern part of the tell throughout the summer—so this is where we located area B. We concluded that if it was good for Petrie, it should also be good for us. This area turned out to be the most promising of all the areas tested during the first season, and therefore we have assigned our major effort here.

At Yoqne’am we discovered a new kind of fortification system from the Iron Age (9th–8th centuries B.C.) consisting of two thick parallel walls. These double walls are not divided by perpendicular walls as in the usual Iron Age casemate wall we know from Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer and other sites. These Iron Age fortifications at Yoqne’am sat on the top of an earlier fortification system which consists in the area investigated, of a double line of walls (probably casemates) which abut what appears to be part of a citadel built close to the edge of the site. The casemate wall and citadel at Megiddo date to the 10th century B.C., the time of Solomon, and resemble those elements of fortification found at neighboring Yoqne’am dated to the same time. It is however noteworthy that the fortifications of Yoqne’am are much thicker and more massively built than those of Megiddo, and we do not yet know why that is so.

During the 1978 season, we began the excavation of another small site to the north of Yoqne’am, Tel Qashish, a “daughter” of the larger Tel Yoqne’am. Tel Qashish and Tell Qiri are equi-distant from Tel Yoqne’am and we expect that both will teach us about the relationship of small villages to a larger city. Tel Qashish also provides a wonderful opportunity for the study of the Bronze Age (in the third and second millennia B.C.) since it was occupied principally during this time. Occupation remains of later periods are restricted—thus making the layers of the Bronze Age easy to reach and excavate.

Two areas have so far been investigated at Tel Qashish. In the lower part of the site an area of 300 square meters was opened, and five levels of occupation were identified spanning the period from the late fourth to the late third millennia B.C. (the entire Early Bronze Age). So far mainly the later phases of the Early Bronze Age have been investigated, revealing a street with nicely built stone houses on both sides and a rich ceramic assemblage including storage jars bearing seven cylinder seal impressions.

On the highest part of Tel Qashish a limited trial excavation was carried out in order to investigate Iron Age remains. We identified at least three levels of continuous occupation dating to the 13th–10th centuries B.C. Further study of these remains may contribute to our understanding of the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite period in that region. Of special interest is an assemblage of 10th century B.C. clay vessels; several exhibit a clear cultic purpose. Most noteworthy among these vessels is a kernos bowl with a ram’s head.

The regional approach, even at this early stage of our work, has already informed us about relationships between settlements in the western Jezreel at particular periods. These relationships have been observed by noting the location and frequency of artifacts.

During the Iron Age (10th—8th centuries B.C.) some ceramic families of local deluxe ware, such as the well-known Samaria ware, and imported Cypro-Phoenician and Cypriote pottery are much more common in the larger and probably wealthier city of Yoqne’am than in the village of Qiri. A certain type of vessel, that was until now unknown in the Iron Age repertoire of the country, has been discovered at Yoqne’am as well as Qiri. In both Yoqne’am and Qiri and other sites in the region, identical 10th century B.C. cooking pots bearing peculiar incisions on their rims were unearthed.

After three seasons of excavation, we are still at the beginning. As the data accumulates, as we continue to look not only at each site but also at the region of the western Jezreel Valley as a whole, we hope to find some answers. But our data will also inevitably raise more questions. If, after our planned ten years of work in this region, we will possess even as much as five to ten percent of the archaeological information this area has to offer, we will be content. There will still be much left in the ground for future generations of archaeologists to answer the questions that will remain.

a. Note the word “tell” accompanies the Arabic names of sites, and “tel” is used with Hebrew names. BAR uses “tell” when speaking of archaeological mounds in general.

b. Note the word “tell” accompanies the Arabic names of sites, and “tel” is used with Hebrew names. BAR uses “tell” when speaking of archaeological mounds in general.

c. Note the word “tell” accompanies the Arabic names of sites, and “tel” is used with Hebrew names. BAR uses “tell” when speaking of archaeological mounds in general.

d. Archaeologists have determined with a high degree of certainty that some vessels date to a particular time period. Sometimes they can narrow the range to within fifty to a hundred years. Such vessels are used to “diagnose” the strata in which they are found. See the photograph of a collar-rimmed pithos in “Excavations at Tell Mevorakh Are Prelude to Tell Dor Dig,” BAR 05-03, for a good example of a diagnostic vessel.

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