doreen-of-dorA gruesome discovery may explain a mysterious destruction at Dor in 1000 B.C.E.

It’s not every day that you dig up a dead woman. And in archaeology, the most dramatic discoveries always seem to come at the most awkward times; this one, true to form, appeared less than 36 hours before we were due to leave the excavation at Tel Dor. It was 7 a.m. on Thursday, August 13, 1992, and we were cleaning up for our final photographs. In area G, the town center, we had spent the summer just as in the previous two seasons- digging through the remains of collapsed early Iron Age houses, removing masses of fallen mudbrick and the occasional pile of rubble. One by one, the rooms had revealed their rich contents of smashed pottery, metalwork, bone and flint implements and the occasional scarab seal. Yet despite some clues that we were dealing with a real destruction, not simply the piecemeal sequence of ruin and repair that one finds on any tell at any time, we still could not be sure. For a third year, we would be going home with a question mark in our minds.

As usual, there were last-minute jobs to do. While the other squares were being swept and cleaned, one unit, supervised by anthropology graduate Ranbir Sidhu (University of California at Berkeley), was still removing the last remains of a carpet of rubble beside a high limestone wall, frantically trying to finish before breakfast. Unable to be of much help, I had gone over to our other active area, F2, to begin photographing our discoveries in and around the Roman temple. I had just begun when Ranbir walked up to me and said, “Andy, about that rubble we were lifting, there’s a foot sticking out of it, and it’s human.” I won’t relate my reply!

The foot was indeed human, and for the next 24 hours, as the rest of the skeleton gradually emerged, we thought of little else. That day we dug for 11 hours nonstop. Fortunately, we had four staff members and scholarship students who had been trained in Berkeley’s rigorous paleoosteology courses, and three of them had had extensive experience in excavating California burials.

Yet I was determined that the volunteers from that square who had put in so much hard work over the past five weeks should not be left out. So we dug in shifts, staff members, scholarship students and volunteers together. Our Israeli support staff and friends—particularly Shlomo Dahan, our factotum and troubleshooter, and Isra Hirshherg, our photographer—helped when they could by running errands for such items as trays, boxes, envelopes and sand, and they kindly brought us schwarma (a lamb sandwich), cokes, oranges and even fresh lychees as the day wore on and the sun got hotter. By midday we had reached the pelvis, and it told us that we were digging up a woman; someone soon started calling her “Doreen.” She was slim, fairly tall for her time and probably in her thirties; heavy pitting around the pubic symphysis showed that she had had more than one child.

This was by no means easy archaeology. The room was small, and made smaller by the low stone screen against which she lay. Broken bits of fine painted pottery on the floor, a large, half-buried storage jar next to her head and even a stag antler a couple of feet away further restricted our access. She was both badly contorted and cruelly smashed up. A limestone wall had fallen on her and had crushed her into the earthen floor below. Numerous rocks had penetrated the skeleton itself. A scatter of potsherds, stone tools, a bone needle and several small animal bones lay right beneath her, some of them also poking into her body.

This, we soon realized, was neither a burial nor a murder. People do not usually bury other people in this kind of tortured position on a bed of garbage, and when sacking a city the victors do not usually push walls over on top of the things they came to loot (pots, metalwork and so on). The vanquished, too, do not usually hang around waiting for the walls to fall on them. Nor do we think that Doreen was stoned to death in the middle of town! A purely local, accidental collapse remains a possibility, but what about the debris-laden floors in the other rooms? Although the stratigraphy is complicated and not altogether clear, three or four catastrophes in the space of a generation or two are difficult to accept—unless Dor was a particularly unlucky town! And during the previous week, we had already found a neat line of smashed pots in the room next door, right alongside a soil change, just as if they had fallen off a now-vanished bench. All of us who actually dug up Doreen were in agreement- This looked very much like an earthquake. (In “The Many Masters of Dor, Part 2,” in this issue Ephraim Stern offers a different interpretation of Doreen’s death.)

Earthquakes are common in Israel, as the shattered remains of Beth-Shean, less than 40 miles from Dor, eloquently testify. Indeed, one even occurred around the time Doreen was born, when the Israelites were fighting the Philistines at Michmash (1 Samuel 14-15). For archaeologists to find earthquake victims, however, is extremely rare.1 To my knowledge, the numerous historically documented earthquake destructions in Israel and adjacent areas in ancient times have so far yielded only seven skeletons- two in the earthquake debris of 363 C.E.a at Beth Shearim, two more at Petra and three in the debris of 365 C.E. at Kourion in Cyprus.2 Strange though this may seem at first, one must remember that at most sites only a small proportion of the total area has been excavated, and in the ancient world, as today, earthquake survivors made every effort to find their relatives and friends, or at least to recover their bodies.

Although we were certainly excited by our find, we talked very little that afternoon. Doreen had clearly died a horrible death, and we all instinctively felt that the usual excavation banter was now very much out of place. All of us were familiar with the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and had experienced the 1989 Bay Area quake, so we could certainly empathize with her fate.

At 6 p.m. we had to go home. We had uncovered Doreen completely, had photographed her and had begun to remove, bag and catalogue her leg bones. Time was short, but there was work to do back at our headquarters in the Pardes Hanna Agricultural School—pottery reading, daybooks (the square supervisors’ logs), writing up Doreen’s locus card (a situation report and description) and entering our information in the computer. And we did have one day left. So we covered her up with paper and sterile earth as best we could and departed with some trepidation. There were still two hours of daylight remaining, and many people now knew of our discovery. Would she still be there in the morning?

She was. Now the problem was how to get the rest of her out, clean up, take our final photographs, pack and go before the Sabbath began. The pelvis was too damaged to come out in one piece, but we reckoned that with a bit of luck we might get her upper body out intact. Three people could—just barely—work on it at one time, pedestalingb her torso and head, though the rocks that had pulverized her ribs and skull and the sherds and food debris sticking into her from below were definitely complicating factors. Another difficulty was the very hard earth, so compacted by the collapse of the wall that it was almost impervious to trowels and dental picks. In the end, however, this proved to be a blessing in disguise, for it meant that the matrix would hold together long enough for the skeleton to survive the transfer.

By 11 a.m., all was ready. Using all the gloved hands that we could muster in that small space, we fractured what was left of each pedestal and divided what remained into three parts- the left rib cage and lower spine, the right rib cage and right shoulder blade, and the head. We then quickly but carefully moved each section in turn to three large, stout fruitboxes, each filled with a layer of fine, sterile beach sand, and transported them to our site museum, the Rothschilds’ old glass factory in Kibbutz Nachsholim, just below the tell.

That evening, relaxing over a drink back at Pardes Hanna, while the memory was still fresh in our minds, we put together a tentative scenario of how Doreen died. It went something like this-
The woman was standing in her pantry when the earth began to shake. Utensils began to fall; pots tipped off their shelves and shattered on the floor. Instinctively, she raised her hands to shield her face and turned to run, but it was too late. Rocks pounded into her. One hit her pelvis, dislocating her right leg and cracking her ankle. Her right foot twisted back and under her as she fell. More rocks hit her in the ribs, and two smashed into her head, dashing it into a large storage jar partially sunk into the floor. Razor-sharp sherds and bones sliced into her body when she hit the ground. The impact broke her neck, shattered her skull and pushed her hands into her face; her right middle finger stabbed into her nose, but by now she could feel nothing. She was dead.

Who was Doreen, and when did she die? From the evidence of both archaeology and texts, we think that she was perhaps a Phoenician, and that the disaster that killed her probably occurred around or just after 1000 B.C.E.

First, archaeology. At Dor we have not one but two early Iron Age destructions. The first seems to have affected the whole site- We have found evidence of it to the east (by the main gate, area B1), in the center of the mound (area G) and in a deep sounding that we sank in 1988 by the threshold to the Roman sanctuary (area F1), right above the beach. The destruction was fiery and extremely violent. It is characterized by a layer of burned debris up to and sometimes over 3 feet thick, including collapsed floors and installations. The colors are spectacular- Mudbrick is burned orange and red, wood is completely carbonized, limestone is reduced to white lime powder, ceramics are scorched grey and black. There is little or no metalwork but much broken pottery on the floors. Almost all of it is indistinguishable from the Canaanite pottery found at nearby sites; Philistine and other intrusive wares are extremely rare. Our analysis of this pottery indicates that the conflagration occurred early in the Iron Age I period, around 1050 B.C.E.

Was man responsible for this event? Could it have been accidental, or was it caused by yet another earthquake? As yet we don’t know for sure, but there are some clues to suggest human agency. Of course, archaeologists anxious to win a place for their sites in history all too often underrate the possibility that a fire can be accidental, and earthquakes frequently cause catastrophic firestorms.3 In our case the evidence suggests both a break in occupation and a change of material culture as well.c

The town was eventually reoccupied, but in some locations the inhabitants did not know of the ruins or did not wish to reuse them as foundations for their own houses—an anomaly at Dor. This new settlement—the one in which Doreen lived and died—continued to use local pottery in the Canaanite tradition, but also imported quantities of Phoenician bichrome ware and made its own versions of it. Thanks to the catastrophe, preserved metalwork (both bronze and iron) is quite plentiful.

This settlement seems to have been relatively shortlived. Though in one room south of Doreen’s we found three refloorings between the lower (earlier) destruction and the upper (later) destruction, Doreen herself lay on a floor that was immediately above the remains of the earlier conflagration- Whenever we scraped the floor away, there was our spectacular kaleidoscope of colors again. The upper destruction is datable only by the associated pottery, which belongs to the transition between Iron I and Iron II A, that is, around 1000 B.C.E. or maybe just a few years later—in Biblical terms, during the reign of King David, or the United Monarchy.

This brings us to history. We know that in the 13th and early 12th centuries B.C.E. the Egyptian sphere of influence in Canaan included Dor. Around the mid-12th century, however, the Sea Peoples settled along the Canaanite coast after the Egyptians had routed them at the Battle of the Delta- The Philistines took the southern portion, and other tribes took the northern. “The Tale of Wen-Amon,” if not wholly fictitious, confirms that Dor indeed fell under the Sea Peoples’ control, because it depicts the skl, or Sikils—a Sea Peoples tribe—as rulers of Dor when this Egyptian emissary supposedly passed through looking for wood for the sacred bark of Amon-Re.4 At the same time, Joshua 17-11 and Judges 1-27–28 both include Dor with Ta’anach and Megiddo among the cities that the Israelites could not take under Joshua’s leadership, but simply calls the inhabitants of all these cities Canaanites.

Yet when we next hear of Dor and these other northern centers, in Solomon’s time (from 965 B.C.E.), they are Israelite. In 1 Kings 4-11, Dor appears fourth in an administrative list of Solomon’s provincial governors and their districts. The document that the historian used must have been damaged along its right side, for he pointedly omits the names of the first four governors, giving only their patronymics. The governor of Dor, “the son of Abinadab” (a Phoenician name), is the last of these, and the writer notes that Solomon gave him his daughter Taphath’s hand in marriage, presumably to cement the alliance.

Here, Israelite control over Dor is presented as an accomplished fact, yet the Iron II A period at Dor (c. 1000–925 B.C.E.) exhibits no distinctively Israelite features. Indeed, the town is considered essentially Phoenician throughout its history, even during the Roman empire.5 Even its construction techniques remain Phoenician well into the Hellenistic period. So if we have identified her correctly, Doreen was by no means one of the last Phoenician inhabitants of Dor.

The Biblical texts, then, only compound our problems. Did the Sea Peoples (specifically, the Sikils) ever occupy Dor? Who (or what) was responsible for the conflagration in about 1050? Who resettled the town soon after this event—in other words, to which ethnic group did Doreen belong? And how and when did the Israelites take control, both of Dor and of the great fortresses in the Jezreel Valley? (Ephraim Stern offers his own answers to some of these questions in the first two parts of his article, “The Many Masters of Dor,” BAR 19-01.)

Though we must stress that our conclusions—earthquake and all—are still only tentative, our excavations suggest the following scenario. Whether or not the Sikils occupied or controlled Dor in the 12th century, someone came along and destroyed it around 1050. The material culture of the new settlers who appeared soon after—Doreen included—is clearly linked with Phoenicia; the appearance of a Phoenician governor in Solomon’s list and the Phoenician character of the town for the next thousand years points the same way. One cannot, however, rule out the possibility that Doreen was descended from a Sikil survivor of the destruction of 1050. In this latter case she may even—just possibly—have been a slave. As for the Israelites, if an earthquake did indeed cause the massive damage that we have discovered, a catastrophe of this magnitude must have made the town extremely vulnerable to attack, perhaps for a generation or more. Recovery from such natural disasters can be a very slow process, even today.6 Like the walls of Jericho, did those of Dor come tumbling down, and the Israelites march right in?

Can the wider archaeological context along the Carmel coast and the Jezreel Valley be of any help? The Bible’s silence about the Israelite conquest of Beth-Shean and Megiddo is well known and is often contrasted with its lengthy description of David’s successes in the south, east and northeast. Yet destructions contemporary with Doreen’s in about 1000 B.C.E. have been observed at both sites, as well as at Afula, and are regularly attributed to David’s armies.7 The best evidence comes from Yigael Yadin’s probes at Megiddo in the 1960s, though renewed excavation at Beth-Shean by Amihai Mazar may soon clarify the situation there too. Yadin confirmed that Megiddo VI A, probably a Philistine city, was indeed destroyed by a massive conflagration. He dated this to about 1000 B.C.E. and concluded (like others before him) that the Israelites were responsible.8 A rich array of artifacts—including metalwork, jewelry and abundant painted pottery—all of which would normally have been highly valued as loot, was found in the destruction debris. Most important for our purposes, however, though neither Yadin nor the original publication deigned to mention them, was the discovery of numerous bodies that had been crushed under the collapsed mudbrick walls.9 Earthquake was not considered as a factor; perhaps it should be.10

a. C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), used by this author, are the alternate designations corresponding to A.D. and B.C. Often used in scholarly literature.

b. Using this technique, one digs around a feature until it is raised on a mesa-like pedestal, which is then undercut so that the feature can be removed intact, supported by part of the pedestal matrix.

c. See Ephraim Stern, “The Many Masters of Dor, Part 1- When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” BAR 19-01.

1. See David H. Kallner-Amiran, “A Revised Earthquake-Catalogue of Palestine,” Israel Exploration Journal (IEJ) 1 (1950–1951), pp. 223–246, and IEJ 2 (1952), pp. 48–62; see especially the revisions and remarks of Kenneth W. Russell, “The Earthquake Chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the Mid-8th Century, A.D.,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 260 (1985), pp. 37–59.

2. Though as we shall see, this number may need to be revised. For details, see Russell, “Earthquake Chronology,” p. 52.

3. On the tendency to ignore accidental fires in archaeology, see Anthony M. Snodgrass, An Archaeology of Greece (Berkeley- Univ. of California Press, 1987), pp. 46–47. As to earthquake-caused fires in antiquity, Nicomedia burned for five days and nights after the earthquake of 358 (Ammianus Marcellinus, Histories 17.7.8), and in Antioch, fire destroyed most of what the earthquake of 526 did not (John Malalas, Chronicle 17.4 [B. 419.21]); for comments, see Russell, “Earthquake Chronology,” p. 51.

4. See Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed., ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton- Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), p. 26, The transcription of the Egyptian skl is controversial; Pritchard uses the old reading of “Tjekker.”

For a discussion of this text in relation to Dor, see Ephraim Stern, “The Many Masters of Dor—Part I- When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” BAR 19-01.

5. See the early fifth-century sarcophagus of Eshmunezer (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 662) and the account of the Roman historian Claudius Iolaus as excerpted in Stephanus Byzantinus under the heading “Doros,” in C. Muller, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (1841–1870) 4.363; cf also Josephus, Life 31 and Against Apion 2.116.

6. See Russell, “Earthquake Chronology,” p. 50.

7. For convenient summaries of the evidence, see Trude Dothan, The Philistines and Their Material Culture (New Haven, CT- Yale Univ. Press; Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Sociery, 1982), pp. 80–82; Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (New York- Doubleday, 1990), pp. 380–382.

8. Gordon Loud, Megiddo (Chicago- Univ. of Chicago Press, 1948), vol. 2, p. 37; Yigael Yadin, “Megiddo of the Kings of Israel,” Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970), pp. 66–96 (discussion of the destruction on pp. 76–78); Graham I. Davies, “Megiddo in the Period of the Judges,” Oudtestamentische Studien 24 (1986), pp. 34–53.

9. Noted by Douglas L. Esse, “The Collared Pithos at Megiddo- Ceramic Distribution and Ethnicity,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 51 (1992), p. 88.

10. I am grateful to my assistant director, Jeff Zorn, for helping me to research this article, and to Ilan Sharon, assistant director of the Hebrew University team and site stratigrapher, for sharing his thoughts on Doreen’s stratigraphy although he is more cautious than I am in accepting that all our debris pertains to the same event. I must also acknowledge the splendid efforts of the Doreen excavation team- Ranbir Sidhu and Stephanie Rose, square supervisors; David Britton, supervisor, area F2; Sarah Kowalski and Graciela Cabana, University of California at Berkeley scholarship students; Alexis Gratt and Julie Rappaport, volunteer excavators; Mindi Coldin, volunteer excavator and recorder.