Swedish archaeologists on a dig in Jordan, led by Professor Peter M. Fischer of the University of Gothenburg Department of Historical Studies, Ancient History/Classical Archaeology have excavated a nearly 60-meter long well-preserved building from 1100 B.C. in the ancient settlement Tell Abu al-Kharaz. The building is from an era characterized by major migration.
According to Prof. Fischer’s U. Gothenberg project site, Tell Abu al-Kharaz (“Mound of the Father of Beads”) is located in the Jordan Valley north of the perennial stream of Wadi al-Yabis and approximately 4 km east of the Jordan River. Tell Abu al-Kharaz flourished in antiquity mainly because of its strategic location and an obviously rich surrounding natural environment: woodlands to the east, Wadi al-Yabis to the south and fertile land everywhere in its vicinity. The site occupies a 300 m x 400 m, and 60 m high, large natural hill (top elevation 116 m below sea level) with steep slopes that were easy to defend.
The archaeologists’ new finds support the theory that groups of so-called “Sea Peoples,” a name reportedly coined by the ancient Egyptians with reference to of a massive maritime movement of migrants out of Southern or Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean’s eastern shores in the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE. During the reign of Egypt’s Ramesses III, hordes of seaborne people bore down on the kingdom, were thwarted by the Egyptian armies and then settled along the Levantine coast and also emigrated to Tell Abu al-Kharaz. They and settled in the Eastern Mediterranean region all the way to the Jordan Valley.
“We have evidence that culture from present Europe is represented in Tell Abu al-Kharaz. A group of the Sea Peoples of European descent, Philistines, settled down in the city,” says Peter Fischer in a U. Gothenberg release. “We have, for instance, found pottery resembling corresponding items from Greece and Cyprus in terms of form and decoration, and also cylindrical loom weights for textile production that could be found in central and south-east Europe around the same time.”
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Tell Abu al-Kharaz is located in the Jordan Valley close to the border to Israel and the West Bank, and most likely corresponds to the Biblical city of Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1, 31:11; Judges 21:8). The Swedish Jordan Expedition has explored the city, which was founded 3200 B.C. and flourished three times over the past 5 000 years: around 3100–2900 B.C. (Early Bronze Age), 1600–1300 B.C. (Late Bronze Age) and 1100–700 B.C. (Iron Age – local periods). The first excavation took place in 1989 with the cooperation of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. The Swedish Jordan Expedition under the direction of Dr. Fischer conducted a survey at Tell Abu al-Kharaz. Excavations began the same year and the most recent in autumn 2013. A number of walled towns from especially Early Bronze Age I and II, the end of the Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age I and II, and Iron Age I and II were exposed. These settlements date to approximately 3200 – 600 BCE. In total, 16 excavations have been completed.
The site’s height and position provide control of both the eastern, north-south running, main road through the Jordan Valley, and the road along the Wadi Yabis to the eastern highlands. The former rulers of the different cities were maybe claiming tribute from passing caravans. Dr. Fischer notes that on clear day the Tell Abu al-Kharaz vantage point provides a panoramic view from the summit of the site: the hills of Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Beth Shan, the eastern Yizreel Valley, the Samarian hillocks and the area north of Tell es-Saidiyeh in the central valley can be surveyed. Just below Tell Abu al-Kharaz lies Tell al-Maqbarah, an artificial mound which Dr. Fischer says once very likely was occupied by farmers depending on the protection provided by the fortified Tell Abu al-Kharaz during war times.
Remarkably well-preserved stone structures have been exposed during the excavations. The finds include defensive walls, buildings and thousands of complete objects produced locally or imported from south-east Europe. “What surprises me the most is that we have found so many objects from far away. This shows that people were very mobile already thousands of years ago,” says Dr. Fischer.
The scientists have made several exceptional finds in the last three years, especially during excavation of the building from 1100 B.C. where containers still filled with various seeds were found. There are also finds from Middle Egypt that were exported to Tell Abu al-Kharaz as early as 3100 B.C.
The exploration of the 60-meter long building discovered in 2010 continued during the most recent excavation. It was originally built in two levels of which the bottom level is still standing with walls reaching 2.5 meters in height after more than 3000 years.
Times of Israel news editor Ilan Ben Zion says that the Tell Abu al-Kharaz find also strengthens the linkage connecting the Sea Peoples and the Aegean — reinforcing the theory that the Philistines were among a number of non-Semitic tribes that migrated across the Mediterranean and settled in Canaan in the early Iron Age, alongside the emergent Israelites. Ben Zion says evidence of Sea Peoples inhabiting areas east of the Jordan River would lend credence to a seeming anomaly in the Bible — the location of Philistines far from their historic homeland along the shores of southern Israel in I Samuel 31. According to the book of Samuel, the Philistines raided northern Israel and settled in the abandoned Israelite cities “that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were beyond the Jordan.” However, Ben Zion notes that not all scholars are convinced of the validity of Peter Fischer’s Sea People hypothesis.
The archaeologists have found evidence indicating that Philistines, who lived in the building together with local people around 1100 B.C. utilized a defense structure from 3000 B.C. in the form of an old city wall by constructing their building on top of it. In this way, they had both easy access to building material and a solid surface to build on.
“One of our conclusions after the excavation is that ‘Jordanian culture’ is clearly a Mediterranean culture even though the country does not border the Mediterranean Sea,” observes Dr. Fischer “There were well-organized societies in the area long before the Egyptian pyramids were built.”
Dr. Fischer concludes that “One could assume after 16 seasons of excavations that, in principle, the entire occupational sequence of Tell Abu al-Kharaz and the typology of finds would be well established. Nevertheless, the latest four seasons of excavations brought to light new evidence by early Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware on the presence of people at the site in the MB II (18/17th century BCE), the beginning of the Iron Age (12/11th century BCE), and the historical periods following the Iron Age, … and some unique finds which on the one hand are exciting but on the other hand by their very uniqueness present certain problems in finding parallels.
For more detail on the Tell Abu al-Kharaz excavations and photos of some of the ancient artifacts uncovered, see:
The excavations at Tell Abu al-Kharaz are funded mainly by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. Only about 20 percent of the city has been exposed so far, and in some places just the top layers. The Swedish Jordan Expedition 2013 consisted of professional archaeologists and students from Sweden, Austria, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Switzerland and Jordan.
University of Gothenburg Department of Historical Studies
Times of Israel
University of Gothenburg