Found in: Archaeological sites in Israel
Tell es-Safi or Tel Zafit is an ancient mound usually identified as Gath, one of the ancient Canaanite and Philistine five cities , an identification that is well-based both on the historical sources related to this site and the archaeological evidence from the site. It is a large multi-period site that is located in central Israel, approximately half way between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, on the border between the southern Coastal Plain of Israel and the Judean foothills.
Although first noted by explorers in the mid-19th century CE, and subsequently briefly excavated in 1899 by the British archaeologists F.J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister, extensive exploration of the site was not conducted until 1996, when a long-term project was commenced at the site, directed by Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Since 1996, excavations, surveys and other studies have been conducted at the site, focusing on various cultures, periods and aspects relating to the site, its culture and history, and its surroundings.
The site was inhabited from Proto-Historic through Modern times. The earliest evidence for settlement is from the Chalcolithic Period (ca. 5th mill. BCE), after which there is continuous occupation until the modern Palestinian village of Tell es-Safi, abandoned in 1948 during Israel's War of Independence.
During the Early Bronze Age there is evidence of a large urban site, apparently similar to other EB III urban sites in southern Canaan, such as nearby Tel Yarmut.
Scant evidence of this period was found on the tell in the form of stray sherds. In the vicinity of the tell evidence of tombs and possible domestic activities were found.
Finds from the MB IIB (and a few MB IIA) were found on various parts of the tell in the survey . Recently, in the 2006 season, evidence of an impressive MB IIB fortification was found in the vicinity of the summit of the tell, comprising a stone wall/tower and a packed earth rampart/glacis.
The Late Bronze remains at the site are impressive as well, evidence of the Canaanite city of Gath, which is mentioned in the El-Amarna letters. Finds from this period include a large, apparently public building, cultic-related finds, and a small collection of Egyptiaca, including two Egyptian Hieratic inscriptions, both inscribed on locally-made vessels. This city was apparently destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze Age, most probably with the arrival of the Philistines.
During the Iron Age, the site becomes a major Philistine site, "Gath of the Philistines," one of the five cities of the Philistine "Pentapolis," known from biblical and extra-biblical sources. Settled from the earliest phases of the Philistine culture (ca. 1175 BCE), evidence of the various stages of the Philistine culture have been found. In particular, finds indicating the gradual transformation of the Philistines, from a non-local (Aegaean) culture, to a more locally-oriented culture abound. This process, which has been termed "Acculturation" or "Creolization" can be seen in various aspects of the Philistine culture, as the Iron Age unfolds.
Of particular importance are the strata dating to the 10th-9th cent. BCE, in which rich assemblages of finds were uncovered. These strata enable the study of the entire sequence of the Philistine culture, since at other Philistine sites these phases are not well-represented.
A very impressive, site-wide destruction is evidenced at the site during the late Iron Age IIA (ca. late 9th cent. BCE). Throughout the site there is evidence of this destruction, and well-preserved assemblages of finds. The dating of this destruction to the late 9th cent. BCE is a strong indication that it can be related to the conquest of Gath by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus, as mentioned in II Kings 12:18. Evidence of a large-scale siege system that was found surrounding the site, is apparently related to this event. This siege system, which comprises a man-made siege trench, a related berm (earth embankment) and other elements, is currently the earliest archaeological evidence "on the ground" for an ancient siege system.
Among the numerous finds from this destruction level, one can note the impressive pottery assemblage, various cultic objects, a bone tool workshop, and assorted other finds.
The Famous "Goliath Sherd"
In the 2005 season, below the late 9th cent. BCE destruction level, in a stratum dating to an earlier phase of the Iron Age IIA, an important inscription was found. Scratched on a sherd typical of the Iron Age IIA, two non-Semitic names written in Semitic "Proto-Canaanite" letters were found. These two names "ALWT" and "WLT" are etymologically somewhat similar to the name Goliath , the well-known Philistine champion, who according to the biblical text originated from Gath.
These two names indicate that names similar to the name Goliath were in use in Philistia during the Iron Age IIA, at just about the same time as Goliath is described in the Bible. Although not a proof of the existence of Goliath, it does provide nice evidence of the cultural milieu of this period. In any case, they provide a useful example of the names used by the Philistines during that time, and the earliest evidence for the use of an alphabetic writing system in the Philistine culture.For the editio princeps and an in-depth discussion of the inscription and its significance, see now: Maeir, A.M., Wimmer, S.J., Zukerman, A., and Demsky, A. 2008 (In press). An Iron Age I/IIA Archaic Alphabetic Inscription from Tell es-Safi/Gath: Paleography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Crusader Period (12th cent. CE)
Following the destruction of the site by Hazael, Philistine Gath loses its role as a primary Philistine city. Although the site is settled during later periods, it never regains its role as a site of central importance. During the Crusader period, following the conquest of the land during the 1st Crusade, a small fortress, "Blanche Garde", is built at the site, as part of the Crusader encirclement of Fatimid Ashkelon. This site was subsequently captured by the Ayyubids, and served the basis for the Medieval and Modern village of Tell es-Safi, which existed until 1948. The ruins of the castle and the village can be seen on the site today. Portions of the exterior fortifications of the castle have been excavated in recent years.
Ackermann, O., Maeir, A., and Bruins, H. 2004. Unique Human-Made Catenary Changes and Their Effect on Soil and Vegetation in the Semi-Arid Mediterranean Zone: A Case Study on Sarcopterium Spinosum Distribution Near Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. Catena 57: 309-30
Ackermann, O., Bruins, H., and Maeir, A. 2005. A Unique Human-Made Trench at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel: Anthropogenic Impact and Landscape Response. Geoarchaeology 20(3): 303-28
Avissar, R., Uziel, J., and Maeir, A. 2007. Tell es-Safi/Gath During the Persian Period. Pp. 65115 in A Time of Change: Judah and Its Neighbors in the Persian and Early Hellenistic Periods, ed. Y. Levin. London: T&T Clark International.
Ben-Shlomo, D., Shai, I., Zukerman, A., and Maeir, A. 2008. Cooking Identities: Aegean-Style and Philistine Cooking Jugs and Cultural Interaction in the Southern Levant During the Iron Age. American Journal of Archaeology 112: 22546.
Horwitz, L., Lev-Tov, J., Chadwick, J., Wimmer, S., and Maeir, A. 2006. Working Bones: A Unique Iron Age IIA Bone Workshop from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Near Eastern Archaeology 66: 16973.
Maeir, A. 2003. Notes and News: Tell es-Safi. Israel Exploration Journal 53(3): 237-46
Idem. 2004. The Historical Background and Dating of Amos VI 2: An Archaeological Perspective from Tell es-Safi/Gath. Vetus Testamentum 54(3): 319-34
Idem. 2005. Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Evangelischen Instituts fur Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes 9/10: 185-86
Idem. 2007. Ten Years of Excavations at Biblical Gat Plishtim (In Hebrew). Qadmoniot 133: 1524.
Idem. 2007. A New Interpretation of the Term `Opalim in Light of Recent Archaeological Finds from Philistia. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32: 2340.
Idem. In press. Fragments of Stone Reliefs from Bliss and Macalisters Excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath (In Hebrew with English Abstract). Eretz Israel (E. Stern Volume) 28.
Maeir, A. and Ehrlich, C. 2001. Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliaths Hometown? Biblical Archaeology Review 27(6): 22-31
Maeir, A., and Shai, I. 2007. An Iron Age IIA Phoenician-Style (?) Fluted Ceramic Bowl from Tell es-Safi/Gath: A Ceramic Imitation of a Metal Prototype. Journal of the Serbian Archaeological Society 23: 21926.
Maeir, A., and Uziel, J. 2007. A Tale of Two Tells: A Comparative Perspective on Tel Miqne-Ekron and Tell es-Safi/Gath in Light of Recent Archaeological Research. Pp. 2942 in Up to the Gates of Ekron: Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin, eds. S. Crawford, A. Ben-Tor, J. Dessel, W. Dever, A. Mazar and J. Aviram. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
Maeir, A., Wimmer, S., Zukerman, A., and Demsky, A. In press. An Iron Age I/IIA Archaic Alphabetic Inscription from Tell es-Safi/Gath: Paleography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Rainey, A. 1975. The Identification of Philistine Gath - a Problem in Source Analysis for Historical Geography. Eretz Israel 12: 63*-76*
Uziel, J., and Maeir, A. 2005. Scratching the Surface at Gath: Implications of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Surface Survey. Tel Aviv 32(1): 50-75.
Wimmer, S., and Maeir, A. 2007. The Prince of Safit: A Late Bronze Age Hieratic Inscription from Tell Es-Safi/Gath. Zeitschrift Des Deutschen Palastina-Vereins 123(1): 3748.
Zukerman, A. H., L.K., Lev-Tov, J., and Maeir, A. 2007. A Bone of Contention? Iron Age IIA Notched Scapulae from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 347: 5781.
Zukerman, A., and Shai, I. 2006. The Royal City of the Philistines in the Azekah Inscription and the History of Gath in the Eighth Century BCE. Ugarit-Forschungen 38: 729816.