Report: Excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has released preliminary findings from the 2011 excavation season at Khirbat Qeiyafa. Of the 6 strata uncovered at the sites, the most important are those from the late Persian to early Hellenistic era and from Iron Age IIA. In the Persian-Hellenistic era, the site seems to have been an administrative center. In Iron IIA, the site seems to have been a pretty thriving urban center. Here’s the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s list of important findings in the Iron IIA stratum:

1. A town plan characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites, e.g., Bet Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim and Be’er Sheva‘. A casemate wall was built at all of these sites and the city’s houses next to it incorporated the casemates as one of the dwelling’s rooms. This model is not known from any Canaanite, Philistine or Kingdom of Israel site.
2. Massive fortification of the site, including the use of stones that weigh up to eight tons apiece.
3. Two gates. To date, no Iron Age cities with two gates were found in either Israel or Judah.
4. An open space for a gate plaza was left near each gate. In Area C an area was left open parallel to three casemates and in Area D, the area was parallel to four casemates.
5. The city’s houses were contiguous and built very close together.
6. Some 500 jar handles bearing a single finger print, or sometimes two or three, were found. Marking jar handles is characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah and it seems this practice has already begun in the early Iron Age IIA.
7. A profusion of bronze and iron objects were found. The iron objects included three swords, about twenty daggers, arrowheads and two spearheads. The bronze items included an axe, arrowheads, rings and a small bowl.
8. Trade and imported objects. Ashdod ware, which was imported from the coastal plain, was found at the site. Basalt vessels were brought from a distance of more than 100 km and clay juglets from Cyprus and two alabaster vessels from Egypt were discovered.

Thus, they conclude,

The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the late eighth century BCE or at some other later date.

I’m not yet an archaeologist, but I think their conclusion might be reaching a bit far. It is one thing to say that the excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa show the an urban society existed at this particular place or in this particular region in the late eleventh century BCE. It is another thing entirely, though, to extend that claim to the entire Kingdom of Judah, even if Khirbat Qeiyafa is close to Jerusalem.

(N.B.: I’m not saying their conclusion is false, because it may very well be that all of the Kingdom of Judah was an urbane society by the late 11th century BCE. I’m just saying that it seems difficult to me to support an argument about the nature of the entire ancient Kingdom of Judah on the excavations at one fortress.)

(HT: Joel Watts)

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