Introduction to Project

SKY_1197 Aerial Area EBiblically, Tell es-Safi is best known as Gath of the Philistines [Reference]. While Tell es-Safi is most famous for its Iron Age inhabitants (the Philistines) and their famous champion (the giant Goliath who battles with David farther up the Elah valley) [Reference], it was also one of the largest Early Bronze Age (EB) sites in the region (c. 24 ha). It probably represents a first or second tier administrative centre in the political and economic regional hierarchy[Reference].

Beginning in 2004, remains of a well-preserved EB neighbourhood were discovered and excavated by Itzhaq Shai and Joe Uziel (under the directorship of Prof. Aren Maier of Bar-Ilan University, Israel) on the eastern edge of the Tell that were not deeply buried by later layers of occupation.


In 2008, Prof. Haskel Greenfield was invited to participate in their program of systematic excavation of the EB occup


ation at the site. This led to the creation of a formalised research partnership between Professor’s Greenfield and Maeir and supported by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The programme of research is on-going and in its third phase.  

This long term research program is being conducted in association with the Tell es-Safi/Gath Field School where students receive an intensive education in the archaeology of the region and archaeological field methods. This is a long term research program the combines the talents and skills of a successful team of researchers, who have research, pedagogy and public awareness as part of their official agenda.

i.             Phase 1 (Study period: 2004-2008)

This phase was focused on the removal of later overburden and clearing of the uppermost EB layers in order to determine extent of preserved area of occupation (2004-2008). It was directed by Aren Maeir and the excavation area supervised by Itzhaq Shai. It demonstrated the presence of a well preserved EB III neighbourhood beneath the Iron and Late Bronze Age deposits.

ii.            Phase 2 (Study Period: 2009–2011)


In this phase, systematic excavation of the later EB III deposits over a large horizontal exposure was conducted. It included systematic collection and analyses of organic and inorganic remains. Approximately four multi-room houses (with earthen and stone floors) were discovered and partly excavated across a 20x20m area. The contents demonstrated that the occupants were probably merchants who sacrificed expensive animals, corresponded with cylinder seals, imported rare goods (such as ivory), and lived (prepared, consumed and discarded food) and played within and near their homes (as evidenced by game pieces and boards).

Dr. Greenfield’s focus during this period were on the faunal remains. While there are numerous studies on traditional material culture assemblages in these communities[Reference], there are very few large, well-collected, and comprehensively studied zooarchaeological (animal remains from archaeological contexts) assemblages associated with the early urban communities associated with the earliest civilizations of the Near East. The objective of this project is to increase our understanding of EBA communities through the examination of the spatial distribution of zooarchaeological remains from an early urban settlement.

The fauna from Tell es-Safi represents an unusual sample in that it is the first EB sample from the southern Levant to be excavated over a large area and systematically recovered with sieves (2-5 mm) from all primary deposits and analysed spatially by architectural feature. A large sample of remains has already been collected and is undergoing analysis[Reference].

Zooarchaeological remains from urban contexts represent only a small part of the animals within the larger regional food production strategies. By examining the spatial distribution of the different animal species, skeletal elements, age and sex groups, as well as noting butchery and other modifications to the bones, in each of the excavated contexts, Dr. Greenfield’s team has begun to unravel economic and social relations within the excavated community. A number of hypotheses are being tested, including herd management strategies, butchering and other meat preparation techniques, craft production, and assemblage taphonomy. Standard zooarchaeological analyses are being conducted on the bone remains. Bones are analysed in both Israel and Winnipeg.

ii.         Phase 3 (Study Period: 2012–2019)

In this phase of the excavation Dr. Greenfield became a codirector of the EBA excavation area with Prof. Aren Maeir.  Dr. Itzhaq Shai continued to be the on-site excavation area IMG_2999supervisor. This phase of the project at aims to study early urban settlements of urban complex societies that arose in the southern Levant (Israel, Jordan) during the Early Bronze Age (EBA, c. 3500-2100 BCE) using the constellation of modern scientific analytical techniques. It will apply both traditional macroscopic and newer microscopic techniques for data collection and analysis in the investigation of an early urban neighbourhood. This approach integrates the various specialist perspectives into a synthetic perspective on how people lived in early city neighbourhoods. Specialists in archaeological zoology, palaeobotany, radiocarbon dating, sedimentation, chemistry, phytolith, etc. jointly conduct research with the archaeological team. This partnership of specialists will allow the first large scale and systematic excavation of an EBA neighbourhood in the southern Levant to be scientifically excavated, using cutting edge modern excavation and analytical techniques, including virtual reality reconstruction of the site. By incorporating data and analysis from a wide range of archaeological experts, this partnership vastly enhances the understanding of EBA communities and early urban settlement.


For more information about the general Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Tell es-Safi/Gath, please click on this link

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