In the Valley of Elah
During the summer of 2008, Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University started a new excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, located in the Elah Valley southwest of Jerusalem. In an amazing first season, Garfinkel and his team discovered a fortified Judahite city from the Iron Age IIa (1000–900 B.C.). Pottery styles and carbon dating at the site place occupation in the early tenth century—the time of King David. This supports the traditional belief that David established the nation state of Israel at the beginning of Iron Age II.
The Elah Valley is mentioned in the Bible as the place where the young shepherd David met the Philistine warrior Goliath in combat (1 Samuel 17). Qeiyafa overlooks this valley, situated between the ancient cities of Azekah and Socoh (Joshua 15:35; 1 Samuel 17:1). Qeiyafa lies just 6.5 miles from the Philistine city of Gath and was probably a fortified border town between the hostile kingdoms of Philistia and Judah.
Excavations in Area B, which include the western portion of the city wall, revealed a four-chambered gatehouse (pictured at right center) and two buildings (on the left). The casemate fortification wall, which is made up of two connected concentric walls with a space in between, can be seen at lower left in the adjacent buildings.
Renovations made in the Hellenistic period (332–63 B.C.) blocked off parts of the gate and walls with smaller stones, but the original Iron Age gate was built of megaliths laid out in the shape of two inward-facing “E”s to create four chambers. The construction of such massive fortifications would have required the administration and resources that only a king could have provided.
Inside the gate it is easy to distinguish between the larger, shaped Iron Age stones and the smaller rock constructions from hundreds of years later. The site was built and abandoned early in Iron Age II and was not occupied again until the Hellenistic period, making it very clear that the original site was built and fortified by King David.
Two buildings were excavated in Area B north of the gatehouse. The casemate wall can be clearly seen at the bottom of the photo. An ostracon (a piece of broken pottery that functioned like ancient notepaper) was found in this building, and may have a lot to tell us about David’s kingdom.
This ostracon, excavated in a building near the city gate, bears five lines of text totaling 50 letters. The inscription also dates to the early tenth century and is written in proto-Canaanite script—the longest inscription of its kind—but the language is Hebrew. According to Garfinkel, the words “don’t do,” “king,” “judge” and “servant” are all legible. Although a full translation has yet to be completed, it is already the earliest Hebrew inscription ever found, predating the rest by 100 years or more.
Read about Khirbet Qeiyafa in the January/February 2009 issue of BAR.
Dorothy D. Resig
Dorothy D. Resig is the managing editor of BAR.
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