Archeologists at Tel Gezer, located east of Ramle beyond major populated areas, maintained their posts and kept up their work despite the security threat, even as they heard sirens and rocket interceptions overhead.
The project’s team, which was co-directed by Steven Ortiz of the Tandy Institute for Archeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and Samuel Wolff of Israel’s Antiquities Authority, was made up of about 50 students and staff, mostly from the United States.
Despite being offered several options to leave in favor of an off-site job in a shelter or simply returning home, the team decided to stay. “The safety of our team members was paramount in our thoughts,” Wolff said. “We had a visit from a local border police representative in the field, who explained to us that in the event of a siren we should hit the dirt and stay there for 10 minutes after any explosion so that we wouldn’t be hit by shrapnel. After all, our excavation squares are ready-made foxholes!” Several other foreign excavation projects ceased digging due to their proximity to Hamas’s rocket-firing range and the security situation. Some of these included the site in Ashkelon, which is run by Harvard University and Wheaton College; the site in Lachish by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; and the site located in Jaffa, run by UCLA.
Wolff told The Jerusalem Post that Gezer was one of three major cities that King Solomon fortified – the others being Hazor and Megiddo.
“The [Tel Gezer] team consisted of Christian, Muslim and Jewish staff and volunteers.
While there is a wide spectrum of political beliefs, the staff focused on the scientific investigation of the ancient city,” Ortiz said.
This season’s work focused on revealing more of this city, Wolff said. “One of the surprises found within the destruction of the Solomonic city was an extremely rare ivory-carved game board, found in pieces.
Several game pieces and two die were found nearby. This is a well-known game from the ancient world (Levant, Cyprus) called ‘the Game of 20 Squares.’ The team has affectionately dubbed this area ‘Solomon’s Casino.’” While the project’s research is focused on the process of urbanization and Gezer’s role as a border site, reconstructing ancient lifestyles is also an important goal. “That the ancient inhabitants enjoyed leisure time adds an otherwise unrecognized facet to our knowledge,” Wolff said.
Excavations revealed many finds, among them pre-Solomonic building remains.
However, some of the most impressive finds from this period (12th-11th centuries BCE) were a perfectly preserved bronze spearhead, the head of a Philistine-type Ashdoda ceramic figurine, and the ceramic six-toed foot of what might have been a feline figurine.