A great archeological expedition

Four volumes illuminate the excavation project at Tel Beit She’an, which began in 1989.

The National Park in Beit She'an521 (photo credit: Itamar Grinberg)
The National Park in Beit She'an521
(photo credit: Itamar Grinberg)
In the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 19a), Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish tells us that if there is an entrance to the Garden of Eden in the Land of Israel, it must be in Beit She’an. The eight years of archeological excavations there justify the rabbi’s appreciation.
The excavations were carried out on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University, within the framework of the Beit She’an Valley Archeological Project and managed by the Beit She’an Tourism Development Administration. It has received grants from the Tourism Ministry and support from the Antiquities Authority, as well as from friends in Israel and abroad. The four volumes comprising Excavations at Tel Beth-Shean 1989-1996 finalize the publication of the excavation project at that site.
The tel, or archeological mound, is one of the most prominent sites in the Beit She’an Valley, bordered by the Harod and Jordan rivers and the Bezek Stream. The territory encompasses some 300 square kilometers, dotted by about 40 tels of various sizes. Although annual rainfall is less than 300 mm., the entire valley was tightly settled in antiquity due to the fertile soils and numerous springs, located at an elevation that enabled irrigation by canals. Crossing the area were ancient international and local routes, which contributed to the site’s strategic importance.
The first volume of this publication, From the Late Bronze Age IIB (1400-1300 BCE) to the Medieval Period, edited by Amihai Mazar, covers nine seasons of excavations (1989-1996), including the ongoing excavation of the nearby, huge Tel Rehov (since 1997), and various regional surveys. It introduces us to the methods the expedition employed and offers a synthesis of its findings, presenting the site’s location, architecture and finds relating to the Iron, Hellenistic, Byzantine, Early Islamic and medieval periods. The excavation of the Egyptian New Kingdom’s governor’s residence was of particular importance.
Thirty-four authors compiled this volume, which includes the botanical and zoological data of the entire area. They found mollusk shells originating from distant sources, which might have been used as money, providing evidence of widespread trade or of their medicinal, magical or cultic importance.
The second volume, The Middle and Late Bronze Age Strata in Area R, edited by Mazar and Robert Mullins, presents the results of the further excavation of the Middle Bronze II and Late Bronze I-IIA strata (17th to 14th centuries BCE). The recovered architectural remains included parts of a Middle Bronze II town and a previously unknown temple dated to the Late Bronze I. Most of the finds were uncovered in Area R, where the excavations of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania (UME) exposed, during 1926-1927, a series of four temples, the oldest from the 14th century BCE.
In this volume, 19 experts discuss the stratigraphy, the architecture and the rich pottery assemblage, as well as other finds.
The third volume, The 13th-11th Century BCE Strata in Areas N and S, edited by Nava Panitz-Cohen and Mazar, present the 13th-11th-century-BCE strata excavated since 1989. They relate to the presence of the Egyptian garrison in the town at the time of the 19th and 20th Egyptian dynasties.
Thirty authors discuss the well-illustrated examples of the local Canaanite and Egyptian-style pottery, and many other artifacts testifying to the Egyptian presence.
The book includes 215 line drawings and graphs, 74 pottery plates and 435 photographs.
The first three volumes correlate the results of the previous excavations that the UME conducted at Tel Beit She’an during 1921-1933.
The fourth volume, The 4th and 3rd Millennia BCE, edited by Mazar, contains a series of final reports on the Beit She’an Valley Archeological Project. It presents the results of the excavations from the early Bronze Age and the Intermediate Bronze Age.
An early Bronze IB building in Area M was violently destroyed and rebuilt later, the volume explains. Its plan allowed for a better understanding of the social and economic period. The site underwent a series of occupation phases, accompanied by the Khirbet Kerak ware. After a possible occupation gap, the Intermediate Bronze Age settlement existed on top of the Early Bronze city.
The fourth volume ends with a list of special small finds from the Early Bronze to Intermediate Bronze ages. These are objects of figurative art, like clay figurine fragments, as well as implements relating to the textile industry, like perforated clay discs, made by hand with infinite patience. There are also metal and stone tools and weapons, and objects relating to food processing like bowls and mortars. They were all part of the daily life of the inhabitants of Tel Beit She’an, manufactured with great skill and creativity.
Nineteen authors contributed to the fourth volume, which includes 92 line drawings, 49 pottery plates and 194 photographs.
Each volume contains in-depth discussions of the stratigraphy and architecture of every site. There is also an extensive presentation of a rich pottery assemblage with relevant information. The wealth of findings is accompanied by photographs and drawings, and there is an index of finds like pottery, painted vessels, stone implements, flints, remains of food and fodder.
Today, a visitor to Beit She’an will find a beautifully restored Roman-Byzantine town of the second to fourth centuries CE. The patiently reconstructed Roman amphitheater, the market (agora), public baths, cultic centers and bridges over the Harod River are all connected by wide, paved, columns-decorated Roman streets – all testifying to the town’s former magnificence and opulence.
The well-bound and beautifully printed volumes in this series are a lasting testament to Israel’s distinct progress in archeological research and development, introducing to the world a worthy presentation of the discoveries.
In his afterword, Mazar says he hopes that the current excavations at Tel Rehov, which comprise the second part of the Beit She’an Valley Archeological Project, will also be published in the coming years in such a fitting manner.