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A Sleeping Giant Awakes-The New Excavations of King Solomonís City of Gezer

Dr. Sam Wolff

Arial view of the excavation area
This summer the ancient city of King Solomon fame has continued to be excavated by a joint expedition of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Solomon’s extensive building projects are recorded in the biblical account where he mentions that he fortified Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, in addition to the capital city of Jerusalem (1 Kings 9:15-17). While many tourists to Israel visit the archaeological remains of Jerusalem as well as the northern sites of Hazor and Megiddo, Gezer has remained undeveloped since the last major excavations ended in the early 1970s. This is unfortunate since the ancient city guarded the pass up to the capital of Jerusalem and the ancient tell is located in the heart of the country between the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This situation has all changed in the past two years.
The renewed excavations coincide with the celebration of the opening of the site by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority as a National Park in 2006. The goals of the renewed excavations are to investigate the major fortification systems on the south edge of the site as well as excavate several cultural horizons in order to better understand the growth and development of the Iron Age city. In addition, the new project is working in conjunction with the Israel National Parks Authority to develop the site for visitors and preserve the site for future generations.

A silver didrachm coin dating to the reign of Ptolemy IV
The expedition is led by co-directors Dr. Steven M. Ortiz of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Sam Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The project consists of several consortium members: Lancaster Bible College, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Marian Eakins Archaeological Museum, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Lycoming College. The second expedition season this summer had over eighty students and staff participated from June 18th-July 20th. Most of the students were from the United States, with others from Denmark, India, and Israel. In addition, the excavations were enthusiastically supported by local residents of Kibbutz Gezer, Karmi Yosef, and the Tel Gezer Regional Council.

This year's excavations focused on a massive fortification system associated with the six-chambered gate commonly associated with King Solomon. Associated with these fortifications is a major rebuild of the wall possible due to a major Assyrian attack on the city by Tiglath Pileser III during the 8th century BCE. Evidence for this attack on the city was found in a large area where collapsed mudbrick walls burnt in a fierce conflagration, this collapse reaching over a meter in height. In another area of the excavations remains of a large pillared administrative building was also exposed. Excavations continued on tracing the fortification system to the west. One of the surprises was a large sloping stone feature that served as a rampart or revetment system for the fortifications of the city wall. Over 10 meters of this structure was excavated this summer. In addition to the 8th century city, evidence of later occupation was found in a substantial amount of finds dating to the Persian Period, most notably pottery and a cylinder seal with a king riding on a beast with an outstretched bow in his hand. A silver didrachm coin dating to the reign of Ptolemy VI (180-145 BCE) is only the third of its kind found in Israel.

The renewed excavations also initiated the process of preservation on the large fortification system that was excavated last summer. Nearly 40 meters of the southern defensive wall were conserved to prevent further damage to the wall. The Tel Gezer Excavation Project is a long term project that will investigate the growth and development of the ancient city of Gezer. In addition, it is a field school training the next generation of students. Students participate in an intensive program of archaeological fieldwork with evening lectures and a study program where they travel throughout the various regions of Israel. The project is open to all students and adult volunteers. Information can be obtained from the project website: www.gezerproject.org.

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