Salvage Excavations at an Early Bronze Age Site in the Barnea Quarter in Ashkelon – Preliminary Conclusions

Amir Golani, IAA

In 2004 and 2005 three seasons of excavations were conducted at an Early Bronze Age site in the Barnea Quarter of Ashkelon. The excavations were financed by the Economic Corporation for the Development of Ashkelon, prior to the construction of a new residential neighborhood there.
The site is located adjacent to the northern side of modern Ashkelon, c. 4 kilometers from Tel Ashkelon and next to the beach. In past years we were aware of remains there that date to the Byzantine period, which were scattered over the kurkar ridge; some of them were excavated and included agricultural buildings, installations and a few tombs. With the commencement of the development work there at the beginning of this century and the removal of the sand dunes in the region prior to construction, settlement remains of the Early Bronze Age I were exposed that were previously unknown.
The Early Bronze Age site is situated in the trough east of the ridge, which is parallel to the shore; however, the settlement in this period did not extend to the west, beyond the line of the ridge. At the height of its prosperity the site covered an area of c. 50 dunams, out of which we were able to inspect almost 7 dunams of ancient occupation. Upon the completion of the excavation and granting permission to build there, most of the site will be completely destroyed and a small part of it will be covered with fill for future generations.
Preliminary conclusions regarding the excavation have identified five main habitation layers:
Stratum V – the earliest layer; it is characterized by scant settlement remains situated on top of the large sand dune. Because it is so deep below the surface level and the remains of it are so meager, this stratum was only identified in a number of isolated spots. It dates to the earliest phase of the Early Bronze Age I-A and is probably contemporary with the settlement remains that were excavated at the Ashkelon marina which have already been published.
Stratum IV – is the beginning of the main occupation of the site and apparently dates to the later phases of the Early Bronze Age I-A or even to the transition to the Early Bronze Age I-B. Most of the settlement in this layer was concentrated in the southern regions of the site. Several enclosures built of stone and mudbrick walls, with storage buildings and dwellings next to them, were identified in the area. In the northern part of the site only silos, built in subterranean pits lined with mudbricks, were discovered.
Stratum III – this layer constitutes most of the remains of the settlement at the site and the continuation of the previous stratum in it is quite apparent. Most of the area at the site was intensively settled. In this phase large enclosures were built that were separated from each other by narrow alleys. The remains of about 10 such enclosures, some belonging to Stratum IV, but most ascribed to Stratum III, were identified during the excavation. The enclosures mainly consist of a mudbrick/stone perimeter wall that incorporates inside it or delimits dwellings and storage buildings, with various installations along side them. One of the enclosures, which was exposed in its entirety and was situated in the center of the settlement, was probably meant solely for processing metal and not for residential purposes. Other enclosures that were identified on the fringes of the site were probably only used for storing and processing agricultural products. An analysis of the distribution of these enclosures and the finds attributed to them can constitute a fascinating basis for studying the socio-economic reality of the inhabitants of the site in the Early Bronze Age I. Stratum III probably dates to an early phase of the Early Bronze Age I-B, and from a ceramic standpoint closely resembles the stratum referred to as Erani C, considered to be the pre-Egyptian level at Tel Erani.
Stratum II – this stratum constitutes a break with the previous settlement and is characterized by meager construction that utilized small stones. The remains are quite fragmentary since most of them were scraped away as a result of the development work that preceded the excavation. This stratum dates to an early phase of the Early Bronze Age I and is probably also parallel to Erani C. The area of the settlement was probably reduced in this phase and the remains were not as concentrated as those in Strata III and IV.
Burials – in Strata IV and III a number of burials of infants and small children were found mainly below the floors, and in open areas inside the settlement. In Stratum II parts of the settlement that were previously abandoned were probably also used for burials in pottery vessels that were sometimes dug into the walls of the previous stratum and frequently placed inside mudbrick-built cists. Some of the infant burials that are inside the settlement area were probably also interred after the entire settlement was abandoned. Other burials were identified outside of, and next to the settlement; adults were probably buried here and some of their tombs were excavated. Two methods of burial were employed: single burials in stone-built cists that were probably covered. Secondary burials were also conducted of a number of people in stone built and covered cists arranged next to each other forming a kind of “ladder”. The burial practice of interring infants inside the settlement and adults outside of it, is also characteristic of the Chalcolithic period. The use of stone-built cists, similar to ossuaries, for secondary burials is also typical of the same period. The burial finds are probably indicative of a continuance of the tradition and burial practices in the southern part of the country in the Chalcolithic period and Early Bronze Age. This suggests cultural continuity and perhaps also ethnic continuity in this region during the transition between the periods.
Stratum I – is ascribed to the Byzantine period and includes all of the remains from this period that were found on the kurkar ridge and on the surface level.
The size of the excavation at the Early Bronze Age site of Ashkelon – Barnea constituted an extraordinary opportunity to examine growth processes and planning principals in an ancient site from the proto-urban period in the Land of Israel. Together with the enormous amount of finds, the scope of the excavations makes it possible to examine the activities in different regions of the site during its existence. The extensive metallurgical activity that was discovered in “the industrial enclosure” in Stratum III is also readily apparent in Strata IV and II and constitutes a manifestation of one of the main branches of the economy in which the residents of the site were engaged. This activity, along with storing grain on a large scale basis which was done in the enclosures of Strata IV and III, attests to the developed social organization of the local rural society in the pre-urban period.

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