Located on the northern bank of
As Tell es-Sakan was under threat of destruction by the development of the housing project, a brief salvage excavation was conducted in September 1999 under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of Gaza (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Palestinian National Authority) and the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (UMR 7041, Nanterre), with the financial support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and logistical assistance provided by the French General Consulate in Jerusalem. Under the joint direction of P. de Miroschedji (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR 7041) and M. Sadeq (Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Department of Antiquities of Gaza), several soundings were conducted at the site. In 2000, a large-scale excavation took place, with the financial support of the United Nations Development Program, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the French General Consulate in Jerusalem. The excavations covered three adjacent areas (A–C) and extended over an area of more than 1,400 sq m. The occupation sequence is represented by an archaeological deposit up to 9 m thick comprising two major, culturally distinct phases.
During the first phase of occupation, Tell es-Sakan was an Egyptian settlement. Excavated in area A, the phase is represented by strata 9 to 6 (total thickness 2 to 2.5 m) and is characterized by a material culture almost exclusively Egyptian, dating in Egypt to the Predynastic period (“0” Dynasty, ca. 3300–3100 BCE) and in Canaan to the end of the Early Bronze Age IB. In the second phase of occupation, the site became a Canaanite settlement. Strata 5 to 1 are associated with this phase (total thickness more than 6 m). They are part of the local Canaanite culture of the Early Bronze Age III, and have been partially explored in areas C (stratum C-4) and B (stratum B-1).
THE EGYPTIAN SETTLEMENT
The archaeological assemblage of strata A-9 to A-6 appears to be almost entirely Egyptian. The site of this period, rather large and fortified, had clearly been founded by the Egyptians. Three successive defensive walls have been identified. The first (wall A1), about 1.50 m thick and preserved to a similar height, was of an outer defensive structure, tower or bastion. Its thickness was more than doubled with the addition of wall A2, about 2 m thick, to its outer face. These fortifications were later completely leveled and a new rampart (wall B), 3.80 m thick and at least 8 m high, was erected some 3 m in front of the first one. An earthen glacis protected the base of the outside of the wall, and an outer defensive structure of uncertain nature, a tower or bastion, was also constructed; it was entered via a 1 m-wide postern. These fortifications are the oldest Egyptian fortifications presently known from excavations. Although fortified sites are known to have existed in Egypt at the same time, they are attested only by representations of crenellated walls on palettes and cylinder-seal imprints.
Little is known of the settlement protected by these ramparts. There are remains of dwellings and installations, such as hearths, kilns, and a silo; these are of interest because they illustrate building techniques that are foreign to Canaan but typical of contemporary Egypt. The archaeological material associated with these structures is typical of Egypt during the late fourth millennium BCE. The pottery, in particular, is 90 to 95 percent Egyptian, with only 5 to 10 percent consisting of local Canaanite pottery. About one third of the Egyptian pottery was imported from Egypt, the remainder being locally made using Egyptian manufacturing techniques and morphological types. Evidence for Egyptian administrative practices was also recovered, in the form of archaic serekhs incised on wine jars, clay sealings bearing cylinder-seal imprints, and a fragment of a small perforated bone plaque that is perhaps a label. Also noteworthy are figurines, large and heavy stone objects (vessels, querns) imported from Egypt, and typical Egyptian flint tools.
Being the only fortified site in this area, Tell es-Sakan seems to have been the main settlement of the Egyptian colonial domain in Canaan, from which the Egyptians administered their other trading outposts established in the region. The abundance of wine jars suggests that wine—one of the primary products of the Gaza area and of southwestern Canaan in general—was the main export to Egypt.
THE CANAANITE SETTLEMENT
Tell es-Sakan seems to have been abandoned around 3000 BCE or slightly later, probably at the same time as the abandonment of all the other Egyptian outposts of southwestern Canaan. The excavations suggest that the site remained abandoned for several centuries, since its reoccupation (stratum A-5) does not seem to have occurred earlier than the Early Bronze Age III, around 2600 BCE. Powerful new fortifications were then erected. They consist of a strong mud-brick city wall (wall C), 7.80 m thick and preserved to a height of 4.60 m, erected on the ruins of wall B. It has an outer glacis of mud bricks about 4 m high and 10 m wide. These impressive fortifications are typically Canaanite and comparable to those of several Early Bronze Age II–III sites.
The remains of the urban settlement protected by this rampart have been found in the excavations of areas C and B. In area C, part of an Early Bronze Age III dwelling quarter was brought to light, with a series of mud-brick houses tightly agglutinated. Most of the rooms have inner benches against one, two, or three walls; and domestic installations such as hearths, bins, and small partition walls are frequent. In area B, located between areas A and C, the excavations uncovered the latest building level, stratum B-1, located immediately beneath the top soil and dated to the end of the Early Bronze Age III (c. 2300 BCE). A street was cleared in this area, zigzagging between two rows of dwellings built of mud bricks and consisting of rooms and courtyards. The archaeological material discovered in these two excavation areas is composed of pottery, domestic tools, and personal ornaments, revealing the material culture of this frontier area of Canaan. It betrays both a strong local particularism and close ties with the sites of inner Canaan.
After stratum B-1, Tell es-Sakan was abandoned, as were all the other settlements west of the Jordan River. During the next period, the Early Bronze Age IV or Intermediate Bronze Age, the area of Tell es-Sakan was inhabited by pastoral nomads who established their necropolis close to the site. At the beginning of the second millennium BCE, they founded a new settlement, Tell el-‘Ajjul, some 500 m to the south of Tell es-Sakan.
PIERRE DE MIROSCHEDJI, MOAIN SADEQ
Located on the northern bank of