Courtesy Joint Expedition to Shechem/Photo: William G. Dever

Puzzling pits. Found in great numbers at almost every Israelite, Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.) settlement site, these underground installations—now filled with soil—have provoked decades of controversy regarding their purpose. The drawing shows the location in the photo of a filled, long-necked, bottle-shaped pit at Shechem that has been sliced vertically to reveal its shape. As the meter stick to the left of the pit indicates, this pit is more narrow than the 10-foot width of the largest pits, which were big enough even to have imprisoned Joseph when his brothers threw him into a pit at Dothan (Genesis 37:21–24). Recent experiments with artificial pits, described in the accompanying article, support a likely solution to the mystery of the pits’ primary purpose.