Despite the worrisome political situation in Israel—which led to the cancellation or the scaling back of many digs—the Tell es-Safi excavation proceeded as planned this past summer. We made major progress archaeologically, but perhaps even more gratifying was the fact that, despite the violence, we were able once again to attract participants from all over the world.

In our primary field of excavation, area A, on the northeastern side of the tell, we continued to expose the rich late ninth/early eighth century B.C.E. destruction level. Finds included a beautifully decorated chalice with an unusual decoration painted on after firing. We also found fragments of a vessel with applied figures that may have been used for cultic purposes.

One of our major aims this season was to define the levels immediately preceding this late ninth/early eighth-century B.C.E. destruction. We uncovered several strata below the destruction level, including at least one level that dates, based on its pottery, to the tenth/ninth centuries B.C.E. (early Iron Age IIa). Below this, we uncovered two additional levels apparently dating to the 11th century B.C.E. (late Iron Age I). These lower levels yielded several complete Philistine vessels and ivory objects. These levels may ultimately have an important bearing on the ongoing debate concerning the chronology of the Iron Age.

One of the most interesting finds, although in an unclear stratigraphic context, is a dark green stone pendant, with incisions on both sides. One side is decorated with a scorpion; the other with a fish holding what appears to be a trident in its mouth. Our preliminary comparative analysis dates the pendant to the Iron Age. Some might hastily try to connect the fish decoration with the Philistine god Dagon (fish is dag in Hebrew). But this connection is highly questionable. A more plausible (but far from definite) explanation of the name of this god is that it is related to grain (Semitic dagan).

On the lower slope (our area E), we found ourselves primarily in the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.). A destruction level dates to the end of the period, apparently representing the last stage of Canaanite Gath. Finds included an incised proto-Canaanite inscription, several Egyptian or Egyptian-style seals and a large amount of local and imported pottery.

We also continued our investigation of the siege trench, on the slope east of the tell. On the slope above the trench, we excavated on and within the berm—the manmade heap of dirt and stones piled up when the trench was first constructed. We discovered strata dating to no later than early Iron Age IIa (tenth-ninth centuries B.C.E.). In the bottom of the trench, we found nothing later than Iron Age IIa, so it seems very likely that the trench was cut at that time.

If you’re interested in joining us for the upcoming season (June 23 to July 19, 2002), let us hear from you. Contact:

Aren M. Maeir, Institute of Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900, ISRAEL (; or Carl. S. Ehrlich, Division of Humanities, York University, Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada (

For additional information on the site and related finds, check out the Web pages at: and