The Canaanites built three successive temples on the western side of Lachish, all constructed on the same site in the city’s defensive moat, or fosse. The last of these, Fosse Temple III, had a plan very similar to the temples beneath it.
Oriented on a north/south axis, Fosse Temple III consisted of four rooms: an entrance antechamber on the northern side, a main hall and two southern store rooms. Four pillars supported the roof of the main hall, and mud benches lining its walls provided a place for offerings and seating for priests and worshippers.
A raised platform and altar adjoining the south wall of the main hall formed the cella, the central cultic place of the temple. Two bowl-like depressions formed a hearth in front of the altar. A libation stand, used for liquid offerings, stood to the right of the altar; on the left a large pottery bin held solid offerings.
A British expedition led by J. L. Starkey made the exciting discovery of the Fosse Temple in the 1930s. Photographed after they had cleared much of the temple, Arab workmen dig near the two southern store rooms, far right. A lone Arab workman, left, stands in the main hall of the temple; to his right is the entrance to the antechamber, and behind him the mud benches lining the northern wall. The dot on the plan marks the position of the lone workman in the Fosse Temple.
Preserved by layers of protective silt at the bottom of the fosse, Fosse Temple III yielded a treasure trove of finds to excavators. Although the temple was damaged by a great fire at the end of the 13th century B.C., remains of pottery, glass, faience and scarabs were unearthed here.
A pitcher found broken in a pit outside the temple electrified the excavators. Nicknamed the “Lachish ewer,” the pitcher’s shoulder bears a proto-Canaanite inscription: “Mattan. An offering to my Lady ’Elat.” The ewer and its now-missing contents were a tribute offered to the temple and to the deity ’Elat by a man named Mattan. Proto-Canaanite is the earliest-known form of alphabetic script—a forerunner of the alphabetic script we use today.
Perfume for a lady of rare and expensive tastes probably flowed from the ten-inch-high ivory flask carved in the shape of a woman. A hole pierced through the head allowed the perfume to pour into a spoon shaped like a human hand.
Lachish, like much of Canaan, was probably a part of Egypt’s New Kingdom (c. 1550–1070 B.C.) empire. As a result, artifacts found in Fosse Temple III reflect two very different artistic traditions: Egyptian and Canaanite.
Scarabs and cylinder seals found in the Fosse Temple were probably offerings or tribute. The large scarab, more than three inches in height, lauds Pharaoh Amenhotep III (14th century B.C.) and mentions 102 lions hunted by him in the first ten years of his reign. Used to mark possessions, the hieroglyphic writing on scarabs and cylinder seals appears in reverse. When pressed into wet clay the seals leave a correctly oriented image.
Faience beads and pendants in an Egyptian style were probably a prized part of a Canaanite woman’s jewelry collection. They were discovered unstrung; the arrangement follows the restorer’s sense of design. Faience may have been the result of man’s first conscious effort to produce a synthetic material. Manufacturing details are uncertain now, but it is known that faience consists of a core of quartz grains, covered with a vitreous glaze. Considered especially fine in antiquity, Egyptian faience jewelry and vessels have been found throughout the Mediterranean. Egyptian manufacture of faience began in the fourth millennium B.C.
Almost untouched in the fire that destroyed the last Fosse Temple in the 13th century B.C., these ivories retain much of their beauty and luster. Carved in a Canaanite style, they 027represent various animals and a human head.
Egyptian-style faience vessels and iridescent ancient glassware still look as serviceable as on the day they were manufactured, more than 3,000 years ago.