The ancient mound of Hazor has played a central role in the life of Amnon Ben-Tor. As a student, he worked there on his first dig. That was in 1957. Eleven years later he returned to Hazor, this time as a supervisor, working closely with dig director Yigael Yadin, Israel’s foremost archaeologist. While he was a supervisor, Ben-Tor, as he put it, “found” his wife, who at that time was a student on the dig. (She is now the curator of the Egyptian collection at the Israel Museum and the mother of their two daughters.)

When Yigael Yadin died in 1984, the last volume of the final report of the Hazor expedition had not yet been written. Ben-Tor was selected to head the team that would complete it. The last volume is now in press.

Recently, Ben-Tor was installed as the Yigael Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. And he is going back to Hazor. Next summer Ben-Tor will lead a new archaeological expedition to Hazor.

I asked him why he was going back. Hadn’t it already been excavated?

Yadin himself had plans to go back to Hazor, Ben-Tor explained. Yadin believed there was an archive of cuneiform tablets buried somewhere in the mound. I asked Ben-Tor if he agreed with Yadin’s speculation.

“A hundred percent,” he replied. “It’s there. I know it’s there.”

Ben-Tor explained that cuneiform archives had been discovered all around Israel—in Syria, Egypt, Iraq—but not in Israel—not yet! The archives have been found in capital cities. Hazor was a capital city. They were found in temples or palaces. Hazor has a palace. The temples and palaces dated to sometime in the second millennium B.C.E.a Hazor’s palace dates to the second millennium B.C.E.

Only a corner of the Hazor palace was excavated by Yadin’s expedition, however. It will take the new expedition five or six seasons to get down to it. “It’s going to be an enormous building,” says Ben-Tor. The walls of the exposed corner are over 6 feet thick.

How well is the building preserved? “If the entire building is preserved as well as the corner, I’ll be very happy,” he responded.

Three cuneiform tablets have already been found at Hazor—lying around on the surface or in debris. One of the documents is a kind of legal document, signed in the presence of the king of Hazor, so “there’s no question that there was a scribe at Hazor.”

“There has to be an archive.” Ben-Tor’s eyes light up. “It has to be in Area A. That’s where we’re going to excavate.”

Hazor is also a key site in understanding the Israelite conquest of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua. According to the Bible, Hazor was the only one of the northern cities to be burned and destroyed. Despite the earlier excavations, scholars still argue whether the destruction of Hazor occurred in the early or late part of the 13th century B.C.E. These 60 or 70 years could make a big difference to our understanding of the Israelite emergence in Canaan, Ben-Tor claims. “In these strata we’ll excavate with a toothbrush,” he says. “Very, very slowly; very, very carefully. It’s not just a question of quantity here; it’s quality.”

Scholars can’t even agree on whether the city that was destroyed was surrounded by a defensive wall. At first Yadin thought it was; others thought that the wall had been destroyed earlier, leaving the city essentially undefended at the end. According to Ben-Tor, Yadin’s notes reveal that Yadin himself was not so sure as he seemed to have been at first.

Ben-Tor encountered a host of other questions in supervising and writing the last volume of the final report. “It was a tremendous job,” he admits. “But it wasn’t entirely a revelation to find out how many problems there still are. We knew it all the time.”

Today, a great deal more is known that will help the archaeologists as they excavate. Although the digging itself will proceed by old-fashioned methods—with picks and patishes—there is today a tremendous increase in archaeologists’ ability to extract data from a variety of sources—from animal bones and botanical remains to chemical tests on pottery.

At the rate Yadin dug, it would take 700 years to excavate all of Hazor, and one of Yadin’s seasons would take eight seasons today. “We don’t have 700 years,” lamented Ben-Tor. “We have maybe seven years to do it in. But we’re looking forward to it.”