In the 17th century B.C.E., Tel Kabri was the center of a prospering kingdom. Located in the western Galilee only 4 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, it was the seat of strong and proud Canaanite rulers. The city was large, almost 10 acres, and was defended by massive earthen ramparts more than 60 feet thick. The ruling family resided in a palace that was a huge labyrinth of rooms and courts, rising at least two stories high, with massive walls up to 12 feet thick, covered with a coat of white plaster.

At the center of the palace was a great hall roofed with cedar logs. The floor was decorated with an elaborately painted fresco, divided into checkered designs of white and yellow squares, with some crocus and iris flowers. Commissioned by Kabri’s ruler, it had been painted by Minoan artisans from faraway Crete. Those artisans had also painted a miniature fresco on the walls of the great hall, showing a city, with sea and boats, similar to scenes depicted by their fellow artisans at the site of ancient Aknotiri on the Aegean island of Santorini. These were a source of great pride to the local ruler, as very few other monarchs could afford such artisans.

The hall was used for festive receptions, hosting nobility and envoys from afar. The ruler’s throne was in the adjoining hall, which had a shiny white plaster floor. The private apartments were on the second floor. In one of them stood a loom with many weights, used for weaving luxurious clothes.

After outliving four generations of rulers or more, the aging but still grand palace came to a sudden end, destroyed in a single day during the 17th centruy B.C.E. Fire broke out in several places, burning the surrounding mud bricks bright red. The second floor collapsed onto the first, sealing the contents of each room: storage jars, luxurious imported pottery, loom weights, spindle whorls. The ruling family, if it survived, would never return.

The destruction was total. Not even the name of the site was preserved. The mysteries of the palace and the identity of its builders lay buried in the ground, as well as the reasons for its destruction. Was it caused by the hand of an enemy, a shattering earthquake or simply an errant ember from the palatial hearth? Why was the palace never rebuilt or the site refortified?

Kabri kept its secrets patiently for 36 centuries, until excavations began in the late 1980s. Those excavations had to be discontinued due to the death of one of the dig directors, but with our renewed dig we hope to unravel Kabri’s mysteries.—A.Y-L. and E.H.C.