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Jeremy Beller digging at the site
Photo by Haskel Greenfield

Group shot of Area E excavation team for whom Dr. Haskel Greenfield directed excavations. Group is a mixed team of U of M students, Pennsylvania State Univ., Bar-Ilan Univ., University of Cambridge, and University of Pennsylvania, as well as a volunteers from Boston
Photo by Haskel Greenfield

new philistine altar found at ancient Gath (modern Tel es-Safi) with some of the U of M students (R-L) Trent Cheney, Chris Neufeldt, Jeremy Beller, and Dawson
Photo by Haskel Greenfield

philistine altar
Photo by Haskel Greenfield

U of M Archaeology Student Digs Up Two Horned Altar in Ancient Philistine City in Israel

Dr. Haskel Greenfield and U of M Students are part of international team digging at the site

by Rhonda Spivak, Israel, July 25, 2011

Jeremy Beller, a fourth year student of archaeology at the University of Manitoba, was one of four people from the University of Manitoba to help dig up a 2900 year old two horned altar located in a Temple in the ancient Philistine city of Gat in Israel. The site of Gat is believed to be where the biblical figure Goliath was born. The excavations are directed by Prof. Aren Maier of Bar-Ilan University.
Beller who was on his first field excavation  learned of the archeological dig at the site of Gat [otherwise known as Tel-es- Safi] through Dr. Haskel Greenfield, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba.
Greenfield, who has been working at the site for the last three summers, is the Zooarchaeologist (animal bone specialist) for the Early Bronze Age excavation at the site, in addition to bringing students to the excavation each year. Greenfield told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the altar is the ‘biggest find’ of the year at the site.
“It is very rare to find an altar such as this in its original location, where it would have been used. It is not yet certain whether it is in a temple or within a large residential complex. Next year`s excavation may help solve this riddle. The two horned altar was probably used for incense, oils and small burnt offerings. There were probably temples with altars such as this at several locations in the ancient Philistine city," Greenfield added.
Beller said that the two horned altar was found in an area of the lower city of Tel-es-Safi (Gat) that was being excavated by Amit Dagan from Bar-Ilan University. The altar was found when “one of Dagan`s diggers struck with his pick axe and hit one of the altar’s horns about six inches from the top soil".
“There was a clunk and the dirt was cleared away slowly exposing the horn and the top of the altar. By the end of the day, the entire excavation team had rushed up to see this spectacular find. Dagan invited many of us to help. It was very exciting and a real rush to be able to help dig it up,” the twenty three year old Beller told the Winnipeg Jewish Review.
Beller described the 9th century altar as  being “made of stone, decorated on two sides, and about four and a half feet high” with a cornice in the middle. He said he “worked on removing the earth around the altar for two days.”
Beller, who has been living with the rest of the excavation team at nearby Kibbutz Revadim while participating in the dig, added that " Eric Welsh, an American who was the Area E Supervisor of the site, asked me to give him a hand,” to dig around the altar. “We worked very carefully not to damage the altar or remove any of its information.”
The altar is reminiscent of Jewish altar`s from the same period and sheds light on the cultural links between the two peoples [Jews and Philistines] who fought each other for centuries. Its form is reminiscent of the descriptions of the Jewish altars in the scriptures, with the most noticeable difference being that the altar in the Temple was described as having four horns, while the Gat altar has only two.
Greenfield, and his six University of Manitoba students, are part of a 115 member team of archaeologists and volunteers who have been working at the site. The 115 member team is made up of contingencies from Israel, U.S., U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Korea and Canada.
Beller says he definitely intends to return to work on digging at the site next summer. "Count me in." He said that Gat, where the dig has been going on for the last 14 years, is “a textbook site”.
Chris Neufeldt, a University of Manitoba graduate archaeology student who received a prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for his Masters Program, said his task was to “prepare a digital model of the site,” and that he also definitely wanted to return to the dig next year. Neufeldt says that “I also want to begin learning Hebrew.” He is hopeful that his wife, who is also an archaeologist, will return to the site next year and they will bring their son.
Neufeldt said that his "favourite find" was "an extremely sharp serrated flint blade" about 4500 years old [from the Early Bronze age]. "Making a serrated edge from stone is very difficult." Greenfield explained that the discovery of many stone tools in the Early Bronze Age layers "means that in the Bronze Age, people were still using stone tools. Only the wealthy people at the time could afford metal tools."
Dawson Ives, age 42, another member of Greenfield's team on the dig said that his best find was “a flint arrowhead” some 2500 years old used for killing animals or people.
Trent Cheney, a 39 year old student who has worked at the site for the last four years, said he "loves it" and intends to return next summer, as well. His “favourite find" was an Egyptian amulet found by a female U of M student, Kaela Kowalke, on the dig.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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