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Haskel Greenfield at the site


By Dr. Haskel Greenfield, Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Manitoba

I am organizing a Field School in Archaeology this upcoming summer in Israel. Our team will be joining the excavations at Tell es-Safi (Tel Safit) in central Israel, near Kibbutz Revadim.

The site is famous because it is now considered to be the Biblical site of Gath, which is one of the major Philistine cities that are described in the Book of Samuel and the Book of Kings. This is the hometown of Goliath who was champion of the Philistine army that the biblical King David killed with his slingshot.

The excavations are being lead by Aren Maeir, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Bar-Ilan in Ramat Gan, Israel.  Any university students who would like to excavate at the site and receive university credit are welcome to apply to join the team. The field school could also be of special interest to university students and recent graduates from high schools who are university-bound who can use it for advance university course credit. Students who want to dig at the site can get university credit. Students will receive 3 or 6 credit hours for two or four weeks of work.  The program  includes lectures from renowned specialists in archaeology, biblical history, scientific dating techniques, ceramics, bones, etc. Each week, there will be guided field trips to other excavations. The field school would start on July 4th. The University of Manitoba team will be joining teams from Australia, Britain, Germany, USA and other countries that are sending similar contingents. Generally, there will be about 100 students and specialists on the project. 5000 year old ass
The skeleton of a 5000 year
old ass found at the site.


The archeological mound
The archeological mound
Tell es-Safi is located 13 km to the northeast of Kiryat Gat, a town near Israel’s southern coast. In the early 20th century, the biblical Gath was originally identified as a mound near the modern Israeli town of Kiryat Gat. However, that was an error that was only recognized by archaeologists about 20 years ago. Kiryat Gat was established in 1955. It was given its name because it was thought at the time that the mound next door was ancient Gath. There’s a joke amongst archaeologists working in the region that Kiryat Gat needs to be renamed Kiryat Not-Gat.

The Philistines were only one of many people who lived at the site, which was first occupied 5000-6000 years ago. It became one of the urban centers of the region by 4700 years ago, which is the time period that my team is studying– the Early Bronze Age. This part of the city is on a lobe of the city that sticks out beyond the rest of the site and is being exposed through excavation. Its importance is that it provides insight into the nature of the earliest urbanism in the region. The excavations have exposed an entire neighbourhood, which will be studied more intensively this season.

With interruptions, the site was occupied during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of the biblical Patriarch’s by the Canaanites, and during the Late Bronze Age when it was occupied by the Canaanites who were part of the Egyptian empire. After that, the Philistines lived there and left the remains of a very large city which is slowly being exposed in various parts of the site. The Philistines arrived in Gath about 3200 years ago from what is now modern Turkey and Greece. They conquered the area, displaced the Canaanites, and pushed the Egyptians back into Egypt. Gath was only one of several Philistine cities that they settled up and down the coastal plain of Israel.

In Crusader times, a castle was built on the summit since the entire landscape from Ashkelon to Rehovot and inland almost to Bethlehem were visible. The ancient city of Gath has a strategic location at the foothills. It controls the coastal highway and the roads into the mountains. From the site, you can see to Ashdod and the route to Bethlehem is nearby. Today, it is an Israeli National Park. The Arab villagers were given alternate nearby land with perpetual grazing rights. They are quite well off today.

I am the project zooarchaeologist, a specialist in the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. I began  work at the site in 2008 and have an ongoing commitment for several more years. The dig is unique because so much evidence of people’s daily life and activities has been uncovered and are being analyzed by a team of specialists from around the world. There are streets with houses with many levels of debris documenting the changes in the way that the houses were used over time. They include people’s personal effects, remains of food, and other items that allow the behaviour of the inhabitants to be reconstructed. Also, the remains of the animals that they relied upon are also being uncovered.
Aren Maeir
Israeli archeologist Aren Maeir


Round table-like structure

Round table-like structure in the middle of
a courtyard from an Early Bronze Age
house that is being excavated at the site
In 2008, we uncovered the complete skeleton of a domesticated ass, approximately 4500 years old, in the fill of an Early Bronze III house. It is very unusual to find a complete intact skeleton and tells us that people were transporting goods by asses long before camels were domesticated.  During earlier periods, oxen would have been the only beasts of burden. They have found not only the remains of households, but also a variety of industrial workshops for olive oil making, weaving, and bone tool production.  I anticipate that I could dig at the site with my wife Tina (a Research Associate at the University of Manitoba)  for the next 10 years.

There will be a cost for people who want to join the field school at Tell es- Safi, including registration for the course and room and board. Accommodations will be at the nearby kibbutz of Revadim, which serves kosher food. If the dig piques your interest,  please get in touch with  me at
[email protected]
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