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Prof. Aren Maeir and Prof. Haskel Greenfield



by Rhonda J. Prepes, May 27, 2013

Since 1997, a team of archaeologists and scientists, led by Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University have unearthed impressive finds at Tel es-Safi/Gath, a large multi-period site with extensive remains from the Canaanite and Philistine culture. It is one of the largest pre-classical period sites in the coastal region of the eastern Mediterranean. Situated approximately halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, Tel es-Safi/Gath is the biblical home town of Goliath.

“Since the site has been occupied continuously from the Chalcolithic period (5th mill. B.C.E.) until 1948 C.E, there are different periods and cultures in various parts of the site. With several excavations going simultaneously, we get a nice cross-section of the history and culture over a millennium. It is a veritable mine of archaeological evidence from all periods,” said Maeir.

“Some noteworthy discoveries over the last 15years have included an impressive man-made siege system built around the site in about 830 B.C.E. when the Armeans captured the city and destroyed it.”

“Another find of extreme importance was a level that was completely devastated in a fiery destruction in the 9th century B.C.E. We discovered houses that collapsed during the destruction, sealing within them all their original contents. This includes a rich assortment of well-preserved finds, such as, several hundred pottery vessels, ivory decorations and metal weapons,” said Maeir who was born in Rochester NY and immigrated to Israel in 1969.

“We also found the earliest Philistine inscription known to date from the Iron Age. This inscription mentions two names that are somewhat reminiscent of the original form of the name Goliath. The inscription dates to about 950 B.C.E., approximately the same period as the battle of David and Goliath according biblical chronology.”

The most fantastic find in recent years was in 2011, when a 2,900 year old two-horned Philistine altar probably used for incense, oils and small burnt offerings, was uncovered.

In the spring of 2012, Prof. Maeir and co-director Prof. Haskel Greenfield of the University of Manitoba and project zooarchaeologist, specialist in the study of animal remains from archaeological sites, received a $2.7 M Partnerships Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to expand the Bronze Age excavation area.

As well, Bar-Ilan University in Israel and the University of Manitoba have promised additional funding, bringing the total to over $4.0 M, possibly the single largest grant for excavation in Israel that has ever been awarded.

“To conduct good archaeology now you need funding that is more comparable to what the hard sciences like medicine get. This large scale seven-year funding from SSHRC opens up windows to more comprehensive data collection and analyses,” said Maeir who has a Ph.D. in Archaeology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1997).

“Along with your everyday archaeologists and anthropologists, we have a panoply of archaeological scientists working on-site that includes physicists who do carbon-14 dating, chemists who do materials analysis, botanists who study ancient plant remains, zoologists who study the ancient animal diet, geomorphologists who study the  land formation, etc.”

“The avenues of research are expanding so fast and so broadly. What I find most fascinating is pulling all the information together to make a coherent and colorful picture of what went on in the past.”

Prof. Haskel Greenfield is organizing a Field School in Archaeology for the University of Manitoba this upcoming summer in Israel as part of the excavations at the famous archaeological site of Tell es-Safi /Gath in central Israel, near Kibbutz Revadim. It is the hometown of Goliath of the Philistines. University students who would like to learn about the history and archaeology of ancient Israel and Canaan, have the opportunity 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 recent graduates from high school who are university-bound, since they can use it to obtain advance university course credit. Students will receive 3 or 6 credit hours for two or four weeks of work and learning at the site.  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. This year, the field school will begin on June 30. The University of Manitoba team will be joined by teams from Israel, Australia, Britain, Germany, USA and other countries that are sending similar contingents. Generally, there are about 100 students and professionals on the project. Volunteers are also welcome to join the excavation.
There will be a cost for those who want to join the field school at Tell es- Safi, including registration for the course and room and board. Accommodations will be provided at the nearby kibbutz of Revadim, which serves kosher food. If you are interested, please contact Prof. Haskel Greenfield at
[email protected]. The following websites have further information:

Tell es-Safi/Gath -
NEBAL Facebook -


This was first published in the Jewish Tribune

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