Do not leave the path


February 2014

Lachish—Key to the Israelite Conquest of Canaan?


It is now more than seven years since my first report to BAR readers on the excavation at Biblical Lachish (“Answers at Lachish,”BAR 05:06). At that time, I primarily discussed Iron Age Lachish, the Lachish of the Judean monarchy. Judean Lachish was twice conquered and destroyed. Lachish Level III was conquered and destroyed in 701 B.C. by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib. Lachish was rebuilt (Level II) and then conquered again and destroyed again in 588/6 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian, as is known from the Bible (see Jeremiah 34:7) as well as from the excavations and from the famous Lachish letters found in the city gate.a
Now we have dug deeper. We have reached the levels of the Canaanite city and of Joshua’s time and earlier.
My previous article was titled “Answers at Lachish” and I was tempted to call this article “Answers at Lachish II,” because we have found many answers in our excavations of Late Bronze Age Lachish. But the fact is that this time some of our answers, especially our historical reconstructions, are less sure. Many questions remain. We are in a period where history is less certain and scholars themselves are often in disagreement about major points. But it is also a period when archaeological evidence is especially important and abundant, providing new evidence, almost daily, about this shadowy period of Israel’s origins.
Lachish is one of the key sites in the Bible’s account of the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Today it is one of the largest (30 acres) and most significant mounds of the Biblical period in the entire land of Israel. Ample water supply from deep wells, sufficient land for cultlvation and a location in the low hill country along the main route from the coastal plain to the Hebron hills all contributed to the prosperity and special importance of the city.
According to the Biblical account, Joshua conquered and destroyed first Jericho and Ai, and then made a treaty with Gibeon by which the Gibeonites agreed to serve Israel. In response, five Canaanite kings, including Japhia, the king of Lachish, formed an anti-Israelite alliance. This alliance of five Canaanite kings met the armies of Joshua on the field of battle in the Valley of Aijalon. With God’s help, Joshua roundly defeated the five kings. It was then that “the sun stood still” to allow Israel time to finish the attack. In the presence of his people, Joshua addressed the Lord:
“… Thus the sun halted in midheaven, and did not press on to set, for a whole day; for the Lord fought for Israel. Neither before nor since has there ever been such a day, when the Lord acted on words spoken by a man” (Joshua 10:12–14).
Following swiftly on this victory, Joshua proceeded to attack Makkedah, then Libnah, and then Lachish:
“From Libnah, Joshua proceeded with all Israel to Lachish; he encamped against it and attacked it. The Lord delivered Lachish into the hands of Israel. They captured it on the second day and put it and all the people in it to the sword, just as they had done to Libnah” (Joshua 10:31–32).
Lachish thus played a significant role in the Biblical story of the Israelite conquest; and it is clear that it was one of the most prominent cities in Canaan at the time. For the archaeological excavations at Lachish, three principal questions present themselves: First, what was the character and appearance of the Canaanite city that stood here at the time of the Israelite occupation? Second, can the archaeological data uncovered in the excavations shed any light on the Biblical story of the conquest and destruction of Lachish by the Israelite tribes? And third, does the archaeological evidence help us to understand the wider problems associated with the complex history of Canaan at that time, especially regarding the interrelationship between the Canaanites, the Philistines and the Israelites.
We believe that our excavations, and the excavations that preceded ours, provide significant, if sometimes tentative, answers to these questions.
Tel Lachish—which is almost certainly the site of ancient Lachish—was partially excavated long before we entered the field in 1973. Between 1932 and 1938, James L. Starkey led a large-scale British expedition that ended abruptly when Starkey was murdered by Arab bandits while traveling from Lachish to Jerusalem for the dedication of the Palestine Archaeological Museum.b
Starkey was a meticulous planner and had formulated a program of excavation that was to have extended over many years. Due to his tragic death, this program was brought to a sudden end and was never completed, although his distinguished assistant Olga Tufnell worked for 20 years on the data and finds, in the end producing an exemplary report covering the excavations that Starkey had completed.
Significantly, most of Starkey’s excavations were not on the tel itself. In the years he dug, Starkey concentrated his principal efforts elsewhere. He excavated many of the graveyards in the vicinity of the tel and he cleared a slope on the northwest corner of the tel to serve as a dump for excavations planned on the mound itself. While doing this work, he hit upon the massive fortifications built in the 17th century B.C., during the later part of the Middle Bronze Age (20th to 16th centuries B.C.). These massive fortifications extended down the entire slope of the tel ending, at the bottom, in an artificial fosse or dry moat. Here Starkey made one of his most important discoveries. In this moat or fosse, Starkey uncovered a Canaanite temple—known as the Fosse Temple—constructed at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (16th century B.C.), built when the earlier fortifications apparently went out of use.
In addition, Starkey did limited work on the tel itself. He cleared some important remains down to the Persian period (sixth to fourth centuries B.C.) and Judean period (tenth to sixth centuries B.C.). He also cut a sectional trench in the northeast corner of the mound down to earlier levels, finally reaching bedrock. From all these excavations, he was able to identify six occupational levels or strata, from I to VI, beginning at the top. We have been able to confirm his strata and have continued using the same numbering system to identify these levels.
The sixth stratum (Level VI), he correctly identified as the last Canaanite city. It was destroyed by a violent fire. Our excavations, however, have uncovered an earlier Canaanite city—Level VII—that Starkey never clearly identified. This newly discovered Canaanite city requires some drastic revisions in Starkey’s archaeological conclusions.
Our excavations, sponsored by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Exploration Society, reached Late Bronze Age levels in three principal excavation areas: in a large sectional trench in our Area S; on the acropolis of the mound; and, surprisingly, in the area of the Judean entry gate complex.
Our main excavation area (Area S) is a large, narrow sectional trench at the western part of the tel. The use of such a trench was pioneered by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in her famous sectional trench at the tell of Biblical Jericho. By digging one ancient level after another in such a trench, the archaeologist obtains a sectional or vertical view of all the levels accumulated on the mound, right down to bedrock. This is what we did at Lachish. The work on this trench was supervised by Gabriel Barkay, who is familiar to BAR readers (“The Garden Tomb—Was Jesus Buried Here?” BAR 12:02).
In excavating this trench we first dug through a layer of Hellenistic and Persian remains, then the layer of the city destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 588/6 B.C. (Level II), then the layer destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. (Level III), then through several other layers of earlier Israelite occupation, preceded by a period when the site was abandoned. Finally, we got down to Level VI, the Canaanite city destroyed by a terrible fire.
Between 1981 and 1983, we removed the remains of Level VI. Penetrating still deeper we uncovered another, earlier Canaanite level that had also been destroyed by fire. We designated this earlier Canaanite city Level VII.1 During 1984 we carefully studied and analyzed the pottery recovered from these two Canaanite cities. One of the most significant results of this study was that we were forced to conclude that Starkey (and his assistant Tufnell) had attributed the last phase of the famous Fosse Temple, which I mentioned earlier, to the wrong city.
The reader will recall that Starkey found a Late Bronze Age Canaanite temple at the base of the mound built inside the fosse or dry moat which had been part of Lachish’s massive defense system built in the 17th century B.C., during the Middle Bronze Age. This Fosse Temple actually consisted of three superimposed, successive temples, known as Fosse Temple I, II and III. These temples were in use throughout the Late Bronze Age. The latest one, Fosse Temple III, was destroyed in a violent fire. Starkey assumed that Fosse Temple III was contemporaneous with the last Canaanite city (Level VI) since both the temple and the Level VI remains he uncovered on the tel had been destroyed by fire and no Canaanite remains were uncovered above either the destruction debris of Level VI or above the last Fosse Temple that had also been destroyed by fire. When we compared the pottery from Level VII to the pottery from the Fosse Temple destroyed by fire, it became apparent that the latest Fosse Temple, i.e., Fosse Temple III, was contemporaneous with the Level VII Canaanite city, not Level VI.2 We have to stress the archaeological and historical importance of this observation. Since its discovery 50 years ago, the rich Fosse Temple has become a key site for understanding Canaanite Lachish and the Late Bronze Age in Palestine in general. Thus, a change in the stratigraphical position of Fosse Temple III has widespread repercussions. Thus, if the Israelite armies destroyed the last Canaanite city (Level VI)—a subject we shall return to—they did not destroy the Fosse Temple, for that had already been destroyed at the end of the earlier Canaanite city, the city of Level VII.
Now that we have distinguished in well-stratified contexts between the two distinct Canaanite cities that existed one after another at Lachish, we have an excellent starting point for the detailed study of Late Bronze Age Lachish.
In our long, narrow sectional trench, we uncovered in Level III part of a large domestic building. Because the trench is quite narrow (27 feet wide), only part of the building was uncovered; it extends beyond the excavation area both to the north and to the south. The walls were built of mudbricks on a stone foundation. An open court was apparently paved with stones. The recovery of a large number of pottery vessels sealed beneath the destruction debris proved extremely important for dating purposes.
The latest Fosse Temple (Fosse Temple III) was contemporaneous with this domestic building. The temple, which also reflects Canaanite life in the Level VII city, was extremely well preserved because of its location at the bottom of the tel. It was protected over the millennia by a thick layer of debris eroded from the slope above. The ground plan of the last Fosse Temple was similar to that of the two Fosse Temples below it. The building consisted of a main hall, an antechamber in front of it and two smaller rooms at the back. The main hall was about 30 feet square. Four columns in the center supported the roof. Benches for priests or supplicants lined the walls.
The building was entered from the north. On the southern wall of the main hall was a raised platform and altar. Behind and above the platform a large niche was cut into the back wall of the hall forming the cellac of the temple.
This Fosse Temple yielded a variety of rich finds, sealed by the debris. Additional artifacts were found in pits outside the temple. The finds in this area included not only a large number of pottery vessels, mainly small bowls in which tributes or offerings were presented, but also scarabs, cylinder seals, beads, faience vessels and a large number of ivory objects.
After the fiery destruction of Level VII (probably at the end of the 13th century B.C.), the city was soon rebuilt (Level VI). But the Fosse Temple remained in ruins, never again to be raised. Apparently, it was replaced during the Level VI period, as we shall see, by a new temple on the acropolis of the mound.
The similarity of the pottery in Level VII and Level VI, as well as other cultural affinities, indicates that only a short period of time elapsed between the destruction of the earlier Canaanite city and the building of the last Canaanite city. Nevertheless, the layout of the city changed markedly, as did individual buildings. For example, the domestic building of Level VII partially uncovered in our sectional trench was replaced by a monumental public building. As I have already noted, the site of the Fosse Temple was abandoned and another temple was constructed on the acropolis of the city. The newly built temple probably replaced the earlier Fosse Temple as the central sanctuary of Lachish.
Strangely, it appears that neither of the two Canaanite cities (Level VII or Level VI) from Late Bronze Age Lachish was protected by a city wall or other fortifications such as existed in the Middle Bronze Age. The Fosse Temple was constructed in the fosse itself which had formed an integral part of the city fortifications during the Middle Bronze Age. This is a clear indication that these fortifications were no longer in use during the Late Bronze Age. Moreover, the buildings from Levels VII and VI we found in our sectional trench and the building from Level VI uncovered by Starkey in his sectional trench were all located on the periphery of the top of the tel, just where we would expect a city wall, if there had been one. There was no city wall around the edge of the city. It is quite possible that the buildings located around the periphery of the city were joined to one another, thus forming a closed ring of houses surrounding the city and protecting it from attack, but that is all. I shall later suggest why such minimal defensive measures apparently sufficed at Lachish during the Late Bronze Age.
Like the domestic building from Level VII that we uncovered in our sectional trench, the public building that replaced it in Level VI was only partially excavated by us because it too extended beyond the limits of our trench. For that reason, we have not been able to determine the complete ground plan of the building, but it included an open courtyard on the eastern side and two central halls between 45 and 55 feet long and 12 feet wide. One of these halls, which we call the pillared hall, had a row of five or six column bases extending along the central axis of the room. These column bases were embedded in the floor and consist of large flattish stones on which wooden columns probably stood. Like the earlier building, the walls were built of mudbricks on stone foundations, but these foundations are very thick, an indication that the edifice rose to a considerable height and may well have had a second story.
We were able to detect three different phases in the building’s history. While it originally must have served some public function in the Canaanite city, in its final phase it was used, like its predecessor in Level VII, solely for domestic purposes. Probably, at the end, refugees took shelter here and left their domestic pottery as evidence of their occupation. The finds in the building were all sealed by the destruction debris. Some of the more elegant finds must belong to the earlier phases of the building. These earlier artifacts reflect great prosperity and strong Egyptian influence. They include a unique scarab portraying a Pharaoh hunting, a piece of gold jewelry, an object covered with gold foil and two carved ivories. The domestic pottery, on the other hand, probably belonged to the people who settled in the building during its final phase, just before its fiery destruction.
Before discussing who might have been responsible for this destruction, let us look at the temple on the top of the mound.d This is the temple that may have replaced the Fosse Temple destroyed at the end of Level VII and not rebuilt. The Level VI temple built on the acropolis was located right in the center of the mound. We uncovered it beneath the foundations of the later edifice known as the Judean palace-fort. This temple was probably part of the palace complex of the Canaanite kings of Lachish, just as the temple built hundreds of years later on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount was part of the palace complex of King Solomon.
The Lachish temple on the acropolis of the mound must have been one of the finest and most luxurious buildings of Canaanite Lachish, but unfortunately it has been badly preserved. Robbed and then destroyed during the final destruction of the Level VI city, this Canaanite temple suffered further damage during the period of the Judean kingdom. At that time, stones from the Canaanite temple and the debris covering it were removed and used in the construction of the later Judean palace-fort. Nonetheless, enough remained to enable us, in a painstaking dig that lasted a number of years, to reconstruct this magnificent shrine and to obtain a reasonable idea of its character.
We also dug farther down, beneath the temple, to see whether it replaced an earlier temple from Level VII; in other words, we wanted to know whether there were two or more superimposed temples here, as was the case with the Fosse Temple. Unfortunately, the issue remains undecided. The walls of the Level VI temple did follow the lines of an earlier structure, but we found no clear evidence that the earlier structure was also a temple.
The Level VI temple was oriented from west to east, and consisted principally of three parts, an antechamber, a main hall and a cella. An annex of several rooms was attached to the north side of the main hall; a similar annex may have existed on the south side but this is now covered by the later Judean palace-fort, so it is difficult to tell. The walls of the Canaanite temple were built of mudbricks on stone foundations. The entrance was from the west. A stone staircase must have led from the antechamber to the main hall because the floor of the main hall is about four feet higher than the antechamber floor.
The main hall is nearly rectangular and measures about 49 feet by 40 feet—quite large, especially in ancient times. The floor is made of well-laid mudbricks. Two large, round limestone column bases, standing in the center of the hall, supported columns that in turn supported the roof. The column bases still exist but the columns themselves are gone. However, they were probably stone columns in the Egyptian style, crowned by flower-styled capitals. The roof was spanned by long wooden beams laid parallel to one another across the main hall and supported by the central columns. The charred remains of these roof beams were found lying on the floor. We analyzed them and they turned out to be cedar of Lebanon, the famous and expensive wood imported from the hills of Lebanon that was also used in Solomon’s Temple much later. In the eastern part of the main hall, we found numerous fragments of painted plaster that once decorated the walls of the Canaanite temple and were perhaps used on the wooden ceiling as well. Many of these fragments were found adhered to each other. Separating and preserving them proved to be difficult. The fragments are in many colors—black, white, red, yellow and, especially, a beautiful light blue. Some fragments show traces of pattern, but not enough to describe.
The entrance from the main hall of the temple to the northern annex was lavishly decorated with beams of cedar of Lebanon. Two round wooden posts, each about five inches in diameter, flanked the doorway. At the northeastern corner of the main hall was a small storeroom that contained many pottery vessels. A plastered installation about four feet high in the southeast corner of the main hall was probably used to hold water.
Three round chalke column bases were arrayed along the eastern wall of the main hall. Each of the three bases was attached to the wall by a plastered brick pilaster or pier. These column bases originally carried tapering octagonal columns, also hewn of chalk; they were removed and broken when the temple was robbed, but we found some remains in the course of the excavation. Each column was crowned by a square capital. Each side of the capital was a continuation of one of the column shaft’s eight facets; this form of the eight facets of the column continued into the capital. Each column, including its base and capital, was only about five and a half feet high. A three-inch hole was drilled into the top of each capital in order to secure it at the top. The purpose of these columns is a puzzle. Obviously, they did not serve a constructional purpose; they are too short. One attractive suggestion is that the three columns—as well as the column bases—were connected with brick pilasters to the eastern wall of the main hall of the temple, thereby forming two niches along the wall between the three columns. Here sacred statues or stelae might have been placed, facing the hall.
A monumental staircase of well-hewn chalk stone slabs, built against the eastern wall of the main hall, led up to the raised cella. The bottom slab of the staircase was more a threshold than a step, since it was wider and lower than the others; indeed it is nearly flush with the level of the brick floor. A circle 22 inches in diameter is engraved on the right side of this threshold-step, probably to mark the position of a stand or the like. Unfortunately, some of the slabs in the staircase were pulled out and carried away after the temple was destroyed. The four lowest steps were found complete, but the fifth and sixth steps were partly removed. The seventh step is missing altogether. The four lower steps were flanked on each side by a low parapet, made of two well-hewn stone slabs. The upper end of the parapet rested on a round column base, next to the wooden column that originally stood on the column base. These columns must have supported a small roof or canopy covering the staircase.
The cella of the temple unfortunately was badly preserved. It is difficult even to reconstruct its plan. The staircase just described led onto a plastered landing at the entrance to the cella, but that is almost all we know.
The rich temple furnishings were probably vandalized before the temple was set on fire. Relatively few finds were recovered. However, we discovered in situ six broken pottery stands placed in a row along the back wall of the storeroom. Other significant finds strewn about the floors included fragments of alabaster and faience vessels, fragments of ivory plaques or small bowls, painted fragments of ostrich shells, beads and pendants, pieces of oxidized iron (a rare and expensive commodity at the time) and many pottery offering bowls.
Our prize find, however, was what we call the “Lady Godiva” plaque. It is a thin gold sheet that we found crumpled and torn into five pieces. It has been straightened and put back together, and is now on tour in the United States (See BAR’s review of the exhibit,“Ancient Israelite Art Sparse in Impressive Show at Met,” BAR 12:06). Measuring about 7 ½ by 4 ½ inches, it was probably originally attached to a wooden plaque or sewn to a piece of leather or textile. The scene depicted on it is shown in high relief, achieved by pressure applied to the reverse side of the gold sheet and accentuated by grooving. A few details were shown with the aid of insets on the front, probably colored stones that are now missing. The plaque portrays a naked goddess standing on a horse. Her headgear is composed of vertical leaves resembling a flower, with two horns at the bottom. In each hand, she holds two lotus flowers with long stems.
Finally, in a room on the side of the main hall we found a number of well-dressed stone slabs inscribed with graffiti. The most significant graffito portrays a standing god, brandishing a lance with both his hands.
Christa Clamer, of Israel’s Department of Antiquities, has made a meticulous study of this god as well as of the naked goddess on the gold plaque; she has concluded that the god and goddess are both associated with the cult of the Egyptian-Canaanite divinities Qudshu, Asherah-Astarte and Resheph. This may, of course, be taken as an indication that the cultic rites of these deities were performed in the temple.
To summarize, the temple consisted of three elements located one behind the other—the antechamber, the main hall and the cella. The entrance to each element was located along a single, straight axis oriented from west to east; each element of the temple stood on successively higher ground: A staircase led up to the main hall and another staircase led up to the cella. Two massive columns in the center of the main hall supported the roof.
These same distinguishing features have been found, in part, in other temples as well, especially at the contemporaneous Canaanite temple in Beth-Shean. As I hinted earlier, these same architectural principles—except the orientation and the two central columns—were also used in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, it seems that our Canaanite temple at Lachish was built according to a plan that later served as a prototype for Solomon’s architects. The two central columns in the main hall—which also were found in the temple of Beth-Shean—serve to illustrate the Biblical account of the Philistine temple of Dagon in Gaza, which Samson pulled down by the two central columns (Judges 16:23–30).
The plan of this Canaanite temple at Lachish seems to have originated in Egypt. Similar temples have been uncovered at Deir el-Medina near Luxor, and also at Tell el-Amarna. Deir el-Medina was the village of the ancient Egyptian workmen who cut the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. At Deir el-Medina, Chapel G, among others, consists of an antechamber, main hall with two central columns and a cella; the entrances and their staircases are aligned along a central axis. Various other characteristic features in our Canaanite temple at Lachish were adopted from the Egyptians—the octagonal columns, the shapes of the column bases and capitals, the staircase and its parapet, the brick-paved floor and the painted plaster. In short, our Canaanite temple at Lachish (as well as the contemporaneous Canaanite temple at Beth-Shean) displays strong Egyptian influence.
Before considering what this Egyptian influence indicates, let us examine our third excavation area,f where we found Late Bronze Age remains which turned out, in a way, to be the key to the entire excavation of the Late Bronze Age levels. This excavation area was the gate complex to the Judean city which was destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. We had no thought that this area would have any significance for our study of the Late Bronze Age city. Our sole interest here was in investigating the Judean remains. We decided to open a narrow trench in one of the chambers of the Judean gate in order to examine the area below floor level to study the foundations of the gate. We reached the bottom of the foundations only after digging more than ten feet below the floor level. There we discovered that the foundations of the gate were laid on a plastered floor dating to the tenth century B.C. (Level V). We decided to make a further probe beneath this floor in order to check the date and its stratigraphic position before discontinuing work in this trench altogether.
Once we penetrated beneath the material that made up the plastered floor, we unexpectedly encountered destruction debris and pottery from Level VI, the last Canaanite city. And here—in the most unexpected place and to our utter surprise—we found a cache of bronze objects lying buried and sealed beneath the destruction debris of Level VI.
This cache included a peculiar assortment of broken or defective tools—a pair of tongs, a knife blade, an axe or adze, two borers or awls. Because they were all broken or defective and all made of bronze, perhaps the collection can be explained as a scrap-metal collection destined for remelting and recasting.
One of the tools had an unusual shape; indeed, its original shape, size and function are still obscure. It was an oblong plaque with a handle welded into its back. Now broken, the plaque is six and a half inches long. When the object was cleaned in the laboratory, we found that it contained a cartouche on it. A cartouche is a royal ring surrounding hieroglyphics that spell the name of Egyptian royalty. In this case, the cartouche contained the name of a powerful Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty, Ramesses III.
Since the object bearing his name was sealed beneath the destruction debris of Level VI, this destruction could not have occurred prior to the accession of Ramesses III to the Egyptian throne. Most Egyptologists now date Ramesses III’s long reign to 1182–1151 B.C. Some time must have passed after his accession in 1182 B.C. to enable our object to have been cast in bronze, possibly imported to Lachish, and to have been used, then broken and finally discarded and set aside in this cache of defective or broken bronze objects. This cartouche is evidence that Level VI, the last Canaanite city at Lachish, was destroyed sometime around 1150 B.C. or even later.
The discovery of the cartouche of Ramesses III forced us to reexamine many long-held ideas and concepts. Until now the final destruction of Canaanite Lachish was considered to have occurred in the 13th century B.C. The great William F. Albright thought that the destruction of Canaanite Lachish could be pinpointed to “about the year 1231–30, or a very little later.” This date was accepted by many other authorities. Now we have to reduce this date by 80 years—to about 1150 B.C.—or even more. What are the implications of this drastic change?
Lachish Level VI was a large and prosperous Canaanite city, with characteristic Canaanite pottery, art and culture. It is also clear that this city maintained important connections with Egypt. We have already described the lavishly decorated and equipped temple which reflects so much Egyptian influence, despite the fact that nothing in the building indicated it was dedicated to an Egyptian deity. In addition to the temple, various other finds, such as scarabs and the cartouche of Ramesses III, demonstrate strong Egyptian influence.
In this respect I should mention one significant find that was uncovered by Starkey in a tomb contemporaneous with Level VI at the foot of the mound. The tomb contained two anthropoid clay coffins of the type known from a number of places in Palestine and Egypt during this period, notably Beth-Shean and Deir el-Balah south of Gaza. These coffins, cylindrically shaped, with the lid featuring a human face, represent an Egyptian funerary custom, and their use at Lachish fits the Egyptianized character of the Level VI city. One of the coffins bears a crudely executed painted depiction of two Egyptian deities, as well as a pseudo-hieroglyphic inscription written by an unskilled local scribe who was trying to copy the ancient Egyptian formulae. The clay of one of the coffins was analyzed by neutron activation in order to establish its place of manufacture, and it apparently originated in the region of Lachish.
Nothing at Lachish is more indicative of Egyptian presence, however, than four bowl fragments inscribed in Egyptian hieratic script, found out of context by Starkey in the foundation fill of the later Judean palacefort. These inscriptions have recently been studied afresh by Orly Goldwasser, an Egyptologist at Hebrew University, in conjunction with similar hieratic bowls from Tel Sera‘ in southern Israel. The Lachish bowls (and the Tel Sera‘ bowls) document the smw, the harvest tax, paid to an unidentified Egyptian religious “institution.” This Egyptian religious institution was probably associated with a local temple, such as our Level VI temple. According to Goldwasser—and she seems to be correct—the recording of the payment of the harvest tax on votive bowls in the temple reflects the economic exploitation of southern Canaan by the Egyptian authorities via the religious establishment. This may very well mean that Canaanite Lachish was under Egyptian suzerainty at the time, as was much of southern Canaan.
The strong ties between the Egyptian administration and the Level VI Canaanite city may well explain the city’s great prosperity. The Egyptian presence may also explain why the Level VI city (and the earlier Canaanite city of Level VII as well) did not require any fortifications to defend it: It was “protected” by Egypt. The data from Lachish and from many other sites in Canaan are consistent, providing additional support for one another and allowing us to conclude that Canaanite cities continued to prosper during this period despite the fact that the area was still part of the Egyptian empire, not only during the reign of Ramesses III, but even later, during the brief reigns of his successors, Ramesses IV (1151–1145 B.C.), Ramesses V (1145–1141 B.C.) and Ramesses VI (1141–1134/3 B.C.). During this period, Egypt apparently still had effective political, economic and military control over most of the country. The strongholds of Megiddo and Beth-Shean in northern Canaan perhaps marked the northern edge of Egyptian-held territory at the time. Egyptian hegemony was badly weakened during the third quarter of the 12th century B.C. The sudden destruction of Lachish Level VI was probably the result of the Egyptians’ loss of control over southern Canaan. Without Egyptian protection, unfortified Lachish became easy prey to the enemy.
But who was the enemy?
Lachish Level VI was razed in a violent destruction accompanied by fire. Traces of the conflagration could be seen everywhere that Level VI remains were uncovered. The destruction was apparently complete, and the population liquidated or driven out. Following the catastrophe, the site was abandoned and remained desolate until the tenth century B.C.
The circumstances of the city’s destruction were vividly illustrated in the ruins of the large public building in our large sectional trench (Area S). In the end the building was apparently turned into living quarters, perhaps for refugees from outside the city who fled their homes in the face of the disaster that eventually destroyed Lachish. On the floors, sealed beneath the building debris, we found human osteological remains—bones of an adult female aged 40–50 years and an eight-year-old child, as well as two skeletons: one of a two- or three-year-old child and the other of an infant of six to eight months old. Professor Patricia Smith, an anthropologist at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, who is studying these remains, has concluded on the basis of the position of the skeletons on the floor, that “the child had either been thrown down on its face, or possibly died while crawling along the ground … the infant was thrown or fell onto the ground.” Apparently, these young children were trapped and then crushed under falling debris while trying to crawl out. According to Professor Smith, the excellent state of preservation of the skeletons suggests that they were covered by debris shortly after death.
All the evidence points toward the destruction of Level VI by a powerful and resolute enemy. But again we must ask who? Unfortunately, archaeological data do not provide any affirmative clues as to the identity of that enemy or to the immediate circumstances surrounding the city’s downfall.
At this point, we come back to the question raised at the beginning of this article: according to the archaeological data, how likely is it that the destruction of the last Canaanite city of Lachish (Level VI) can be attributed to the Israelite armies as related in the Book of Joshua?
First, we must consider the possibility—contrary to the Biblical traditions—that Canaanite Lachish was not destroyed by the Israelite tribes, but, was instead, as suggested by Olga Tufnell when she studied the remains of Level VI, destroyed during a punitive raid by an Egyptian Pharaoh. This theory may now be rejected, because the new data we have uncovered indicate Lachish’s dependency on and alliance with Egypt, rather than a state of enmity between the two. It would be difficult to construct a believable scenario in which a Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty would attack and utterly destroy Lachish Level VI.
What about the Philistines? Could they be the enemy that destroyed Canaanite Lachish?
A priori, the Philistines are one possibility. But a careful consideration of this possibility requires some background.
About 1200 B.C. or slightly later the Sea Peoples, who probably came from the Aegean world, swept across the Near East. In a famous battle depicted on the walls of Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu near Luxor, the Sea Peoples fought against the armies and navy of Ramesses III in an effort to invade Egypt. But they were repulsed and defeated.
Eventually, one of the Sea Peoples’ tribes known as the Philistines settled along the coast of southern Canaan, as related in the Bible; other tribes of Sea Peoples settled farther north on the Canaanite coast. Material remains of the Philistines have been uncovered in many places; their culture is distinguished primarily by the beautifully decorated Philistine pottery. An excellent summary of the Philistines and their material culture has recently been presented to BAR readers by one of the world’s leading authorities on Philistine culture, Trude Dothan.3
Significantly, no Philistine painted pottery has been found at Lachish either by Starkey or by us, with the exception of a few Philistine sherds discovered in a cave on the slope of the tel, near the northeast corner of the mound. This cave was used during the Late Bronze Age, but Iron Age pottery was also found in it, indicating that the cave must have continued in use after the destruction of the Canaanite city of Level VI. Thus, although the Philistine sherds could have belonged to Level VI, it is more likely that they were a later intrusion, perhaps left in the cave (which is located not far from the city’s water supply) by someone wandering around the abandoned tel and taking shelter there. The crucial fact is that, for all practical purposes, Philistine pottery is completely absent from Lachish.
This fact has far-reaching implications. Lachish is quite close to the coastal plain, where the Philistines first settled. Lachish was thus close to the very distribution center of Philistine pottery. Two major Philistine cities, Tel Zafit (Biblical Gath) and Tel Miqne (Biblical Ekron) are but a short distance north of Lachish. Philistine painted pottery has been found at sites even farther inland than Lachish—for example, at Tel Beth-Shemesh, at Tel Eton and at Tell Beit Mirsim. Considering the geographical position, the size and the prosperity of the Level VI Canaanite city at Lachish, it is difficult to imagine that nearby Philistine pottery, which was being diffused inland from the coastal plain, would not be found in appreciable quantities at Lachish as well. Yet, apart from the few Philistine sherds found in the cave nothing was found. The only logical conclusion is that the absence of this distinctive pottery in Level VI demonstrates that Lachish simply was not settled at the time that painted Philistine pottery was being produced. Therefore, the Philistine pottery must have appeared in this region only after the destruction of Lachish Level VI, which we have dated to c. 1150 B.C. or slightly later. To put the matter differently, the destruction of Lachish Level VI marks the earliest date for the appearance of Philistine pottery in this region.
The evidence from Lachish is admittedly negative—it is based on the absence of Philistine pottery—but it is so absolutely negative that it provides a sound basis for concluding that it was not until after about 1150 B.C., and probably slightly later, that Philistine painted pottery appeared anywhere in the country. Similar conclusions have recently been reached by other scholars such as Amihai Mazar and Eliezer Oren based on their own excavations and studies. It thus follows—if the introduction and use of Philistine painted pottery is considered the primary criterion—that the settlement of the Philistines in southern Canaan occurred only after Egyptian control began to disintegrate following the death of Ramesses III in 1151 B.C.; or even two decades later, following the complete disintegration of Egyptian control.4 This conclusion obviously requires a revision in Trude Dothan’s judgment that the Philistines settled in Canaan about 1200 B.C.
The idea that Level VI might have been destroyed by the Sea Peoples was considered by Tufnell and found very attractive. Ugarit and Alalakh, the two large Canaanite centers in northern Syria, were razed and abandoned at the end of the Late Bronze Age; these destructions are generally attributed to the invading Sea Peoples, and it is tempting to compare these destructions with that of Lachish Level VI. The contention that Canaanite Lachish met its end by the hand of the Sea Peoples is based on a wider historical reconstruction—that the invasion of the Sea Peoples was a prime factor in the collapse of Egyptian authority and military control over southern Canaan, which left unfortified cities such as Lachish completely vulnerable. This remains a possibility, even though the Philistines had not yet introduced their distinctive pottery into this region.
But let us now consider an alternative scenario—that Canaanite Lachish was destroyed by the Israelite tribes, as strongly advocated by Albright. The archaeological data indeed fit the Biblical description: a large Canaanite city destroyed by fire, the absence of fortifications enabling the conquest of the city on the second day of the attack, complete desertion of the razed city, explained by the annihilation of the populace. On the other hand, the motive for the destruction remains obscure, since the Israelites apparently had no interest in occupying the site, which remained unsettled after this destruction until about the tenth century B.C. Indeed, Israelites did not settle anywhere in the region, as shown by the lack of early Israelite sites in the systematic archaeological surveys recently carried out by Yehudah Dagan in the surrounding Shephelah.
Consequently, whether we adopt or reject the suggestion that the Israelites destroyed Lachish depends largely on whether or not we accept the Biblical source, Joshua 10:31–32, as having a sound historical basis, a subject that is beyond the scope of this study. In any case, the conquest of Lachish stands out as a unique event in the Biblical story of the Israelite conquest of Canaan and the archaeological data fit the Biblical text in every detail.
If we assume that the destruction of Canaanite Lachish is attributable to the Israelite tribes, and if we accept the account of the Israelite conquest in Joshua as, in the main, reliable, then two corollaries necessarily emerge. The first is that a cardinal event in the Biblical tradition of the Israelite conquest is firmly dated on archaeological grounds to about the middle of the 12th century, 1150 B.C., or even later. This is a major alteration. Scholars usually date the events of the conquest to the 13th century B.C., and the conquest of Lachish, as dated by Albright, to about 1230 B.C.—nearly one hundred years too early!
The second corollary involves the date of the destruction of Canaanite Hazor in northern Israel. All authorities agree, on the basis of internal archaeological evidence, that Canaanite Hazor was destroyed in the 13th century B.C. Yigael Yadin, the excavator, dated the destruction to the second third of the century; Kathleen Kenyon and, more recently, Pirhiya Beck and Moshe Kochavi, are inclined to date it even earlier. If we believe that the Israelite tribes also conquered Canaanite Hazor, as related in Joshua 10:10–11, then we must conclude that the Biblical concept of a swift campaign by Joshua’s forces is incompatible with the archaeological evidence, because this evidence discloses that two major Canaanite cities, Lachish and Hazor, were destroyed about a century apart; the Israelite conquest must have been, therefore, a much more drawn out affair than is described in the Book of Joshua.
The results of our excavations at Tel Lachish are based on many years of painstaking work. Even so, we have uncovered a bare fraction of the potential of this unique mound. Many enthusiastic BAR readers have already taken part in the excavation of Lachish. The next excavation season will take place during the summer of 1987, for eight weeks June 21–August 14). We welcome volunteers to work with us (see details in Excavation Opportunities.). We guarantee an exciting time.
Artifacts from the Fosse Temple
The Canaanites built three successive temples on the western side of Lachish, all constructed on the same site in the city’s defensive moat, or fosse. The last of these, Fosse Temple III, had a plan very similar to the temples beneath it.
Oriented on a north/south axis, Fosse Temple III consisted of four rooms: an entrance antechamber on the northern side, a main hall and two southern store rooms. Four pillars supported the roof of the main hall, and mud benches lining its walls provided a place for offerings and seating for priests and worshippers.
A raised platform and altar adjoining the south wall of the main hall formed the cella, the central cultic place of the temple. Two bowl-like depressions formed a hearth in front of the altar. A libation stand, used for liquid offerings, stood to the right of the altar; on the left a large pottery bin held solid offerings.
A British expedition led by J. L. Starkey made the exciting discovery of the Fosse Temple in the 1930s. Photographed after they had cleared much of the temple, Arab workmen dig near the two southern store rooms, far right. A lone Arab workman, left, stands in the main hall of the temple; to his right is the entrance to the antechamber, and behind him the mud benches lining the northern wall. The dot on the plan marks the position of the lone workman in the Fosse Temple.
Preserved by layers of protective silt at the bottom of the fosse, Fosse Temple III yielded a treasure trove of finds to excavators. Although the temple was damaged by a great fire at the end of the 13th century B.C., remains of pottery, glass, faience and scarabs were unearthed here.
A pitcher found broken in a pit outside the temple electrified the excavators. Nicknamed the “Lachish ewer,” the pitcher’s shoulder bears a proto-Canaanite inscription: “Mattan. An offering to my Lady ’Elat.” The ewer and its now-missing contents were a tribute offered to the temple and to the deity ’Elat by a man named Mattan. Proto-Canaanite is the earliest-known form of alphabetic script—a forerunner of the alphabetic script we use today.
Perfume for a lady of rare and expensive tastes probably flowed from the ten-inch-high ivory flask carved in the shape of a woman. A hole pierced through the head allowed the perfume to pour into a spoon shaped like a human hand.
Lachish, like much of Canaan, was probably a part of Egypt’s New Kingdom (c. 1550–1070 B.C.) empire. As a result, artifacts found in Fosse Temple III reflect two very different artistic traditions: Egyptian and Canaanite.
Scarabs and cylinder seals found in the Fosse Temple were probably offerings or tribute. The large scarab, more than three inches in height, lauds Pharaoh Amenhotep III (14th century B.C.) and mentions 102 lions hunted by him in the first ten years of his reign. Used to mark possessions, the hieroglyphic writing on scarabs and cylinder seals appears in reverse. When pressed into wet clay the seals leave a correctly oriented image.
Faience beads and pendants in an Egyptian style were probably a prized part of a Canaanite woman’s jewelry collection. They were discovered unstrung; the arrangement follows the restorer’s sense of design. Faience may have been the result of man’s first conscious effort to produce a synthetic material. Manufacturing details are uncertain now, but it is known that faience consists of a core of quartz grains, covered with a vitreous glaze. Considered especially fine in antiquity, Egyptian faience jewelry and vessels have been found throughout the Mediterranean. Egyptian manufacture of faience began in the fourth millennium B.C.
Almost untouched in the fire that destroyed the last Fosse Temple in the 13th century B.C., these ivories retain much of their beauty and luster. Carved in a Canaanite style, they represent various animals and a human head.
Egyptian-style faience vessels and iridescent ancient glassware still look as serviceable as on the day they were manufactured, more than 3,000 years ago.
Artifacts from the Monumental Building
Silent witnesses to the destruction of the Late Bronze Age city of Lachish, these objects give proof of the city’s prosperity and close ties with Egypt before its fall in the 12th century B.C.
An ivory hand still seeks to clasp a now-missing object. Originally part of a human figure, the hand is approximately 5.3 inches long. A hole drilled behind the fingers allows it to grasp another object.
The unadorned beauty of a Canaanite goddess shines forth from this clay plaque. Her hair, cut in an elegant Egyptian style, gives evidence of the powerful cultural and social sway Egypt exercised over its Canaanite subjects in the 13th–12th centuries B.C.
A Pharaoh takes aim with bow and arrow at a lion standing in a thicket. In this unique scarab, only 0.7 inches wide, the Pharaoh’s name is omitted, indicating that the scarab was not meant to commemorate a particular event in his reign.
Acropolis Temple
An archaeologist is dwarfed by the main hall of the 12th-century B.C. acropolis temple. This temple, which possibly replaced the earlier Fosse Temple III, consists of three main parts oriented on an east-west axis (see plan): an antechamber preceding the main hall on the west, the main hall, and a tiny, raised cella, or sacred enclosure. (Note that the doorway between the antechamber and the main hall, seen on the plan, had not yet been excavated when the photo was taken. What appears on the photo as a solid wall between the two rooms is actually the unexcavated balk.) An entrance on the north side of the temple leads to an annex. In the photo, remains of the Judean palace-fort loom behind.
Some structural and ornamental elements survived the temple’s destruction. In the main hall near the entrance to the north annex, an Egyptian-style octagonal column crowned with a square capital lies where it was found by excavators. Too small to be a structural element, this column and two similar ones, now mostly missing or broken, originally abutted the east wall of the main hall. The engaged columns formed niches in which sacred statues or stelae may have been placed, facing the hall.
A monumental stairway leads from the main hall into the cella. Made of well-hewn chalk slabs, only the four lower steps are complete, though parts of the fifth and sixth steps still remain. The seventh, and crowning, step is missing altogether.
Lachish—Level by Level
Dates Events Major Finds
Level I
2nd century B.C. Hellenistic kingdoms established throughout Near East.
4th century B.C. Alexander the Great defeats Darius III at Battle of Issos (333 B.C.).Persian empire falls. Solar ShrineFortified city wall and gates
6th century B.C. Persian Empire established (Achaemenid dynasty c. 550–331 B.C.) Palace (“The Residency”)
Level II
Early 6th century B.C. Babylonians conquer southern kingdom of Judah (588/86 B.C.).Lachish destroyed. Fortified cityCity wall and gate

“Lachish letters”

Palace-fort in ruins

Second half of 7th century B.C. Assyrian Empire falls to Babylonians (612 B.C.).
Break in habitation from second half of 7th century B.C. to 701 B.C.
Level III
8th century B.C. Lachish destroyed (701 B.C.) Assyrian siege rampJudean counter-ramp
Assyrians conquer northern kingdom of Israel (722 B.C.) Fortified city with two walls; densely populatedJudean palace-fort (C)
Level IV
9th century B.C. Kingdoms of Israel and Judah established.Rise of Assyrian Empire. Judean palace-fort (B)Two city walls and gates
Level V
10th century B.C. Pharaoh Shishak invades Israel (c. 925 B.C.).Lachish destroyed.

Solomon dies; United Monarchy ends (930 B.C.).

Judean palace-fort (A)
Break in habitation from 11th century B.C. to end of 12th century.
Level VI
12th century B.C. Lachish destroyed by invading Israelites or “Sea Peoples” (second half of 12th century B.C.). Acropolis Temple (Fosse Temple abandoned)Monumental Public Building
Egyptians control Canaan, including Lachish. Unfortified city
Reign of Pharaoh Ramesses III (c. 1182–1151 B.C.). Ramesses III cartouche
Level VII
13th century B.C. Egyptians control Canaan. Fosse Temple IIIDomestic building in unfortified city

The Expulsion of the Hyksos

Tel Habuwa excavations reveal the conquest of Tjaru by Ahmose I

Noah Wiener   •  02/11/2014

“After the conclusion of the treaty they left with their families and chattels, not fewer than two hundred and forty thousand people, and crossed the desert into Syria. Fearing the Assyrians, who dominated over Asia at that time, they built a city in the country which we now call Judea. It was large enough to contain this great number of men and was called Jerusalem.”
Against Apion 1.73.7, quoting Manetho’s Aegyptiaca


Excavations at Tel Habuwa, thought to be ancient Tjaru, reveal evidence of the expulsion of the Hyksos by Ahmose I at the end of the Second Intermediate Period.

In the Second Intermediate Period (18th-16th centuries B.C.E.), towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age, the West Asian (Canaanite) Hyksos controlled Lower (Northern) Egypt. In the 16th century, Ahmose I overthrew the Hyksos and initiated the XVIII dynasty and the New Kingdom of Egypt. 

Recent archaeological discoveries at Tel Habuwa (also known as Tell el-Habua or Tell-Huba), a site associated with ancient Tjaru (Tharo), shed new light on Ahmose’s campaign. A daybook entry in the famous Rhind Mathematical Papyrus notes that Ahmose seized control of Tjaru before laying siege the Hyksos at their capital in Avaris.

Josephus identifies the Israelite Exodus with the expulsion of the Hyksos “shepherd kings.”  

Excavations at the site, located two miles east of the Suez Canal, have uncovered evidence of battle wounds on skeletons discovered in two-story administrative structures dating to the Hyksos and New Kingdom occupations. The site showed evidence of burned buildings, as well as massive New Kingdom grain silos that would have been able to feed a large number of Egyptian troops. After Ahmose took the city and defeated the Hyksos, he expanded the town and built several nearby forts to protect Egypt’s eastern border. Tjaru was first discovered in 2003, but until now, the excavation only uncovered the New Kingdom military fort and silos. This new discovery confirms a decisive moment in the expulsion of the Hyksos previously known from textual sources. 


Tomb painting from Beni Hasan, Egypt. A figure named Abisha and identified by the title Hyksos leads brightly garbed Semitic clansmen into Egypt to conduct trade. Dating to about 1890 B.C.E., the painting is preserved on the wall of a tomb carved into cliffs overlooking the Nile at Beni Hasan, about halfway between Cairo and Luxor. In the early second millennium B.C.E., numerous Asiatics infiltrated Egypt, some of whom eventually gained control over Lower Egypt for about a century and a half. The governing class of these people became known as the Hyksos, which means “Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

The Hyksos are well known from ancient texts, and their expulsion was recorded in later ancient Egyptian historical narratives. The third-century B.C.E. Egyptian historian Manetho–whose semi-accurate histories stand out as valuable resources for cataloging Egyptian kingship–wrote of the Hyksos’ violent entry into Egypt from the north, and the founding of their monumental capital at Avaris, a city associated with the famous excavations at Tell ed-Dab’a. After the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt, Manetho reports that they wandered the desert before establishing the city of Jerusalem. 

While Josephus cites Manetho’s history associating the Israelites with the Hyksos, many modern scholars see problems with Manetho’s conflation of the expulsion of the Hyksos and the Biblical narrative. Manetho lived many centuries after these events took place, and he may have combined two different narratives, wittingly or unwittingly, when associating the Hyksos and Israelites. Ahmose’s defeat of the Hyksos occurred centuries before the traditional date of the Exodus. In addition, the basic premise of the Hyksos and Exodus histories differ: the Hyksos were expelled rulers of Egypt, not slaves, and they were forced out, not pursued.

The expulsion of the Hyksos may not have been a single event, and many still read Manetho’s texts on the Hyksos expulsion as a record of the Israelites’ Exodus. After the Hyksos were defeated by Ahmose, some Hyksos people likely remained in Egypt, perhaps as a subjugated class. The Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut (1489–1469 B.C.E.) recorded the banishment of a group of Asiatics from Avaris, the former Hyksos capital. While this second expulsion would still have been centuries before the traditional date of the Exodus, there may exist parallels between these events and the Exodus narrative, or the earlier Biblical accounts of Abraham, Sarah and Lot’s own expulsion from Egypt in Genesis 12:19.

Read more about the discoveries at Tel Habuwa.

Ukrainian SS division – Svodoba

Dyvizia Galychyna.svg



After World War I and the dissolution of Austria–Hungary, the territory of Eastern Galicia (Halychyna), populated by a Ukrainian majority but with a large Polish minority, was incorporated into Poland following the Polish–Ukrainian War. Between the wars, the political allegiances of Ukrainians in eastern Galicia were divided between moderate national democrats and the more radical Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The latter group itself splintered into two factions, the more moderate OUN-M led by Andriy Melnyk with close ties to German intelligence (Abwehr), and the more radical OUN-B led by Stepan Bandera. When Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, the territory of eastern Galicia was annexed to Soviet Ukraine. In 1941 it was occupied by Germany.

Ukrainian leaders of various political persuasions recognised the need for a trained armed force. The Germans had earlier considered the formation of an armed force made up of Slavic people, but they decided this to be unacceptable as they regarded Slavs as sub-humans (untermenschen) compared to the Germanic ubermenschen master race.[5] At the beginning of 1943, growing losses[6] inclined Nazi leaders to alter their initial opinions.

Organizing the division

The idea to organize a division of volunteers from Galicia was proposed by the German Governor of District Galicia, Dr. Otto von Wächter. He suggested creation of a Waffen-SSdivision composed of Galician volunteers and designed for regular combat on the Eastern Front. The creation of 14th Voluntary Division SS Galizien was announced in April 1943 at ceremonies throughout Galicia. At least 50 documents including contemporary newspaper clippings, radio broadcasts and speeches etc. record the date of 28 April. By June 1943 the first phase of recruitment had taken place. Initially Wächter’s proposal (which he was certain would be supported by Ukrainian circles) was rejected. In Berlin Wächter was able to get support from Himmler who made the stipulation that the division would only made up of Galicians, who Himmler considered “more Aryan-like”.[7] The terms “Ukrainian”, “Ukraine”, could not be used when addressing the division, stressing the Imperial Austro-Hungarian heritage of the term “Galizien”.[8] David Marples suggests that the division was titled “Galicia” to ensure stricter German control to avoid direct use of inflammatory term “Ukrainian”.[9]

Distrikts Galizien Spring 1943. Celebrations dedicated to the creation of theSS-Freiwilligen-Schützen-Division «Galizien». Regional recruitment center

Wächter approached the Ukrainian Central Committee, a nonpolitical social welfare organization headed by Volodymyr Kubiyovych which supported the idea of the formation of the division[10] The Ukrainian Catholic Church demanded the presence of its chaplains in the division, which was usually not permitted by Germans. Thus the Ukrainian division along with the Bosnian one became notable exceptions.

Germans made two political concessions: It was stipulated that the division shall not be used to fight Western Allies, and would be used exclusively to “fight Bolsheviks”. The other concession was in that its oath of allegiance to Hitler was conditional [11] on the fight against Bolshevism and in the fact that Christian (mostly Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Orthodox) chaplains were integrated into the units and allowed to function (in the Waffen-SS, only the Bosnian division and Sturmbrigade Wallonien had a clerical presence). The latter condition was instituted at the insistence of the division’s organizers in order to minimize the risk of Nazi demoralization amongst the soldiers.[12][page needed] Indeed, Nazi indoctrination was absent within the division.[13]

The creation of foreign SS units had been carried out previously in the name of fighting against communism; with French, Dutch, Latvian,EstonianCroatian, and Belarusian units, among others, had been created.[14] The creation of a Ukrainian SS division was perceived by many in Ukraine as a step towards the attainment of Ukrainian independence and attracted many volunteers.

1st Ukrainian Division UNA

On 17 March 1945, Ukrainian émigrés established the Ukrainian National Committee to represent the interests of Ukrainians to the Third Reich. Simultaneously, the Ukrainian National Army, commanded by general Pavlo Shandruk, was created. The Galician Division nominally became the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army, although the German Army’s High command continued to list it as the Ukrainian 14th SS Grenadier Division in its order of battle.[33] The Division surrendered to British and US forces by 10 May 1945.[28]


The Ukrainian soldiers were interned in Rimini, Italy, in the area controlled by Polish II Corps forces. The UNA commander Pavlo Shandruk requested for a meeting with Polish general Władysław Anders in London, and asked him to protect the army against the deportation to Soviet Union. Despite the Soviet pressure, Anders managed to protect Ukrainian soldiers, as the former citizens of the Second Republic of Poland. This, together with the intervention of the Vatican saved its members from deportation to the USSR. Bishop Buchko of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had appealed to Pope Pius XII to intervene on behalf of the division, whom he described as “good Catholics and fervent anti-Communists”. Due to Vatican intervention, the British authorities changed the status of Division members from POW to surrendered enemy personnel[34] and the Polish II Corps declined their deportation to Soviet Union. 176 soldiers of the division joined Władysław Anders‘s Polish army.[35][36] In 1947, former soldiers of SS “Galizien” were allowed to emigrate to Canada and to the United Kingdom.[37][38] The names of about 7,100 former soldiers of SS “Galizien” admitted to the UK have been stored in the so-called “Rimini List”. Despite several requests of various lobby groups, the details of the list have never been publicly released. Only in 2003 the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard launched a massive investigation of the people from the list by cross-referencing NHS patient, social security and pension records. However the order to release confidential medical records was met with an outcry from civil liberties groups.[39]

Accusations of war atrocities

Although the Galizien Division has not been found guilty of any war crimes by any war tribunal or commission, numerous unproven accusations of impropriety have been levelled at the division and at particular members of the division from a variety of sources. It is difficult to determine the extent of war criminality among members of the division.[40] If prior service in Nazi police units is a measure of criminality, only a small number were recruited from established police detachments. Among those who had transferred from police detachments, some had been members of a coastal defence unit that had been stationed in France, while others came from two police battalions that had been formed in the spring of 1943, too late to have participated in the murder of Ukraine’s Jews. According to Howard Margolian there is no evidence that these units participated in anti-partisan operations or reprisals prior to their inclusion into the division. However, a number of recruits, prior to their service within the police battalions are alleged to have been in Ukrainian irregular formations that are alleged to have committed atrocities against Jews and Communists. However, both the Canadian government and the Canadian Jewish Congress in their investigations of the division failed to find hard evidence to support the notion that it was rife with criminal elements.[40]

It has been claimed that the division destroyed several Polish communities in western Ukraine during the winter and spring of 1944.[41] Specifically, the 4th and 5th SS Police Regiments have been accused of murdering Polish civilians in the course of anti-guerilla activity. At the time of their actions, these units were not under Divisional command but were removed from Divisional command and temporarily placed under separate German police command.[42] Yale historian Timothy Snyder concluded that the division’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from western Ukraine was marginal.[41]

Recent releases at The National Archives

Home office papers reveal how 7,100 Ukrainian men from the 14th Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division were allowed to settle in Britain in order to protect them from persecution in Stalinist controlled Ukraine. The documents follow the case of the Ukrainian soldiers, from their capture in Italy by British forces to Britain’s reaction to an Italian treaty with the Soviet Union to repatriate the men. Catalogue reference: HO 213/1851, Ukrainian prisoners of war in Italy: possible transportation to UK for ‘screening’. Go to Discovery to view the images

Catalogue reference: HO 213/1853, Ukrainian prisoners of war: proposal to return to Germany if not accepted for release to civilian status as agricultural workers in UK. Go to Discovery to view the images

Catalogue reference: HO 213/1518, Ukrainians: disposal policy.

The most controversial element of the anti-government alliance is Svoboda (Freedom), an extreme right-wing political party that not only has representation in parliament, but has been dubbed by its critics as a neo-Nazi organization. Britain’s Channel 4 News reported that Svoboda has assumed a “leading role” in the street protests in Kiev, with affiliated paramilitary groups prominently involved in the disturbances. Svoboda flags and banners have been featured in the demonstrations at Kiev’s Independence Square. During the continuing street riots, one Svoboda MP, Igor Myroshnychenko, created an iconic moment of sorts when he allegedly helped to topple the statue of Vladimir Lenin outside a government building, followed by its occupation by protesters.

However, despite its extremist rhetoric, Svoboda cannot be called a “fringe” party – indeed, it currently occupies 36 seats in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament, granting it status as the fourth-largest party in the country. Further, Svoboda is linked to other far-right groups across Europe through its membership in the Alliance of European National Movements, which includes the British National Party (BNP) of the United Kingdom and Jobbik, the neo-fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma party of Hungary. The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, who has appeared at the Kiev protests, has a long history of making inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, including the accusation during a 2004 speech before parliament that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Miroshnychenko also called the Ukrainian-born American film actress Mila Kunis a “dirty Jewess.”

Tyahnybok has also claimed that “organized Jewry” dominate Ukrainian media and government, have enriched themselves through criminal activities and plan to engineer a “genocide” upon the Christian Ukrainian population. Another top Svoboda member, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a deputy in parliament, often quotes Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as other Third Reich luminaries like Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser.

Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible


“How Many?” is a popular feature in each issue of BAR. In effect, this article is an extended example of a “How Many?” How many people in the Hebrew Bible have been confirmed archaeologically?
The startling answer is at least 50!
Let’s start with the Hebrew kings. According to the Bible, David ruled in the tenth century B.C.E., using the traditional chronology. Until 1993, however, the personal name David had never appeared in the archaeological record, let alone a reference to King David. That led some scholars to doubt his very existence. According to this speculation David was either a shadowy, perhaps mythical, ancestor or a literary creation of later Biblical authors and editors. In 1993, however, the now-famous Tel Dan inscription was found in an excavation led by Avraham Biran. Actually, it was the team’s surveyor, Gila Cook, who noticed the inscription on a basalt stone in secondary use in the lower part of a wall. Written in ninth-century B.C.E. Aramaic, it was part of a victory stele commissioned by a non-Israelite king mentioning his victory over “the king of Israel” and the “House of David.”a Whether or not the foreign king’s claim to victory was true, it is clear that a century after he had died, David was still remembered as the founder of a dynasty.

4,600 yo step pyramid uncovered in Egypt

Older than oldest of 7

Wonders: 4,600 yo step

pyramid uncovered in Egypt

Published time: February 04, 2014 12:31

AFP Photo/Geraldo CasoAFP Photo/Geraldo Caso

A step pyramid, a few decades older than the Great Pyramid of Giza (the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), has been uncovered by archaeologists in southern Egypt.

Although scientists were aware of the pyramid’s existence, it remained buried under a thick layer of sand until a group of archaeologists started excavation works in 2010, according to a report by LiveScience.

The group, led by Gregory Marouard, a research associate at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, has recently presented the initial results of its activity at a symposium by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, held in Toronto.

The step pyramid, which when built around 4,600 years ago was 13 meters (43 feet) high, has by now become about one third that, as the blocks it was constructed with have been pillaged throughout its centuries-long existence.

It is one of seven so-called “provincial” pyramids built across central and southern Egypt by either the Pharaoh Huni (reign c. 2635-2610 BC) or Snefru (reign c. 2610-2590 BC). Those do not have internal chambers and were not intended for burial. In fact the purpose of the constructions remains a mystery. The most likely explanation so far is that they were used as symbolic monuments scattered over Egypt as confirmation of the pharaohs’ divine powers.

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The construction itself reflects a certain care and a real expertise in the mastery of stone construction, especially for the adjustment of the most important blocks,” said Marouard as cited by LiveScience.

A possible clue to the purpose of the building could be the remains of an installation where food offerings appear to have been made, found by the team of archaeologists.

There’s also hieroglyphic graffiti discovered on the pyramid’s walls. The images include those of a book roll, a seated man, a four-legged animal, a reed leaf and a bird.

These are mostly private and rough inscriptions, and certainly dedicated to child burials located right under these inscriptions at the foot of the pyramid,” Marouard explained.

The researchers believe the inscriptions and burials date long after the pyramid was built and have little to do with its original purpose, to which according to scientists the construction served for less than 50 years.

The pyramid was supposedly abandoned about the same time the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza started under Pharaoh Khufu. A hypothesis holds it that the creation of one of the ancient wonders led to all of the country’s resources being poured into the big project, while smaller pyramids were left neglected.

Why Did Kush Defend Judah in 701 BC?

Second Kings and Isaiah report the siege of Jerusalem by Assyrian king Sennacherib is suddenly interrupted by a report that “Tirhakah, the king of Kush, is come forth to make war with thee.” Cuneiform inscriptions commissioned by the Assyrian king confirm that his attack on Judah was challenged by Egyptian armies under the command of the Kushite king. Professor Pope will discuss what neither the Biblical accounts nor the Assyrian inscriptions do: why Tirhakah chose to intervene in defense of Judah at the behest of King Hezekiah.

The Philistines in Jordan

Bible and archaeology news

Noah Wiener   •  01/30/2014

When we think of the Philistines, we think of the traditional foes of the Israelites. Philistine archaeology has revealed a bit more of the picture. Tell-es Safi (Biblical Gath, a major Philistine city and the hometown of Goliath) excavators Aren M. Maeir and Carl S. Ehrlich outlined Philistine history in BAR in 2001:

The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples (as we know from an Egyptian inscription), a group of seafaring tribes that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean world at the end of the Bronze Age (1200 B.C.E.). After engaging in a number of battles with Egypt, the Philistines settled in Canaan, possibly as Egyptian mercenaries. After attempting to extend their influence farther into inland Canaan, an attempt reflected in the accounts of various battles recorded in the books of Judges and 1 Samuel, the Philistines were wedged into the southwestern coastal strip of Canaan, presumably by King David, in the early tenth century B.C.E.

Archaeology often paints a distinctively Mediterranean picture of the Philistines: three of the five cities of the Philistine “pentapolis” were located on the coast; Philistine religion shows distinct Aegean characteristics; and the Philistine marketplace at Ashkelon was situated directly on the sea, suggesting a western focus for Philistine trade.



Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.



Recent excavations at Tell Abu al-Kharaz in Jordan, a site associated with the Biblical city Jabesh Gilead where Saul and David fought the Philistines and Ammonites, have pulled focus on the Philistines back away from the seashore. Swedish University of Gothenburg archaeologists excavated a 200-foot-long structure dating to around 1100 B.C.E., shortly after the Bronze Age collapse—an event often associated with the emigration of the Philistines to the Levant.

Archaeologist Peter M. Fischer told that “’We have evidence that culture from present Europe is represented in Tell Abu al-Kharaz. A group of the Sea Peoples of European descent, Philistines, settled down in the city … we have, for instance, found pottery resembling corresponding items from Greece and Cyprus in terms of form and decoration, and also cylindrical loom weights for textile production that could be found in central and south-east Europe around the same time.”

While the excavations have uncovered evidence of occupation reaching back to the fourth millennium B.C.E., the multi-story Philistine structure is the one reshaping our view of the orientation of Jordanian culture. The Gothenburg excavations remind archaeologists that Mediterranean archaeology provides integral context for ancient Jordanian material culture.

Göbekli Tepe – The Birth of Religion

Pillars at the temple of Göbekli Tepe

We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.

By Charles C. Mann

Photograph by Vincent J. Musi

Every now and then the dawn of civilization is reenacted on a remote hilltop in southern Turkey.

The reenactors are busloads of tourists—usually Turkish, sometimes European. The buses (white, air-conditioned, equipped with televisions) blunder over the winding, indifferently paved road to the ridge and dock like dreadnoughts before a stone portal. Visitors flood out, fumbling with water bottles and MP3 players. Guides call out instructions and explanations. Paying no attention, the visitors straggle up the hill. When they reach the top, their mouths flop open with amazement, making a line of perfect cartoon O’s.

Before them are dozens of massive stone pillars arranged into a set of rings, one mashed up against the next. Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple. Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.

At the time of Göbekli Tepe’s construction much of the human race lived in small nomadic bands that survived by foraging for plants and hunting wild animals. Construction of the site would have required more people coming together in one place than had likely occurred before. Amazingly, the temple’s builders were able to cut, shape, and transport 16-ton stones hundreds of feet despite having no wheels or beasts of burden. The pilgrims who came to Göbekli Tepe lived in a world without writing, metal, or pottery; to those approaching the temple from below, its pillars must have loomed overhead like rigid giants, the animals on the stones shivering in the firelight—emissaries from a spiritual world that the human mind may have only begun to envision.

Archaeologists are still excavating Göbekli Tepe and debating its meaning. What they do know is that the site is the most significant in a volley of unexpected findings that have overturned earlier ideas about our species’ deep past. Just 20 years ago most researchers believed they knew the time, place, and rough sequence of the Neolithic Revolution—the critical transition that resulted in the birth of agriculture, taking Homo sapiens from scattered groups of hunter-gatherers to farming villages and from there to technologically sophisticated societies with great temples and towers and kings and priests who directed the labor of their subjects and recorded their feats in written form. But in recent years multiple new discoveries, Göbekli Tepe preeminent among them, have begun forcing archaeologists to reconsider.

At first the Neolithic Revolution was viewed as a single event—a sudden flash of genius—that occurred in a single location, Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now southern Iraq, then spread to India, Europe, and beyond. Most archaeologists believed this sudden blossoming of civilization was driven largely by environmental changes: a gradual warming as the Ice Age ended that allowed some people to begin cultivating plants and herding animals in abundance. The new research suggests that the “revolution” was actually carried out by many hands across a huge area and over thousands of years. And it may have been driven not by the environment but by something else entirely.

After a moment of stunned quiet, tourists at the site busily snap pictures with cameras and cell phones. Eleven millennia ago nobody had digital imaging equipment, of course. Yet things have changed less than one might think. Most of the world’s great religious centers, past and present, have been destinations for pilgrimages—think of the Vatican, Mecca, Jerusalem, Bodh Gaya (where Buddha was enlightened), or Cahokia (the enormous Native American complex near St. Louis). They are monuments for spiritual travelers, who often came great distances, to gawk at and be stirred by. Göbekli Tepe may be the first of all of them, the beginning of a pattern. What it suggests, at least to the archaeologists working there, is that the human sense of the sacred—and the human love of a good spectacle—may have given rise to civilization itself.

Klaus Schmidt knew almost instantly that he was going to be spending a lot of time at Göbekli Tepe. Now a researcher at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), Schmidt had spent the autumn of 1994 trundling across southeastern Turkey. He had been working at a site there for a few years and was looking for another place to excavate. The biggest city in the area is Şanlıurfa (pronounced shan-LYOOR-fa). By the standards of a brash newcomer like London, Şanlıurfa is incredibly old—the place where the Prophet Abraham supposedly was born. Schmidt was in the city to find a place that would help him understand the Neolithic, a place that would make Şanlıurfa look young. North of Şanlıurfa the ground ripples into the first foothills of the mountains that run across southern Turkey, source of the famous Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Nine miles outside of town is a long ridge with a rounded crest that locals call Potbelly Hill—Göbekli Tepe.

In the 1960s archaeologists from the University of Chicago had surveyed the region and concluded that Göbekli Tepe was of little interest. Disturbance was evident at the top of the hill, but they attributed it to the activities of a Byzantine-era military outpost. Here and there were broken pieces of limestone they thought were gravestones. Schmidt had come across the Chicago researchers’ brief description of the hilltop and decided to check it out. On the ground he saw flint chips—huge numbers of them. “Within minutes of getting there,” Schmidt says, he realized that he was looking at a place where scores or even hundreds of people had worked in millennia past. The limestone slabs were not Byzantine graves but something much older. In collaboration with the DAI and the Şanlıurfa Museum, he set to work the next year.

Inches below the surface the team struck an elaborately fashioned stone. Then another, and another—a ring of standing pillars. As the months and years went by, Schmidt’s team, a shifting crew of German and Turkish graduate students and 50 or more local villagers, found a second circle of stones, then a third, and then more. Geomagnetic surveys in 2003 revealed at least 20 rings piled together, higgledy-piggledy, under the earth.

The pillars were big—the tallest are 18 feet in height and weigh 16 tons. Swarming over their surfaces was a menagerie of animal bas-reliefs, each in a different style, some roughly rendered, a few as refined and symbolic as Byzantine art. Other parts of the hill were littered with the greatest store of ancient flint tools Schmidt had ever seen—a Neolithic warehouse of knives, choppers, and projectile points. Even though the stone had to be lugged from neighboring valleys, Schmidt says, “there were more flints in one little area here, a square meter or two, than many archaeologists find in entire sites.”

The circles follow a common design. All are made from limestone pillars shaped like giant spikes or capital T’s. Bladelike, the pillars are easily five times as wide as they are deep. They stand an arm span or more apart, interconnected by low stone walls. In the middle of each ring are two taller pillars, their thin ends mounted in shallow grooves cut into the floor. I asked German architect and civil engineer Eduard Knoll, who works with Schmidt to preserve the site, how well designed the mounting system was for the central pillars. “Not,” he said, shaking his head. “They hadn’t yet mastered engineering.” Knoll speculated that the pillars may have been propped up, perhaps by wooden posts.

To Schmidt, the T-shaped pillars are stylized human beings, an idea bolstered by the carved arms that angle from the “shoulders” of some pillars, hands reaching toward their loincloth-draped bellies. The stones face the center of the circle—as at “a meeting or dance,” Schmidt says—a representation, perhaps, of a religious ritual. As for the prancing, leaping animals on the figures, he noted that they are mostly deadly creatures: stinging scorpions, charging boars, ferocious lions. The figures represented by the pillars may be guarded by them, or appeasing them, or incorporating them as totems.

Puzzle piled upon puzzle as the excavation continued. For reasons yet unknown, the rings at Göbekli Tepe seem to have regularly lost their power, or at least their charm. Every few decades people buried the pillars and put up new stones—a second, smaller ring, inside the first. Sometimes, later, they installed a third. Then the whole assemblage would be filled in with debris, and an entirely new circle created nearby. The site may have been built, filled in, and built again for centuries.

Bewilderingly, the people at Göbekli Tepe got steadily worse at temple building. The earliest rings are the biggest and most sophisticated, technically and artistically. As time went by, the pillars became smaller, simpler, and were mounted with less and less care. Finally the effort seems to have petered out altogether by 8200 B.C.Göbekli Tepe was all fall and no rise.

As important as what the researchers found was what they did not find: any sign of habitation. Hundreds of people must have been required to carve and erect the pillars, but the site had no water source—the nearest stream was about three miles away. Those workers would have needed homes, but excavations have uncovered no sign of walls, hearths, or houses—no other buildings that Schmidt has interpreted as domestic. They would have had to be fed, but there is also no trace of agriculture. For that matter, Schmidt has found no mess kitchens or cooking fires. It was purely a ceremonial center. If anyone ever lived at this site, they were less its residents than its staff. To judge by the thousands of gazelle and aurochs bones found at the site, the workers seem to have been fed by constant shipments of game, brought from faraway hunts. All of this complex endeavor must have had organizers and overseers, but there is as yet no good evidence of a social hierarchy—no living area reserved for richer people, no tombs filled with elite goods, no sign of some people having better diets than others.

“These people were foragers,” Schmidt says, people who gathered plants and hunted wild animals. “Our picture of foragers was always just small, mobile groups, a few dozen people. They cannot make big permanent structures, we thought, because they must move around to follow the resources. They can’t maintain a separate class of priests and craft workers, because they can’t carry around all the extra supplies to feed them. Then here is Göbekli Tepe, and they obviously did that.”

Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife. “I, my colleagues, we all thought, What? How?” Schmidt said. Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. The accomplishment was astonishing, but it was hard to understand how it had been done or what it meant. “In 10 or 15 years,” Schmidt predicts, “Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason.”

Hovering over Göbekli Tepe is the ghost of V. Gordon Childe. An Australian transplant to Britain, Childe was a flamboyant man, a passionate Marxist who wore plus fours and bow ties and larded his public addresses with noodle-headed paeans to Stalinism. He was also one of the most influential archaeologists of the past century. A great synthesist, Childe wove together his colleagues’ disconnected facts into overarching intellectual schemes. The most famous of these arose in the 1920s, when he invented the concept of the Neolithic Revolution.

In today’s terms, Childe’s views could be summed up like this: Homo sapiens burst onto the scene about 200,000 years ago. For most of the millennia that followed, the species changed remarkably little, with humans living as small bands of wandering foragers. Then came the Neolithic Revolution—”a radical change,” Childe said, “fraught with revolutionary consequences for the whole species.” In a lightning bolt of inspiration, one part of humankind turned its back on foraging and embraced agriculture. The adoption of farming, Childe argued, brought with it further transformations. To tend their fields, people had to stop wandering and move into permanent villages, where they developed new tools and created pottery. The Neolithic Revolution, in his view, was an explosively important event—”the greatest in human history after the mastery of fire.”

Of all the aspects of the revolution, agriculture was the most important. For thousands of years men and women with stone implements had wandered the landscape, cutting off heads of wild grain and taking them home. Even though these people may have tended and protected their grain patches, the plants they watched over were still wild. Wild wheat and barley, unlike their domesticated versions, shatter when they are ripe—the kernels easily break off the plant and fall to the ground, making them next to impossible to harvest when fully ripe. Genetically speaking, true grain agriculture began only when people planted large new areas with mutated plants that did not shatter at maturity, creating fields of domesticated wheat and barley that, so to speak, waited for farmers to harvest them.

Rather than having to comb through the landscape for food, people could now grow as much as they needed and where they needed it, so they could live together in larger groups. Population soared. “It was only after the revolution—but immediately thereafter—that our species really began to multiply at all fast,” Childe wrote. In these suddenly more populous societies, ideas could be more readily exchanged, and rates of technological and social innovation soared. Religion and art—the hallmarks of civilization—flourished.

Childe, like most researchers today, believed that the revolution first occurred in the Fertile Crescent, the arc of land that curves northeast from Gaza into southern Turkey and then sweeps southeast into Iraq. Bounded on the south by the harsh Syrian Desert and on the north by the mountains of Turkey, the crescent is a band of temperate climate between inhospitable extremes. Its eastern terminus is the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq—the site of a realm known as Sumer, which dates back to about 4000 B.C. In Childe’s day most researchers agreed that Sumer represented the beginning of civilization. Archaeologist Samuel Noah Kramer summed up that view in the 1950s in his book History Begins at Sumer. Yet even before Kramer finished writing, the picture was being revised at the opposite, western end of the Fertile Crescent. In the Levant—the area that today encompasses Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, and western Syria—archaeologists had discovered settlements dating as far back as 13,000 B.C. Known as Natufian villages (the name comes from the first of these sites to be found), they sprang up across the Levant as the Ice Age was drawing to a close, ushering in a time when the region’s climate became relatively warm and wet.

The discovery of the Natufians was the first rock through the window of Childe’s Neolithic Revolution. Childe had thought agriculture the necessary spark that led to villages and ignited civilization. Yet although the Natufians lived in permanent settlements of up to several hundred people, they were foragers, not farmers, hunting gazelles and gathering wild rye, barley, and wheat. “It was a big sign that our ideas needed to be revised,” says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef.

Natufian villages ran into hard times around 10,800 B.C., when regional temperatures abruptly fell some 12°F, part of a mini ice age that lasted 1,200 years and created much drier conditions across the Fertile Crescent. With animal habitat and grain patches shrinking, a number of villages suddenly became too populous for the local food supply. Many people once again became wandering foragers, searching the landscape for remaining food sources.

Some settlements tried to adjust to the more arid conditions. The village of Abu Hureyra, in what is now northern Syria, seemingly tried to cultivate local stands of rye, perhaps replanting them. After examining rye grains from the site, Gordon Hillman of University College London and Andrew Moore of the Rochester Institute of Technology argued in 2000 that some were bigger than their wild equivalents—a possible sign of domestication, because cultivation inevitably increases qualities, such as fruit and seed size, that people find valuable. Bar-Yosef and some other researchers came to believe that nearby sites like Mureybet and Tell Qaramel also had had agriculture.

If these archaeologists were correct, these protovillages provided a new explanation of how complex society began. Childe thought that agriculture came first, that it was the innovation that allowed humans to seize the opportunity of a rich new environment to extend their dominion over the natural world. The Natufian sites in the Levant suggested instead that settlement came first and that farming arose later, as a product of crisis. Confronted with a drying, cooling environment and growing populations, humans in the remaining fecund areas thought, as Bar-Yosef puts it, “If we move, these other folks will exploit our resources. The best way for us to survive is to settle down and exploit our own area.” Agriculture followed.

The idea that the Neolithic Revolution was driven by climate change resonated during the 1990s, a time when people were increasingly worried about the effects of modern global warming. It was promoted in countless articles and books and ultimately enshrined in Wikipedia. Yet critics charged that the evidence was weak, not least because Abu Hureyra, Mureybet, and many other sites in northern Syria had been flooded by dams before they could be fully excavated. “You had an entire theory on the origins of human culture essentially based on a half a dozen unusually plump seeds,” ancient-grain specialist George Willcox of the National Center for Scientific Research, in France, says. “Isn’t it more likely that these grains were puffed during charring or that somebody at Abu Hureyra found some unusual-looking wild rye?”

As the dispute over the Natufians sharpened, Schmidt was carefully working at Göbekli Tepe. And what he was finding would, once again, force many researchers to reassess their ideas.

Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies. Compared to a nomadic band, the society of a village had longer term, more complex aims—storing grain and maintaining permanent homes. Villages would be more likely to accomplish those aims if their members were committed to the collective enterprise. Though primitive religious practices—burying the dead, creating cave art and figurines—had emerged tens of thousands of years earlier, organized religion arose, in this view, only when a common vision of a celestial order was needed to bind together these big, new, fragile groups of humankind. It could also have helped justify the social hierarchy that emerged in a more complex society: Those who rose to power were seen as having a special connection with the gods. Communities of the faithful, united in a common view of the world and their place in it, were more cohesive than ordinary clumps of quarreling people.

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it. When foragers began settling down in villages, they unavoidably created a divide between the human realm—a fixed huddle of homes with hundreds of inhabitants—and the dangerous land beyond the campfire, populated by lethal beasts.

French archaeologist Jacques Cauvin believed this change in consciousness was a “revolution of symbols,” a conceptual shift that allowed humans to imagine gods—supernatural beings resembling humans—that existed in a universe beyond the physical world. Schmidt sees Göbekli Tepe as evidence for Cauvin’s theory. “The animals were guardians to the spirit world,” he says. “The reliefs on the T-shaped pillars illustrate that other world.”

Schmidt speculates that foragers living within a hundred-mile radius of Göbekli Tepe created the temple as a holy place to gather and meet, perhaps bringing gifts and tributes to its priests and crafts­people. Some kind of social organization would have been necessary not only to build it but also to deal with the crowds it attracted. One imagines chanting and drumming, the animals on the great pillars seeming to move in flickering torchlight. Surely there were feasts; Schmidt has uncovered stone basins that could have been used for beer. The temple was a spiritual locus, but it may also have been the Neolithic version of Disneyland.

Over time, Schmidt believes, the need to acquire sufficient food for those who worked and gathered for ceremonies at Göbekli Tepe may have led to the intensive cultivation of wild cereals and the creation of some of the first domestic strains. Indeed, scientists now believe that one center of agriculture arose in southern Turkey—well within trekking distance of Göbekli Tepe—at exactly the time the temple was at its height. Today the closest known wild ancestors of modern einkorn wheat are found on the slopes of Karaca Dağ, a mountain just 60 miles northeast of Göbekli Tepe. In other words, the turn to agriculture celebrated by V. Gordon Childe may have been the result of a need that runs deep in the human psyche, a hunger that still moves people today to travel the globe in search of awe-inspiring sights.

Some of the first evidence for plant domestication comes from Nevalı Çori (pronounced nuh-vah-LUH CHO-ree), a settlement in the mountains scarcely 20 miles away. Like Göbekli Tepe, Nevalı Çori came into existence right after the mini ice age, a time archaeologists describe with the unlovely term Pre-pottery Neolithic (PPN). Nevalı Çori is now inundated by a recently created lake that provides electricity and irrigation water for the region. But before the waters shut down research, archaeologists found T-shaped pillars and animal images much like those Schmidt would later uncover at Göbekli Tepe. Similar pillars and images occurred in PPN settlements up to a hundred miles from Göbekli Tepe. Much as one can surmise today that homes with images of the Virgin Mary belong to Christians, Schmidt says, the imagery in these PPN sites indicates a shared religion—a community of faith that surrounded Göbekli Tepe and may have been the world’s first truly large religious grouping.

Naturally, some of Schmidt’s colleagues disagree with his ideas. The lack of evidence of houses, for instance, doesn’t prove that nobody lived at Göbekli Tepe. And increasingly, archaeologists studying the origins of civilization in the Fertile Crescent are suspicious of any attempt to find a one-size-fits-all scenario, to single out one primary trigger. It is more as if the occupants of various archaeological sites were all playing with the building blocks of civilization, looking for combinations that worked. In one place agriculture may have been the foundation; in another, art and religion; and over there, population pressures or social organization and hierarchy. Eventually they all ended up in the same place. Perhaps there is no single path to civilization; instead it was arrived at by different means in different places.

In Schmidt’s view, many of his colleagues have been as slow to appreciate Göbekli Tepe as he has been to excavate it. This summer will mark his 17th year at the site. The annals of archaeology are replete with scientists who in their hurry carelessly wrecked important finds, losing knowledge for all time. Schmidt is determined not to add his name to the list. Today less than a tenth of the 22-acre site is open to the sky.

Schmidt emphasizes that further research on Göbekli Tepe may change his current understanding of the site’s importance. Even its age is not clear—Schmidt is not certain he has reached the bottom layer. “We come up with two new mysteries for every one that we solve,” he says. Still, he has already drawn some conclusions. “Twenty years ago everyone believed civilization was driven by ecological forces,” Schmidt says. “I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind.”

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