Limestone incense altars
Tell Halif: Summer 2011
The excavations at Tell Halif (Israel) have entered a very crucial stage, preparation for publication of the excavated materials. Most people don’t realize that the easiest part of an archaeological project is the actual excavation. However, without publishing the finds, the whole exercise is a waste of time and money. During the last three field seasons (2007-2009) we have uncovered hundreds of objects and samples of material culture. To analyze them and make sense out of all these finds we need to engage specialists and there is a lot of materials for Ph.D. dissertations.
Last summer we spent a month going over all the field notes and catalogs to make sure that there were no mistakes in recording the information. Indeed, we found discrepancies as it might occur when working in the heat and dust and when training students in the art of keeping the records. This work led to the preparation of updated season reports copies of which were deposited with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the W.F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research (AIAR), and the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University. The AIAR, a supporting institution located in Jerusalem, is where scholars come to conduct library research and where most American archaeological projects operating in Israel keep a copy of their records for this purpose. The Cobb Institute has been the center of operations for our project in previous phases and therefore is a repository of all records. The Cobb Institute continues to support our efforts in many ways.
In addition to the work described above, we invested much effort in clearing several of the excavated areas of the saltbush that invaded and took over. We continued this task this summer as well since we want visitors to be able to see some of the architecture uncovered at the site. Besides, the root action of the saltbush destroys what has been uncovered.
This summer (2011) we concentrated on two major tasks: re-photographing all objects using better equipment and under better conditions; securing permission from the IAA and shipping by boat pottery from selected areas for study and reconstruction. We sent to the Cobb Institute four large crates (884 kgs.) with pottery sherds collected from the floors of several houses that were destroyed most likely in 701 BCE by the Assyrian army under King Sennacherib. The pottery needs to go physical and statistical analysis; the vessels will be reconstructed, drawn and photographed. Samples for residue analysis by the Weizmann Institute were taken from some of the jars while further residue analysis will be conducted on cooking pots to determine what was their content.
At this point, several analyses have been completed. The study of marine shells shows that our site had connections – commercial and others – with the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Syria/Lebanon. We concluded the analysis of all flint tools and debitage; the grindstones were examined and a final report is expected soon as well as a report about the animal bones collected from all excavated areas. Organic samples will be soon analyzed to determine what types of plants were available to the occupants of the site. We also collected many samples for C-14 analysis that will provide us with some chronometric dates.
Our site has yielded a tremendous amount of evidence related to textile production in the 8th century BCE and the study of this material is ongoing and we hope to learn from this what types of textiles were produced at the site.
One study that is the topic of a Ph.D. dissertation involves the many cult objects discovered during our work. Many of them date to the 8th century BCE, when the site was under the control of the Kingdom of Judah, and can inform us of certain practices not all of which were approved by the Bible.
All in all, our work is progressing very nicely and we hope to be able to return to the field in the coming summers to clarify some points which still need clarification.