Conflagration at Tel Gezer Destroyed the Thorns, Not the Antiquities

'Tel Gezer did burn, and the sight is definitely disturbing,' said Israel Antiquities Authority director, 'But it is important to stress that in general fire does not irreversibly damage archaeological remains made of stone'

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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A picture showing the aftermath of a fire in Tel Gezer, on Monday.
A picture showing the aftermath of a fire in Tel Gezer, on Monday.Credit: Mark Avrahami
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

The Tel Gezer archeological site in central Israel was not damaged in a wildfire as was mistakenly reported on Monday.

"Tel Gezer did burn, and the sight is definitely disturbing," said Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Eskosido. "But it is important to stress that in general fire does not irreversibly damage archaeological remains made of stone."

If anything, the elimination of the thorns and other pesky scrub obscuring the antiquities at the Tel Gezer National Park could wind up revealing new things, an archaeological source says.

A picture showing the aftermath of a fire in Tel Gezer, on Monday.Credit: Mark Avrahami
A picture showing the aftermath of a fire in Tel Gezer, on Monday.Credit: Mark Avrahami

At this stage the IAA is surveying and studying the damage that was done to the site and experts at conservation of antiquities will be removing the soot and charring, subject to the government approving budgets for the work. But in any case most of Gezer's ancient charms are subterranean and were untouched by the conflagration, Eskosodi added.

All this said, the fire affected hundreds of dunams, according to Ynet. In Israel in general, wildfires are caused by human agency, whether for malicious purposes or merely being careless with barbecue fires and/or cigarette butts. This applies to the Gezer fire too: it was reportedly caused by a "controlled fire" ignited to clear land for agriculture that got out of control.

The site that is now the charred and blackened Tel Gezer has been occupied for at least 5,500 years. It was first discovered in the 19th century by explorers to the Holy Land hoping to find proof of the bible and has been under scientific investigation more or less ever since.

In 2013, to their surprise, Israeli archaeologists discovered an early Canaanite city beneath the biblical-period Canaanite city. This earlier city had ties with Egypt, going by archaeological finds such as scarabs, seals, and a lovely cartouche featuring none other than Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Its destruction could have been due to a conflict with the Egyptians or internecine warfare, as was not rare in these parts or anywhere else for that matter.

Three years later a lovely palace-type structure was found in Gezer, from roughly the time of the legendary King Solomon. That was from a better time, apparently. From a less fortuitous period, archaeologists found a meter-thick destruction layer of ash and bricks in the city's west.

Then in 2017, for the first time archaeologists discovered actual bodies in Gezer, dating to a fiery destruction about 3,200 years ago: as the blazing Canaanite structure collapsed, an adult and child were trapped inside. This evidence supports Pharaoh Merneptah's boast that he had "seized" Gezer. Or of course maybe there was a massive wildfire there 3,200 years ago and with no planes loaded with fire retardant or water to put it out.

Has the bible been proved accurate? That would be a stretch, but it can be said, evidence supporting historical narratives have been found. But at no point in all this convoluted history do we learn why the Egyptians turned on Gezer – which they apparently did with enthusiasm: a relief at the Temple of Amun shows what some interpret to be the Pharaoh Siamun commemorating his victory over Gezer. Others contend the relief shows no such thing. Only further research will, or may, tell.

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