Excavating the Biblical City of Azekah: Some Recent Finds, in Photos

Ruth Schuster
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Plaque female figurine found in biblical Azekah
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

“The city of Azekah … located on a mountain ridge, like pointed iron daggers without number reaching high to heaven. [Its walls] were strong and rivaled the highest mountains… [by means of beaten (earth) ra]mps, battering rams … I captured, I carried off its spoil, I destroyed, I devastated…” - King Sennacherib of Assyria described vanquishing Azekah during his campaign against the Kingdom of Judah more than 2,700 years ago. 

Mountain ridge is somewhat overstating the case. The ruins identified as the biblical city of Azekah lie on a hill, being excavated by the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition, led by Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University and and Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University,  with field director: Dr. Sabine Kleiman of Tübingen University, archaeologists are exploring the ancient ruins under the burning sun in southern Israel. Not only walls and pottery fragments are coming to light. So are bodies, lying where they were felled, and today treated with the sober respect they did not get at the time.

Here are some of the team's most recent finds, shedding light on the town's fate - but mostly, on how the people lived. 

Azekah: Built on a hilltop
Gath had a view of it, and it had a view of Gath
Azekah
AzekahCredit: Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition

Little Azekah had impressive fortifications of its own but lived in the shadow of its powerful neighbor Gath.

Strategically situated, until leveled by Assyria
After King Senacherib's attack in 701 BCE
Azekah - Destruction debris from the 701 BCE Sennacherib Assyrian campaign
Destruction debris at Azekah from King Sennacherib's assault in 701 BCECredit: Sagi Freeman

The Assyrians were noted for the brutality of their campaigns. Archaeologists think they may have even found the siege ramp Sennacherib's forces used.

Lying where she was slain
One of many bodies found from the biblical battle
Young woman's remains, Azekah
The remains of a young woman and shattered vessels, found at Azekah this yearCredit: Benjamin Sitzmann/Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition

Nobody would have been spared after the Assyrians breached the city wall.

Late 7th-early 6th centuries BCE
Stamping had been in use by then for thousands of years
Fragment of vessel with rosette stamping
Fragment of vessel with rosette stampingCredit: Sagi Freedman

Founded in the Early Bronze Age, Azekah prospered in the Middle Bronze Age - and was destroyed in the late Late Bronze Age, after which it arose anew about 3000 years ago as a Judean town.

From the 13th-12th century BCE
The actual role played by figurines remains obscure
Azekah - Lower part of a female plaque figurine from the Late Bronze Age (13-12th centuries BCE)
Lower part of a female plaque figurine from the Late Bronze Age (13-12th centuries BCE)Credit: Benjamin Sitzmann

Figurines abounded in Bronze Age sites and later, and what they meant, we cannot always know.

From the 13th-12th century BCE
The peoples of Canaan and Egypt had complex relationships
Azekah Egyptian Bes Amulet from the Late Bronze Destruction (13-12th centuries BCE)
Amulet of the Egyptian god Bes, from the Late Bronze Destruction (13-12th centuries BCE)Credit: Benjamin Sitzmann

In the late Bronze Age, Egypt gained control over Canaan, but religious influence seems to have gone both ways.

Built atop sturdy stone foundations
Mud-brick walls that survived millennia
Mud-brick walls from the Bronze Age found at Azekah
Mud-brick walls from the Bronze Age found at AzekahCredit: Ariel David

The oldest mud-brick walls known to date are about 7,200 years old, from a prehistoric village in the Jordan Valley, but more usually, they return to their natural state: mud.

Sherd from 18th-16th centuries BCE
From a vessel, dating to the earliest days of Azekah
Azekah - Red, white and blue sherd from the Middle Bronze Age (18th-16th centuries BCE)
Mayar Harb holding a red, white and blue sherd from the Middle Bronze Age (18th-16th centuries BCE)Credit: Benjamin Sitzmann

Trade has been a thing since the dawn of civilization and even before.

13th-12th century BCE
Few pottery vessels thousands of years old remain complete
Reconstructed storage jars found at Azekah
Reconstructed storage jars found over excavation seasons at AzekahCredit: Sasha Flit/Institute of Archaeol

The difference between a mud-brick wall and a clay pot is usually firing for the latter, making them more resilient to usage and the ages - to a degree.

Iron arrowhead
Found at Azekah, provenance unknown
Arrowhead found at Azekah
Iron arrowhead found at AzekahCredit: Azekah expedition

Bonhomie, it does not speak of.

14th-13th century BCE
Handle of a bowl imported from Cyprus
Handle of a bowl found at Azekah
Handle of a bowl found at AzekahCredit: Benjamin Sitzmann, Azekah expedition

Pottery may be used to date and identify a site - and indicate prosperity when the item came from afar.

Decorated pottery handle
Decorated pottery handle
Handle
HandleCredit: Azekah Expedition

Handles can be indicative of the origin of a given vessel.

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