How can you tell that you are on a Tel
A TEL (also spelled Tell) is a hill created by different civilizations living, destroying and rebuilding on the same spot. Over time, the level rises, forming a mound. Excavating a tell reveals buried structures such as government or military buildings, religious shrines and homes, located at different depths depending on their date of use. They often overlap, horizontally, vertically, or both. Archaeologists excavate tell sites to interpret architecture, purpose, and date of occupation. Since excavating a tell is a destructive process, physicists and geophysicists have developed non-destructive methods of mapping tell sites. (Archaeology in Wikipedia)
In Israel there are many tells.
The main reason for that is the geographical location of Israel in ancient times – in the middle of a large geographical arc called the “Fertile Crescent” (Israel, Lebanon and Syria of today).
This area, situated between the two large empires of the time – Egypt in the south-west and the Euphrates river Empires in the north-east (Babylon/Persia/Ur/Akkad/Elam/Sumer), was continually caught-up between these Empires’ conflicts.
The city or kingdom rulers owed allegiance to the various empires and if they rebelled they were immediately conquered and their cities laid to ruins.
Some years later the conquering ruler would decide to build a new city on the same location.
Not having the mechanical equipment we have today his builders would straighten out the ruins and on a slightly higher level, above the remains of the earlier city, build a new city – ever-so-often with the same name.
No other land in the whole world was conquered and rebuilt as many times as the Middle East. A half a dozen layers of occupation is usual.
Standing at the Western Wailing Wall on the today’s level of the road, you have to go down some 50/60 feet to get to the street level of the Second Temple period some 2000 years ago. Take the Kotel Tunnel-tour to see for yourself.
Megiddo, or as you may call it Armageddon, is the most extensively explored tel. The first excavations were started by Schumacher at the beginning of the 20th century and they are still going on today. At the site they have found 24-26 layers of civilization; yes!! conquered and rebuilt 24-26 times between 7000 BC until 586 BC – some 6500 years of occupation. When touring this city, even you, the non-professional archaeologist, can see with your own eyes 10-12 different vertical layers and almost a dozen different praying altars from various periods. The side of the mountain that Schumacher excavated looks like the side of a slice of multilayered chocolate cake – each layer representing a different period of time.
The archaeologists dig up (or thru) the layers and find evidence of the previous civilizations – coins, tools, letter seals (called bullas), pottery, inscriptions, historical evidence (like burnt houses), architectural and structural designs and more.
If you are lucky and find an inscription saying something like “Zorro was here” (just my joke) – this will give proof to the existing historical writings or traditions that we have all heard about.
The vertical strata in a Tel
Details of a Tell
An archaeologists vertical sketch/map of city walls at different levels of occupation at Tel Gezer and Tel Shechem
(Thanks to the Archaeology Department of the Hebrew University – Jerusalem)
Tel Beit-Shean in the north – aerial view (Israelite, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods)
(Photo from Kadmoniot 107) (1 Samuel 31 / 1 Kings 4:12)
Tel Sartaba (Alexandrium) – aerial view (in the eastern Jordan Valley) First Century BC fortress
(Photo by the great aerial observer – Amnon Ziv)
Tel Arad – South East
(Aerial Photo by Amnov Ziv) (Numbers 21:1)
Tel Gerar – South-West
“And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar” (Gen 20;1)
Tel Tsafit – the ancient Philistine city of Gath
Belvoir Crusader Fortress on the Jordan Valley
(Aerial photo by Amnon Ziv)
Tel Beer-Sheva – in the Northern Negev Desert
“Isaac’s servants dug a well at Beer-sheba also” (Genesis 26:25)
(Aerial photo by Amnon Ziv)