In 2009, Dr. Itzhaq Shai and I initiated a long-term archaeological project at Tel Burna. The site is located in the Judean Shephelah on the northern banks of Wadi Guvrin. While described by a number of scholars over the years as a prominent ancient site, it is one of the last tells in the Shephelah to be excavated. Since 2009, an ongoing survey, including several different methods has been conducted alongside excavations. Thus far, 21 squares have been excavated in three different areas, uncovering a sequence of five strata spanning the Late Bronze Age IIB through to the Persian period.
During my time at the Albright, the focus of my research was on a specific feature uncovered in the excavations – the fortifications on the summit, already noted by early surveyors. Aharoni and Amiran suggested that the wall which they saw likely dates to the Iron Age. During our survey, we were able to document two parallel walls encompassing all four sides of the square summit. The survey finds indicated that this feature most likely dated to the Iron Age II. In order to further understand the fortifications, the relationship between the walls, and confirm and fine-tune the dating, eight squares were opened along the eastern edge and slope of the summit.
The two walls noted in the survey were found to be linked by perpendicular walls between them, creating a casemate fortification, common in the region in the Iron Age. Each wall is approximately 2 meters thick, with two meters of space between them, creating a fortification 6 meters wide, and preserved to a height of over two meters. The small rooms created between the outer and inner wall had no visible entrance, and may have been filled with rubble.
The dating of this feature was aided by two elements relating to the walls. The first is a silo, which cut the inner wall, meaning that it must have post-dated it. The silo is one of a series of such installations that can be dated to the 7th century BCE. It is, therefore, clear that the fortification system, or at least part of it, went out of use by this time. It is possible, although unlikely, that the outer wall continued to function during the 7th century BCE. On the inside of the walls several structures with surfaces containing pottery for restoration were discovered. One such surface included a small installation built up against the wall. Next to this installation, a cluster of loom weights and a 9th century BCE storage jar and a hand-burnished bowl were found. As this surface relates to the wall, it is clear that the wall was already in use in the 9th century. It is possible that the wall was built earlier, although we have yet to find any evidence suggesting this.
It is, therefore, clear now that the fortifications of the summit at Tel Burna were in use in the Iron Age IIA and IIB, and consisted of a casemate fortification typical of Judean sites in the period. The fact that the fortifications went out of use by the 7th century may be related to the destruction of Shephelah sites by Sennacherib, king of Assyria at the end of the 8th century BCE. After this military campaign, the site seems to have been resettled, but in a more modest manner and without fortifications.
A report on this year’s excavation results has been accepted for publication in the Israel Exploration Journal.
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