Online Review: Book

Tell es-Safi/Gath I: The 1996–2005 Seasons

Aren M. Maeir, ed.

117.3

Reviewed by Eric H. Cline

Ägypten und Altes Testament 69. 2 vols. Vol. 1, Text; vol. 2, Plates. Pp. vii + 628, pls. 229, tables 149, maps 2. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2012. $249. ISBN 978-3-447-06711-9 (cloth).


The publication of a final excavation report is always cause for celebration, especially considering the tremendous quantity of data that has to be sorted and analyzed before publication is possible. This final report of the 1996–2005 seasons at Tell es-Safi/Gath (hereafter simply Safi), edited by Maeir (Bar-Ilan University), the director of the project, represents the first in an anticipated series of volumes reporting on the ongoing excavations at the site.

As Maeir describes (5), Safi is a large, multiperiod site with remains dating from the late prehistoric period through the modern period. The excavation project has concentrated in particular on the Bronze and Iron Ages in areas of the mound that do not have a significant later overburden. Work originally began in 1996 under the joint direction of Boas, Schneider, and Maeir, but Maeir has been the overall director of the project since the 1998 season.

Volume 1 of this two-volume set consists of 28 chapters covering almost every aspect of the excavation and its findings during the first 10 seasons of excavation. It is organized so that chapters on similar topics are in close proximity to one another, in what are essentially discrete sections, although they are not labeled as such. Volume 2 consists of the supporting plates, which include clearly labeled area and detail photographs, section drawings and fold-out schematic plans, and pottery profiles for the relevant chapters, especially those concerned with the stratigraphy, architecture, and pottery of excavation areas A and E. The plans and pottery profile drawings are high quality and well done. The numerous photographs are all adequately reproduced in black-and-white (no photographs are in color), but the quality of the reproduction is workmanlike rather than stunning and seems geared toward keeping the cost of the volumes down. Although there is not enough room in this review to comment on all the contributions, a brief iteration of the individual contributions will be of interest and of use to those considering purchasing or consulting this volume.

The first section, consisting of chapters 1–7, begins with an 88-page introduction written by Maeir, which actually covers the time from the beginning of the project in 1996 until just before the 2011 season, when the volumes went to press. Maeir presents an overview and synopsis of the results to date, with asides on various other topical issues, including the applicability of terms such as acculturation, trans­culturalism, creolization, and hybridization to the process of the observable changes in Philistine culture over time at sites such as Safi. There is also a "digression" (Maeir's word) on Khirbet Qeiyafa (22–4); a reply to an IEJ article by Ussishkin on the Aramean siege system at Safi (43–7), even though that article was not published until 2009 (see D. Ussishkin, "On the So-Called Aramaean 'Siege Trench' in Tell es-Safi, Ancient Gath," IEJ 59 [2009] 137–57); and a discussion of the dating of Hazael's campaign to Philistia (47–9), among other things. The inclusion of all these is explained by Maeir's statement on the first page that the introduction is meant "to tie the various chapters together" and "to place them within a wider perspective of other research conducted at the site as well as within the broader framework of the state of research on relevant periods, cultures and topics" (1). Obviously, it is a matter of taste as to whether a chapter that aims to tie together the other chapters and place them into a broader framework appears at the beginning of a volume as an introduction or at the end as a summation and conclusions section. I think that the latter makes more sense; Maier apparently prefers the former.

Surprisingly, what the introduction does not have is a section on the geography and location of the site, complete with some initial maps. The physical location of Safi is not mentioned until page 9; the first maps that show its location do not appear until pages 90 and 92, and a full description does not appear until page 123: "Tell es-Safi/Gath is located in central Israel in the lower part of the western Judean foothills (Lower Shephelah), which form part of the Judean mountain ridge." For a final publication, this is quite strange, for not everyone who picks up these volumes will be as conversant with the site and its location as the excavators; the maps and full description should have been on the first pages of the volume, not buried in the second and third chapters 100 pages later.

The lengthy introduction is followed by an interesting history of the previous research conducted at the site from 1838 to 1996 and then a specific reanalysis of the excavations in 1899 by Bliss and Macalister. The environmental background of Safi and its surrounding area is presented next, followed by discussions of the possible involvement of Safi (Tel Zafit) in the Amarna correspondence of the 14th century B.C.E., Philistine Gath in the biblical record, Safi/Gath in the Medieval and modern periods, and Safi in the Ottoman cadastral surveys (1519–1557 C.E.).

The second section, consisting of chapters 8–10, does not begin until page 173 of the volume, but it is here that the meat of the actual stratigraphic results from the new excavation project is found. It begins with a brief presentation of the surface survey results, followed by the stratigraphy and architecture of Area A and then of Area E, the two main excavation areas considered in this volume.

The third section (chs. 11–17) consists of studies of the pottery from these two excavation areas and takes up more than one-third of this volume—220 of the 628 pages. Studies include the Early Bronze III pottery from Area A; the Late Bronze Age pottery; the Iron I and Early Iron IIA pottery; the Late Iron IIA pottery assemblage, specifically from stratum A3; and the Iron IIB pottery from stratum A2. The section concludes with discussions of the stratigraphic provenience and technological studies of pottery and using data mining techniques in the analysis of the pottery found at Safi during these seasons.

Chapters 18–23 make up the fourth discrete section, consisting of reports on the small finds, stone implements, and inscriptions found at the site. These include the stamp seal amulets, the unprovenanced glyptics found at the site in the 2005–2006 season, the weaving implements, the hieratic inscriptions, the ground-stone objects, the chipped-stone assemblage, and the notched scapulae from stratum A3.

The final section (chs. 24–8) begins with the environmental and paleogeographical history of Safi over the past eight millennia. An overview of the Early Bronze Age in the Judean Shephelah is presented next (although it perhaps should have been earlier in the volume, in the first section rather than the last), followed by a report on the ground-penetrating radar studies conducted at the site from 2003 to 2005. The section is rounded out by preliminary reports on the archaeobotanical research and on the Late Bronze and Iron Age faunal assemblages.

The volume then concludes with an appendix (appx. A) on the methodology followed during the excavation, recording, and processing of finds. Here again, I think that a chapter or section with a summary of the results, as well as some overall historical or archaeological conclusions and perhaps further suggestions or hypotheses based on the discoveries, would have been more useful at the end of the volume rather than at the beginning. Some might also have found useful a descriptive list of excavated loci and an index at the end of the volume.

The volume could also have used more careful proofreading and editing before seeing the light of day—this is always a problem with such large edited volumes and a finite number of prepublication readers. However, the typographical and grammatical errors do not seriously detract from the volume as a whole and none seems to have adversely affected the meaning of the text.

In all, this final report is a very straightforward presentation of salient facts and findings from the first decade of the new excavations at Safi, as well as a recapitulation of previous work at the site and other relevant topics. Even with the comments and quibbles regarding its organization and other aspects mentioned above, it is a welcome addition to the corpus of final excavation reports from sites in Israel. It obviously contributes much useful new data that will play an important role in future discussions of the archaeology of the region and of the larger world of ancient Canaan, Philistia, Judah, and Israel during the second and early first millennia B.C.E. The editor, authors, and excavation staff members are all to be commended for their efforts and for publishing the results of their endeavors so promptly.

Eric H. Cline
Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The George Washington University
Washington, D.C. 20052
ehcline@email.gwu.edu

DOI: 
10.3764/ajaonline1173.Cline

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