In a recent Haaretz article published about two weeks ago, skeletons of bodies were discovered at ancient Gezer. Having participated in last year’s excavation at Tel Gezer, I am excited to hear this news.

Skeleton at Gezer

One of the skeletons found at Tel Gezer. This body was apparently crushed by falling stones (Credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

Often times when bones are discovered at an archaeological site in Israel, such an uncovering potentially puts into place certain steps that requires the dig to slow down and verify what has been found. To be honest, finding bones, particularly human bones, can potentially bring a dig to a halt in that area of excavation because it forces the archaeologist to report the finding of bones to certain authorities who then, in turn, come and evaluate the find. For the religious Jew, finding human bones requires special attention and respect for the deceased, even a proper burial, although the bones may date back to biblical times. In this case at Gezer, it appears that these human bones belonged to ancient Canaanites who lost their lives during the time of the Egyptian destruction of the city in the 13th century BC.  What makes this so interesting is how this find of skeletons matches up well with both other archaeological records as well as with the Bible.

Merneptah Stele

The Merneptah Stele that records that the Egyptian Pharaoh “seized Gezer.” (credit: Webscribe, Wikimedia Commons)

The ancient city of Gezer is mentioned a few times in Egyptian records. Apparently, the Egyptians had great interest in controlling Gezer and this most strategic region of Israel. Located along the Aijalon Valley, Gezer served as the primary fortified city that guarded the south-north route from Egypt. In the 15th century BC, Thutmose III captured the city (this is recorded on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Luxor). Later in the 14th-13th centuries BC, Gezer is actually mentioned in the Amarna Letters. These were a series of about 350 tablets written in cuneiform (the diplomatic language of the day) that preserved the conversation of what was going on in Canaan. The Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II actually addresses the Gezer king by name – a Canaanite named Milkilu. These Amarna Letters are actually displayed at the Egyptian Museum. Dr. Ortiz comments, “We know from the Amarna Tablets that the [Canaanite] kings of Gezer were major players in the region during the 14th century B.C.E. Egypt would have been keen on the great agricultural land in the vicinity.

Canaanite body

The uncovering of one of the bodies (credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

But where the find of these skeletons comes into play relates to what is mentioned on the Merneptah Stele (also displayed at the Egyptian Museum). Gezer was again taken by the Egyptians. According to this stone stele, Merneptah (the son of Ramses II and the 4th Pharoah of the 19th Dynasty) seized Gezer.” This accounts for the destruction level found in the 10th season of excavating here at Gezer.

According to the Bible, Gezer was initially captured by Joshua, for the city makes the list of 31 cities taken in the Conquest (see Joshua 12). However, like a few other cities, the Canaanites were apparently able to maintain control over the city (Judges 1:29). Thus, the three skeletons found here (2 adults and one child) were probably Canaanites who were killed in the Merneptah destruction of the city.

Canaanite Body Gezer

More excavation of the Canaanite body in Room 1 (Credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

Furthermore, “the skeletal remains had been reduced mostly to powdery charred dust. The adult was lying on its back with arms above its head. The child, who was wearing earrings, was next to the adult, to the left. This room was filled with ash and collapsed mud brick,” says Ortiz. “We can only guess what they were doing in the building on the eve of destruction. Were they hiding? Were they fleeing the Egyptian soldiers? Did they go back into the building to retrieve valuables?

Gezer dig

The rooms where the bodies were uncovered (credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

In a second room, the excavators found the remains of a particularly intriguing rectangular room with a supporting wall and two pillars in its center. The article continues, “In this room, which had been finely plastered, a third body was found, also telling a tale of gruesome death. This person, 1.72 centimeters tall, was found beneath a jumble of collapsed stones that ironically helped to preserve the skeletal remains.” Ortiz added, “This individual attests to the violent nature of the destruction, as it is clear he experienced the trauma of the event,

To read this full article about this exciting new discovery, go HERE.

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