Tell Qasile Excavations
In the center of the museum complex rises Tell Qasile, one of the most fascinating and important archaeological sites in the Tel Aviv area. Two pottery shards from the First Temple Period with Hebrew inscriptions were discovered on the hill in the 1940s, stirring great interest. As a result, excavations began in 1948, under Prof. Benjamin Mazar, and continued through the early 1990s.
The dig revealed the remains of an ancient port city built by the Philistines in the 12th century BCE, on the edge of a kurkar (sandstone) ridge, close to the Yarkon riverbed. The city was destroyed in a major fire in the 10th century BCE, apparently the work of King David. It was eventually rebuilt and even flourished in later periods. The zenith of its development was in the 11th century BCE, when it was bursting with life and densely built according to a precise city plan: Intertwining streets divided blocks of buildings and created a partition into living quarters, work quarters and a holy complex - underscoring a tradition of municipal life and urban planning.
The Center for Religious Rituals
The Philistine city's sacred complex was discovered near the top of the hill: Remains were found of three temples built one on top of the other, each an extension of the one before, a likely indication of the city's increasing population. The temples were built from sun-dried mud bricks; the walls were whitewashed and lined with low benches. On the temple floors, especially close to the sacrificial platform and storage compartments, many ritual and sacrificial vessels were found, some rare and unique.
A second, smaller shrine of unclear function was discovered next to the central temple. It may have been used to perform rites to a secondary god or to the wife of the main deity, whose identity remains a mystery. Alternatively, it may have served as a sort of private chapel for the city ruler. A sacrificial altar was discovered in the latest temple's courtyard, surrounded by layers of ash covering the bones of sheep, goats, cows, hippos and camels apparently sacrificed and eaten on the premises.
The Living Quarters and the Restored "Four-Room" House
On the southern side of the hill, living quarters and a street stretching from east to west were unearthed. North of the street is a block of housing; south are workshops and storehouses. The 100-sq.-meter houses are constructed uniformly: They are square in outline and contain two long rectangular rooms and a courtyard, which is divided in some houses into two by a row of wooden pillars, one part covered and the other not. Thus was born the "Four-Room House" characteristic of Iron Age architecture in the Land of Israel. One of the houses in the quarter has been restored to simulate daily life of the period. The quarter continued to exist in David and Solomon's times as well as during the reign of Josiah, King of Judah, although on a much smaller scale.
Among the many pottery vessels discovered is a range of locally produced Philistine pottery. Most of the bichrome decorations and designs were borrowed from Aegean culture. Other characteristic vessels of the period were also unearthed here, seemingly fashioned according to Canaanite cultural traditions; many were red slipped, burnished and decorated in black.
The Philistines, one of the "Sea Peoples," appeared in the Land of Israel at the start of the 12th century BCE; their origins have not been confirmed, although the Bible speaks of them as hailing from Crete. Archaeological findings link their culture closely with Greek Mycenean culture in the later Bronze Age and to Cyprus, the last stop on their way to the Land of Israel. Thus, they likely originated in Greece and the Aegean islands, journeying eastwards after the waves of destruction overcame Mycenean culture at the end of the Bronze Age.
According to remaining documents from the time of Ramses III, the invasion of the "Sea Peoples", whether by sea or land, left behind destruction and carnage. "And the Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it to Ashdod from Even Haezer" (Samuel I, 5:1)
The Philistines settled in the Philistia area, between the Yarkon River and the northern Negev. Bible stories tell of their relationship with the Tribes of Israel and archaeological research fills in the picture. They first served as mercenaries in Egyptian rulers' fortresses in Canaan. In the mid-12th century BCE, following the collapse of the Egyptian empire, the Philistines became rulers of the cities. The Bible tells of five Philistine princes or rulers, in Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gat and Ekron.
To book a tour of the Tell Qasile exhibit (groups only), please call the
Education Department: (03)745-5710.
Link to Prof. Amihai Mazar's website about Tell Qasile, at www.hum.huji.ac.il/tellgasile.