UNIQUE 3,2000-YEAR-OLD SITE EXCAVATED--A LINK WITH SARDINIA?

The University’s Department of Archaeology is excavating a site that is the first of its kind to be discovered in Israel. The site, known as el-Ahwat (in English, “The Walls”), is located near the Wadi Ara pass, which is twenty kilometers south of the Mount Carmel range, eighteen kilometers inland, and parallel to Hadera. It was discovered in 1992 by the Manasseh Survey during a systematic mapping of all areas in the Samaria, Jordan Valley, and Wadi Ara regions. The site has been providing new information linking the ancient Sea-Peoples to the island of Sardinia.

“We have been engaged in excavating, mapping, and interpreting el-Ahwat since 1993,” Dr. Adam Zertal, Chairman of the Archaeology Department, told researchers attending a three-day international archeological conference held at the University in December. “At first we thought it was an early Israelite site. But as the excavations continued, we could tell it was not so. We found we were dealing with a site containing completely new material, hitherto unknown in Israel.”

The ancient site dates to the end of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages (end of 13th and beginning of 12th centuries BCE). According to the archeologist, el-Ahwat is rare because it is a single-stratum site: it effectively gives an x-ray picture of a single culture. The site is unique to Israel in many respects, Zertal continued: fortification, planning, the wavy lines of the city-walls, corridors, and igloo-shaped buildings.

“Evidence gathered also points to the fact that the site had been short-lived, not exceeding 60-70 years, after which it was abandoned without any interference, such as fire,” Zertal added. He did not know the reason why the site was abandoned, however.

The formation of the stones in the site’s remaining walls and buildings showed a remarkable similarity to the architecture of Sardinia of the same period, facts which were brought to the attention of Prof. Giovanni Ugas of Cagliari University on Sardinia. Ugas is an expert on the ancient Sardinians of that period and their buildings of Nuragic architecture. This began a Haifa-Sardinia relationship. Ugas’ first visit to the site was in 1996, and he returned the following year, taking along forty of his students to join in the dig.

“It was a very interesting experience to have the Italian students excavate with us last year,” said Dror Ben-Yosef, a Master’s student in the Archaeology Department at the University. “We ensured that each working group, with its mixture of Israelis and Italians, included an English speaker from each country.” The joint venture proved so rewarding that archaeology students here are going to Sardinia next year to work alongside the islanders.

Ugas was present at the conference and delivered his paper on Nuragic architecture and its comparison to El-Ahwat. “It is extremely plausible that the occupiers of the site had a knowledge of this architecture,” he remarked. “There is a definite similarity between the corridors, thickness of walls, and igloo-shaped buildings. If, as I think, the Shardana are to be identified with people coming from Sardinia, then their architecture could have left traces of its presence in Egypt and the Levant. The El-Ahwat citadel seems to point in this direction.”

Small artifacts at the site had been examined by experts from Haifa, Tel-Aviv, and Hebrew Universities, and the Antiquities Authority, all of which were represented at the conference. All seals and scarabs found, with the exception of one 15th-century BCE scarab, indicated a date within the last decades of the 13th and first half of the 12th centuries BCE. Flints that were found were similar to those from other Iron Age I sites. They had not been produced at the site, and the most frequent type was the sickle-shape, likely used for the reaping of cereals. The remains of two olive-oil installations were also found at el-Ahwat. The production method of both had involved very early and primitive devices.

Prof. Miriam Balmuth, of Tufts University outside Boston, spoke at the conference on discoveries of ceramic material around the Mediterranean. In her opinion, the excavations at el-Ahwat provide a welcome opportunity to examine similar architectural motifs in different places, and can give new interpretations regarding the Sea-Peoples and their tribes and their movement around the region.

Nirit Lavie-Alon, an M.A. student of Biblical Archaeology here, screened Egyptian texts and reliefs that showed that the Shardana were present in the Levant from the 14th to the 10th centuries BCE. She said that if the site had indeed been settled by the Shardana, the question arose whether it was independent or under Egyptian dominance. The date given to the settlement and its abandonment could be connected with the weakening of Egyptian dominance in Canaan, she suggested.

Many mysteries remain to be solved in the puzzle of el-Ahwat. Why was it there? Who were the settlers, and why did they chose that particular site, far from roads and water? Why did the site have an extremely short life span? Why were only local artifacts found? Was it purely a fortified area or was it also an agricultural settlement? Were there facts that would show new relationships between various Mediterranean countries, particularly in the more unusual direction of West to East? Would el-Ahwat help substantiate the origin of the Shardana as Sardinian?

In Zertal’s opinion, the conference had been an experiment. “It is the usual custom to keep all information under wraps before publishing,” he said. “But we wanted to receive information from all different aspects, and to hear different views and opinions. To discuss all facts of the new material should be fruitful in filling out the puzzle, and putting it in a wider framework.”

On Mount Carmel, some twenty kilometers north-west of el-Ahwat, four more sites have recently been found where a similar architecture is represented. These sites have already been proven to have had a longer life-span than el-Ahwat. Zertal assumes that, once excavated, they could represent a territory of settlements of the northern Sea-Peoples. He then added, “Our job now is to process all this information and data.”

Pig Was Not Part of the Diet

"The el-Ahwat settlers apparently did not raise pigs. Although the assemblage of 1,200 bones found at the site contained some wild boar, domestic pig was not represented. "The absence of pigs at the [el-Ahwat] site could have been due to ethnic taboos or the fact that water was absent from the site," said Ms. Liora Kolska-Horwitz of the Hebrew University. It seems that the only sites in Canaan which have revealed an abundance of domestic pig bones were those of the Philistines.

"The bones were dominated by remains of domestic sheep and goat, with cattle the second most common species. such as milk, yogurt, wool, and labor."

The small amount of fish bones and shells found during the three excavation seasons at the site showed that there had been some level of contact with the Mediterranean coast line, she said.

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