I write so often of settlement – studying settlement and learning about the past, but we forget that settlement is also destructive. A place which has been continuously settled waves a checkered flag for archaeologists – “Dig here and you will uncover the past!” – but those same settlements also cloak the past and destroy it. Ancient building was disassembled for later use, ruining structures while marking the place.
One site which escaped destruction by settlement was uncovered in the past few years with the aid of modern technology around Tel Yizrael, in the Galilee.
So much archaeology has been focused on this tel, site of the biblical city of Jezreel. Tel Yizrael was continuously occupied until today, and as such, is not only studied but confused by the destruction which comes with settlement. Stones from the biblical period were used by the Romans. There was a Byzantine settlement described there in the writings of Eusebius. The Crusader castle of LaPetit Gerin (Small Jenin) took advantage of the detritus of the past in its construction. All of the building materials were incorporated into an Ottoman village which claimed that its tower was from the times of King Ahab (and perhaps some of the stones were). After that village was abandoned during Israel’s Independence War, it was replaced by the kibbutz of today, which only built over part of the ancient tel. Layers of different civilizations mixed together due to repeated settlement making for a rich site, but also a headache for archaeologists.
Recent finds have focused on an additional settlement down the hill around the Jezreel Spring, Ein Yizrael, which has remained untouched since the 7th century C.E. (We see in the photo the trees around the spring, and to the right, the area of the tel.) Tel Ein Yizrael was first settled around 5000 B.C.E., predating by 1000 years the city on the top of the tel. Like Tel Yizrael, this settlement enjoyed the location at the junction of the main superhighway connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia and the local route, the Spine Route, connecting the cities in Israel’s hill country. It also benefited from close proximity to the spring. The largest settlement period was during the time of the large cities, 3300-2200 B.C.E. However, since the 7th century C.E., Tel Ein Yizrael has been abandoned. Whether is was the earthquake of 632, or a change in political climate with the conquest by the Moslems, or global warming, the residents of Tel Ein Yizrael left their town and their fields. Because no buildings were erected or plow was drawn over the site, it remained for archaeologist Nehemia Tzuri to be the first to discover this settlement in the 1950’s. He did not dig here at all and left that work for archaeologists Norma Franklin and Jennie Ebeling to come with modern aerial imaging, following an ancient footpath from Tel Yizrael to once again look into this window to the past. Since 2012, Tel Ein Yizrael has been giving up its secrets to the archaeologists, after being well preserved by centuries of neglect.
Walking around Israel we are aware of the many settlements from the past which are visible to the eye, but those which are hidden and neglected are still keeping their secrets.