People chose to visit Israel for many reasons. Some come for the beaches or the hiking, but what most people come for the biblical sites and history. Unearthed from thousands of years of history, we owe the exploration of biblical sites entirely to archaeologists and their dedication to accurately identifying and excavating the land of the Bible. Understanding the basic concepts and vocabulary of archaeology can greatly enhance your experience and appreciation of the ancient cities and artifacts you will certainly encounter on biblical tours of the Holy Land.
What’s a Tel?
At first glance a tel appears to be nothing but a somewhat oddly shaped hill, but to the trained eye the flat top and steep sides signal this hill as actually something quite different. Beneath the surface of a tel, layers of ancient civilizations exist, piled atop one another as one city was destroyed or abandoned, and another was built on top of it years later. Significant sites such as Jerusalem or Megiddo have over 20 distinct layers (or strata), of civilizations gone by below the surface. Nearly all the ancient, biblical cities in Israel were once buried in a tel, and the work of the archaeologist is to meticulously peal back the layers to reveal and preserve the stories beneath.
What’s a Pot Sherd?
Broken pieces of clay litter the ground of ancient sites like pebbles. These clay fragments are called pot sherds and can be extremely useful to archaeologists in determining the age of a layer of civilization within a tel. Something as simple as the shape of a handle piece when compared with a greater understanding of archaeology can be enough to date a city. Even more significant are the bits of clay which contain inscriptions or seals of ownership. These artifacts have been instrumental in confirming the historical accuracy of the Old Testament.
How to treat active archaeological site
Archaeological digs and projects are ongoing through out Israel. Many of the sites frequented by tourists are still in the process of being excavated. Ancient ruins are nothing if not fragile, so in order to preserve the integrity of active digs it is important not to disturb any areas of ancient sites that are covered by tarps or roped off.
We hope that this little taste of archaeology will enhance your visit to some of the worlds most ancient sites.