History of the Tel Kedesh Project

Exploratory Seasons


The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan and the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies of the University of Minnesota have begun a new excavation project at Tel Kedesh in the Upper Galilee of Israel (see map), under the joint direction of Professors Sharon Herbert (Michigan) and Andrea Berlin (Minnesota). This project marks a renewal of Kelsey-sponsored explorations of the Graeco-Roman Galilee, which began with Leroy Waterman's work at Sepphoris (1931) and continued with Professor Herbert's excavations at Tel Anafa (1978-86).

Kedesh is the largest unexcavated tel site in Upper Galilee, occupying 20-25 acres (see aerial photo). It is located on the land of Kibbutz Malkia some 450 m above sea level in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Situated in one of the richest agricultural zones of modern Israel, the area of Kedesh and the Upper Galilee has been home since antiquity to a tapestry of different cultural and ethnic groups from the Israelite tribe of Naphthali to Phoenicians from the nearby city of Tyre. In more recent times it was the site of a Palestinian farming village until 1948. Today it lies among the thriving apple orchards of Kibbutz Malkia and provides pasturage for the kibbutz's herd of cattle. Many successive layers of occupation can be seen in a road cut through the north end of the tel, and a Roman temple (see image 1 or 2), preserved to architrave height, stands on a low hill to the east of the mound.

The ancient site is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, most importantly as one of the "cities of refuge" for those guilty of unintentional homicide (Josh. 20: 1-9). It also appears in several of the histories from the period of Graeco-Roman occupation (3rd century BCE-3rd century CE). We learn from Zenon, a 3rd century BCE traveling merchant from Egypt, whose account of his travels is preserved on scraps of papyri in the Michigan library, that Kedesh was a flourishing farming village in his time, providing him with food supplies and the luxury of a bath (P. Zen. 59004). From the book of Maccabees we hear that a battle between Jonathan and the Seleucid king Demetrias took place here in 145 BCE and that the site was abandoned after the Jewish victory (1 Macc.11.63-73). According to the historian Josephus, Kedesh was again a Tyrian outpost and stronghold in the first centuries BCE and CE (War II.459; Ant. XIII.154); and it served as an encampment for the Roman general Titus at the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt (War IV.104).

The Michigan/Minnesota project is focusing its efforts on the Hellenistic and Roman-period remains of Tel Kedesh proper. Our immediate goals are to clarify the date and character of the site's Hellenistic and Roman occupation. In particular, we hope to identify the site's population(s) and to explore their ties and interactions with the Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks, and Romans living throughout this area. The identification of Kedesh as a Phoenician outpost in the later Hellenistic and early Roman periods naturally suggests the identity of at least some of the site's residents. The early Hellenistic occupants, however, remain unidentified, as does the site's precise character at that time. Since Kedesh and its people probably passed in and out of Tyrian control from the Persian period onward, and were at least briefly under the rule of the Hasmoneans and later perhaps Herod the Great, we are especially interested in the social and economic effects of such changes in political control.

Tel Kedesh and its environs are rich in remains from the Early Bronze Age through to modern times (See Image 1 , 2 , or 3) and have clear potential to elucidate the questions outlined above as well as many other issues.

A site of this size and importance demands extensive pre-excavation and exploration and testing to insure, insofar as possible, that major field seasons when they are undertaken will yield maximum information with minimal destruction. To these ends we have begun our work at Kedesh with two short exploratory seasons. The first of these took place in May/June 1997 and the second in March of 1998.

Our 1997 team consisted of seven members--Professors Herbert and Berlin, as well as five graduate students, three from the University of Michigan (Geoff Compton, Carla Goodnoh, and Chris Monroe) and two from the University of Minnesota (Jarrett Lobell and Jacob Dorer). Surprisingly for a site of its importance, no accurate topographical map had ever been made of Tel Kedesh, and this was one of the major goals of our 1997 season. Using the Kelsey's Sokkia electronic surveying station, we were able, under Geoff Compton's guidance, to establish a grid system and complete a topographic map of the lower tel in a little under two weeks.

Meanwhile other members of the team cleared the six-foot thistles off selected grids and collected all objects visible on the surface of these areas (see image). Based on field analysis of the materials collected and on topographical considerations, we placed a small probe trench at the western edge of the lower tel and another in the center south. We excavated these probes for nine days, then processed the finds for four days. Both probes revealed stone walls and floors at depths varying from .5 to 1.3 m below modern surface. The pottery associated with the floors dates to the mid-second century BCE. No architecture later than Hellenistic was present in either probe trench. In fact, much of the lower tel appears to have been unoccupied and undisturbed from the Hellenistic period onward. The material from the southern probe was particularly interesting, with intact pots, loom weights, and other domestic artifacts left on the Hellenistic floor. It appears as if this part of the site may have been hastily abandoned around the time of the battle between Jonathan and Demetrias (145 BCE).

One of the great advances of the last twenty years in archaeology has been the development of an array of remote sensing techniques that, in certain circumstances, allow us to "see below the surface" before excavating. Certain techniques work better than others at a given site, depending on the nature of the remains and the geology of the area, and a third goal of our 1997 season was to assess the geological profile of the site in order to determine what kind of remote sensing techniques, if any, would be useful. Midway through the season we brought in geoarchaeologist Arlene Miller Rosen from Beer Sheva University to act as a consultant on the geology of the tel and its amenability to various remote sensing technologies. In Rosen's judgment, the nature and depth of the deposits make the site an excellent candidate for magnetometry, a technique that works by discriminating between the differing levels of magnetism given off by stone walls and their surrounding soil.

Acting on this assessment, we contacted Dr. Lew Somers of Geoscan Research, one of the foremost practitioners of archaeological remote sensing. After studying our plans and photographs, Somers estimated that he could conduct a magnetometric survey of the lower tel in five to eight days with the help of two students. He was available to work over our spring break in March, and we decided to combine that work with topographic mapping of the upper tel and surrounding valley.

The University of Michigan LS&A Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) funded three students to take part in the project. Luckily Geoff Compton was on his way back from fieldwork in Egypt at that time, and we were able to divert him to Israel to reestablish the grid plan and continue the topographic survey. On the first day of spring break David Stone, a recent IPCAA graduate, and Professor Herbert, along with three LS&A archaeology undergraduates--Adam Hyatt, Mandy Leins, and Will Pestle--headed off to Israel to rendezvous with Geoff and Lew (see team photo). We arrived at the site early on March 3 and had reestablished the grid plan by March 5, when Lew Somers arrived. We then began the magnetometric survey and continued the topographic mapping, with the undergraduate members of the team rotating between the two jobs. We were able to gather the magnetometric data on seven to nine 20 x 20 m grid squares each day. In the evenings, back at our rooms in the guest house in the nearby Moshav of Ramot Naftali, we started to process the results and produced rough maps. We completed the survey by the morning of March 11 and that afternoon headed off to the Tel Aviv airport to catch a flight back to Ann Arbor in time for afternoon classes on March 12.

The preliminary results of the magnetometry have revealed the outlines of several large building complexes and what looks like a fairly regular north-south village grid plan. An impressive structure is showing up in the southeast quadrant of the tel, adjacent to the well-preserved remains in our 1997 southern probe.

What is the next step for the Tel Kedesh project? Using the results of the 1997 and 1998 work, we can demonstrate the presence of significant and accessible Hellenistic remains. With the magnetometric plans we can choose our future excavation areas strategically--selecting sectors on the basis of building type and size (public versus private; elite versus poor; industrial versus domestic, etc.) and block out reasonable sectors to study and publish in three-year increments. With this information we plan to begin large-scale excavations at Kedesh starting in the summer of 1999.

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