During the first three weeks of July, a group of researchers from the JU Institute of Archaeology worked at the dig site in Tel Erani in Israel. One of the most astonishing discoveries of this season are the remains of a gigantic defensive wall which are more than 5,000 years old, suggesting that the cities of Southern Levant might have been built before the Egyptians colonised them.
Tel Erani (now Israel) saw many important historical events that shaped the cultural identity of the region. The site is located near Kiryat Gat and covers approximately 26 hectares. For years, researchers have believed that the first urban civilisation of Southern Levant arose on the foundations of Egyptian culture. During the early Bronze Age, these two regions began training extensively, culminating in the arrival of settlers from the Nile River Valley in Israel and Gaza Strip. From there, the Egyptians exported resources and products they could not find on their own lands – copper, wine, and olive oil, for which they probably paid with grains, fish, and meat.
JU archaeologists came to Tel Erani in 2013. They mapped out a part of the city’s infrastructure from the early Bronze Age as well as an Egyptian trading post. They have proved that when the first Egyptians arrived, Tel Erani was already encircled by a thick defensive wall and had a clearly designated residential area containing public facilities. These findings have shown that the community living there was much more advanced than it had previously been thought.
According to the expedition’s leader Prof. Krzysztof Ciałowicz, head of the Department of Egyptian and Near East Archaeology, this season was devoted to working on two zones – part of the settlement as well as a place where another fragment of the defensive wall was discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists in 2015–2016.
‘Our greatest success this year is undoubtedly finding a 11-metre-thick wall and ending the lengthy debate about its origins. It is an impressive construction made out of mudbricks. I can safely say that it is the oldest mudbrick wall in Israel. We estimate it was built about 3,300 years BCE and it is yet another proof that Tel Erani was a thriving community even before the arrival of the Egyptians. It gives us a strong basis to dismiss the theories about ‘an Egyptian impulse’ leading to construction of the first cities in Levant’, explained Prof. Krzysztof Ciałowicz.
The archaeologists have also examined an area where they had previously found traces of settlers from the Nile River Valley, such as typical Egyptian ovens and numerous fragments of bread baking pans. It is now clear that although the clay used to make these was local, the people who made them came from Egypt. Some of the objects the archaeologists found were also made from imported materials. The researchers believe that this proves beyond all doubt that the Egyptians had a permanent settlement in Southern Levant. Although it is not clear how large their numbers were, the archaeologists speculate it might have been as many as several dozen people.
‘To determine the range of Egyptian presence in Tel Erani, we plan on expanding our activities here in the coming years. Currently, we are investigating a site containing a building which is still visibly divided into several rooms and an outbuilding that might have served as a stairwell. It also has a courtyard for storing imported goods. There we have found a large amount of tokens – small engraved objects used to record individual transactions and contracts – and artefacts that evidence trading with Northern Israel and Jordan’, added Marcin Czarnowicz, one of the archaeologists involved in the research study.
The project is funded by a grant from the National Science Centre and realised in collaboration with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel Antiquities Authority, and the University of Buenos Aires. Aside from professional archaeologists, a large number of students and PhD candidates from Kraków also participate in the excavations. They are confirmed to continue in 2019 and 2020.