Macquarie students in search of King David

Macquarie students in search of King David

Macquarie students in search of King David

When David was a blood-thirsty mercenary for the Philistine King Achish of Gath (according to the biblical account in 1 Samuel 17), he was given the town of Ziklag, whereabouts unknown, until now (probably)!

Macquarie students in the Ancient Israel Program run by Dr Gil Davis have had the opportunity to excavate in Israel together with students from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Together we have been digging at the site of Khirbet el-Rai, situated on a hill at the western end of the Shephalah, with lovely views across green fields to the Mediterranean Sea.

The site of Khirbet el-Rai. 

In antiquity, as now, a road connecting the coast with the interior ran past the site.  To everyone’s delight, we have uncovered monumental architecture, rich finds of Philistine and Canaanite pottery, a huge stash of flint ‘blanks’ used for the preparation of sickle blades, a portable shrine and even a bronze spear.

A student uncovers a pottery treasure, and a bronze spear from the artisan's quarter, c.1050 BC.

The site is tremendously important because its occupation bridges the gap between the destruction of the hitherto dominant Bronze Age city of Lachish in the late 12th century BCE and the fortified Iron Age city of Khirbet Qeiyafa controversially identified as “David’s City” and dating to the early 10th century BCE. The occupants were probably local Canaanites under Philistine overlordship with trade connections to the coastal plain, and this accounts for the quantities of Philistine ware.

The Early Iron Age 1 period is poorly known and was previously thought to only contain modest villages in this region, so the discovery of large courtyard-style houses with abundant finds forces a new understanding. Furthermore, the period has disputed chronology with virtually no secure dates. Our earlier 14C dating has questioned the so-called ‘low chronology’ which seeks to down-date the Davidic monarchy.

The problem is that previously there has been no significant 14C dating of a Philistine pottery sequence. To remedy this, we brought our PhD student Lyndelle Webster to undertake sampling and dating.

In another major Macquarie innovation, we established an on-site field chemistry laboratory run by our post-doc Dr Sophia Aharonovich. Sophia was looking for organic remains and trained the students in sampling for residue analysis.

Bringing science into Arts - students examine samples at the on-site chemistry lab. 

Dr Kyle Keimer, our lecturer in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel will co-direct the next season with Professor Yossi Garfinkel of Hebrew University. Currently we have reached the 11th century BCE. Next season we will dig back into the 12th century BCE with high hopes of more exciting discoveries.

So how likely is it that the site is Ziklag? This is not a semitic name; it is probably the only contribution by the Philistines to local place names. The location near Gath and the discovery of more and more Philistine material strengthens the identification. The previously suggested sites did not have Philistine levels and/or did not have a level from the early 10th century BCE. Khirbet el-Rai is the only site that has both.

The whole team at the dig. 

By Dr Gil Davis. Photos by Joanne Stephan.

We wish to thank the Roth families who generously funded the excavations and Mr Wakil who funded the chemistry lab in honour of his late wife Susan.

Contact: Gil Davis


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