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Monday, November 22, 2010

Izbet Sartah: Even HaEzer

In the vicinity of Rosh Ha'ayin there are three major archaeological sites. Tel Aphek and Migdal Tzedek are fairly well known, but the one closest to Rosh Ha'ayin in proximity is called Izbet Sartah, which is associated with the Biblical site of Even HaEzer. The site was excavated by Israel Finkelstein and Moshe Kochavi. Unlike the other two sites, Izbet Sartah was only inhabited in three stages, in the 13th, 11th and 10th centuries BCE. This is largely the reason why the ruins that remain on the site are limited, and the site was only rediscovered in 1973.
Izbet Sartah is best known for an inscription found which shows all 22 proto-Canaanite letters of the alphabet. Biblically, it is thought to be the site from which the Israelites battled with the Philistines at the start of Samuel I. The Israelites first lost thousands of men and then, in a second battle, lost the Ark of the Covenant.
Architecturally, the most prominent feature in Izbet Sartah is a Four-Room House, a standard building type used specifically by Israelites at this period, termed by S. Yeivin as the "Israelite House." In "Domestic Architecture in the Iron Age" (in The Architecture of Ancient Israel) Ehud Netzer writes:
"A new type of house established itself at the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of Iron I in Palestine, Transjordan and parts of Syria and Lebanon. Within a short time it replaced the traditional courtyard house of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages." (p. 193)
In Izbet Sartah, we find the Four-Room House built in both Stratum II and Stratum I, with some modifications. This is despite the fact that the site was abandoned for several decades in between. In terms of ruins - and how ruins are treated - what is interesting is that the site was leveled prior to its reclamation. In Izbet Sartah: An Early Iron Age Site near Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel, Israel Finkelstein writes that
"The leveling of the ruins of the earlier stratum in preparation for laying foundations of Stratum II indicates that the settlement was constructed as a concerted project." (p. 113)
 In other words, when ruins exist, there are two possible ways to rebuild the area: one can simply re-inhabit the ruins (with some modifications and patchwork), or one can level the ruins and rebuild (even if you are rebuilding a similar structure.) Finkelstein equates the former with haphazardly, unplanned settlement, and views the latter as evidence of central planning. This is quite possible in a time when archaeology was not even a concept. However, in our modern project, we believe that planning can and should preserve ruins, and that good planning very often SHOULD incorporate existing ruins. Urban growth does not require leveling old ruins and starting from scratch.

Finkelstein, p.3

Excavation of Four-Room House (Finkelstein, p.34)
The Four-Room House, after grass has regrown on site.

Finkelstein, p.29

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