Tel Bet Yerah Research and Excavations Project What's New

What's New?
August 2008
Although we haven't been in touch for several months, TBYREP has been as busy as ever. This newsletter will report on our new 75th anniversary
poster, on the annual Institute of Archaeology conference devoted entirely to the issue of the 'Khirbet Kerak Folk', on new international collaborations planned or already in motion, on recent presentations of our research in international conferences, and on preparations for our next field season, in 2009.
75th Anniversary of Tel Bet Yerah/Khirbet el-Kerak Excavations

A new trilingual poster marking the 75th anniversary of the first excavations at Tel Bet Yerah was presented at conferences in Tel Aviv, London and Rome. A full exposition of the biographies and interrelationships between all the figures appearing on the poster could fill an entire volume! Here are a few notes to get you started.

The poster, designed by Adi Keinan, shows photographs of the several early excavators, beginning with Na'im Makhouly, a Christian Palestinian from Nazareth, who was an inspector for the Mandate Department of Antiquities at the time of the construction of the Samak-Tiberias highway that cut across Tel Bet Yerah in 1933. The plan and section prepared by (or for) Makhouly in eye-catching art-deco calligraphy is reproduced on the poster. After Makhouly became a refugee in 1948, his post as inspector was taken over by Ruth Amiran (at left), who eventually ended up conducting a salvage excavation at Tel Bet Yerah in 1976.

Prof. Benjamin Maisler (Mazar) and Pesach Bar-
75th Anniversary of Tel Bet Yerah/Khirbet el-Kerak Excavations
Adon appear together with Oriental Institute TBY excavator Prof. Pinchas Pierre Delougaz in a 1952 photo taken at the site. Mazar had been asked to excavate by the Jewish Labor Federation, who wanted to build a workers' seminary in honor (later, in memory) of Berl Katznelson. Mazar took Moshe Stekelis (2nd photo from right) and M. Avi-Yonah as co-directors, with Bar-Adon as field supervisor. Later, when construction of the seminary began in 1949, the director of the new Israel Department of Antiquities, Prof. Shmuel Yeivin, asked Bar-Adon and P.L.O. Guy (3rd photo from right) to direct salvage work at the site. Guy, who was one of the former excavators of Tel Megiddo and was married to the daughter of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, was the only British archaeological officer to keep his post in the transition from the British Mandate to the state of Israel. In 1952, Yeivin invited his childhood friend Delougaz to use funds left over from the Megiddo expedition in order to renew excavations at Bet Yerah. This was the first foreign expedition to excavate in Israel.

The other excavators noted on the poster include several leading figures in Israel's archaeology. Their work makes Tel Bet Yerah the only ancient mound in Israel excavated in every decade since the 1930s!

"THE FIRST ALIYAH": The Annual Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology Symposium

The 150-seat lecture hall was packed for the annual Aharoni Memorial Symposium held by the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. This year's conference, devoted to "The First Aliyah: Transcaucasian Migrants and the Khirbet Kerak Culture in the Third Millennium BCE", hosted guest lecturer Prof. Philip L. Kohl of Wellesley College, one of the world's foremost experts on the archaeology of Eurasia and the Caucasus, who delivered the keynote lecture in the evening session on "Origins, Homelands, and Migrations: Situating the Kura-Araxes (Early Transcaucasian) Culture within the History of Bronze Age Eurasia." Respondents to his talk included Prof. Pierre de Miroschedji, Director of the French Research Center in Jerusalem, Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of Haifa University, and Dr. Yuri Stoyanov, Director of the Kenyon Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

The first part of the symposium began with the presentation of graduate scholarships to five TAU students, including our own Alina Getzel. In the afternoon academic session, Sarit Paz and Mark Iserlis, both of the TBYREP team, presented new research on the impact of the arrival of migrants bearing the Kura-Araxes cultural package on life at Tel Bet Yerah. Dr Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University presented the result of new research conducted in collaboration with Adi Ziv and Dr Anat Cohen-Weinberger of the Israel Antiquities Authority on Khirbet Kerak Ware vessels found in the south of Israel, Prof. Philip L. Kohl visiting Bet Yerah
Prof. Philip L. Kohl visiting Bet Yerah
and Dr Yuval Yekutieli of Ben Gurion University described the results of recent excavations at the site of Har Hemar - a strategic desert outpost near the Dead Sea in which some 80% of the pottery consists of fragments of Khirbet Kerak Ware!

The presentations and the ensuing discussion highlight the Khirbet Kerak Ware phenomenon (named after Khirbet Kerak/Tel Bet Yerah, the site in which it was first identified) as a fascinating window into ancient migration, cultural transmission and adaptation. These issues are among those that are being studied by TBYREP with the aid of an Israel Science Foundation grant, and will feature in the projected publication of the symposium papers in a forthcoming volume of Tel Aviv, the journal of the Institute of Archsaeology.

Following the symposium, Prof. Kohl delivered two further lectures at the Institute, followed by a tour to the north that included a visit to IAA salvage excavations at an Early Bronze Age site in Tiberias and to Tel Bet Yerah.

THE FIRST ALIYAH: The Annual Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology Symposium

New KKW Showcase

A New Institute of Archaeology exhibition case in the Gilman Humanities Building at Tel Aviv University will feature a collection of the finest examples of Khirbet Kerak Ware in Israel. Based largely on material retrieved from Tel Bet Yerah, the exhibit will house a number of remarkable vessels that are part of the permanent collection of the Israel Museum, which is now undergoing extensive renovation. These will remain on show at TAU until the archaeology wing at the Israel Museum is reopened. Additional pieces come from the TAU collection (including an amazing oversize flagon from Tel Leviah) and from the Hebrew University excavations at Bet Shean. The photo shows some of the finest pieces, exhibited in our study collection soon after their arrival.

New KKW Showcase

The 2009 Season

Our next six-week excavation season is scheduled for June 28th to August 6th 2009. This will be a full-fledged field-school for Tel Aviv University students, who will be
joined by additional field-school students from abroad and volunteers from the world over. In addition to the standard archaeological academic program, we intend to make the TBYREP excavation a cultural event for the people of the Kinrot valley. A public lecture series will span archaeology, history, music and the arts as they relate to the ancient mound and the modern Kerak, tours of the site will be offered and everyone will be welcome to help out on the excavation.

In preparation for this season we have begun an electromagnetic conductivity survey of the unexcavated parts of Tel Bet Yerah. This survey discovers subsurface anomalies and can provide us with leads as to the location, size and plan of buried structures, ahead of any excavation. As a first step, Boaz Gatenio of the Department of Geophysics at Tel Aviv University conducted a trial survey of a 1500 sq m area in the north of the mound. Once the results of this trial are analyzed we will be able to plan a complete survey of the mound.

Mark Iserlis with the EM31 conductivity meterWestern half of Tel Bet Yerah - awaiting survey
Mark Iserlis with the EM31 conductivity meterWestern half of Tel Bet Yerah - awaiting survey

June 2007

Painted clay plaques Research

Sarit Paz Sarit Paz, Ph.D. candidate and co-director of this year's excavation, is preparing the small finds from previous excavations at Bet Yerah for publication in Bet Yerah II (the second volume of the final publications on the excavations of 1933–1986). Here she reports on some outstanding art objects from the 1967 Area UN excavations.

Painted clay plaques of the Early Bronze III (c. 2700 BCE)

Bet Yerah is one of the richest Early Bronze Age sites in Israel in terms of art objects. Animal representations are abundant at Tel Bet Yerah, in various media. There are about thirty small clay figurines of bulls and donkeys, appliqué decorations and incisions of birds, snakes and horned animals on pottery vessels, a lion-shaped vessel, a bull's head carved in ivory, a lion-shaped carnelian bead and representations of animals on cylinder-seal impressions. While most of these objects are typical products of the Early Bronze Age, three rectangular clay plaques bearing red painted depictions of animals, found in an EB III context, are unique.

The drawing on the largest plaque (8 x 4.75 cm) was only partly preserved, and shows a file of three animals with long necks. On the second fragment (5 x 3 cm), bordered by two horizontal lines, we see an animal with a long, curled tail and long, pointed ears––possibly a dog, fox or a hyena. The third fragment (5 x 2.75 cm) shows what seem to be the long neck and hoofed legs of an unidentified animal. The figures are all carefully––if not very skillfully––rendered on the thin, flat plaques. These might have been
affixed to larger frames or architectural models, of which fragments have also been found in EB III Bet Yerah. Together, the combined drawings might depict the 'sacred herd' motive; this was a popular theme in Mesopotamian and Syrian art, and is usually understood as being related to the economic role of the temple, which was one of the central institutions in the earliest cities.

The iconography of the plaques resembles that of contemporary carved stone seals from the 'Amuq region in western Syria (Periods G–H). The stone cylinder seals depict long-necked animals together with human figures (R. & L. Braidwood, Excavations in the Plain of Antioch [1960], Fig. 297: 5) or with 'space fillers' (ibid.: Fig. 382: 3). The animal with the curled tail from the 'Amuq was identified as a horned animal; however, the depiction of the legs, ears/horns and tail is very similar to that of the Bet Yerah painted fragment. Since we know that there were contacts between Syria and Canaan in EB III, it is not be too unlikely that the Bet Yerah artist
was familiar with the glyptic art of the 'Amuq region, and may even have owned a cylinder seal of the type that could have inspired the decorated plaques.

Another parallel to the Bet Yerah painted animals may be found in the painted pottery of Early Transcaucasia, the homeland of the Khirbet Kerak pottery style. Various animal figures, mainly horned, are depicted on pottery vessels (A. Sagona, The Caucasian Region in the Early Bronze Age [1984], Fig. 112), and their general representation is rather similar to animal drawings under discussion.

For more information on the painted clay plaques research, contact Sarit Paz at

March 2007

Khirbet Kerak Ware Research

Mark Iserlis Mark Iserlis, who has just completed his Master's thesis and intends to continue in the TAU doctoral program, presents some results of his work on Khirbet Kerak (Bet Yerah) Ware (KKW).

Although the 'foreign' character of KKW was recognized from the very beginning, there has never been an accurate scientific description of the differences between local pot-making traditions of Canaan and those introduced from the Kura-Araxes (Armenia and South Caucasus) region in the distant north. I have been using
a variety of analytical methods to create a detailed description of the technology used by members of each tradition. Eventually, I will be able to compare techniques over the entire region in which the 'Kura-Araxes' traditions have been found, which stretches from the shores of the Caspian Sea to Lake Kinneret.

Petrographic thin-sections sliced from potsherds allow us to view the minerals (raw materials) that are included in the clay of each pot. These have revealed that the makers of KKW usually chose new sources of clay for their pottery, different from those used by local potters. X-ray photography reveals details of technique that are invisible to the naked eye. These show that a wide variety of pots were made either in molds or using a paddle and anvil technique; KKW potters never adopted the slow wheel used by the local potters. Microscopic inspection of the surfaces and sections has given us a better idea of the techniques used to form the unique red-black polished surface of KKW. For example, the slip (a layer of fine, diluted clay applied to the pot in order to give it more colour or to make it less porous) can be six to eight times thicker than that used by local Canaanite potters.

Clearly, the Bet Yerah KKW potters, as well as those who used the pots, set a premium on the external appearance of the vessels. To achieve the high gloss, especially on the finer vessels, the pots had to be fired twice: first a preliminary firing, termed bisque, then a second firing, after the thick slip had been applied and intensively burnished. Also, a very carefully controlled firing environment was needed in order to allow the play of red and black on the surface of the vessel. In general, the preparation of the KKW pots required twelve separate steps, in contrast to the seven or eight taken by local potters. This shows that no effort would be spared to maintain the identity of the people who made and used them. There is still much to be learned about the techniques used by the 'Khirbet Kerak folk', including some techniques that were lost forever after the disappearance of the KKW potters.

These traits are so unique in the third-millennium Near East, that we are confident that they can be traced back to their very origins in space and time, somewhere in the region of Mount Ararat, perhaps 5500 years ago.

For more information on KKW research, contact Mark Iserlis at
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