Excavations in Jaffa uncover evidence of early trade in cedar wood

Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology section of Mainz University has been involved in the archaeological survey of the ancient city of Jaffa since 2007


It is stated in the Bible that the cedar logs used in the construction of the Temple of Solomon were brought from Lebanon to Jerusalem by way of Jaffa. Although the Biblical texts are much more recent than the time of Solomon, new excavations in Jaffa show that Lebanese cedars had already been used in the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC) to construct an Egyptian citadel. The Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology section of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has been involved since 2007 in excavations on the ancient hill of Jaffa in Israel in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The 2013 excavation campaign, directed by Dr. Martin Peilstöcker of Mainz University and Professor Aaron A. Burke, Ph.D. of UCLA, focused on investigating the severely burned remains found in the gate complex of an Egyptian citadel in Jaffa. This gateway from the 14th century BC is the only Egyptian gatehouse excavated in Israel to date. The fire, traces of which had already been discovered within the entrance complex during excavations in 2012, occurred some time in the mid-14th century BC. One of the artifacts uncovered here is a scarab dating to the reign of Amenhotep III (around 1388-1351 BC). It was located in the upper layers of the ruins and likely originated from the collapsed second story where the administrative headquarters of the citadel was located.

The passageway through the gatehouse has been completely exposed in 2013. One and a half meters of accumulated rubble had to be removed during excavations. Amongst the finds were several arrowheads, a spearhead, a lead weight, decorative ivory inlays, thousands of seeds, a few unique ceramic vessels, the antlers of at least four deer as well as nearly two dozen charred cedar beams. The arrowheads and the spearhead date from the time at which the citadel was captured. The antlers, which were only mounted on one side of the passageway, convey a vivid picture of how it must originally have appeared. The gatehouse was probably not just a purely functional building as previously thought. It rather seems that Egyptian soldiers probably hung these antlers here as hunting trophies. The now excavated gatehouse is part of what is the oldest Egyptian citadel in Canaan discovered to date. The digs have uncovered an entire series of gate systems built one on top of the other, demonstrating the duration of the Egyptian military presence here.

Lebanese cedar was used to construct the second story of the mighty gatehouse and the beams are the oldest and largest discovered so far in Israel. They provide not only important chronological information for dating but also offer clues that will help investigators better determine the actual environment and climate during the Late Bronze Age.

The thousands of seeds found under the debris of the gatehouse make comprehensive radiocarbon testing possible. The seeds salvaged from the floor of the gateway, including barley, olive, grape, and chickpea, were charred but still recognizable with the naked eye. This was an unexpected bonus, since useful information about the consumption habits of the residents of a settlement are not usually found in monumental architecture of this kind. Egyptian gatehouse complexes, therefore, were not exclusively used as defensive structures but also served as the living quarters for the headquarters staff, for storage, and for other purposes.

The excavations and the further investigation of the finds are being conducted under the aegis of the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project (JCHP), an interdisciplinary research project by the University of California, Los Angeles, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. To finance the 2013 excavations, the JCHP was provided with support by the American National Endowment for the Humanities Fund as part of the 'Rebellion, Resistance and Interaction: Archaeological Study of the Egyptian Heritage of the New Kingdom in Jaffa project.