The Tel Ara Cemetery


David Ilan, Yuval Gadot, Yotam Tepper

Eli Yannai

Tel Aviv University

Israel Antiquities Authority


In 1998, in the course of laying a media cable near Kfar Ara in the Wadi Ara Pass (Fig. 1), a multi-chambered cave tomb (Tomb 1) dating to the second millennium BCE was discovered (Fig. 2). Ramot Archaeology of Tel Aviv University (TAU) was granted a permit to carry out salvage excavations under the direction of Yuval Gadot and Yotam Tepper, students at TAU.  This proved to be extraordinarily rich tomb, with most of the finds dating to the Late Bronze Age and some to the Middle Bronze Age (Fig. 3).  After working night and day (mainly to minimize the threat of plunder) for nearly a month, as work neared completion, another tomb was discovered, having broken through the first one in the process of hewing out chambers. Since this new discovery was completely unexpected and not budgeted, due to lack of resources the opening to the second tomb was blocked up by request of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).


In 1999 the local IAA inspector received reports that the tomb (Tomb 2) was being plundered by local villagers.  The plunder was stopped before everything could be ransacked and a second phase of salvage excavation was carried out as a joint project under the direction of Eli Yannai of the IAA and David Ilan and Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University/Ramot Archaeology.  Tomb 2 (Fig. 4) was equally rich, but contained more Middle Bronze Age material (Fig 5).  Altogether, from both tombs, just over 2000 objects were listed—pottery, metal weapons and jewelry, figurines, bone and ivory utensils, scarabs and cylinder seals.  We are still in the process of cataloguing this wealth of material in database form. 


We are experimenting with new techniques for processing the data—techniques that forego having to restore and draw all complete ceramic vessels, but still allow us to carry out quantitative analysis on complete forms.  A comprehensive typology has been worked out that may be of use to future researchers. 


Osteological material was not well preserved and what little existed was removed by haredi vandals and later, by officials from the Ministry of Religion.  However, anthropologists Yosef Nagar (IAA) and Netta Lev-Tov (TAU) report a minimum of 26 individuals, male and female, adult and adolescent.  Guy Bar-Oz (TAU) is in the process of studying the archaeozoological material. 


Here are some of the questions we are asking:

What is the precise role and meaning of each category of burial offering?  What is a prescribed offering for an individual?  How standardized are grave goods?  Are offerings left over time or only at the time of interment?  Are offerings retrospective (reflecting the dead in their living roles) or prospective (provisions for the next world)?  Who gets what kind of offering?  Are there indications of social status or rank?  Can we say anything about social identity, kin relations or ethnic affiliation? 


The final report will include republication of another tomb closer to Tel Ara itself (Fig. 6), excavated in the early 1970s by Azriel Zigelman of the IAA.  Following is a table of contents (not final). 


Three Bronze Age Tombs in the Tell Ara Cemetery

(tentative table of contents)


Yuval Gadot, David Ilan, Yotam Tepper and Eli Yannai


with contributions by

Guy Bar Oz, Jeanine Bourriau, Yuval Goren, Netta Lev Tov, Sarit Paz, Nir Lalkin, Yosef Nagar, Margaret Serpico, Laurence Smith and Azriel Ziegelman


I.          Introduction - Yuval Gadot, David Ilan ,Yotam Tepper and Eli Yannai

        §   Location and Environment

        §   Settlement Patterns

        §   Nearby Cemeteries

        §   Research Questions

        §   Methodology

II.        Tomb Plans and Artifact Distributions

        §   Tomb 1 - Yotam Tepper

        §   Tomb 2 - Eli Yannai

        §   Tomb 3 - Azriel Siegelman

III.       Human Skeletal Material - Netta Lev-Tov and Yosef Nagar

IV.       Archaeozoological Material – Guy Bar-Oz

V.        Miscellaneous Organic Material - ?

VI.       Artifact Typology and Analysis

        §   Local Pottery Typology – Yuval Gadot, David Ilan and Eli Yannai

        §   Middle Bronze Age Pottery – Eli Yanai

        §   Late Bronze Age Pottery – Yuval Gadot & David Ilan

        §   Imported Pottery Typology - Eli Yannai

        §   Etchings of Seagoing Vessels on a Cypriot Juglet - ?

        §   Metal Objects – David Ilan

        §   Beads – Sarit Paz

        §   The Plaque Figurine – Sarit Paz

        §   Scarabs and other Seals- Nir Lalkin

        §   Worked Bone and Ivory- David Ilan

        §   Stone implements – Yuval Gadot

        §   Glass and Faience - ?

        §   Shell - ?

        §   Ostrich egg shell - ?

VII.     Provenience and Contents Analysis

        §   Provenience Analysis of the Local Pottery - Yuval Goren, Laurence Smith and Janine Bourriau

        §   Provenience Analysis of the Cypriot Pottery – Yuval Goren

        §   Vessel Contents Analysis - Margaret Serpico

VIII.    Summary and Conclusions - David Ilan, Yuval Gadot and Eli Yannai

        §   Chronology and Stratigraphy

        §   Cultural Associations

        §   Social Implications

        §   Eschatology

        §   Questions for Future Research



Fig. 1   Location of Tel Ara and its cemetery in Wadi Ara. ^Back to top^

Fig. 2   Plan of Ara Cemetery Tombs 1 and 2. ^Back to top^

Fig. 3   Some (only some!) of the vessels from Ara Cemetery Tomb 1. ^Back to top^

Fig. 4   Excavation of Ara Cemetery Tomb 2 in progress ^Back to top^

Fig. 5   Some (again, only some!) of the vessels from Ara Cemetery Tomb 2. ^Back to top^


Fig. 6   Tel Ara. ^Back to top^