THE PREPARATION OF THE OSTEOLOGICAL REMAINS
UNCOVERED IN THE EXCAVATIONS AT TEL LACHISH
FOR SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATION
Prof. Daviv Ussishkin
Animal bones were systematically saved and kept at the excavation of Lachish since the beginning of the excavation project in 1973. As a result, large amounts of osteological material accumulated during the years. As time passed, some studies related to this material were done by experts in Tel Aviv University, but they were partial, limited in scale and scope. When the excavations came to an end I started to look for a serious scholar who could undertake the huge task of analyzing and studying the entire osteological collection of Lachish. Eventually Dr. Paul Croft agreed to undertake it. He is an excellent scholar with a very high reputation, well known especially in British archaeological circles. He resides in Cyprus, and is associated with the Archaeological Centre at Lemba. Dr. Croft is willing to work on the material there and to dedicate sufficient time for the purpose. He has been given use of the facilities of the Archaeological Centre. Accordingly, a large part of the osteological material from Lachish was shipped to Cyprus, and another part has still to be shipped.
Hopefully, by the end of the study and in-depth analysis, we shall get a good picture of several osteological assemblages, which will complement the information provided by the stratigraphical data and the finds. These assemblages and the information they will hopefully provide are most important for the study of material culture and social history of Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages. The main assemblages are:
1. The animal bones from the Middle Bronze Age cult place-- an assemblage of sacrificial remains.
2. The animal bones from the Middle Bronze Age ruler's palace.
3. The animal bones from the Late Bronze Age temple-- an assemblage of sacrificial remains from a central Canaanite temple.
4. The animal bones from the Late Bronze Age levels-- several domestic assemblages form the 14th, 13th, and 12th centuries BCE.
5. The animal bones from the Iron Age Level III-- a domestic Judean assemblage on the eve of Sennacherib's campaign.
Once the sorting and analysis of the osteological material is completed, Dr. Croft will write a detailed report to be published in the final report. Dr. Croft will also incorporate in his analysis and conclusions the previous partial osteological studies.
Tel Lachish is one of the largest, richest, and most important archaeological sites from the Old Testament period in southern Palestine. It covers an area of nearly 40 acres. The site is located in the Shephelah, near one of the main routes leading from the coastal plain to the Judean hills. Lachish was continuously settled from the Chalcolithic period in the 4th millennium BCE until the end of the Persian period in the middle of the first millennium BCE. The accumulation of debris in parts of the mound reaches 12 metres (about 35 feet).
Lachish was apparently already an important centre in the Early Bronze Age, but very little is known about the site at that time. By the Middle Bronze Age, in the first half of the second millennium BCE, it was a large, rich royal city, protected by massive fortifications. A huge palace was built in its centre. By the Late Bronze Age it became one of the most important Canaanite city-states in southern Canaan. It was dominated by the Egyptian pharaohs, and prospered until its final destruction in the 12th century BCE at the hands of the "Sea Peoples" or the Israelites.
In the ninth century BCE Lachish was built and fortified by the kings of Judah, who turned it into a royal Judean stronghold-- second in importance to Jerusalem. In 701 BCE, when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded Judah, he turned first to Lachish, assaulted its walls, and destroyed the city. This event is recorded in several different but complementary sources: The Old Testament and the Assyrian record; a series of stone reliefs erected by Sennacherib in his palace at Nineveh, the data from the city-level attacked by the Assyrians which was identified and excavated; and the remains of the siege and battle uncovered in the excavations.
In the seventh century BCE Lachish was rebuilt as a royal Judean stronghold. It was attacked and destroyed in 587/6 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The famous ostraca written in ancient Hebrew known as the "Lachish Letters" date to this time. During the Persian period Lachish was rebuilt and fortified as a district centre, and then, at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, the site was abandoned.
Lachish is undoubtedly a key site for the archaeology of Palestine during the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and The Persian period. The large-scale excavation produced much data and rich finds. Of special importance is the stratigraphy and the destruction layers. There is an excellent stratigraphy, and numerous levels were destroyed by fire; some of these destructions (and also the assemblages of finds buried beneath them) can be accurately dated-- a unique case in Palestine archaeology. The main destruction layers are: 1. At the end of the Middle Bronze Age, mid-16th century BCE; 2. At the end of Late Bronze Age Level VII, 13th century; 3. At the end of the Late Bronze Age, end of Level VI, mid-12th century; 4. At the end of Level III, Sennacherib's conquest in 701; 5. At the end of Level II, Nebuchadnezzar's conquest in 587/6 BCE.