II. Scientific Objectives
1. Previous Research
Tell el-’Ajjul was originally explored by William M. Flinders Petrie from 1930 to 1934 (Petrie 1931-1934). Ernest H. Mackay and Margaret A. Murray continued in 1938 (Mackay and Murray 1952). Only a minor part of the tell has been excavated. Since we do not know the exact size of the “original” tell it is not possible to present an accurate figure for the size of the excavated area in relation to the entire tell, but it has been suggested that it is less than 5% of the site.
Petrie claimed that Tell el-cAjjul is ancient Gaza, a view which was contradicted by Kempinski (1974), who suggested that ancient Gaza lies within the boundaries of modern Gaza and that Tell el-’Ajjul is Sharuhen, a site mentioned in Egyptian and biblical texts. The identity of the site is still under discussion, but it is indisputable that Tell el-’Ajjul is a good candidate for the Hyksos city of Sharuhen which was a city ruled by the vassals of the Hyksos (16th Dynasty; Bietak 1994: 58). Only a few other studies have been published, mainly in order to clarify, inter alia, severe chronological problems. These include Albright’s (1938) revised chronology, Negbi’s (1970) study of the hoards of excellent goldwork from the site, a study of the Middle Bronze Age of Tell el-’Ajjul (Stewart 1974) and a chronological study by Dever (1992). Nevertheless, many stratigraphical problems remain.
The earliest remains, which were excavated by Petrie, seem to be the EB IV cemeteries west and east of the tell (Kenyon 1974: 76-85). The “Courtyard Cemetery” produced the earliest remains from the tell itself which have been dated to the MB IIA (Stewart 1974: 10-11). The fortification represented by the big fosse and the rampart, which were built around three sides of the tell, obviously dates from the MB IIA and maybe late within this period. It seems that the city was entered from the northeast, where a possible marl causeway crossed the fosse. The duration and chronology of each of City III-I and Palace I-V represent a long-debated and as yet not satisfactorily solved problem, and the discussion of these questions is beyond the scope of this brief summary. However, the stratigraphical results of the renewed excavations which demonstrate additional cultural layers do not agree with Petrie’s subdivision which should be abandoned or at least considered with uttermost caution.
It has been claimed that the site reached its zenith during the Middle Bronze Age, but in the Late Bronze Age “the Canaanite city ceased to function” (Dessel 1997: 38). However, new cemeteries appeared to the north and east of the tell, and some of the LB II burials including the “Governor’s Tomb”, which was reused several times, demonstrate exceptional wealth(Petrie 1933: Figs. VI-XIII). Other finds are related to the Iron Age, the Hellenistic, the Roman and the Islamic periods.
Tell el-’Ajjul can be considered one of the most important and richest archaeological sites in the Near East during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages in terms of the number and quality of small finds and pottery. It has produced the vast majority of the finds of scarabs in the Levant. Keel (1997: 106-512) has listed 1,244 scarabs/scaraboids and other objects with iconographic decorations from Tell el-’Ajjul. The site also produced numerous objects of excellent jewellery. A large quantity of objects came from Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Greece, Syria and other Levantine sites. These finds demonstrate the cosmopolitan nature of the societies of Tell el-’Ajjul.
2. Aims, Inquiries and Hypotheses (a summary)
- The study of the Middle and Late Bronze Age cosmopolitan societies of Tell el-’Ajjul and their relations to other cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean.
- The search for evidence of the identity of Tell el-’Ajjul.
- The study of the relative and absolute chronology (related to the SCIEM2000 project).
- The taking of soil/pumice samples from the crucial Middle and Late Bronze Age strata at Tell el-’Ajjul in order to identify volcanic material with a Thera origin by Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA).
- The re-interpretation of Petrie´s excavations in 1930-34 and 1938.