Jun 27, 2022
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Artefacts unearthed over the summer by American archaeologists in southern Israel suggest that despite popular academic thought to the contrary, Israel could well have been a kingdom ruled by biblical kings such as David and Solomon.

Six clay bullae, or seals, were uncovered during the excavation of Khirbet Summeily, 14 miles east of modern Gaza, by Mississippi State University archaeologist James Hardin and his team. In addition, the team found figurines, scarabs and a chalice.

According to modern academics, such as Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, “10th century Jerusalem was a small highland village that controlled a sparsely settled hinterland,” not a powerful kingdom whose influence extended across much of the Middle East as described in the Bible. The theory goes that if David existed, he was a minor tribal chieftain at best.

The discoveries at Khirbet Summeily, while not specific enough to prove the existence of the Biblical King David, do suggest a power much greater than a “highland village” at work in the region.

According to Israel Hayom, Hardin first visited the Khirbet Summeily site three years ago. He expected to find a tiny farming village consisting of small three or four-room houses, containing some pots or dishes. However, his team uncovered a much larger building or complex filled with artefacts which suggest a much more elite function than simple cooking and storage.

The initial plan had been to dig for five weeks, but Operation Protective Edge cut the excavation short. Much of the building remains buried, including the outer walls.

Hoping one of the bullae contained letters which might shed light on their origins, Hardin went to Christopher Rollston of George Washington University.

“He looked at them and said, ‘You guys don’t have letters but you’re missing the point. These are high-end, elite-type stamps,'” probably used to seal documents, Hardin said. This suggests a far more complex form of government structure than initially supposed.

“You have either political or administrative activities going on at a level well beyond those typical of a rural farmstead,” Hardin told Archaeology.org.

“Generations of scholarship have suggested [that the people of Khirbet Summeily were] farming, but over the past few years, we have slowly realized that humans rarely farmed this region. It was a pasture. Shepherds tended sheep and goats under the protection of their government. Finding the bullae this past summer strongly supports our idea that Khirbet Summeily was a governmental installation,” commented Jeff Blakely of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Blakely and Hardin serve as co-directors of the Hesi Regional Project, responsible for the Khirbet Summeily excavations.

The bullae were preserved because the house they were in burned, firing the clay, Hardin explained.

The dating of the artefacts is somewhat problematic, which is the reason Finkelstein is reluctant to reevaluate his own conclusions. Radiocarbon dating places the site anywhere from the mid-10th century to 800 BCE, so “there is no reason to start rewriting history books that come from modern critical research,” Finkelstein wrote.

Hardin admits the radiocarbon dating is not specific enough, so pot fragments from the same layer of excavation as the bullae are being sent to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Rock Magnetism for magnetic analysis, in the hopes it will be more precise.

A brief description of the discoveries appears in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Near-Eastern Archaeology.