Staircase of Ancient Canaanite Palace Discovered in Northern Israel

July 24, 2019

3 min read

A magnificent, well-preserved staircase built in a Canaanite palace about 3,500 years ago has been discovered by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeologists in the 30th season of their excavations at Tel Hatzor National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site located east of the Rosh Pina Road near Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar in northern Israel. 

The biblical Hazor was perhaps the greatest of the cities of the Land of Israel in the Late Canaanite period. 

The excavations are being conducted by leading researchers from the university’s archeology institute, Israel Prize laureate Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Shlomit Bechar, his excavations partner in recent years. The palace that was uncovered in the digs is thought to have been destroyed in the fire that nearly obliterated Hatzor, whose destruction is mentioned in the Bible (the Book of Joshua 11:10-13) as part of the conquest of the land. 

The staircase, on the northern slopes of the upper city and opposite the lower city “is unique and impressive and hints at the splendor that is expected to be exposed,” the archeologists said. Parts of the palace have been exposed in previous seasons, while the staircase has not yet been completely revealed. 

This year, the work of exposing a magnificent staircase that led from the spacious paved courtyard to the inside of the palace was completed. This is an unprecedented staircase in the ancient Near East. So far, seven steps about 4.5 meters wide and consisting of basalt slabs specially meant for the building of stairs have been exposed. This staircase probably led to the main entrance to the palace itself. The walls of the palace that remained were more than two meters in height, with the rest destroyed in the great fire. 

Ben-Tor and Bechar were joined by dozens of students and volunteers, including students from the Archeology Institute, a group of students from France and volunteers from England, Germany, Spain, the US, Canada, Finland, Australia, and China. Most of the volunteers have worked there in the past and returned for another round of excavations.

The digs are part of the Salz Foundation excavations at Hatzor in memory of the late archeologist Prof. Yigael Yadin, who led the first delegation to the site in 1955.

The first Tel Hazor excavations continued until 1958, then again between 1968 and 1970 and finally continued from 1990 under the supervision of Ben-Tor. Hatzor is considered the largest and most important of the archeological sites in Israel, and thus was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, of which there are nine in this country. 

World Heritage Sites are cultural and/or natural sites considered to be of “Outstanding Universal Value,” having special importance for everyone.

The most important artifacts found in the palace include Egyptian scarabs, some 40 huge storage vessels indicating large-scale storage capacity, many basalt vessels, raw materials related to the palace workshops and four royal inscriptions (three inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs and one in Akkadian). 

Among these inscriptions were two Egyptian statues discovered in recent years – a sphinx fragment of the Egyptian King Mykerinos (or Menkaure, who ruled Egypt around 2,500 BCE), which was the largest Egyptian royal statue ever discovered in the Levant. The second is a fragment of a statue of an Egyptian official named Nab-Po who existed in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom during the 18th and 19th centuries BCE, a period in which Hazor did not yet exist. This is the largest private Egyptian sculpture discovered in the Levant from the second millennium BCE. 

In an additional part of the dig exposed this season were found the remains of the last Jewish city that was destroyed during by Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria (mentioned in the book of 2 Kings 15: 29-30). A considerable quantity of shattered pottery vessels provides archeological evidence of this destruction. In future digs, the team of archeologists is expected to reveal additional parts of the city’s administrative palace. 

Tel Hatzor can rightly be considered the “flagship” of the Hebrew University’s excavations and of Israeli archeological digs in general. The importance of the site is clear due to its conquest by the tribes of Israel (the battle between the cities of the north of the country under the leadership of Yavin king of Hatzor and the tribes of Israel under the leadership of Joshua). This led to the settlement of the tribes of Israel “in this land (Joshua 11:17).

Hatzor is a key site for examining the reliability of Biblical historiography. Written documentation and various artifacts attest to the fact that the city maintained cultural and commercial ties with both Egypt and Babylon. In addition, various artistic findings brought to Hatzor from near and far are evidence of this.

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