|Clay stone, Tell Taannek|
|The Church of Burqin|
Archaeological Sites in the Northern Districts
By Dr. Hamdan Taha
The northern districts of Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqilia, which are located on the fringe of the central mountainous ridge and the coastal plain to the west and the Marj Ibn Amer (Plain of Jezreel) to the north, represent the central zone of Palestine. The area played an important role in the past as a crossroads between the sea and the northern region. The historical Via Maris passed through this area as well as other internal routes that connected the mountainous areas to the coast. Hundreds of archaeological sites and features are contained within the region. The excavated sites (Tell Taannek, Tell Jenin, Khirbet Bal’ama, Tell Dothan, Khirbet es-Samra, and Wadi Qana) provide information about the cultural history, ranging from the prehistoric period to modern times. The area is distinguished by its cultural and natural landscape, a combination of hilly areas and a plain. The diversity of these areas is represented by the wide range of its agricultural produce: olives, almonds, figs, and citrus.
Tell Taannek is a pear-shaped mound of approximately 14 acres, 178 metres above sea level. The site is located at the northern end of the Nablus ridge and at the southern edge of Marj Ibn Amer, eight kilometres south of Tell el-Mutesellim (Megiddo). The site occupies a strategic location on the fringe between the mountainous area and the plain, on the main route between Jenin and Haifa and west of the historical pass, Wadi Hasan, and east of el-Yamoun.
The modern Palestinian village Taannek, located on the south-eastern slope of the tell, still bears the ancient name “Taannach,” indicating the historical continuity of the name. The name was probably mentioned around 1350 B.C. in the Amarna letters. Taannek was mentioned as a captured city in the topographical list of Thutmose III’s military campaign into Asia in 1468 B.C. It was subordinate to the Egyptian ruler residing in Megiddo, as evident from Taannek letters 5-6, but still remained an independent city-state (Glock, 1983). The city was captured again by Shishak I in 918 B.C. during his campaign in Palestine. The site was mentioned several times in the Bible as a Canaanite town undefeated by Joshua. Later Taannek was mentioned as a large village in the 4th century A.D. by Eusebius and in the Crusader records from the Middle Ages.
The first excavation of the site was carried out by Ernest Sellin between 1902 and 1904, on behalf of Vienna University in Austria. This pioneering excavation uncovered a substantial part of the site. It showed the remains of a major urban centre and archaeological objects from various periods. In 1963, 1966, and 1968, excavations were resumed at the site under the direction of Paul Lapp on behalf of Concordia-ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research). The new excavation managed to fix the cultural history of the site. In 1986 a small salvage excavation under the direction of A. Glock was carried out on the eastern slope of the village and uncovered part of the Ottoman Taannek.
Seventeen cuneiform tablets were uncovered during the excavations at Tell Taannek, fifteen tablets by Sellin between 1902 and 1904, and two tablets in 1960. The tablets date mostly to the 15th century B.C.
Khirbet Bal’ama and the water tunnel
Khirbet Bal’ama is located at the southern entrance of Jenin, approximately two kilometres south of the main centre of the city. The site was a Canaanite fortified city that occupied a strategic position commanding the historic route of Wadi Bal’ama and linking Arraba Plain with Marj Ibn Amer. The site is identified with ancient Ibleam mentioned in the Egyptian Royal Archive in the 15th century B.C. During the classical period it was known as Belmont, and in the medieval period as Castellum Beleismum.
The excavation of the water tunnel, located at the eastern foot of Khirbet Bal’ama, was carried out in 1996-97 as a salvage operation on behalf of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities under the direction of H. Taha. An important result of these excavations at Khirbet Bal’ama was the recovery of the ancient water system, the means by which the inhabitants of ancient Belameh had access to the water of Bir es-Sinjil Spring at the base of the mound. It was designed primarily to be used in times of war and siege.
The tunnel consists of three parts, the archway at the lowest entrance, the rock-cut tunnel going upwards to the west, and the upper, partly built narrow passage. The total length that has been explored is 115 metres, with 105 metres being rock cut, including 57 steps.
Joint Palestinian-Dutch excavations were carried out on the site between 1998 and 2000 under the direction of H. Taha and G. van der Kooij. The results of the excavation were published recently in The Water Tunnel System at Khirbet Bal’ama (2008). The finds consist of pottery vessels, metal objects, glass objects, coins, and a few inscriptions.
The excavation uncovered evidence from the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Umayyad, Crusader/Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.
In 1999 a series of restorations was carried out on the site. And in 2005 the tunnel was rehabilitated as an archaeological park and is now open to visitors.
The Church of Burqin, the Church of the Ten Lepers
The village of Burqin lies about five kilometres west of Jenin, at the northern end of the Arraba plain. The village was mentioned in several historical sources. In the 16th century it was described as a small village. Archaeological surveys in Burqin have revealed evidence of remains from the Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman, Byzantine, Ummayad, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and early Ottoman periods.
St. George Church is located on the northern slope of the historic core of the village, overlooking Wadi Burqin. It belongs to the Greek Orthodox community. The church is dedicated to St. George (el-Khader), the most popular saint among Christians and Muslims.
The first systematic survey of the church was carried out by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities in 1997, within the framework of the Clearance Campaign of one hundred sites in Palestine, funded by the Dutch government. According to archaeological investigations carried out on behalf of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities in 1997, four main architectural phases in the history of the church may be discerned. The first church was in the cave, which was originally a Roman cistern when the miracle took place. The cave and the church were identified as remains of the Byzantine period.
In the second phase, a church was built in front of the cave, between the 6th and 9th centuries A.D. It was described in the Crusader and Ottoman periods.
The present church consists of the cave, the main hall, and the nave. It was rebuilt in the course of the 18th century A.D., most probably in the first quarter of the 18th century.
The Church of St. George in Burqin is linked with the tradition of the ten lepers mentioned in the New Testament. According to Christian tradition (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus Christ entered a certain village on his way to Galilee and miraculously healed the ten lepers who asked for his help. Therefore, the church is known locally as the Church of the Ten Lepers.
Tell Dothan is located on the eastern side of the Arraba plain, approximately eight kilometres north of Jenin, one kilometre east of the Nablus-Jenin road, amid a fertile plain and perennial spring at the southern foot of the tell.
The excavation on the site was carried out by J. Free on behalf of Wheaton College, Illinois, during the period 1953-58. The earliest remains date back to the Chalcolithic period. In the Early Bronze Age, around 3000 B.C., the city was a major fortified urban centre. Dothan was again inhabited in the Late Bronze Age IIB and Iron Age I, when the old city wall was still in use. A spectacular discovery is represented by a tomb dug into the western slope of the tell containing more than one thousand complete pieces of pottery and around one hundred skeletons.
The domestic quarter, consisting of a street, houses, storerooms, ovens, and household objects dating to the Iron Age II were uncovered. Successive layers of building and destructions were attested in the 9th-7th centuries B.C. The last destruction at the end of the 8th century B.C. was attributed to the Assyrians. The city was a flourishing centre under Assyrian Rule.
Scant evidence of Hellenistic and Roman occupation was attested at the site. The last occupation dates back to the Mamluk period. Popular tradition locates the story of Joseph and his brothers to a cistern there, known as Joseph’s pit. The site is located in Area C and has no protection. During the past years the site has fallen prey to systematic looting and robbing activities.
Wadi Qana, the earliest evidence of gold in Palestine
A cave was found in 1980 in Wadi Qana. It consists of a network of natural caves. Excavations in the cave indicated remains from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, and the Early Bronze Age. The cave system spread over five levels, and its entrance was found on the uppermost level.
The cave was used as a burial place. The finds consist of pottery, flint, stone, ivory, and bone objects. Neolithic remains were found in all parts of the cave and consist of pottery vessels of the Yarmukian culture. The bulk of the objects dates to the Chalcolithic period and consists of pottery, basalt, metal, bone, ivory jewellery, and human skeletal remains. The most distinctive find of this period is represented by its metal objects that consist of copper objects and, for the first time, electrum and gold objects. Eight electrum and gold objects were found in the cave. Some were made of almost pure gold and others of electrum with a 70:30 ratio gold to silver. The gold and electrum of Wadi Qana represent so far the earliest production of this precious metal in Palestine.
Dr. Hamdan Taha is the general director of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities.
Albert E. Glock, “Texts and Archeology at Tell Ta’anek,” Berytus 31 (1983), 57-66.
Kooij, G., van der and H. Taha, The Water Tunnel System at Khirbet Bal’ama, Ramallah: Khirbet Bal’ama Archaeological Project, 2008.