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Khirbet Qeiyafa

Excavation directors: Prof. Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew University)
Mr. Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Institution The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Location: Israel, 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem
Periods: Iron Age, early 10th century BC; Hellenistic
Nearest village: Kibbutz Netiv Ha-Lamed Hei

The fieldwork lasted from 2007 to 2013. Now the expedition concentrates on the analysis of the finds and writing the final excavation reports. A new field project is starting at Tel Lachish, cooperation between the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Institute of Archaeology of Southern Adventist University.

During the past 30 years, the biblical narrative relating to the establishment of a kingdom in Biblical Judah has been much debated. Were David and Solomon historical rulers of an urbanized state-level society in the early 10th century BC, or was this level of social development reached only at the end of the 8th century BC, 300 years later? Recent excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the first early Judean city to be dated by 14C, clearly indicate a well planned fortified city in Judah as early as the late 11th-early 10th centuries BC. This new data has far reaching implication for archaeology, history and biblical studies.

Khirbet Qeiyafa location

Khirbet Qeiyafa is located ca. 30 km southwest of Jerusalem, on the summit of a hill that borders the Elah Valley on the north. This is a key strategic location in the biblical Kingdom of Judah, on the main road from Philistia and the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem and Hebron in the hill country. The city was constructed on bedrock, 2.3 hectares in area, surrounded by massive fortifications of megalithic stones. Five seasons of excavation were carried out in 2007-2011, five areas of the site (Areas A-E) were examined, and nearly 20% of the city has been uncovered. The expedition excavated 200 m of the city wall, two gates, a pillar building (small stable?) and 10 houses. In this area one of the world's most famous battles took place, the battle between David and Goliath.

Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa at the end of the excavation project.

The city has the most impressive First Temple period fortifications, including casemate city wall and two gates, one in the west and the other in the south. The gates are of identical size, and consist of four chambers. This is the only known city from the First Temple period with two gates.

The urban planning of Khirbet Qeiyafa includes the casemate city wall and a belt of houses abutting the casemates, incorporating them as part of the construction. Such urban planning has not been found at any Canaanite or Philistine city, nor in the northern Kingdom of Israel, but is a typical feature of city planning in Judean cities: Beersheba, Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell en-Nasbeh and Tell Beth-Shemesh. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example of this city plan and indicates that this pattern had already been developed by the time of King David.

The southern city gate, a typical four-chamber Iron Age gate, with the Valley of Elah in front.

The city came to an end in a sudden destruction, as indicated by hundreds of restorable pottery vessels, stone utensils and metal objects left on the floors of the houses. Thus, during five excavation seasons (2007-2011), very rich assemblages of pottery, stone tools and metal objects were found, as well as many cultic objects, scarabs, seals and the most famous Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon, an inscription written with ink on a pottery sherd.

A group of pottery vessels
decorated with red paint.

Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon
(technical drawing by Ada Yardeni).

Khirbet Qeiyafa contributes for better understanding major aspects relating to the early 10th century BCE, the time of King David:

  • Surveys and Reconstructing Settlement Patterns.
  • Iron Age Chronology and the Transition from Iron I to Iron IIA.
  • The Social Organization of Iron IIA in Judah.
  • City Planning in the Iron Age.
  • The Pottery Repertoire of the Early Iron IIA.
  • Preparation and Consumption of Food.
  • Household Archaeology.
  • Writing.
  • History Geography: Khirbet Qeiyafa is Biblical Sha'arayim.
  • The Early Kingdom of Judah.
  • Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative.
The massive construction of Khirbet Qeiyafa and its urban planning clearly indicate central authority in Judah in the early 10th century BC, the time of King David.

Digging in the field

A guided tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa
A guided tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa, with options of extentional tours of other biblical sites in the region:
Khirbet Qeiyafa, Azekah, Bet Shemesh, Gezer, Maresha-Bet Guvrin and Lachish.
For more information contact:
Ido Garfinkel

Tour guide, Israel