Ashkelon through the Ages, Part I

Part of the fun of archaeology is watching history rewind itself through the layers–because, how will you get to the oldest stuff if you don’t dig out the newest stuff first? At Ashkelon, we’re fairly certain of what the oldest layer is, and how its history seems to have transpired.

Canaanite Gate

Canaanite Gate, Ashkelon

The earliest significant occupation appears to date from the third millennium (2000s) BC. This is often referred to as the Canaanite occupation, which manifests itself most notably in the monumental Canaanite gate–a magnificent 2-story arched gate leading into what was once Canaanite Ashkelon–and the iconic silver calf shrine. During the Canaanite occupation, the people seemed to live in relative prosperity, while maintaing a strained relationship with its neighbor Egypt, evidenced in the simpering letters from the city ruler to Pharaoh. In Genesis 21:22-34, Abraham interacts with these Canaanites when he makes a treaty between him and Abimelech.

Shrine of the Silver Calf

Canaanite Shrine of the Silver Calf, Found at Ashkelon

It is a fascinating realization that history does not occur in a vacuum: rather, history is the interplay of many cultures and many people. A decision in a far-away land may eventually have an impact on another place. Such was the case with Ashkelon. As far west as Spain and as far east as the Levant, a branch of the Mycenaeans landed in search of new homes. Soon, Egypt was invaded by a group known as the Sea People. On the Merenptah Stele, Pharaoh Merenptah details his defeat of the Sea People, driving them out of the land. Having been repulsed from the rich Nile Delta, they tried their luck further up the coast and soon became masters of the fertile Levantine coastline. Here they carried out a booming trade, since they were situated on the greatest trade routes–goods from as far away as Babylon and Cyprus passed through the business-savvy hands of the Ashkelonites. Ashkelon rose in importance, until it became a principle city of the Philistine pentapolis. There are many references to Philistine Ashkelon in the Bible, from Samson’s clothes raid to many dark curses, promising that the Philistines would not rule there forever.

Philistine Baboon Idol

Philistine Baboon Idol, Found at Ekron

Sure enough, in 604 BC, a young king had just taken the throne in Babylon, and new king Nebuchadnezzar wasted no time in finishing the job his father had started. As he had swept up from Egypt to claim his throne, his accompanying army laid out a swath of conquest all about them. As we know, in 605 BC, Jerusalem was swept up in this conquering blitz to begin the period of captivity. But the Jews were not the only people affected by this rapidly expanding empire. As though presenting a preview of coming attractions, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Ashkelon, leaving an astounding layer of destruction–pots, walls, grains, and bodies of all sorts, all placed as though the culture of that day were simply frozen in time. No one had time to clean, throw out their garbage, or finish cooking dinner before their city was reduced to a layer of ash and burnt material.

After Babylon came and went, the Persians exerted their gentle influence. Ashkelon rose from its ashes and blossomed once more into a bustling port town. Fish paste, grain, and wine from Judea all passed through the busy market. Around this time, the Ashkelonites created one of our first pet cemetaries, ritually burying thousands of domestic dogs in a designated part of the town.

Dog Burial

Dog Burial at Ashkelon, Photo Courtesy of Elsevier BV (c) 2013

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Ashkelon through the Ages, Part I”

  1. Mike Coward Says:

    Thanks. Wish you both well. Following every post. Love you both, mike coward

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. stevewolfgang Says:

    Reblogged this on ἐκλεκτικός and commented:
    More from Trent and Rebekah at Ashkelon

  3. Ashkelon Year 2 -and- Photos from Last Year’s Vagabonding Tour | Trent and Rebekah Says:

    […] Ashkelon through the Ages, Part I Ashkelon through the Ages, Part II […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: