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Old Archaeological Sites Forgotten (2008)

Being increasingly involved with guiding and tourism in Israel I am always happy to see (and report) on new archaeological attractions.

Just in my last report I reviewed new attractions at the sites of Masada and Beth-Shean. Yet sometimes I also witness archaeological sites which are left un-maintained after their exposure. The remains are eventually covered by dirt, debris, and vegetation. Some are also looted and vandalized. This is so upsetting. Publications and explanations about a Biblical site can be obtained anywhere, but only an actual visit to an excavated site can provide that unique feeling of history coming back to life. Some of the sites are forgotten after they are exposed, and today look like a dump site, a field of weeds, or are simply covered up deliberately.

One such case I witnessed recently when visiting Halutzah / Elusa. Halutzah was a major city in the Roman and Byzantine periods. It was founded by the Nabateans as a caravanserai, but over the centuries grew to a capital city of the region. Abandoned after the Muslim conquest, Halutzah was eventually covered by the sands. In 1979-1980 the archaeologist Professor A. Negev revealed its ancient theatre, and the finds were abundant and impressive. He left the theatre exposed, and for some years I used to bring groups to the site, and enjoy their excitement of suddenly seeing the theatre among the barren terrain and sand dunes. Yet in a recent visit to the site I was surprised to see the theatre has been deliberately covered up. Eran Doron, head of development of tourism in the Negev region, explained to me that this was done recently in order to protect the remains from vandalism and looting. Perhaps inevitable in such remote locations, but still sad and even aggravating to think that after so much effort of exposing such an ancient theatre, it had to be covered up again.

the theatre discovered in Halutzah

A photo taken in 2002 of the theatre discovered in Halutzah in the 1979-1980 excavation there. Photos © Danny Herman

theatre in Halutza, now covered in dirt.

A photo taken in September 2008 of the same theatre in Halutza, now covered in dirt. Photos © Danny Herman

Another site that is suffering in a similar manner is Ekron, a large city from Biblical times, famed as one of the five major cities of the Philistines. Located 35km (22 miles) west of Jerusalem, Ekron was excavated by a joint team of the Hebrew University and Albright institute during the years 1981 to 1996. In the nearby kibbutz a nice museum was also established to present the finds, and both offered a good insight into the subject of the Biblical Philistines. But 12 years after the excavations ended, the site is in bad shape. Weeds cover the remains of the excavated areas, including remains of a unique Philistine Temple. I used to show groups this temple, and discuss the story of Samson and his deadly act at the similar Philistine temple, in Gaza. But no more. The weeds cover the whole area, and I can’t even find the temple building!.

And the local museum? It simply closed. Lack of budget and visitors led to its closing. The artifacts were taken to other museums, and the building was turned into a jewelry factory. With the influx of tourism in recent years I would expect more sites to be excavated and developed for visitors. Indeed, this is the case at some places, but why are some sites condemned to negligence and oblivion? If it is only due to poor PR, perhaps my humble contribution here can help change that.

Ekron

Although Ekron is a major Biblical site, after the excavations held at the mound in the 1990's the remains were covered by debris and vegetations and are not visible any more. Parts of the site (lower part of this photo) are even used today for growing wheat!.