biblical site located east of Bethel (Gn. 12:8, Jos. 7:2). Three sites on the perimeter of modern Deir Dibwan, 3 km (2 mi.) east of Beitin (Bethel) have been suggested as the location of biblical Ai: Khirbet Haiyan, to the south, Khirbet Khudriya, to the east; and et-Tell, to the northwest. The first two have been excavated and found to be Byzantine settlements. Et-Tell (map reference 71385 × 53365), a polygon-shaped mound of 27.5 acres, situated on the south side of the deep Wadi el-Jaya, which leads east toward Jericho, has been extensively excavated. It yielded cultural material from as early as 3100 BCE. Et-Tell is generally accepted as biblical Ai; both the Hebrew and Arabic names for the site mean “the ruin heap.”

The first excavations at et-Tell were undertaken by John Garstang for the Department of Antiquities of Palestine In 1928 but were brief and involved only eight trenches. The work yielded a three-page summary report and the sketch of a plan. Judith Marquet-Krause, with the support of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, directed the second excavation project In 1933–1935. Her work focused on the highest part of the mound and the Early Bronze Age necropolis east of it. The Rothschild expedition excavated several significant EB structures, including the temple-palace (Marquet-Krauser's palais) and the sanctuary on the acropolis with its splendid alabaster and pottery cult objects; the nearby Iron Age village, where finds demonstrated that the village had been built directly on top of the EB city; and the lower city, whose fortifications included a postern and towers.

The third excavation project at et-Tell was a joint expedition of several research institutions that was in the field for nine seasons (1964–1976) under the direction of Joseph A. Callaway. The joint expedition expanded the Marquet-Krause excavations to include the citadel fortifications; the expanded Iron Age village; the lower-city residential area; fortifications with gates; and a reservoir. In addition, it excavated three sites in the vicinity of et-Tell to address further the location of biblical Ai and to secure comparative materials from the region for the study of et-Tell. In 1964 and 1969, Khirbet Haiyan was excavated to bedrock and was found to be a Byzantine settlement. Tombs and a Byzantine settlement were also excavated at Khirbet Khudriya In 1966 and 1968. Both sites may represent the location of monasteries. The third site in the regional study was Khirbet Raddanah, at the northern perimeter of modern Ramallah. An unfortified village with pillared houses was excavated that is contemporary with the Iron Age village at et-Tell.

The major evidence from et-Tell points to five settlement phases with abundant cultural remains. The original settlement (EB IB, 3250–3100 BCE) is an unwalled village 220 m long and located on the upper terraces of the site. The artifacts indicate a mixture of local and foreign elements. Local Chalcolithic traits of the indigenous population include angular jar neck and rim forms, as well as angular bowl forms. “Foreign” influence has been seen in carinated platters, holemouth jars with their rims rolled inward, and painted designs of groups of lines. Callaway (1964) thought these new forms might have been the result of migrations of populations from Anatolia and Syria, but most scholars dissent from that view. The dead were buried in caves along the slopes of the hill, and the burial goods reflect the cultural varieties of the mixed settlement population.

The second settlement phase (EB IC, 3100–2950 BCE) was a well-planned, walled city enclosing 27.5 acres. Massive fortifications were constructed over the homes in the unwalled village, following the site's natural contours. Four city-gate complexes were discovered: three of them were one meter wide and went straight through the wall; the fourth, which appears to be larger than the others, was only partially excavated. All the gates were fortified by towers constructed on the wall's exterior. These fortifications enclosed significant functional areas, including the impressive acropolis complex, the citadel and sanctuary, and a market and residential area. A large building (25 m long) of uncut stones with structures attached may represent the temple-palace complex of the acropolis and the center of urban life. Callaway argued again that the changes in material culture and settlement plans suggest that the indigenous population was absorbed by newcomers, possibly from Anatolia and Syria (Callaway, 1972). These newcomers imposed new leadership forms and a changed lifestyle from village to urban life, with creative city planning for the new settlement. In any case, this settlement ended in destruction—a blanket of ashes being mute testimony to the violent event.

The settlement was rebuilt in the third major phase (EB II, 2950–2775 BCE) of its history. The inhabitants repaired and modified buildings and widened and strengthened the fortifications, all inferior to those of the original city. New pottery forms include a carinated bowl with an outward-curving rim and a jug with a tall cylindrical neck and high loop handles. A massive destruction of this city may have been caused by an earthquake, as evidenced by rifts in the bedrock and associated walls, with stones tilting into the fissures. The destruction was accompanied by an intense fire.

Egyptian involvement in the rebuilding of the fourth settlement (EB III, 2775–2400 BCE) is evident in the temple-palace and in the corner-gate area of the fortifications. Column bases in the temple-palace were reworked with copper saws like those used by Egyptian craftsmen. The walls were built of hammer-dressed stones laid like bricks. The interior of the walls was plastered, and the rooms contained Egyptian imports of alabaster and stone vessels. At the southeast corner of the cities' fortifications, a kidney-shaped reservoir was constructed to capture rainwater from the upper city. [See Reservoirs.] Estimates of its capacity range from 1,800 to 2,000 cu m. Major changes appear about midway in this fourth period of settlement (c. 2550 BCE). Walls were rebuilt, the temple was redesigned as a royal residence, and a sanctuary was constructed against the citadel. Khirbet Kerak pottery and new objects seem to imply a new influence from the north of Canaan. This phase was ended by another violent destruction (c. 2400 BCE), and the site was abandoned and left in ruins for more than a millennium.


AI. Figure 1. Three cisterns in the courtyard of a house. (Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)

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The fifth and final settlement phase (Iron Age I, 1200–1050 BCE) was established on the terraces below the acropolis by newcomers. The new villagers, probably “Proto-Is-raelites,” did not fortify their settlement, and their houses were characterized by pillars or piers that supported the roof and divided the space. Streets were paved with cobblestones, and the houses shared common walls—suggesting that the population was made up of extended families. Two new technologies were evident: cisterns were dug for a water supply (see figure 1) and the hillslopes were terraced for crop planting. [See Cisterns; Agriculture.] These settlers were farmers and shepherds, as indicated by the stone saddles, querns, mortars, pestles, iron implements, and numerous bones of goats and sheep. [See Sheep and Goats.] Two phases of the Iron Age village are seen in the rebuilt houses and the different pottery forms. The original houses were modified by relocating their doors, repairing walls, and resurfacing floors. The long collared-rim storejar distinguishes the first-phase pottery form from the low collared-rim jar of the second phase. Slingstones were found on the floors of the rebuilt houses, suggesting that the settlement may have been abandoned after a minor battle. The excavator has suggested that this Iron I settlement represented the Early Israelite villagers described in the Book of Judges.

[See also Ceramics, article on Syro-Palestinian Ceramics of the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages; and the biographies of Callaway, Garstang, and Marquet-Krause.]


  • Callaway, Joseph A. Pottery from the Tombs at Ai (ēt-Tell). Colt Archaeological Institute, Monograph Series, 2. London, 1964.
  • Callaway, Joseph A. “The 1964 ‘Ai (et-Tell) Excavations.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 178 (1965): 13–40.
  • Callaway, Joseph A., and M. B. Nicol. “A Sounding at Khirbet Haiyân.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 183 (1966): 12–19.
  • Callaway, Joseph A. “New Evidence on the Conquest of ῾Ai.” Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968): 312–320.
  • Callaway, Joseph A. “The 1966 ῾Ai (et-Tell) Excavations.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 196 (1969): 2–16.
  • Callaway, Joseph A. “The 1968–1969 ‘Ai (et-Tell) Excavations.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 198 (1970): 7–31.
  • Callaway, Joseph A. The Early Bronze Age Sanctuary at Ai (et-Tell). London, 1972.
  • Callaway, Joseph A., and Kermit Schoonover. “The Early Bronze Age Citadel at Ai (et-Tell).” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 207 (1972): 41–53.
  • Callaway, Joseph A. The Early Bronze Age Citadel and Lower City at Ai (et-Tell). Cambridge, Mass., 1980.
  • Marquet-Krause, Judith. Les fouilles de ῾Ay (et-Tell), 1933–1935. 2 vols. Paris, 1949.

Robert E. Cooley