site located on the northern bank of Wadi Gaza, 2 km (1.2 mi.) from the Mediterranean coast and 6 km (3.6 mi.) southwest of modern Gaza (31°29′ N, 34°28′ E; map reference 0934 × 0976). The site is poorly preserved as a result of encroaching dunes and seasonal flooding; it is at least 8 ha (20 acres) in size and rectangular in shape.
William M. Flinders Petrie excavated Tell el-῾Ajjul for the British School of Archaeology from 1930 to 1934. Ernest H. Mackay and Margaret A. Murray briefly continued the excavation In 1938. Less than 5 percent of the site has been excavated. Petrie claimed that Tell el-῾Ajjul was ancient Gaza. However, Aharon Kempinski (1974) notes that ancient Gaza was probably located within the confines of the modern city and correctly suggests that Tell el-῾Ajjul is the city of Sharuhen, mentioned in both biblical and Egyptian sources. The size of Tell el-῾Ajjul, along with its great quantity of Hyksos scarabs and the wealth of its gold hoards, supports this identification. Petrie's excavation and publication of the site are, thus, problematic, and basic aspects of stratigraphy and chronology remain confusing and controversial. William Foxwell Albright (1938), James R. Stewart (1974), Kempinski (1993), and William G. Dever (1992) have all attempted to rework the dating of Tell el-῾Ajjul. [See the biographies of Petrie and Albright.]
Except for the site's Early Bronze IV tombs, there are scant traces of early settlement. Tell el-῾Ajjul reached its zenith during the Middle Bronze Age. In the Late Bronze Age, occupation was limited, but new cemeteries appeared. There are a few Iron Age II burials and a smattering of material that dates to the Hellenistic, Roman, and Late Arab periods.
Cemetery 1500 (EB IV) is located west of the tell and includes approximately forty-two single, articulated burials in rectangular tombs with square shafts. [See Burial Sites; Tombs.] Grave goods were often limited to a single bronze dagger. [See Grave Goods.] Kathleen M. Kenyon (1956) suggests that only the earliest tombs contained daggers. Cemetery 100–200 (EB IV) is located east of the tell and contained approximately fifty burials. Its tombs shafts and chambers tend to be rounded. Grave goods included ceramic bowls and deep cups but very few daggers.
The earliest material from the tell itself comes from the Courtyard Cemetery. Its tombs were cut into the soft marl in the northern corner of the site. There is a total of twenty-five human burials and evidence of eighty animals. Burials were usually of single individuals. Six phases of burial types have been identified dating to MB IIA. Noteworthy is the burial of a child wearing gold jewelry found beneath palace II.
The Canaanite city ceased to function in the Late Bronze Age and a series of three large cemeteries began to develop to the north and east of the tell. The lower cemetery to the north of the site, the eighteenth-dynasty cemetery to the northeast, and the eastern cemetery to the east contained three hundred and five simple pit burials and eight elaborate pit burials. The pit burials were simple shallow rectangular or oval pits dug into the ground.
The practice of pit burials continued from the Middle Bronze Age, but the MB burials were intramural, whereas the LB cemeteries were not. However, there are a few LB intramural burials on the tell. The pit burials contain a high percentage of imported Cypriot pottery. Other grave goods include Mycenaean IIIA pottery, gold and bronze jewelry, metal objects (e.g., toggle pins, needles, daggers, arrowheads, a blade, razor, adzer, and axe), and Egyptian objects, especially scarabs. The cemeteries decline in use in LB IIB.
Eight elaborate pit tombs that include a dromos and a stone-lined cist are unique to Tell el-῾Ajjul and date to LB II. This evolution from simple pit burials probably accommodated elite families. Both the structure of the tombs and the grave goods are more elaborate. The grave goods included a great number of weapons, Egyptian objects (a gold ring, scarabs), and Egyptian-inspired objects (lead fishing-net weights, duck-shaped bowl). The “governor's tomb” is particularly outstanding and was reused several times throughout the Late Bronze Age. It has a stepped dromos, walls lined with sandstone slabs, and a gabled roof. Grave goods include a gold ring with the name of Tutankhamun, a scarab of Rameses II, thirty-five arrowheads, a bronze wine set, fishing weights, and an duck-shaped ivory bowl.
Other LB burial types include cave burials and loculi burials. Rivka Gonen (1992) considers the limited use of these burial types to be evidence of foreign populations, with pit burials reserved for the indigenous population. A group of loculi burials was found in the eastern cemetery. Each cave had a wide entrance and the loculi were carved into the walls. The caves measured at least 3.5 m in diameter, with the largest measuring 3.5 × 6 m. They may have had vaulted ceilings. Each loculus had the remains of at least two individuals and several contained the dismembered skeleton of an equid (tomb 411 contained the remains of an entire horse). A cache of limbs from a variety of species including ass, gazelle, horse, and ox, as well as human bones, was found near the entrance to these loculi. Gonen (1992; p. 131) compares the horse burials to one from Marathon in Greece. An odd use of a burial cave is one cut into the MB fosse: a shaft leads to a central chamber, off of which two burial niches contained the remains of four distinct burial groups. A total of fourteen people was found.
There is some indication of Phoenician-style cremation burials in cemetery 1000. Thirteen simple graves contained cremation urns along with metal (bronze and iron) and Egyptian objects (faience cup, scarabs, amulets). Cypro-Phoenician vessels, Cypriot vessels, and some Philistine pottery were also found. The cremation jar burials date to the tenth–eighth centuries BCE.
The site was protected by a fosse that surrounded the mound on three sides and was up to 6 m deep. The fosse was created by digging out the soft marl and sandstone, which in turn was used to build a steep rampart. The fosse and rampart date to late MB IIA. There is some evidence for a mud-brick wall crowning the rampart that would have been contemporary with palace III. Entrance to the site was from the northeast, where a strip of marl was left intact, acting as a causeway across the fosse. A series of enigmatic shallow tunnels emerged from the causeway and continued out to the coastal plain. Olga Tufnell (1993) suggests that these tunnels may be part of an irrigation system. [See Irrigation.]
A planned city was constructed inside the ramparts in the MB IIB. A ring road encircles the inside of its fosse, and a major southeast–northwest road runs through the center of the tell. Palace I (43 × 55 m) is located in the northwest part of the mound. A rectangular structure, it consists of a large central courtyard surrounded by rooms and is constructed of large blocks of sandstone, probably cuttings from the fosse. Palace I bears some similarities in plan and construction to the MB palace at Lachish, including embedded orthostats in the lower part of plastered walls—a Canaanite architectural tradition. [See Lachish.] City III was partially destroyed in the early sixteenth century BCE.
City II was built along the same general plan as City III and dates to MB IIC. The residential quarter, in the southeast part of the mound, is divided by long streets that create an orthogonal plan similar to MB Megiddo. Houses had several rooms and often included a small interior courtyard. Patrician houses ranged in size from 190 to 270 sq m and sometimes had second stories; the houses belonging to individuals of lower status were one story and only 70–100 sq m in size. Palace II is built above palace I, but it is smaller and made entirely of mud brick, without orthostats.
Several very significant gold hoards were found in contexts most likely associated with City II prior to its destruction. These hoards suggest that Tell el-῾Ajjul was a wealthy city. These particular hoards may reflect the stress felt by the inhabitants during Ahmose's campaign in Canaan, when the Egyptians besieged the city of Sharuhen for three years. The City II palace was thus probably destroyed in about 1530 BCE.
The city declined steadily in the Late Bronze Age, when a series of large cemeteries was in use. The palace, which was rebuilt several times throughout the Late Bronze Age, was converted into an Egyptian fortress that controlled the coastal road to Gaza. Palace III dates to LB IB, Palace IV to LB IIA, and Palace V to LB IIB. There is some evidence of an Iron Age occupation. Albright (1938) suggested that Palace V might date to the tenth century BCE. [See Palace.]
The use of bichrome decoration, the arrangement of motifs, and the vessel morphology at Tell el-῾Ajjul all reflect Canaanite ceramic traditions. A bichrome ware sometimes referred to as ῾Ajjul Painted Ware is distinctive because red and black paint were used to depict both geometric and anthropomorphic motifs. The decoration is frequently arranged in a frieze of metopes or triglyphs in which bulls, birds, and fish are depicted. Typical ceramic forms at the site include the krater, jug, and bowl. Some forms are more typically Cypriot, however, as are the anthropomorphic motifs.
Bichrome Ware begins in MB IIC and continues in use until LB IA. It has a wide distribution in the eastern Mediterranean but is found primarily along the southern coast of Palestine, in the Shephelah, along the Syrian coast, on Cyprus, in the Egyptian Delta, and in Cilicia. Neutron activation analysis has demonstrated that most of the Tell el-῾Ajjul Bichrome Ware was produced in eastern Cyprus, which was a major production center for this ceramic type (Artzy et al., 1973). [See Neutron Activation Analysis.] Some of the Bichrome Ware from Tell el-῾Ajjul was also produced locally. Other imported Cypriot pottery found at Tell el-῾Ajjul includes Red-on-Black, Black-Slip II, Monochrome, Black Lustrous, Base-Ring I and II, White-Slip I and II, and White-Painted IV and V Wares.
Tell el-῾Ajjul is well known for gold jewelry found in several hoards and in tombs. Unique gold crescents, pendants, earrings, toggle pins, and bracelets were made in a variety of sophisticated techniques such as granulation, cloisonné, and repoussé. [See Jewelry.] Gold-foil pendants with schematic representations of a fertility goddess, similar to examples from Gezer, were also found. [See Gezer.] The gold itself was probably imported from Nubia. [See Nubia.] The jewelry found is also made of silver, electrum, and lead. The floruit of jewelry production was in MB IIC.
Tell el-῾Ajjul has produced scores of fifteenth-dynasty, or Hyksos, scarabs and eighteenth-dynasty scarabs. [See Hyksos.] Egyptian royal seals from several kings were found, including Amenemhet III, Neferhotep I, and Ma-ib Re Sheshi. Other Egyptian artifacts include a jar with cartouches of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III, a gold signet ring with the name of Tutankhamun, and scarabs of Thutmosis III. The last royal name found is that of Rameses II, indicating that the cemeteries were used until 1200 BCE.
[See also Ceramics, article on Syro-Palestinian Ceramics of the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages; and Fortifications, article on Fortifications of the Bronze and Iron Ages.]
- Albright, William Foxwell. “The Chronology of a South Palestinian City, Tell el-῾Ajjul.” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature 55.4 (1938): 337–359.
- Artzy, Michal, et al. “The Origin of the ‘Palestinian’ Bichrome Ware.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 93.4 (1973): 446–461.
- Dever, William G. “The Chronology of Syria-Palestine in the Second Millennium B.C.E.: A Review of Current Issues.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 288 (1992): 1–25.
- Epstein, Claire. Palestinian Bichrome Ware. Leiden, 1966. The most comprehensive analysis of bichrome pottery from a stylistic perspective. Though a bit dated and written prior to Artzy et al.'s important work, this is still worthwhile.
- Gonen, Rivka. Burial Patterns and Cultural Diversity in Late Bronze Age Canaan. American Schools of Oriental Research, Dissertation Series, 7. Winona Lake, Ind., 1992. See especially pages 70–82, 118ff.
- Heurtley, W. A. “A Palestinian Vase-Painter of the Sixteenth Century B.C.” Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine 8 (1938): 21–37. The first comprehensive look at bichrome pottery; remains valuable for its stylistic analysis.
- Kempinski, Aharon. “Tell el-῾Ajjûl—Beth-Aglayim or Sharuḥen?” Israel Exploration Journal 24.3–4 (1974): 145–152.
- Kempinski, Aharon. “The Middle Bronze Age.” In The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, edited by Amnon Ben-Tor, pp. 159–210. New Haven, 1992. Kempinski's overviews of Tell el-῾Ajjul are invaluable for understanding the importance of the site and the material's broad implications (see esp. pp. 189ff, 203ff).
- Kempinski, Aharon. “Tell el-῾Ajjûl.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1, pp. 52–53. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.
- Kenyon, Kathleen M. “Tombs of the Intermediate Early Bronze–Middle Bronze Age at Tell Ajjul.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 3 (1956): 41–55.
- McGovern, Patrick E. Late Bronze Age Palestinian Pendants: Innovation in a Cosmopolitan Age. Sheffield, 1985. Excellent detailed treatment of Canaanite pendants; Tell el-῾Ajjul's many such pendants are prominent.
- Negbi, Ora. The Hoards of Goldwork from Tell el-Ajjul. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, vol. 25. Göteborg, 1970. Valuable overview of the gold jewelry from the site, with important commentary on its dating and stylistic influences.
- Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Ancient Gaza. 4 vols. London, 1931–1934.
- Petrie, W. M. Flinders. City of Shepherd Kings and Ancient Gaza V. London, 1952. Excavation reports by Petrie to be read as catalogs.
- Stewart, James R. Tell el-῾Ajjul: The Middle Bronze Age Remains. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, 38. Göteborg, 1974.
- Tufnell, Olga. “The Courtyard Cemetery at Tell el-῾Ajjul, Palestine.” Bulletin of the Institute of Archaeology 3 (1962): 1–37.
- Tufnell, Olga. “A Review of the Contents of Cave 303 at Tell el-῾Ajjul.” ῾Atiqot 14 (1980): 37–48. This and the article by Tufnell above represent some of the best analyses of the Tell el-῾Ajjul material by someone who was present at the excavations.
- Tufnell, Olga. “Tell el-῾Ajjûl.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1, pp. 49–52. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.
J. P. Dessel