The beginning of grain storage can be attributed to surplus production associated with the domestication of cereals and other crops at the beginning of the Neolithic period. As social structures developed, so did different types of grain-storage facilities that were either publicly or privately owned. Such facilities were subterranean or above ground; the grain was deposited in bulk or in containers.

Most above-ground facilities seem to have been publicly owned. Some of the earliest have been found in the Ubaid 4 level at Tell el-'Oueili in Iraq (Huot, 1992, p. 192); however, the shape of the superstructure is unknown. The development of beehive-shaped granaries for storage in bulk probably originated in Egypt in the Early Bronze Age (Borowski, 1987, p. 76) and spread to Palestine. Remains of similar structures dating to the EB II and EB III were discovered at Arad (Currid, 1986) and Beth-Yeraḥ (Mazar, 1990), respectively. The latter, which could hold 2,250 cubic meters of grain, was made of nine circular structures connected to what appears to be a temple (Mazar, 1990, pp. 129–130). Similar buildings were discovered in Anatolia and on Crete. Artistic representations show that this type of granary also continued in use during the New Kingdom (Gressmann, 1927, pl. 177). These structures were filled through windows at the top by ladder-climbing, grain-carrying workers and emptied through doors at the bottom. Remains of Late Bronze Age beehive granaries were found at Bir el-῾Abd in northern Sinai, where a fort from the time of Seti I was maintained (Oren, 1973). Similar structures dating to the Hellenistic period were discovered at Tell Jemmeh by Sir William Flinders Petrie (1928, pp. 8–9, pl. 14) and more recently by Gus Van Beek (1986). The absence of remains of beehive granaries during the Iron Age gives credence to Petrie's suggestion that the structures at Tell Jemmeh were constructed under foreign influence, possibly from Mesopotamia.

During the Iron Age, the main publicly owned storage facilities were the tripartite, pillared buildings uncovered at Tell el-Ḥesi, Tell Qasile, Tell Abu Hawam, Megiddo, Hazor, and Beersheba. At Tel Hadar (Kochavi et al., 1992, pp. 36–41) the only above-ground, rectangular grain-storage complex known from the Iron Age Levant was recently discovered, attached to a tripartite building. The function of the tripartite buildings is controversial; some consider them stables. Another common type of Iron Age storehouse, with long rooms and thick walls, has been discovered at Jericho, Lachish, Megiddo, Beth-Shemesh, Tell Jemmeh, Tell en-Naṣbeh, and Tell Beit Mirsim (Borowski, 1987; pp. 78–79), in which jars and other vessels such as jugs and bowls held commodities. In the Bible, storehouses are called miskěnôt, from the Akkadian mas̆kanâti.

During the Roman Empire, granary construction was standardized. Whether for civilian or military use, granary buildings were long and narrow with thick walls, raised floors, and proper ventilation. Examples can be found throughout the former Roman Empire in cities, at harbors, and at military installations (Rickman, 1980).

Subterranean facilities were publicly and privately owned. This type of storage facility dates back to the time of the Neolithic revolution. Some of the earliest grain-storage pits have been discovered at Maghzaliyeh (Iraq) dating to the seventh millennium BCE (Huot, 1992, p. 189). Plastered subterranean granaries have been found at Gezer in Iron Age I and Middle Bronze IIA levels. The stone-lined, sometimes plastered, storage pit was a very common feature in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, in both large and small communities. Privately owned storage pits have been discovered near dwellings and in courtyards at Tell Beit Mirsim, ῾Izbet Ṣarṭ;ah, Beersheba, Tell Ḥalif, and many other sites. One of the best examples of publicly owned storage pits, or silos, was found at Megiddo. There, a round pit has two sets of stairs along the wall to facilitate the heavy traffic of workers bringing in or taking away grain. Storage pits at Beersheba had mortars and grinding stones set next to their rim to enable more efficient grinding of grain. Tell Beit Mirsim and Beersheba may be the only sites where an Iron Age cellar was used for storage in jars. The biblical term for a privately owned storage pit is ᾽āsām.

Granaries and Silos

GRANARIES AND SILOS. Stone-lined (storage?) bin from stratum VII at Tel Ḥalif. (Courtesy ASOR Archives)

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Publicly owned grain-storage facilities were mostly used for the collection and disbursement of revenues to functionaries, such as the civic and religious bureaucracy and the military. Private facilities were located close to or in dwellings, to facilitate the use of grain in daily food preparation and to store seeds.

[See also Agriculture; Cereals; and Food Storage. In addition, most of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]

Bibliography

  • Borowski, Oded. Agriculture in Iron Age Israel. Winona Lake, Ind., 1987. The most recent work combining biblical and archaeological information about Israelite agriculture.
  • Currid, John D. “The Beehive Building of Ancient Palestine.” Biblical Archaeologist 49 (1986): 20–24. Recent treatment of this and other types of granaries.
  • Gressmann, Hugo. Altorientalische Texte und Bilder zum Alten Testament. Berlin, 1927. A very good collection of artistic representations related to biblical topics from the ancient Near East.
  • Huot, Jean-Louis. “The First Farmers at Oueili.” Biblical Archaeologist 55 (1992): 188–195. Coverage of early Mesopotamian settlements, in an issue devoted to the region.
  • Kochavi, Moshe et al., “The Land of Geshur.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18 (July–August 1992): 30–44, 84–85. First English-language report of this excavation.
  • Mazar, Amihai. “On the Significance of the Early Bronze III ‘Circles Building’ at Beth-Yerah” (in Hebrew). Shenaton le-Mikra ule-heker ha-mizrah ha-Kadum (Annual for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies) 10 (1990): 123–135. The most recent treatment of this structure and its possible function.
  • Oren, Eliezer D. “Notes and News: Bir el-'Abd (Northern Sinai).” Israel Exploration Journal 23 (1973): 112–113. Report of this discovery.
  • Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Gerar. London, 1928. Final report on the excavations and discoveries.
  • Rickman, Geoffrey. Roman Granaries and Store Building. Cambridge, 1980. Important work on the design and construction of civil and military granaries and storehouses throughout the Roman Empire.
  • Van Beek, Gus W. “Are There Beehive Granaries at Tell Jemmeh? A Rejoinder.” Biblical Archaeologist 49 (1986): 245–247. Important treatment of the beehive granary.

Oded Borowski