hill country site located northeast of Rosh ha-῾Ayin, southwest of Kafr Qasim, and about 16 km (10 mi.) east of Tel Aviv (map reference 14675 × 16795). In the western margins of the western hill country, the site is situated on a hill that borders on and overlooks the coastal plain. Tel Aphek, site of a Canaanite city-state on the coastal plain, is about 3 km (2 mi.) to the west, across the Aphek Pass. With access to the Yarkon River controlled by Aphek, occupants of ῾Izbet Ṣarṭah had to store water in cisterns cut into the hillside. [See Aphek; Cisterns.]

An archaeological survey team from Tel Aviv University discovered the site in 1973. Excavations, directed by Moshe Kochavi, continued for four seasons (1976–1978) under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and the Department for the Land of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan University, with Israel Finkelstein serving as field director. The excavators distinguished three Iron Age strata: the two earliest date to Iron I; the latest, to the beginning of Iron II. Six other Iron I sites were identified nearby. Settlement patterns in the region and architectural features in every stratum of the site indicate that the occupants of ῾Izbet Ṣarṭah belonged to the population that settled hundreds of hill country sites in the early Iron Age.

An oval-shaped settlement established at the end of the thirteenth or at the beginning of the twelfth century BCE was uncovered at the earliest level, stratum III. The site was roughly half an acre in size, with a continuous outer wall. Access was from the northeast; where a narrow opening flanked by monolithic doorjambs led to stone-paved open space. At the center of the settlement was a courtyard in which several stone-faced silos were found. The courtyard was surrounded by a wall, to which a belt of contiguous broad rooms of various widths was attached. The rooms lacked internal doorways and had to be entered from the courtyard. Their walls, made out of large stones, were preserved to one course and most of the floors were bedrock.

Sherds from the entire settlement history of stratum III were uncovered, and the variety of pottery types indicates that the inhabitants interacted with the people of the nearby coastal plain. Because the site was situated on the border between the hill country and the coastal plain, ῾Izbet Ṣarṭah was affected by regional rivalries. At the beginning of the eleventh century BCE, the stratum III settlement was abandoned as a result of growing tensions between the people of the hill country and the Philistines on the coastal plain. [See Philistines, article on Early Philistines.]

Abandonment was apparently planned, as only a few complete pottery vessels, including three collar-rim store-jars, were found. Among the earliest pieces were fragments of a Mycenaean stirrup jar, a krater of the “ibex-and-palm” type, and a krater with a “palm” ornamentation applied in relief; bases of “Canaanite” jars; cooking pots with an everted rim; and various bowls in pottery styles of the Late Bronze Age. The latest pottery pieces were rims of red-slipped bowls and fragments of jars with plain, unshaped rims.

῾Izbet Ṣarṭah was resettled at the end of the eleventh century BCE, after the destruction of Aphek and probably as part of the Israelite westward expansion from the hill country to the coastal plain—perhaps under King Saul. There are indications that aspects of this stratum II settlement were planned. Its layout varies significantly from that of stratum III in size—it was roughly an acre—and in its internal configuration.

῾Izbet Ṣarṭah

῾IZBET ṣARṭAH. Figure 1. Four-room house after restoration. (Courtesy ASOR Archives)

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At the center of the settlement a large, four-room house (16 × 12 m) was preserved up to three courses of stone with outer walls as much as 1.4 m thick. Three long, connecting rooms were separated by two rows of stone pillars. An enclosed room was situated perpendicular to them along the south wall. The floors of the side rooms were made out of stone slabs; the rest were of bedrock or beaten earth. The only entrance was at the northern end of the long western wall, and a small room was attached to the house at its north-west corner (see figure 1).

Clustered around three sides of the house were forty-three silos that had been dug into a light-colored, mud-brick material, as well as the rooms of the earlier stratum. This brick substance, ubiquitous in stratum III, was reused as foundation material for the stratum II houses, which were built in a series along the edge of the site. Like the large central house, two of these smaller structures had four rooms. Although they were positioned near the slope of the hill, these structures did not function as a line of defense because they were not built contiguously.

The silos, which were lined with small and medium-sized stones, held an estimated volume of 1.3 cu m. Found inside of one of them (no. 605) was an ostracon in two fragments bearing eighty-six letters of Proto-Canaanite script, the longest Proto-Canaanite inscription uncovered in the country to date. Only one line of the five-line inscription, a Proto-Canaanite abecedary, is legible. [See Proto-Canaanite.]

The stratum II settlement was abandoned after only a few decades, perhaps in the wake of the Philistine consolidation of power in the region. ῾Izbet Ṣarṭah was reoccupied shortly thereafter, however, at the beginning of the tenth century BCE, perhaps when Israelite expansion westward was resumed under King David. The stratum I site was smaller than that of stratum II, but their plans were similar. The four-room house was rebuilt with partitions between the columns, and two rooms, with installations, were added at the north of the building. A few new silos also were added. In the process of rebuilding, the stratum II houses at the edge of the site were damaged. The same pottery types as those found in stratum II were uncovered in stratum I; only a statistical analysis can differentiate sherds from the two levels. [See also Four-room House; Granaries and Silos.]

Like stratum II, the stratum I site was abandoned after a brief occupation, this time because the fertile Yarkon basin had opened to Israelite settlement. ῾Izbet Ṣarṭah was never resettled, but during the later Byzantine period it was used as an agricultural site. Stones taken from stratum II structures were reused to build several walls, one of them around the top of the hill.

[See also Canaanites.]


  • Cross, Frank Moore. “Newly Found Inscriptions in Old Canaanite and Early Phoenician Scripts.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 238 (1980): 1–20.
  • Demsky, Aaron. “A Proto-Canaanite Abecedary Dating from the Period of the Judges and Its Implications for the History of the Alphabet.” Tel Aviv 4 (1977): 14–27.
  • Dotan, Aron. “New Light on the ῾Izbet Sartah Ostracon.” Tel Aviv 8 (1981): 160–172.
  • Finkelstein, Israel. ῾Izbet Sartah: An Early Iron Age Site near Rosh Ha῾ayin, Israel. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 299. Oxford, 1986.
  • Kochavi, Moshe. “An Ostracon of the Period of the Judges from ῾Izbet Sartah.” Tel Aviv 4 (1977): 1–13.
  • Naveh, Joseph. “Some Considerations on the Ostracon from ῾Izbet Ṣarṭah.” Israel Exploration Journal 28 (1978): 31–35.

Leslie Watkins

Based on material submitted by Israel Finkelstein