small mound (14 acres) located on a sandstone ridge on the northern bank of the Yarkon River, about 1.5 km (1 mi.) from the Mediterranean coast (today in the center of a northern suburb of Tel Aviv). The ancient name of the site is unknown, but it may be one of the towns of the tribe of Dan in the region of the Yarkon, such as Harakon (Jos. 19:46). The site's proximity to the river and the coast made it a convenient harbor for trading ships. In the Iron Age I, its location made Tell Qasile a commercial center, a role formerly played by the Canaanite town at Tel Gerisa, on the opposite bank of the river. While maritime trade was probably a major feature in the town's economy, agriculture was as well. A relatively large number of hippopotamus bones found at the site suggests that the animal was part of the local diet.
The site came to the attention of scholars in the late 1940s, when two Paleo-Hebrew inscriptions incised on potsherds were found on its surface. One reads “Gold of Ophir (belonging) to Beth-Ḥoron, thirty shekels.” The second reads “(Belonging) to the king, one thousand and one hundred [units] of oil … Hiyahu.”)
Excavations at the site were conducted by Benjamin Mazar from 1949 to 1951 and In 1959, and by Amihai Mazar from 1971–1974 and from 1982–1992, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Ha-aretz Museum in Tel Aviv.
Iron Age I: Urban Development.
The major period of occupation at Tell Qasile was in Iron Age I (twelfth–eleventh centuries BCE). The town was probably founded by the Philistines in connection with their expansion from the nucleus of their settlement in the heart of Philistia. Philistine bichrome ware was introduced during this period (c. 1150 BCE), replacing the earlier Philistine monochrome pottery, a local product made in the Mycenaean IIIC style. The latter pottery was not found at Tell Qasile, but bichrome ware was abundant in the earliest occupation level on the mound (stratum XII). It continued to appear in large quantities in the following level (stratum XI) and to some extent also in the third level (stratum X). In stratum X, however, a local decorative style appeared, characterized by black paint on red slip, a degeneration of the original Philistine pottery.
Strata XII–X represent the town's gradual development, with transitions unmarked by violent destruction. However, stratum X, the level in which the town reached the peak of its urban development and economic prosperity, came to a violent end, probably as a result of King David's annexation of the coast north of Jaffa to his kingdom in the early tenth century BCE.
Evidence of the town's urban development in Iron I was uncovered over a large area: more than 2,500 sq. m were excavated. In its earliest phase (stratum XII), the town was only partially built up. Thick deposits of gray ashy earth in the remaining large open areas constitute evidence of a comparatively long occupation. Mud-brick structures without stone foundations were built on bedrock in this stratum. A public building south of the temple (see below) had a large hall with benches along the walls and a hearth at its center. The latter element is foreign to Canaanite architecture and may reflect Aegean or Cypriot traditions brought by the Philistines from their homeland.
In the following phase (stratum XI), more substantial buildings were erected with stone foundations and a mudbrick superstructure. Many of the stratum X buildings had probably been founded in stratum XI, yet their exact plans in stratum XI are not entirely clear. In the third phase (stratum X), the town was fully developed. As a result of the fire that destroyed the town, its mud-brick walls were found fired and, thus, well preserved. The excavations revealed a careful planning, with an orthogonal grid of streets that created clearly defined blocks of buildings. In a residential quarter in the southern part of the mound, seven houses, almost identical in plan, were excavated. Most of them are rectangular (about 100 sq m), of the pillared house, or four-room house type. [See Four-room House.] Such houses are one of the cultural features that characterize various ethnic groups coexisting during the Iron Age I in ancient Palestine. The structures contained a central space (open courtyard?) with a roofed side space paved with flagstones that was probably used as an animal shelter. This side space was separated from the courtyard by a row of four or five pillars made of wooden beams standing on end on stone bases. On one or both sides of the courtyard were additional rooms. In the courtyard itself were various installations: baking ovens, grinding stones, wine presses, looms (piles of up to forty clay loom weights were found in almost every house, evidence for home industry). In one house a bronze workshop was found that contained a circular kiln and two smelting crucibles. Each of the houses contained dozens of pottery vessels; some houses had storerooms, each containing more than fifty storejars of about 20 liters in volume. The storejars were probably used as portable containers in the trade of liquid commodities such as wine and oil. They would have been transported by the ships anchored in the Yarkon.
Two public buildings were also constructed in this quarter: a storehouse composed of a rectangular hall divided by two rows of pillars (one of the earliest examples of the storehouses that became common in the Iron II period). Another building probably served an administrative function: it contained three rectangular storerooms, in addition to a number of other rooms, and a large hall. No fortifications could be detected because of severe erosion along the edge of the mound. However, on the western slope of the mound, a short segment of a thick mud-brick wall was recovered that may be a remnant of a city wall.
Iron Age I: Sacred Area.
The Iron Age sacred area at Tell Qasile is the only one in ancient Philistia that has been completely excavated. It exhibits extensive architectural changes over a comparatively short time. The architecture and many of the cult objects from its sanctuary are unique. Although rooted mainly in local Canaanite traditions, some Aegean and Cypriot components are recognizable.
In stratum XII, a modest shrine was constructed on bedrock: a one-room structure (outer dimensions 6.4 × 6.6 m) with benches along its walls and a raised platform in front of the entrance, which was at the center of the east facade. A large courtyard with an auxiliary room was found east of the shrine. In stratum XI, the older shrine went out of use and was replaced by a larger temple with stone walls (outer dimensions 7.75 × 8.50 m). The entrance was at the end of the east facade; inside the building benches lined the walls and an inner room served as a treasury. The holy of holies was probably in a niche opposite the entrance. Attached to the temple on the west was a small mud-brick shrine with a bent-axis approach, benches lining its walls, and a raised platform in its southwestern corner. In the large courtyard in front of the temple were two attached auxiliary rooms. A bothros (Gk., a pit where sacred objects were buried) found in the courtyard contained layers of animal bones, discarded cult vessels, and many pottery vessels. The plans of both the temple and the shrine are unknown in Canaanite architecture. This unique combination of a main temple and a side shrine with a bent-axis approach recalls the somewhat earlier sacred complex at Philakopi, on the island of Melos.
The stratum X temple represents a rebuilding and enlargement of the previous structure (see figure 1). An antechamber was added on the east, enlarging the building to 8 × 14.5 m. The antechamber created a bent-axis approach to the main hall. Stepped plastered benches were constructed along the walls of the antechamber and the main hall. The roof of the latter was supported by two cedar-wood columns that stood on cylindrical stone bases running along the hall's long axis. A raised platform was located opposite the entrance to the main hall; behind the platform a narrow cell was used perhaps as a treasury. A courtyard north and east of the temple was enclosed by stone walls. In the courtyard in front of the temple the square foundation of a sacrificial altar was found. The small shrine of the previous stratum continued in use, but with its own fenced courtyard and an auxiliary room used as a kitchen.
A considerable number of ceramic cult objects was found in the sanctuary. Some are based on local Canaanite or Egyptian traditions, while others are original shapes with almost no precedents. Among them is a plaque showing the facade of a shrine and two figures of what may be goddesses that were intentionally destroyed in antiquity; an anthropomorphic vessel with breasts serving as spouts (see figure 2); a lion-shaped cup made in a tradition known from Ugarit and paralleled at other Iron I sites settled by Sea Peoples; a large jar with five openings that may have been used to hold sacred plants in the temple; various cylindrical stands decorated with animal and human figures; and offering bowls decorated with bird figurines. Among the metal objects were an iron knife with bronze rivets and an ivory handle that ends in a ring-shaped pommel and a bronze ax/adze, both known in the Aegean and Cyprus but foreign to local Canaanite traditions.
The Iron I culture at Tell Qasile as revealed in the dwellings and sanctuary retains many Canaanite characteristics; it can therefore be assumed that indigenous Canaanites were an important component of the local population. However, the abundance of Philistine pottery and the appearance of Philistine motifs on several cult objects, as well as cultural elements that retain Aegean traditions, lead to the conclusion that Philistines founded the site and were the leading element in its social structure.
Following the violent destruction and burning of stratum X, the town was rebuilt, in the tenth century BCE. The two strata that can be dated to this period (strata IX–VIII) give evidence of the town's partial rebuilding. The new town was a pale reflection of its predecessor—smaller in area and much less densely built. Some of the older buildings were reconstructed with modifications, but other houses went out of use and paved open spaces replaced them. Stone-lined silos were found in several places. The ruined stratum X temple was reconstructed to some extent, but it is doubtful whether it was a roofed structure in this phase. Around it was a large open space that was occasionally repaved with a new lime floor. The pottery in this period is characterized by red slip and hand burnishing, typical of the tenth century BCE; Philistine painted pottery disappeared altogether.
It seems that during this period Tell Qasile served as a port town for the united kingdom under David and Solomon. The town was probably destroyed by Pharaoh Sheshonq on his return to Egypt from Megiddo. Yet, it is difficult to say whether he destroyed stratum IX or VIII. If the former is the case, than stratum VIII denotes a partial rebuilding of the town after this destruction, in the ninth century BCE.
End of the Iron Age.
After a long gap in occupation, a small settlement was founded at Tell Qasile in the late seventh century BCE. Agricultural installations found around the tell are evidence of a small farm. However, the Hebrew inscriptions mentioned above hint that the site had been an administrative and trading center in the eighth–seventh centuries BCE.
A single building with a frontal fenced courtyard probably served as an agricultural or administrative center in the fifth–fourth centuries BCE. Refuse pits from this period were dug around the building, and a square well was found at the foot of the mound. Imported Greek pottery is evidence of maritime trade connections. The site may have been destroyed during the conquest of Alexander the Great.
Evidence of some limited activity during the Hellenistic and Roman periods was found on the summit of the mound. A large building with rows of pillars may have been a marketplace. In the Byzantine period a small village was scattered over and around the mound. A synagogue with a Samaritan inscription was found at the foot of the mound, and a bathhouse was uncovered on its summit.
In the Early Islamic period a caravanserai was located at the summit of the mound. In the Middle Ages a small sugar factory was constructed there, probably to process the sugar cane being grown in the vicinity.
- Maisler [Mazar], Benjamin. “The Excavations at Tell Qasîle: Preliminary Report.” Israel Exploration Journal 1.2 (1950–1951): 61–76, 125–140. The first seasons of excavations.
- Mazar, Amihai. Excavations at Tell Qasile, part 1, The Philistine Sanctuary: Architecture and Cult Objects. Qedem, vol. 12. Jerusalem, 1980.
- Mazar, Amihai. Excavations at Tell Qasile, part 2, The Philistine Sanctuary: Various Finds, the Pottery, Conclusions, Appendixes. Qedem, vol. 20. Jerusalem, 1985. Final report (with Mazar ) of the 1972–1974 excavation seasons, covering mainly the Iron Age sanctuary.
- Mazar, Amihai. “Excavations at Tell Qasile, 1982–1984: Preliminary Report.” Israel Exploration Journal 36 (1986): 1–15.
- Mazar, Amihai. “Qasile, Tell.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, edited by Ephraim Stern, vol. 4, pp. 1204–1212. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.