Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, believe they have discovered the Philistine town of Ziklag, near Kiryat Gat, immortalized in the Biblical narrative.
Ziklag is mentioned multiple times in the Bible in relation to David (in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel). According to the Biblical narrative, Achish, King of Gat, allowed David to find refuge in Ziklag while fleeing King Saul and from there David also departed to be anointed King in Hebron. According to scripture, Ziklag was also the scene of a dramatic event, in which the Amalekites, desert nomads, raided and burned the town taking women and children captive.
The excavation, which began in 2015 at the site of Khirbet a-Ra‘i in the Judaean foothills – between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, has proceeded in cooperation with Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davis of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The excavation was funded by Joey Silver of Jerusalem, Aron Levy of New Jersey, and the Roth Family and Isaac Wakil both of Sydney. The excavation has been ongoing for seven seasons with large areas being exposed – approximately 1,000 sq.m., leading to this new identification for Ziklag.
The name Ziklag is unusual in the lexicon of names in the Land of Israel, since it is not local Canaanite-Semitic. It is a Philistine name, given to the town by an alien population of immigrants from the Aegean.
Twelve different suggestions to identify Ziklag have been put forward, such as Tel Halif near Kibbutz Lahav, Tel Sera in the Western Negev, Tel Sheva, and others. However, according to the researchers, none of these sites produced continuous settlement which included both a Philistine settlement and a settlement from the era of King David. At Khirbet a-Ra‘i, however, features from both these populations have been found.
Evidence of a settlement from the Philistine era has been found there, from the 12-11th centuries BC. Spacious, massive stone structures have been uncovered containing finds typical of the Philistine civilization.
Additional finds are foundation deposits, including bowls and an oil lamp – offerings laid beneath the floors of the buildings out of a belief that these would bring good fortune in the construction. Stone and metal tools were also found. Similar finds from this era were discovered in the past in excavations in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gath–the cities of the Lords of the Philistines.
Above the remains of the Philistine settlement was a rural settlement from the time of King David, from the early 10th century BC. This settlement came to an end in an intense fire that destroyed the buildings. Nearly one hundred complete pottery vessels were found in the various rooms.
These vessels are identical to those found in the contemporary fortified Judaean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa—identified as biblical Sha‘arayim—in the Judaean foothills. Carbon 14 tests date the site at Khirbet a-Ra‘i to the time of King David.
The great range of complete vessels is testimony to the interesting everyday life during the reign of King David. Large quantities of storage jars were found during the excavation- medium and large-which were used for storing oil and wine. Jugs and bowls were also found decorated in the style known as “red slipped and hand burnished,” typical to the period of King David.
Following a regional archaeological study in the Judaean foothills managed by Professors Garfinkel and Ganor, a picture of the region’s settlement in the early Monarchic era is emerging: the two sites – Ziklag and Sha‘arayim-are situated on the western frontier of the kingdom.
They are both perched atop prominent hills, overlooking main routes passing between the Land of the Philistines and Judea: Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley sits opposite Philistine Gath, and Khirbet a-Ra‘i, sits opposite Ashkelon. This geographic description is echoed in King David’s Lament, in which he mourns the death of King Saul and Jonathan in their battle against the Philistines: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon.”