|Alternative name||'Ein Asawir|
|Location||Menashe, Haifa, Israel|
|Region||Canaan, Southern Levant|
|Area||50 ha (120 acres)|
|Founded||Chalcolithic (c. 5000 BCE); Early Bronze Age I (c. 3000 BCE)|
|Abandoned||Early Bronze Age IB, mid-8th century BCE (Iron Age IIB), 3rd century BCE (Hellenistic period)|
|Periods||Pottery Neolithic (PN) – Early Bronze Age I (EBI)|
|Cultures||Yarmukian (PN), post-Wadi Rabah culture (Early Chalcolithic), Ghassulian (Late Chalcolithic), Canaanite (Early Bronze Age IA)|
'En Esur, also En Esur (Hebrew: עין אֵסוּר; [ʕen ʔsuʁ] eh-N eh-s-oor) or Ein Asawir (Arabic: عين الأساور, lit. 'Spring of the Braceletes') is an ancient site located on the northern Sharon Plain, at the entrance of the Wadi Ara pass leading from the Coastal Plain further inland. The site includes an archaeological mound (tell), called Tel Esur or Tell el-Asawir, another unnamed mound, and two springs, one of which gives the site its name.
A 7,000-year-old Early Chalcolithic large village already showing signs of incipient urbanisation and with an open space used for cultic activities was discovered at the site below later, Bronze Age remains.
During the Early Bronze Age, around 3000 BCE, a massive fortified proto-city with an estimated population of 5,000 to 6,000 inhabitants existed there. It was the largest city in the region, larger than other significant sites such as Megiddo and Jericho, but smaller than more distant ones in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The city was discovered in 1977, but its massive extent was realized only in 1993. A major excavation between 2017 and 2019 ahead of the construction of a highway interchange exposed the city's houses, streets and public structures, as well as countless artifacts including pottery, figurines and tools. Archaeologists announced its discovery in 2019, calling it the "New York of the Early Bronze Age".
Discovery and excavation
The site is known in Arabic as Tell el-Asawir. It appears in the 1799 map drawn by French geographer Pierre Jacotin. American archaeologist and biblical scholar William F. Albright visited the site during his 1923 trip to Mandatory Palestine. He recalled the opinion of German scholar Albrecht Alt that Tel Esur is the site of an ancient city called "Yaham", mentioned in the sources of the 15th century BCE Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III, who campaigned against a coalition of Canaanite city-states, led by the king of Kadesh and gave battle at Megiddo, located just north of the Menashe Heights. According to the Egyptian account, Thutmose III camped in Yaham before he marched on Megiddo and captured the city. Albright stated that the location of the site corresponds with the geographic descriptions of the Egyptian sources, and his discovery of Bronze Age pottery while surveying the mound further confirmed this identification in his opinion. Today however, Yaham is identified with a site located at the Arab village of Kafr Yama, since 1988 part of Zemer, some 10 kilometers south of Tel Esur.
The discovery of the larger site around Tel Esur and its springs occurred in 1977, during the digging of a water reservoir south of the mound. A salvage excavation was conducted by archaeologists Azriel Zigelman and Ram Gofna of the Tel Aviv University. They discovered two settlement layers, one from the Chalcolithic period (the last period of the Stone Age) and the Early Bronze Age. The former included the foundations of structures made of rough stones and some installations. These are dated to the Early Chalcolithic (c. 6000 years ago). The latter included the foundations of massive structures made of large stones. The widest wall measured 1.7 meters in width. The pottery there is dated to the Early Bronze Age I period (3300–3000 BCE).
A survey and an excavation was conducted in 1993 by Eli Yannai of the Israel Antiquities Authority. It revealed the massive extent of the site during the Early Bronze Age, as well as settlement remains from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, and sherds from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
En Esur was excavated by professional and volunteer archaeologists over two and a half years beginning in January 2017, with the research overseen by archaeologists Itai Elad and Yitzhak Paz. The work was organized in part by the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by Netivei Israel, Israel's national transportation infrastructure company. During the process of excavation, archaeologists found a temple within the city that was built approximately 2,000 years before the rest of the site.
'En Esur stands in the northern Sharon plain, c. 1 km east of Moshav Ein Iron, at the outlet of Wadi Ara, a valley which allowed the ancient international coastal highway to bypass the difficult section squeezed between the sea and western Mount Carmel by passing through the mountain. Today, the important Highway 65 follows the same route and cuts through the archaeological site of En Sur.
The site of En Esur consists of three elements: Tel Esur, which is the main tell (a mound of accumulated human settlement layers) covering c. 28 dunams, a smaller mound southeast of it, and an open field that surrounds the mounds, which was occupied by a massive, densely built city during the Early Bronze Age. The site is supported by two abundant water springs: 'En Esur or 'En Arubot, east of the tell, which gives the site its name; and a second, unnamed one southwest of the tell.
Potsherds and stone tools found in the lowest levels excavated in the area south of Tel Esur (Area A) show that the site was occupied during the Pottery Neolithic period. Little is known about this phase; no traces of structures were found, and only a few artefacts. Both the pottery and the stone tools resemble those of the Jericho IX culture.
The 2017–2019 salvage excavation has brought to light a remarkably large settlement from the Early Chalcolithic period, some 7,000 years ago. Researchers are cautious about calling it a proto-city, although its size (400 dunams or 400,000 m2) and clear presence of some elements of urbanisation, are compelling researchers to rethink the beginnings of urban development in the region, possibly dating earlier than the late fourth millennium BCE, which had been the consensus so far.
The archaeologists uncovered a c. 60 m2 large area, free of dwellings, used for cultic activities. It was found to contain numerous articulated sheep, cattle and pig bones, showing that animal parts had been buried in this open area during ritual ceremonies. Some 40 metres south of there, a shallow pit containing animal bones as well as the head of a human-shaped clay figurine was discovered, which may also be indicative of some cultic activity. The entire space between the two findings, set at the margin of the settlement, was likely kept open for cultic activity and other functions, although it cannot be ruled out that some mud-brick buildings had stood there without leaving any discernible remains.
Above the Early Chalcolithic settlement, a large walled Early Bronze Age city was discovered. It occupied a space of around 0.65 square kilometers (160 acres) and may have had 5,000 to 6,000 inhabitants. This would have made the settlement much larger than Tel Megiddo in Israel and Jericho in the West Bank, and therefore the largest settlement in the Southern Levant during this period, but smaller than more distant cities in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Archaeologist Itai Elad stated that En Esur is double the size of other large settlements known in the area. Researchers excavating the site have said that it demonstrates early processes of urbanization within Canaanite civilization, and that the city would have probably possessed a substantial "administrative mechanism." Haaretz described the site as "vastly bigger than anything thought possible in the Southern Levant 5,000 years ago." Its discoverers have called the city a "megalopolis".
The settlement was later[when?] abandoned towards the end of Early Bronze Age IB, much like other nearby sites at this time with the end of the Uruk Period, such as Tel Bet She’an and Tel Megiddo, between 3000 and 2800 BCE. However, unlike Tel Bet She’an, Tel Megiddo and other sites in the Levant, there is no evidence of a return to urbanisation in the following Intermediate Bronze Age.
Structure and character
The settlement is believed to have existed at the crossroads of two important trading routes. Archaeologists excavating the site believe that the city was planned, and included not only streets, alleys and squares, but also facilities for storage and drainage, and a cemetery. En Esur was surrounded by fortified walls that were 2 metres (6.6 feet) high.
The site includes about four million artefacts overall, with millions of potsherds and flint tools, and some basalt stone vessels. The inhabitants of En Esur are thought to have been an agricultural people. They would have traded with other regions and kingdoms. Archaeologists found pottery originating in the Jordan Valley, and sealed imprints[clarification needed] on tools demonstrate that these were brought from Egypt.
A temple was found within the city, which was located in a public area and includes a courtyard with a huge stone basin for rituals. Burnt animal bones were found inside the temple, providing evidence of possible ritual sacrifices. Several figurines were also unearthed inside the temple, including a human head and a seal impression showing a cultic scene with person in a supplicant position and raising his hands with a horned animal next to him.
Burial caves dating from the fourth to the second millennium BCE were found at Tell el-Asawir during 1953 excavations. The Tell el-Asawir necropolis, located near a stone quarry, underwent a salvage excavation in 2003, resulting in a find presented to the press as "the largest Bronze Age necropolis in the world". The Ministry of Religious Affairs intervened and the thousands of human skeletons excavated from burial chambers measuring up to 100 m2 had to be reburied before they could be scientifically studied, although their age excluded the possibility of them being the remains of Jews, which are not to be disturbed under Jewish religious laws. In 2009 there was hardly anything to be found online about the findings, almost as if they had never been made.
Iron Age administrative centre
In excavations led by S. Bar in 2010–2014 on the western slopes of the small mound (Area D), a large public structure from the early 8th century BCE (Iron Age IIB) came to light. The fortified tower abutted by a storehouse was interpreted as being part of a regional administrative centre, due to similarities with other contemporary public complexes. However, Tel 'Esur is unique in being the only small, countryside settlement, rather than large royal Iron Age estate or city, such as Hazor or Megiddo, where the state or king built an administrative centre. The architectural complex shows enough sophistication to vouch for it being a royal or state-run project, in spite of its size of less than 0.5 ha, which would otherwise be characteristic of a hamlet or farmstead. It comes in the context of both Israel and Judah having many, primarily rural settlements established in the 9th–8th centuries BCE. The excavation director speculates that the Tel 'Esur compound was established during the reign of the Omride king Jeroboam II (786–746 BCE), as part of the measures taken by the kings of Israel to strengthen their grip over the northern valleys and the Shephelah at a time of maximal expansion (see 2 Kgs 14:25). The Tel 'Esur complex is the first official presence along the Wadi Ara pass, proof for the interest of the kings of the northern kingdom in this thoroughfare.
The tower measures c. 13 by 13 metres, with thick outer walls indicative of a considerable height and a certain martial look, although its location at the foot of the mound and the comparatively modest size exclude a military purpose. The entire structure is more likely to have had a mixed role, both practical and political as a built statement of royal power and control over the newly acquired territory. The long, tripartite building adjoining the tower was most probably a warehouse where local produce or different commodities were collected, although some researchers see in such structures stables, barracks, or marketplaces. A typical structure for the Iron Age, such entrepôts are all located next to major trade routes and are commonly found at bottlenecks along the borders of Israel and Judah, with the one at Tel 'Esur being again uniquely placed further in from the border. Its large size and internal separation through solid walls, rather than columns, indicatess that the even larger such structure found at Hazor had served as its prototype.
The building complex was in use for half a century at most, being emptied of goods and abandoned in the mid-8th century, a decade or two before the destructive campaign of Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BCE. A possible cause might have been Israel's deteriorating relations with Assyria, with the nearby Israelite city of Dor being another example of early abandonment, rather than the more common case of settlements evacuated out of fear during the actual approach of the Assyrian army, or the many destroyed by it.
In October 2019, according to Haaretz, En Esur was slated to be paved over by a planned highway interchange for the new town of Harish, with the Smithsonian magazine writing that it will be re-covered, but that the interchange would be built "high over the ruins". All findings were photographed and computer-processed, the 3D documentation of the site allowing archaeologists to continue studying it after it has been covered over. The Agence France-Presse has reported that the road plans have been modified in order to protect the archaeological site.
- List of cities of the ancient Near East
- Khirbet Kerak or Beth Yerah, Early Bronze Age and Persian period city, one of the largest tells in the Levant
- Tel Motza for an even older, Neolithic settlement of comparable size near Jerusalem
- Wadi Ara, Haifa, pre-1948 Arab village near the archaeological site
- Archaeology of Israel
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- Shalev, Yiftah; Bar, Shay (2017). "An 8th Century B.C.E. Israelite Administrative Centre at Tell el-Asawir/Tel 'Esur". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. Harrassowitz. 133 (2): 123–144. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
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- Yannai etc. (2006). "The Pottery Assemblages". 'En Esur ('Ein Asawir) I:... Vol. 31. pp. 63–178. JSTOR j.ctt1fzhf9f.
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Online excavation reports (HA-ESI)
Excavation reports published by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Hadashot Arkheologiyot – Excavations and Surveys in Israel (HA-ESI)
'En Esur (Asawir)
- Yannai, Eli (2014). "'En Esur (Asawir): Preliminary Report (14/09/2014)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 126. Pottery Neolithic (Wadi Rabah) and Early Chalcolithic findings on smaller area than the large Early Bronze Age I city.
- Elad, Itai; Paz, Yitzhak (2018). "'En Esur (Asawir): Preliminary Report (16/07/2018)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 130. JSTOR 26691671. January–December 2017 extensive excavation. General presentation, settlement history. Mainly Early Chalcolithic (post-Wadi Rabah culture), Late Chalcolithic (Ghassulian culture), Early Bronze Age IA (densely built round or elliptical structures with installations, drainage channel) and IB (densely built, dozens of rectangular structures with rounded or square corners, network of streets).
- Elad, Itai; Paz, Yitzhak; Shalem, Dina (2018). "'En Esur (Asawir), Area M: Preliminary Report (31/12/2018)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 130. March–July 2018 salvage excavation. Mainly Early Chalcolithic (post-Wadi Rabah culture; architecture, drainage channels, burials), Late Chalcolithic (Ghassulian culture, copper artifacts), and Early Bronze Age IB (sparser early, and architecturally dense later phase with streets and dwellings).
- Elad, Itai; Paz, Yitzhak; Shalem, Dina (2019). "'En Esur (Asawir), Area O: Preliminary Report (07/07/2019)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 131. August–October 2018 salvage excavation at the center of the proto-historic site near the two springs. Settlement nucleus with full occupation sequence (at least 3 m deep). Mainly Early Chalcolithic (settlement, post-Wadi Rabah culture), Late Chalcolithic (dwellings, Ghassulian culture pottery), Early Bronze IA (continued habitation; dwellings and silos on c. 10–20 dunams) and Early Bronze IB (site grows to 600 dunams, higher occupation density, urban centre).
- Elad, Itai; Paz, Yitzhak; Shalem, Dina (2020). "'En Esur (Asawir), Areas K and L: Preliminary Report (20/05/2020)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 132. 2018 large salvage excavation. Remains and finds from the Pottery Neolithic (Yarmukian pottery), Early and Late Chalcolithic (building remains, installations, sherds), Early Bronze Age IB (dwellings, silos), and Roman periods.
- Elad, Itai; Paz, Yitzhak; Shalem, Dina (2020). "'En Esur (Asawir), Area N: Preliminary Report (26/10/2020)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 132. 2018–2019 trial and salvage excavation in Area N, which extends along the southwestern part of the proto-historic site of 'En Esur. Early Chalcolithic cultic area with animal bones, figurine. Early Bronze IB settlement (silos, streets, compounds, public areas and buildings, fortification walls) including a temple with a large monolithic stone basin, figurines and a figurative seal impression. Intermediate Bronze Age remains.
- Sa'id, 'Abed a-Salam (2011). "Tel Esur: Final Report (17/04/2011)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 123. November 2008 trial excavation: large Byzantine building, some Bronze Age finds in alluvium from the tell.
- Oren, Eliran; Yaroshevich, Alla (2013). "Tel Esur, Survey Along Highway 65: Final Report (13/06/2013)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 125. January 2011 survey.
- Bar, Shay (2016). "Tel Esur 2010–2012: Preliminary Report (07/08/2016)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 128. Has details on many settlement periods including Middle Bronze (main phase, including MB IIA city fortifications), Iron Age II, Hellenistic, and Early Roman.
Horbat Gilan: site about 1 km east of Tel Esur, containing burial caves which are part of the Early Bronze Age necropolis of En Esur.
- Milevski, Ianir (2005). "Horbat Gilan: Final Report (15/05/2005)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 117. May 2004 trial excavation, minor ex-situ ceramic finds.
- Gorzalczany, Amir (2005). "Horbat Gilan (South), 18/12/2005". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 117. 2002–2003 salvage excavation 300 m south of Horbat Gilan. Quarries, possibly Roman and Byzantine (4th–5th c. CE), maybe initiated much earlier.
- Mahajna, Shireen (2006). "Horbat Gilan (South), 10/09/2006". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 118. 2004, two trial excavations. Burial caves (Early and Intermediate Bronze Age).
- Gorzalczany, Amir; Jacob, Sharvit (2007). "Horbat Gilan (16/10/2007)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 119. 2003 salvage excavation near Horbat Gilan, inside Tel Esur cemetery. Burial caves (Early Bronze IB with rich grave good findings), Roman or Byzantine quarries (4th–5th c. CE).
- Dagan, Yehuda; Sadeh, Shelley (2008). "Horbat Gilan (South), 13/01/2008". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 120. 2002 and 2003 seasons of salvage excavations. Early Bronze Age burial caves, part of Tel Esur necropolis, with a rich array of grave goods, and Roman or Byzantine quarries.
- 'Ouda, Ahmed (2008). "Horbat Gilan: Final Report (11/09/2008)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 120. August 2002 trial excavation. Late Roman and Byzantine settlement remains (4th–5th centuries CE).
- Massarwa, Abdallah (2019). "Horbat Gilan (South): Final Report (27/08/2019)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 131. July 2016 trial excavation. Winepress (no date), quarry (4th–5th c. CE), cupmark (no date).