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Excavation Unearths Ancient Treasure

by University Relations

A woman carefully wraps her precious silver jewelry in plant fibers to protect it, and then hides her treasure inside a clay jug for safekeeping before fleeing the city, never to return. More than 3,000 years later, a team of archaeologists, led by Robert Mullins, Ph.D., associate professor of biblical studies, discovers the jug and its secret contents as the members excavate the mound of Abel Beth Maacah, the northernmost site in Israel.

For Mullins, this intriguing discovery sparked his imagination and confirmed his belief that this biblically significant site, once an ancient guardian city on the border of Lebanon, lies rich with artifacts waiting to be unearthed. “The jug and its contents appear to be from the Late Bronze Age, in the 13th century BC, the time of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings,” he said. “This is 1 of only 20 silver hoards ever found in Israel, and the only one found wrapped in plant fibers, which helped to protect it.”

After a stop at Hebrew University of Jerusalem for photos, the jug and its silver contents, still wrapped in the plant fibers, traveled to Israel’s Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute, one of the world’s most advanced archaeology labs, for carbon-14 dating and metallurgical analysis. Mullins said the results should help solidify the site’s chronology. A survey of the site prior to last summer’s excavation unearthed pottery likely from the time of King David. As the dig got under way, it quickly became evident that the locations known as “Area F,” where the jug and silver hoard were found, and “Area A,” where a beautiful ring flask was found in the 2012 survey, were much older than anticipated. “In Area A, for example, we immediately hit houses from the time of Judges. At this time, the city appears to have been the capital of the Aramean kingdom of Maacah before it came under the control of King David. This dig can provide clues to a culture we know very little about.”

Excavating the 35-acre tel is labor intensive and costly, so Mullins carefully considers each season. In the winter, a surveyor using ground-penetrating radar will test areas of interest, focusing on the northwest corner of the mound and on the presumed gate area of the city. Mullins hopes that sound waves will reveal the existence of large structures, specifically a siege ramp the Assyrian army may have used to conquer the city in 732 BC, as recounted in 2 Kings 15:29, and a city gate complete with an inscription—dream finds for any archaeologist.

Mullins returns to Israel in summer 2014 with students in APU’s study abroad program. Students will complete a two-week study tour of Israel and can extend their stay to participate in the dig, joining Mullins; his co-director, Nava Panitz-Cohen, Ph.D., from the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University; and their prestigious team of archaeologists and scholars from partner schools, including Cornell University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Indiana Wesleyan University. The Abel Beth Maacah excavation project will enable APU students to work alongside renowned international experts as they uncover pieces of ancient history that make the Bible come to life.

Originally published in the Winter '13 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).