A harvest stored

This fictional account illustrates how food storage might have been integrated with other household activities in Ancient Judah. I developed this from my dissertation.

The rain fell heavily now, the wind driving it against the house wall, pushing it through the town streets, turning the dirt into mud. It was the first heavy rain after gentler rains had softened the soil following the dry times of summer. “Let it come now, the rain,” Hamutal thought, as she placed the water jar on the straw ring beside the door, “we have gathered the harvest into the house.” Even the olive oil was pressed and stored in jars in the house. The wheat and barley had long been threshed, winnowed, and sieved. They had paid the tithes to Nathan, the city elder, and kept their portion in the house, together with the seed. Hamutal walked to the small storeroom, just beside the kitchen.

In the corner stood the large wooden grain chest. It was full of wheat. Two grain jars stood in front of it. She used the little one to carry small amounts of wheat to the kitchen. The larger jar was empty. It would soon be full again. After the ploughing, Shemaiah, her husband, would get more grain from Nathan, the city elder. It had always been like this: after the men had worked the fields for the city elder and the seed had been scattered on the land, the city elder would lavish on them the gift of grain. Their own seed for the new season stood in the two jars beside the grain chest. She had put the wheat into an official jar, not because it was a tithe or would be traded, but because the jar was already old and was no longer suitable for liquids. In a smaller jar beside it was the seed barley. They had enough seed for their fields, as long as the mice would not get to it and no mould attacked it.

Hamutal looked around the small storeroom. Yes, they had plenty of food. God had provided and blessed the fields and the storeroom. She prayed that no mice or insects, no war or fire, would threaten what God had given them. There was the jar of raisins and beside it the jar of lentils. A basket of dried figs stood beside it. From the ceiling hung the pomegranates and onions. She had used the old cooking pot to store the sesame seed.

Hamutal turned and went to the kitchen. The bread oven stood near the pillar. Around it she usually kept her implements for baking. The stone for pounding the bread, the wooden sticks, the pillow for the bread, the kneading bowl, the knife and the two cooking pots. Near the bread oven there was also the small jar of flour and a krater of chickpeas. She had used a few jars to partition off this area, so that little Joab couldn’t get to the oven from the back. There was the jar of oil and a jar of barley. She had put the jar of fish sauce between them. She had swapped it for dates with Obadiah’s family, Shemaiah’s cousin. They had received the gifts from Nathan, the city elder. And even though Hamutal was quite partial to dates herself, she knew that Shemaiah was fond of the fish sauce from the coast. It probably fed the family for longer, too.

Against the other wall were the quern and grinder, where she ground flour each morning. The large wheat jar was still half full. “If we don’t use it up by the time we get the wheat from Nathan, I may have to pour the rest into a bowl,” she thought.

Hamutal looked up and glanced over to the loom leaning against the back wall of the room. She had only just started to weave a new cloth. It should be finished by the end of the next month. Atarah, her oldest daughter, would help her with it. Nathan would be pleased. They had good wool this year and she had been able to get some beautiful dye. The cloth she made might even go to the king. Most of the cloth from the city was sent to Jerusalem, to the king, particularly if it was beautiful. And Nathan was usually particularly generous if he liked the cloth. To finish it, Hamutal probably would have to spin some more yarn. She usually did that together with the children in the work area on the other side of the pillars. It was quiet here. In the heat of day, but also now in winter, they sat here and worked with the wool or cleaned the beans. The women also slept here.

Hamutal stepped into the lounge at the back of the house. A large carpet covered part of the room. She had made it a few years ago. Opposite the door stood a jar of wine, from which she mixed a little with water during meal times. The bowls from the meal still stood on the carpet. The jug with thinned wine stood beside them, not yet empty. From the wall niche the mother figure looked over the room, protecting her family.

“Yes, it will be a good year,” Hamutal mumbled as she retraced her step to the front door. They had indeed been blessed. She opened the door to the stable and pushed a few of the sheep to the side. They had stayed inside today, because rain had threatened from early morning and Helah, the younger of her daughters, had begged not to have to go outside on such a day. She still didn’t like looking after the sheep, even though it had been her responsibility for a year now. Before that Obed had done it. But Obed…, Hamutal felt the lump rising in her throat, Obed was dead. Her oldest son had caught a fever after he cut himself with a sickle. She had cared for him, asked the healers for help, even made a solemn vow, but Obed did not live.

The ewe, heavily pregnant, eyed her nervously. Even though Obed no longer looked after them, the flock had prospered. All the ewes were pregnant, the goats with kid. She had talked to Shemaiah several times now about cutting a new door to the back store room and building a narrow wall to keep the sheep in. That way she wouldn’t have to walk through the stable every time she wanted to go to the back storeroom. Pushing a sheep aside, she opened the door to the storeroom.

It was dark here. Hamutal lit a lamp. She always liked the scent of this room, slightly musty with a hint of summer spice. It must be the wine. She cast her eyes on the largest jar they had in the house. They never moved it, leaving it here in this room, instead. It contained the oil. Beside it stood the drip jar with the juglet to take the oil from the large jar. They also used it to remove the oil covering the wine when they started a new jar. She looked at the juglet and had to think of little Joab. “As often as the juglet strikes the rim, Joab gets into trouble.” At least that’s what Atarah, her oldest daughter, always said. And there was some truth to it. Funny how Atarah had picked up so many phrases and proverbs from her grandmother, Hamutal’s mother-in-law.

There were three jars full of wine in the room, all of them official jars, one of them even had a stamp on it. If they had to give any of the jars away, it would be that one. But they kept it here for now. If anything came up, they would give it to Nathan, the city elder, and he would repay them, no doubt. It was always good to have a spare jar of wine in the house. Not that they had much wine this year. No, they would have to be careful and couldn’t use up too much. But it was enough. She still hoped there would be sufficient wine for the wheat harvest. It was always good to have some cool wine after the heat of a summer day. She knew that Shemaiah liked his wine, but he would also be cross if it ran out too soon or there was none available for trading if they really needed it. But she herself had to see to it that he only drank a little, so that the wine would last. Shemaiah might grumble, but he would be even angrier if there was none at all left. And sometimes he even praised her for keeping such a good watch over the wine and food supply.

Hamutal bent down to check the two milk pots. One contained butter, the other sourmilk balls, the last of the milk products from spring. They wouldn’t last much longer, she knew. She needed to use them up soon.

Hamutal opened the door to the stable, pushed the sheep out of the way and walked back to the front door. The rain had nearly stopped. The children would be home any moment, then. They had been with their relatives across the street. It wasn’t far, but they normally avoided the rain. It was certainly time for them to come home. Soon, the day would end and Shemaiah would be hungry after ploughing in the rain all day. And she hadn’t even started cooking yet.

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The destruction of archaeological sites

Right after development and artefact robbing, one of the main threats to archaeological sites is dirt bikes, or off-road motor cycles. Particularly archaeological sites in reserves are often at risk from dirt bike riders, if there are no expensive enforcement measure to keep them away.

Dirt bike rider at Tell Halif

And now the dirt bike riders have come to Tell Halif! They are churning up the hill I worked on for so many years. It is partly our own fault: we dumped excess soil on the side of the hill and created a steep, dusty slope ideal for dirt bikes. If the dirt bikes were restricted to that dump, things would not that be bad, but now the riders are churning up parts of the hillside.

Israel has a dirt bike problem. Somehow it is a national past-time, a destructive past-time in such a small land. And the authorities are doing little to counter the destruction. At Tel Goded large boulders were strategically placed to hinder dirt bikes, but they found new tracks to ride the sides of the hill. Some small tells are so rutted that little topography remains. Byzantine village sites such as Abu Hof are scarred by dirt bike tracks.

off-road motorcyle at Tell Halif (Lahav Forest)

For the sake of an adrenalin rush and proving macho prowess important heritage is lost, the land scarred. Pleasant reserves are turned into noisy, dust bowls. The problem is not unique to Israel. I have also seen it in New Zealand, where the old gold digger town of Macetown was severely damaged by dirt bikes, for example. It’s likely that dirt bikes also destroy archaeological sites in other countries.

The irresponsible and ego-centric behaviour has to stop. But of course these people do not listen. They think they enjoy nature through their destructive behaviour. A hill is just a place to prove their skills, not a place where generations of people have lived and have left behind their traces. It does not worry them that these traces are now damaged, sometimes even obliterated. So, it may be up to us to say that it is enough, that the destruction cannot continue. We must advocate for change.

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50 years directing archaeological excavations in Israel

Yesterday I attended an event in honour of Professor Joe D Seger, celebrating 50 years of directing archaeological excavations in Israel. As a student at Harvard University, Joe Seger participated in excavations at Shechem, then Jordanian territory. He was a student of G.E. Wright. He first stepped up as the director of archaeological excavations in 1969 to direct the dig at Gezer. At that time he was the interim director of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

Professor Joe Seger at Nimrod Castle on the slopes of Mt Hermon.

After the excavations in Gezer, Joe Seger decided to excavate at Tell Halif in southern Israel and founded the Lahav Research Project. This is an American archaeological expedition that would look at the archaeological site in its environment and would include experts in many fields to bring a broader understanding to the excavation.

Excavations started at Tell Halif in 1976. Joe Seger directed excavations at Tell Halif until 1988. He continues to hold overall responsibility for the project and its publications. Excavations in 1992, 1993 and 1999 were co-directed by Paul F. Jacobs and Oded Borowski. Excavations 2007-2009 and 2014-2016 were directed by Oded Borowski, with Joe Seger providing input. I have been involved in five of these latest seasons.

From 1988 to 2014 Professor Seger was the director of the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University. When I studied there he was part of my thesis committee and helped to push my thesis through the process.

His knowledge of the ancient pottery found in Israel is amazing. He was usually an early adopter of new technology that could provided additional archaeological information. With Lahav volumes now being published, our knowledge of the archaeology of southern Israel has increased. As Joe said in response at the event, the most important thing is that we can bring alive something of the fascinating lives of the people who lived here thousands of years ago and who have given an amazing heritage to the world.

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Funnels and food storage

Earlier this year Avraham Faust published the article Funnels as indicators of storage activities in the Iron II Southern Levant (Oxford Journal of Archaeology 38(1):80-104). Based on observations at Tel ‘Eton, he suggested that larger funnels with a diameter of 23 cm and more and a volume between 2.75 and 4.0 litres were used with dry products. Funnels with a diameter between 18 to 20 cm and a volume between 1.2 to 2.6 litres were probably used with liquids.

He looks at other funnels from recent excavations and suggests that they support his conclusions. One of these funnels has been excavated from Tell Halif. This is a smaller funnel, and though not quite as narrow as some others, not very wide. This was found together with a strainer and a collection of storage jars. Residue from some of these jars was tested and found to contain tartaric acid associated with wine. The conclusion that this narrow funnel was used with liquids is therefore quite strong.

Funnel found in the F7 house at Tell Halif. F7.47D#2. Image: Paul F. Jacobs

However, overall only very few funnels have been found in excavations in Israel. It seems that at Tel ‘Eton only two have been found, both from Building 101. Avi Faust has been able to find 31 funnels that have been reported in publications. Many of them are not well-preserved or well-described and have not come from good contexts. They are quite exceptional. Therefore, they can only tell us so much about storage. Nevertheless, they are an important indicator that can add to our knowledge of household food storage and a better understanding of the use of space in houses.

Avi Faust also suggests that areas in which dry goods were stored only contained a few storage vessels and some additional non-storage vessels; areas in which liquids were stored contained many storage vessels and very few non-storage vessels except for juglets. He suggests that liquids were stored almost solely in ceramic containers, while dry goods were often stored in sacks.

In my investigation of household food storage I did not come across evidence for storage in sacks, though they were undoubtedly used. I did come across some evidence for storage of grain in bulk. I therefore only considered ceramic storage vessels and bulk storage facilities. However, the data I used may be re-examined with Avi Faust’s suggestion.

I noted in my investigation that houses from Iron Age II (1000 – 586 BCE) had a lower household storage capacity than houses from Iron Age I (1200 – 1000 BCE). I suggested that this may be due to centrally administered storage: during the Iron Age II many storehouses were found that were centrally administered. Much of the food could have been kept in these storehouses.

Another interpretation may be that during the Iron Age I dry goods were kept in ceramic containers and grain pits, while in the Iron Age II dry goods were often kept in sacks and only sometimes in ceramic containers.

I reckon that my investigation of household food storage is only a start and there is a lot more to learn about this topic, which might allow us to learn more about the lives of people in Ancient Israel and Judah.

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Tel Batash (Timnah) House 950

I’ll add pictures of one more visualization completed as part of my study into household food storage. These pictures are from a reconstruction of House 950 at Tel Batash, often identified with Timnah on the border between Judah and Philistine territory.
It seems that in the seventh century BCE it was a somewhat mixed town, with artefacts aligned with the Judahite hill country and the Philistine coastal plain both present.

This is the overview of the House 950. While some parts in the front part (north) part were not excavated, it is mainly the back that is not clearly defined, and where significant parts may not have been excavated.

Near the entrance there was an area that was not fully excavated. The excavated parts contained several artefacts. This is the view from the entrance.

C:\Users\Leonilda\Dropbox\Doktorat\FinalModels\Tel Batash\

Off to the side near the front of the building was a small room with a bread oven, possibly something like a baking hut.

The central room, 950/946, was full with artefacts. It seemed to have been a busy area for food preparation, food storage and probably also goods storage. This shows locus 950W, looking northwards with the entrance area in the background.

Further west was more of a storage area, including goods storage. Primarily it seems to have been used for food storage, with an oven and food preparation directly adjacent to it.

The food preparation area 946W was adjacent to the same oven and included some food storage.

Locus 946E, in contrast, seems to have been mainly used for food storage. However, all these areas were part of the same large room at the centre of the house.

Off to the side was separate room 982, which probably was used as a living room.

Towards the back from the house was an olive press, of which only some parts remained.

Separated from the central room by a row of columns was the western longroom. In the northern part, Locus 957, there were relatively few artefacts. Adjacent to the oven, it may nevertheless have also been used for food preparation.

The southern part of that longroom, in contrast, had clear evidence of food preparation, such as grinding. There was also evidence for textile working, including weaving.

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Tell Halif K8 House

Another house I studied at Tell Halif, was the K8 house. This was considerably smaller. Its front section was well preserved, but back rooms had been eroded. Some of the excavators thought that the artefacts recovered from the house may have partly come from a second storey. I have treated all artefacts as coming from a single storey.

This is the overview plan of the house.

Outside the house, there seems to have been a baking hut with an oven:

baking hut attached to the house

The entrance area was quite small and had a cobbled floor.

Area A entrance area

At the centre of the house was a food preparation area with a grinding installation and many storage jars.

Central Area B

Adjacent was a food preparation and consumption area

Area C

Area D was also in the centre of the house.

Area D

In the north-eastern longroom was a food storage area.

Food storage Area E

And right beside it was a probably an area used for weaving and textile production.

Area F

A small room contained several storage jars.

Area G

There also was a small room probably used for goods storage with a plough point.

Area H

Near the centre of the house, not far from the grinding installation, but further west, was a bread oven with several cooking pots.

Cooking Area I

And then there was the southern longroom, which was also cobbled. It had an underfloor niche, where two small bowls were kept.

Area J
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Tell Halif F7 House

In my book Household Food Storage in Ancient Israel and Judah I investigated several archaeological examples of houses. As part of that I also made some visualisations of the houses, which can be viewed here.

The visualisations were used to get measurements, to help with the interpretation for the space and to show what spaces might have approximately looked like. The detailed analysis of the spaces themselves can be found in the book, but here I’ll show several images taken from the visualisations.

Tell Halif is a tell in southern Judah at a point where the Negev, the Shephelah and the Judean Highlands meet. The houses I analyzed were from the Iron Age IIB, or about 700 BCE. The Tell Halif F7 was analyzed by Jimmy Hardin. Here’s a plan I made:

Image of Area A

Tell Halif F7 House Area A

Image of Area B:

Tell Halif F7 House Area B

Image of Area C

Tell Halif F7 House Area C
Tell Halif F7 House Area D

Image of Area E

Tell Halif F7 House Area E

Image of Area F

Tell Halif F7 House Area F

Image of Area G

Tell Halif F7 House Area G. The animals indicate that it was interpreted as a stable.

Image of Area H

Tell Halif F7 House Area H

Image of Area I

Tell Halif F7 House Area I

Image of Area J

Tell Halif F7 House Area J

Image of Area K

Tell Halif F7 House Area K

Image of Areas L and M

Tell Halif F7 House Areas L and M
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