written by Adam Zertal





A stone mound on the northeastern ridge

Archaeological surveys are no easy task. They involve combing an area on foot, day after day, month after month, in order to map and register all sites in the area. All the historical sites known to us were discovered because of ancient traditions handed down from generation to generation, or by accident, or as a result of systematic archaeological survey. Over the millennia sites have been forsaken and cities abandoned and destroyed, and their names have often fallen into oblivion. Many a time an archaeologist faces the difficult riddle of discovering the name of a lost city or identifying the people who inhabited it.

We began a systematic survey of Mt. 'Ebal (a large mountainous bloc north of Shechem, 940 meters above sea level, making it the highest mountain in the region of central and northern Samaria) in the winter of 1980. We knew, at that time, that the hill country of Samaria must conceal countless historical discoveries. In early 1978 a small team from Tel Aviv University, succeeded by a group from Haifa University, began an archaeological survey of the biblical allotment of the tribe of Manasseh in the hill country, an area extending from the Jezreel Valley on the north to Shechem and Nahal Qanah on the south, and from the River Jordan on the east to the Via Maris on the west. It soon became clear that Samaria was a blank spot on the map of the Land of Israel. Few studies in depth have been made of the area, and a search for substantial reference material is bound to be disappointing. There are two reasons for this neglect. Firstly, the three great monotheistic religions did not view Samaria as a holy region for pilgrimage. Judaism sanctified Judea and Jerusalem and, during the Second Temple period, also the Galilee. Christianity attributed sanctity to the Galilee, where Jesus was active, and to Jerusalem. For Islam, only Jerusalem was sacred. The sites of the land were generally first publicized by pilgrims' writings, but this area was not of particular interest to them. Secondly, for the past two hundred years Samaria has been the center of Arab nationalism and of the Arabs' struggle against both Ottoman and British rule, and few scholars have dared penetrate into its hills. It seems that Samaria is the only place left where survey techniques can still reveal large and important sites, hitherto unknown. That is how we discovered King Solomon's town of Arubboth, the Zealot City of Narbata. This method of systematic survey is what brought us to the mound of stones on the ridge of Mt. 'Ebal.

The mountain is an inclined area descending steeply to the south towards the valley of Shechem. Eastward it slopes down in four broad "steps" today mostly covered with olive groves and field crops. Most of the mountain is bald and rocky, and is built of hard Eocene chalk. On a clear day, from its summit you can see westward all the way to the Mediterranean, southward to the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, eastward to a glorious view of Mt. Gilead, northward to the snow-capped Mt. Hermon.

On the northern side of the second "step" from the summit, on an extended spur, we discovered a large pile of stones, almost 80 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. The mound was situated in the center of an elliptical area enclosed by a narrow stone wall. Thousands of sherds were scattered inside this area, silent testimony to what had transpired on the site. Classification of the pottery immediately led us to one of the most fascinating periods in archaeological and biblical research in Israel: the period of the Israelite settlement in the Land of Canaan (13th-12th century B.C.E.). Of no less interest was the fact that nowhere else on the mountain, whose area extends over 4,500 acres, were any other biblical sites, either Canaanite or Israelite, discovered. At the time the site was discovered, we did not dream of what we would find there in the end. We believed - this was the hypothesis underlying our scientific inquiry - that we were dealing with a small settlement site, perhaps a farmhouse or a fortified tower.

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