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Tell el-Hesi

Dictionary of the Ancient Near East -- Editors: Piotr Bienkowski and Alan Millard (2010)

Tell el-Hesi is an imposing site located in the transitional zone where the northern Negev -- the coastal plain -- and the Shephelah meet. It lies circa 26 km north-east of Gaza circa 23 km from the Mediterranean Sea. Today the site consists of a 10 hectare terrace between tributaries of Wadi Hesi and a higher mound that covers some 1.5 hectares. Much of the latter was cut away in the excavations of 1891-2. The oldest known reference to ‘Hesi’ dates to the Crusades. Its ancient name is unknown although scholars of previous generations identified it as Lachish or Eglon. The most recent excavations indicate that this site was occupied almost continuously from the Chalcolithic to the Hellenistic periods; Roman sherds and Palaeolithic remains have been found in the immediate vicinity.

The first period of excavation ran from 1890 to 1892 when ‘Hesy’ was dug by Petrie and F.J. Bliss. Petrie established here the foundation of the methodology used in Syro-Palestinian archaeology to this day. He explored a ‘section’ of the mound exposed by erosion and established the principles of ceramic typology and stratigraphic excavation. The Joint Archaeological Expedition completed the second phase of excavation in eight seasons (1970-83).

Chalcolithic remains are not numerous here but Early Bronze Age occupation covered the entire site. Hesi was apparently abandoned during Early Bronze III and no structures from the Middle Bronze Age were found although some Middle Bronze Age sherds have turned up. The Late Bronze Age settlement was substantial and Bliss recovered a cuneiform tablet from the Amarna Period in his ‘City lll’. Evidence from Iron I was minimal but in the ninth century BC the entire ‘acropolis’ (or upper tell) was surrounded by an impressive wall. Hesi's Iron II occupation came to an end in the sixth century BC, perhaps at the hands of the Babylonians. The site continued to play a military role in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.

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