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Hunting Hazor's Royal Archive Volume 49 Number 6, November/December 1996
by Abraham Rabinovich

[image] Seated Canaanite deity from Hazor (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) [LARGER IMAGE, 26K]

Discovery of four cuneiform tablets at Hazor has strengthened archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor's belief that he may be on the verge of finding the first Bronze Age royal archive ever to be excavated in Israel. "We're in the bank," he says, "Whether there's any money in it remains to be seen."

In the 1950s archaeologist Yigael Yadin found a cuneiform tablet during his excavations at Hazor, in northern Israel, raising hopes that an archive might be discovered at the site. Part of a bilingual Sumero-Akkadian dictionary, the tablet suggested the existence of a scribal school and an archive at Hazor. The four new tablets were found inside the ruins of a palace complex where a royal archive presumably would have been located. Two of the tablets deal with the shipment of commodities; one is a school exercise in multiplication; and the fourth is a letter from one person to another complaining about the untruthfulness of a mutual acquaintance.

Ben-Tor, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, now believes there may be two archives. Two of the tablets date from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 B.C.) and the other two from the Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 B.C.). He believes it is unlikely that a single archive would have been used for such a long time. Furthermore, there are indications that the architectural remains being exposed are not of one palace, as he had believed, but of two, one Middle Bronze Age and the other Late Bronze Age.

While numerous royal archives have been found in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, no such discovery has been made in Israel. Particularly intriguing would be a Late Bronze Age archive dealing with events from the period of the initial Israelite settlement in Canaan, ca. 1200 B.C. The Book of Joshua (11:1-11) records the Israelites' victory over the Canaanite city-state of Hazor, which is described as "head of all those kingdoms," culminating in its destruction by fire. The last Canaanite palace at the site is buried in a thick layer of ash.

Also found was a one-foot-tall bronze figure of a male Canaanite deity holding up a hand in a gesture of blessing. Other finds included bull statuettes, a sword, scale armor, and a battle-ax.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America