Just what is a tell (or tel)? It is an artificial mound (hill) created by ancient people in the Middle East, upon which they built cities. The sites of cities were carefully chosen because of location (roads, trade routes, etc.), strategic defensibility, and nearness to important natural resources and a good water supply. Cities had to be protected from invaders, and hills made a natural defense. So, cities were built on hills with city walls to make things a little safer. Nevertheless, cities were invaded and even destroyed by natural causes. New cities were then built upon the remains of previous cities by leveling the mound and filling in the holes. This made the hill even taller and easier to defend.
So just what is the significance for archaeologists? Well, the presence of a tell is a sure indication that a city once existed there. A tell tells us (sorry for the pun) this is a good place to dig, er, excavate. Also, the building of a new city on an older one creates nice layers (strata) that can be distinguished and used to help date the site. Of course, when excavating, there are two things any archaeologist worth his dirt must be able to do. The first is determine when a hole was dug and filled because it messes up the nice layers. The second is distinguish the dumps from previous excavations.
Since it is impossible to re-excavate a site, it has to be done right the first time. Jericho is a site that has been excavated many times (different parts of it that is). Notice all the mounds on top of the tell in the photograph above. These mounds are the dumps from excavations. Some of theses excavation results were not published and so many excavations were done that it is difficult to do another. As a result, it is hard to determine anything about Jericho with certainty. So, we won't go into the dating of the Israelite capture of Jericho after the Exodus. Sorry, I am taking the easy way out (GRIN). Maybe at a later time.
If you want to know more about what an archaeologist does and how he does it, you can leave the tour and visit the Biblical Archaeology Methods section.
If you haven't already visited the Ancient City's and their Defenses Tour, why not join it now? Or maybe you would like to enter the Jerusalem Tour to see a city wall?
Go Back to the Tour Table of Contents