Fire at the gate of Hazor: A micro-geoarchaeological study of the depositional history of a Bronze Age City gate

Marko Runjajić*, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael G. Hasel, Assaf Yasur-Landau, David E. Friesem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The City of Hazor is one of the most significant archaeological sites from the biblical period in Israel. Studies on destruction have received much attention in archaeology in recent years. Previous excavations in Hazor have suggested a major conflagration event that destroyed the entire tell site at the end of the Late Bronze Age. The present study re-examines the sedimentary sequence of one of the city's gates located in Area K by applying a suite of micro-geoarchaeological analyses to understand the stratigraphy previously documented by Yigael Yadin (1972) and later also interpreted by Amnon Ben-Tor et al. (1989); Ben-Tor (1993, 2016); Bechar et al. (2021). In the summer of 2019, 89 bulk sediment samples were taken within squares K5 and K7 in the gate's passage. This study aimed to understand the archaeological formation processes at the gate and interpret human activities in the Lower City gate of Hazor based on the micro-archaeological record. Laboratory work included Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to analyze sediment samples’ composition and quantify phytoliths, wood ash, and dung spherulite concentrations. The major goals of this study are: a) to study the site formation processes, based on mineralogical assemblages and activity micro-residues, of a Middle Bronze to Late Bronze Age city gate; b) to identify mineralogical- and micro-remains, as indicators for fire and destruction of the gate; c) to identify occupation surfaces within the gate and their associated micro-residues; and d) to re-examine previous interpretations of the history of the gate and Hazor in light of the micro-archaeological record. The results confirmed Yadin's interpretation of the occupation levels at stratum 3 (MB II-C) and 2 (LB I), but with no evidence for destruction between the strata. Those strata showed typical tell site remains, such as anthropogenic input of ash and phytoliths, indicating more or less continuous urban activity. For Yadin's stratum 1B gate, we identified the floor, the roof, which was the main element that burnt, overlain by a thick unburnt accumulation of the second floor and final burnt debris atop. Our study also suggested a sequence of events for the fiery destruction of the gate and its collapse. The distribution of phytoliths and wood ash combined with the sediments’ composition proposes a single collapse event caused by fire from within the gate. The minimal anthropogenic record above the destruction horizon indicates possible disuse of the gate area following this major destruction event. The conclusions of this study offer new and direct evidence for the history of the gate at Hazor's Lower City with continuous activity from the Middle Bronze into the Late Bronze Age, ending with a major and single event of destruction of the site at the end of the Late Bronze Age which was followed by its abandonment.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number103914
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A tentative scenario for this destruction sequence (II) assumes that the fire started inside the gate, as we identified burnt mud bricks (II-m) only on the part of the profile. The wooden arches supporting the vault probably caught fire first, as studies showed that mud brick walls are less likely to be ignited first, while thatch roofs and wood beams are usually the first to catch fire ( Friesem et al., 2014; Kreimerman and Shahack-Gross, 2019 ). This interpretation is also supported by the stratigraphic location of (II-ap) and (II-a) resting below the burnt mud brick debris (II-m).

Funding Information:
The 2019 excavations at Area K, Tel Hazor (License G-86/2019) took place in August 2019 for ten excavation days. Y.G. M.G.H. A.Y-L. and Eric H. Cline co-directed the excavation. Ehud Arkin-Shalev acted as the field director, and Katherine Forbes, the register. We thank Igor Kreimerman and Roey Nickelsberg for collecting the sediment samples in the field. We also thank the excavation team and volunteers, including twenty students from the Hebrew University, Southern Adventist University, and the University of Haifa. The Philip and Muriel Berman Center for Biblical Archaeology sponsored the project. A.Y-L. and D.E.F. wish to thank the Computational Research on the Ancient Near East (CRANE), Professors Timothy Harrison and David Schloen for supporting the geoarchaeological research at Hazor and Kabri. M.R. would like to express his gratitude for the Sir Maurice and Lady Irene Hatter Scholarship and the Moriah Rotary Club for their financial support. The sediment analysis took place at the Laboratory of Environmental Micro-History with the support of the University of Haifa startup grant to D.E.F. We want to thank Ehud Arkin-Shalev for his help contextualizing the samples, Shira Gur-Arieh for her help with analyzing phytoliths and micro-remains, and Roni Zuckerman-Cooper for her help with processing the samples in the lab. We owe special thanks to Professor Ruth Shahack-Gross and Gal Bermatov-Paz for providing their laboratory facilities. Lastly, M.R. wishes to thank Adellina Cini and Olivia Ayers for their help during the studies.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Destruction
  • FTIR
  • Gate
  • Late Bronze Age
  • Micro-geoarchaeology
  • Phytoliths
  • Tel Hazor


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