Israel's Good Name

University Trip: Northwest Negev II

In Israel, Negev on May 22, 2018 at 1:15 PM

The day following our trip to Tel Gezer and other sites, we took another Bar Ilan University field trip, this time to the northwest Negev region. Leading us was Dr Shawn Zelig-Aster, a lecturer in Biblical history, and our destinations included a string of biblical-age settlement ruins. We departed from the campus in the morning and made our way by means of minibus to the first of the sites: Tel el-Hesi.

Approaching Tel el-Hesi

Famous for being the first site to be excavated using the concept of chronological stratigraphy, pioneered by British archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Tel el-Hesi in 1890 on behalf of the PEF (as can be seen HERE). According to this method, the understanding of differing levels excavated point directly to different time periods in chronological sequence. Under the belief that Tel el-Hesi was the Biblical city of Lachish, Petrie, and later American archaeologist FJ Bliss, excavated with the use of local Arab laborers to define Levantine archaeological sequences in the most scientific manner yet.

Cereal grain detail

We disembarked from our minibus on an access road off Road 40 in a slightly less scientific manner, gathering around beside a golden wheat field to hear from Dr Zelig-Aster. Being that it’s spring and a different part of the country than I’m usually in, I was eager to find new and interesting birds, as is to be expected. But that had to wait, as there were only a few collared doves and a jackdaw in the nearby vicinity. Properly briefed on the geographical aspect of the land, we began along the dirt road toward Tel el-Hesi, shaded by a row of trees planted alongside the road.

Scenic view

We reached Nachal Shikma, with its flour mill ruins, and continued until we reached a harvested field that gave us the first look at the small tel. As we stood there, learning about the tel and its importance in history, I noticed that the birds flying around above us looked a little peculiar. Maxing out my camera’s 21x optical zoom, I was able to see that these were very colourful European bee-eaters – my first time seeing them.

Beetles on a thistle

Leaving the field to approach the tel from the north, we continued after seeing a nice step buzzard pass overhead. Next, we found a picturesque field with some of spring’s blossoms still dotting the green grass, and stopped to take a group photo.

Group photo

We approached and then climbed the tel via the dirt road, and as I walked, I noticed a flock of white storks coming from the west and a few black kites mixed in too. At nearly the top of the tel, a small flock of small birds took flight, frightened off by us. Later, I identified them as red-throated pipits – again a first for me.

Poppies growing beside the trail

Atop the tel we realised that the bee-eaters were nesting in the red earth banks, and as there wasn’t much to see anymore, we made our way back down after a few minutes, allowing the bee-eaters to continue their breeding undisturbed. From the tel’s vantage point I was afforded a sighting of a masked shrike and this season’s first roller for me – a lovely blue bird that I had only previously seen at the Tel es-Safi archaeological dig in the summer.

Horned poppy flower

Heading back down the tel, we continued on the dirt road northwest toward the next site on the list: Tel Sheqef. Along the way we found a horned poppy with its orange blossoms growing right in the middle of the road, saw a few more rollers, and nearly had a altercation with some Bedouin shepherd dogs. Two kilometres later we climbed the small hill that is Tel Sheqef.

Tel Sheqef

Without too much visible architecture, the tel was largely covered with earth and dry grass, and made a nice place to stand on. As we stood in a circle, my eyes drifted off to scan the surroundings but my attention was eventually caught by one of the members of our party. We had discovered a couple crude white mosaic stones, similar to those that I found in the Jerusalem aqueduct archaeological dig, and then a couple more. Within minutes we realised that we were surrounded by dozens of these stones and were properly impressed by the implications of a ruined mosaic floor.

Bedouin herding his sheep

We didn’t spend long atop Tel Sheqef with its Bronze, Iron and Hellenistic age ruins, but rather elected to continue onward toward our next site. The walk to the west followed alongside agricultural fields, mostly wheat and potato, for several kilometres of heat and humidity. Off in the distance, we saw black smoke rising, probably a result of the rioting at the Gazan border that was ongoing that week. We trudged along, following the dirt roads until at last we reached a gathering of pine trees. We cut through the trees and found a small hill covered with the same dry grass that adorned the other tels.

Wheat field

Up top, we gathered around beside some fenced-off ruins that had been excavated in recent years. We were at Khirbet Summeily, just east of Tlamim, a moshav founded in 1950 by immigrants from Djerba. I became immediately distracted by a number of swallowtail butterflies who were obsessively feasting on thistles.

Swallowtail butterfly

I even shared a moment with one particular swallowtail who flew off when I got too close to its thistle. I expected the butterfly to go find a different flower, but no, instead it landed on the barbed wire nearby and waited. This gave me a great opportunity to photograph it, which I did to the best of my ability, and then I backed off. When I was a sufficient distance away, the swallowtail took flight and returned to its thistle, where it continued to feed.

Examining the overgrown ruins of Khirbet Summeily

We briefly learned about the site of Khirbet Summeily, and its lack of biblical identity, and then examined the ruins from up close. Descending the small hill, we returned to the trees and made our way toward the road.

Departing via the trees

Along the way we found countless clumpings of wool from Bedouin sheep that were shorn at the end of the winter, which was a slightly unusual scene. We found our minibus and boarded it, all hot and sweaty, and enjoyed the ride back to BIU, knowing that the next trip was just around the corner.

A video of this trip, which I made for the department’s YouTube channel, can be found HERE.

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