Archaeology is a love affair between an archaeologist and an ancient ruin. The ruin heap may be a shipwrecked galleon, an isolated stone circle in a vast desert, or the fallen walls of a fortress still uncovered by the sands of time. There are some 5,000 ruin heaps in ancient Palestine, within the modern states of Jordan and Israel. Only a few hundred have attracted excavation, mostly small soundings and emergency clearances. Some thirty sites have been the scene of large-scale excavations, but even at these, much remains to be dug. This leaves some 98% of its major ruins still untouched by an expedition. Even with all these untapped resources, Palestine is probably the scene of the most intense archaeological activity on earth.
Most of the major ruins are tells. This Arabic word, like its Turkish counterparts tepe and hüyük, designates a roughly cake-shaped hill or mound with sloping sides, its layers comprising the remains of the succeeding peoples who called it home. The Hebrew of the Bible speaks of a town standing on its tell (Joshua 11:13) and of making a town a tell forever (Joshua 11:13), that is, destroying it so thoroughly that it would never be inhabited again.