“You can count the centuries as we go down the stairs. We’re going from the 16th century A.D. to the 13th century B.C.,” says excavator Moshe Kochavi as he leads me to some steps inside the remains of ancient Aphek, about 9 miles northeast of Tel Aviv.
Today a 16th-century Turkish fort, nearly a thousand-feet square, dominates the site; in ancient times Aphek sat astride a key trade route (the Via Maris, the “Way of the Sea,” which ran along the Mediterranean coast). The site protected an important source of water and gets its name from the Hebrew word aphik, riverbed. It is home to the headwaters of the Yarkon River, which flows from here to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea. In years past a small lake stood just west of Aphek. Because of a long drought in recent years, however, the waters can no longer be seen; they are still present underground, though.
We have come here at my suggestion; I had asked Kochavi to revisit with me one of his past excavations. He selected Aphek, the standout achievement of his long and distinguished career at Tel Aviv University. We are at the site on a typical blistering July day, with theMediterranean sun already a burning ball by mid-morning.