Prize Find: Horned Altar from Tell es-Safi Hints at Philistine Origins

By Aren M. Maeir

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The excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, the site of the Philistine city of Gath mentioned in the Bible (e.g., 1 Samuel 6:17), have produced many fascinating finds,a and the summer of 2011 was no exception.

While uncovering an impressive destruction level dating to the second half of the ninth century B.C.E., when Gath was the largest of the five cities of the Philistine “pentapolis” and perhaps the largest city in the Land of Israel during the Iron Age, we found an exceptionally well preserved horned stone altar reminiscent of the Israelite horned altars described in the Bible (Exodus 27:1–2; 1 Kings 1:50).

Had it not been for a stroke of luck, the altar may never have been discovered. Like most archaeological digs, we leave unexcavated “balks” between our excavation squares, allowing us easier access to the squares as well as providing a profile view of the layers we have excavated. In the winter of 2010/2011, however, strong rainstorms caused some of the balks to collapse.

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