Remains of victims of Gezer’s destruction by Pharaoh found

First remains of individuals killed by the destruction of Gezer, central Israel, by Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah have been discovered by archaeologists 3200 years after fire swallowed the ancient Canaanite city.

Skeleton found at Gezer (by Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

Archaeologists discovered a massive layer of fiery destruction, containing human remains, found in Gezer for the first time. They were of a child that wore earrings and two adults. The city was destroyed by the army of Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah who destroyed the Canaanite city with fire. According to archaeologists, the evidence for heavy destruction suggests that the Pharaoh encountered much resistance from the inhabitants. The building with two of the bodies, an adult and the child, was in Gezer’s south, one of the city’s weaker spots. However,  the remains were too badly damaged to determine at this point whether they were Egyptian, Canaanite or somebody else. The adult was so badly burned that sex could not be determined by the remnants of pelvic or torso bones. The child, who was wearing earrings, was next to the adult, to the left. This room was filled with ash and collapsed mud brick. The skeletons were discovered inside a building that had been vast in size, 20 by 15 meters, which had been divided into several impressive rooms. The destruction debris found inside a building shows the fire was so intense that the ceiling of one of the rooms collapsed, burying an adult and a child in a meter-thick layer of ash and burnt bricks and leaving the archaeologists with a snapshot of their final, traumatic hours.

Remains of an adult laying on back with arms over the head (by Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

North of this room, the excavators found the remains of a particularly intriguing rectangular room with a supporting wall and two pillars in its centre. In this room, a third body was found, also telling a tale of gruesome death. This person, 1.72 centimetres tall, was found beneath a jumble of collapsed stones that ironically helped to preserve the skeletal remains. Inside the room, aside from the body, the archaeologists found scarabs and cylinder seals and several precious clay and turquoise objects – including an amulet dating back to the 13th century BC in shape of a bifacial rectangular plaque with a barrel-shaped top, bearing a Thutmose III cartouche.

Excavations of the skeleton (by Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

The ancient city played a prominent role in the geopolitics of the Canaanite city-states in the 2nd millennium BC and was frequently mentioned in Egyptian records. This was due to Gezer’s key strategic location on a great highway connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia, for trade and military purposes, over thousands of years. Gezer also lay near another vital trade route, the east-west one leading from Jaffa on the sea to Jerusalem and Jericho. Its elevated position on a ridge gave it command of the intersection of these two important trading routes. Gezer was prominent in the Amarna period, in the late 18th Dynasty. The city was mentioned by name at least nine times in the Amarna Tablets, those being diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets from vassal princes in Canaan to the Pharaoh. In the 13th century BC, Gezer met with a violent end, and was reduced to a heap of smoking ruins at the hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah. Previously, archaeologists discovered a treasure trove at the ruins of the palace building in Gezer.

Individual killed 3200 years ago (by Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

(after Haaretz & Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

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