Tell Beit Mirsim (Joshua 15)

Tell Beit Mirsim, located 9,3 km southwest of Hebron, was excavated in the late 1920s and the early 1930s. W.F. Albright, a principal excavator of the site, believed it to be the Biblical Debir. This identification is now widely rejected; Khirbet Rabud is now considered to be a better candidate for Debir, and no one knows the name by which Tell Beit Mirsim was known in Biblical times. Even so, Albright’s careful excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim has helped to define the modern science of archaeology. The story of Tell Beit Mirsim, a particularly informative site, helps us to understand the basics of archaeological methods:

  • In digging a site, it is important to be able to distinguish the strata for that site. Strata refer to the layers formed by successive occupations of a location. Throughout the history of a city, newer occupation leveøs are built on top of older ones (i.e. earlier occupation levels are lower, with more recent levels closer to the surface). For example, a city may have existed at a particular spot in the twelfth century B.C. – until it was burned down by an enemy. Rebuilding could have occurred at some later time at that site, only for it to have been destroyed again. For example, the presence of clearly defined burn layers at Tell Beit Mirsim have helped archaeologists to distinguish the various strata of that site.
  • Pottery helps to date the strata at a site. The use of pottery to fix a date for a stratum is referred to as “ceramic dating”. Pottey sample were collected from Tell Beit Mirsim and compared to finds from other sites in Palestine. Careful classification of excavated pottery at the Tell Biet Mirsim site helped to refine and establish the pottery-dating system.
  • Tell Beit Mirsim was unusual in that it held remains from ten different occupation levels, spanning the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze ans Iron periods. Also, the site yielded excellent examples of the material culture of a Judean town during the monarchic period (when Israel and Judah were ruled by kings). This evidence is useful for making comparisons to physical remains from other sites, especially those related to the archaeology of early Israel.
  • Periodically tools of archaeology need to be refined. As an example, Albright attributed the final destruction of Tell Beit Mirsim to the Babylonians in 589-587 B.C. Recent investigation, however, has indicated that its ultimate demise likely came at the hands of the Assyrians, as part of the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Based upon the new evidence supporting this dating adjustment, archaeologists have found it necessary to make minor adjustments in the ceramic chronology.

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