Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheba: My 322nd UNESCO World Heritage Site
From the World Heritage inscription:
Historic settlement mounds, known as tels, are characteristic of the flatter lands of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and eastern Turkey. Of more than 200 such mounds in Israel, the three sites of Megiddo, Hazor and Beer Sheba are representative of those that contain substantial remains of cities with biblical connections and are strongly associated with events portrayed in the bible.
The three tels extend across the State of Israel; Tel Hazor in the north, near the Sea of Galilee; Tel Megiddo 50 kilometers to the south west; and Tel Beer Sheba near the Negev Desert in the south.
The three sites reflect the wealth and power of Bronze and Iron Age cities in the fertile biblical lands. This was based on, and achieved through, a centralized authority that had control of trade routes to the north east and south; connecting Egypt to Syria and Anatolia to Mesopotamia, and the creation and management of sophisticated and technologically advanced water collection systems. Together, these tels reflect the key stages of urban development in the region.
They are also representative of the large, multi-layered occupation of single sites that persisted for several millennia until the 6th century BCE, and particularly reflect in their final flowering the formative stages of biblical history from the 12th to 6th century BCE. With their impressive remains of palaces, fortifications and urban planning, they offer key material manifestations of the biblical epoch.
Overview of the Biblical Tels of Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheba
Tels are hills or mounds created over centuries by communities building over the ruins and refuse of the previous structures. Archaeologists often liken tels to a layer cake with each layer being a different period of time. As the mounds grow, they usually become narrower, which eventually leads to a shrinking of the population, and eventual abandonment of the tel. This process, however, can take centuries.
This world heritage site consists of three different tels in different parts of Israel. While there are many archaeological tels in Israel, these three were chosen for World Heritage status because, 1) they all have at least a brief mention in the Old Testament, and 2) they all have extensive human built water systems. The water systems for all three tels are quite impressive and not obvious when you first arrive at the site as they are underground.
Overview of Tel Megiddo
Tel Megiddo is by far the most visited of the tels for two reasons. First, it is located on the road between the Sea of Galilee and Tel Aviv/Jerusalem. This makes it a convenient stop for tour buses traveling between the two. Second, Megiddo in English is Armageddon, which is where some people believe the last battle in history will take place.
The first humans settled this site approximately 9,000 years ago and the last use of the site was by the Roman army approximately 2,000 years ago. There was a large Roman army outpost just outside the tel, which was the largest in Roman province of Palestine, outside of Jerusalem. The tel was used by the Romans as a cemetery.
The tel is located along a highway which was once the location of an ancient trade route. Excavation began here in the early 20th century and effects of this excavation are still seen today. The techniques used back then were very crude and destructive. Their original intent was to completely remove everything. The only reason that didn’t happen is that they ran out of money.
As such, the appearance of Tel Megiddo is very different from the other two world heritage tels.
Overview of Tel Hazor
Tel Hazor is located in the north of Israel, close to the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. It is the largest of the 3 sites by area, but it appears smaller than Tel Megiddo simply because less of it has been excavated. It gets the fewest visits of any of the 3 world heritage tels due to its location.
Hazor was a Canaanite settlement which was later resettled by Israelites approximately 1,300-900BC after this city of destroyed. Like Tel Megiddo, there is a rich farm land in the area surrounding the tel and it isn’t difficult to envision how a large community could have thrived there.
Overview of Tel Beer Sheba
Tel Beer Sheba is the ancient city from which the modern day city of Beersheba gets its name. The tel is located right outside the town and you can clearly see the skyline of the city from there. Beer Sheba is mentioned 33 times in the Bible, which is the most of any of the biblical tels which are world heritage listed.
How To Get There
All of the tels are best reached by car, or on guided tour. Their locations make them difficult to reach by public transportation, especially Tel Hazor. Directions to each of the site can easily be found on Google Maps.
Tel Megiddo – On highway 66 between Megiddo junction and Yokne’am junction. 30km/20mi from Haifa and 10 miles, 18km from Nazareth.
Tel Hazor – Off highway 90, approximately 25 miles/43 kilometers from Nazareth.
Tel Beer Sheba – Off the Beersheba/Shoket Junction road approximately 2 miles outside of Beersheba.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Israel.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.