Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Zeitah Excavations

Zeitah Website

The Zeitah Excavations, directed by Ron E. Tappy, launched its inaugural season during the summer of 1999. Since then international teams of professional staff and volunteers have unearthed remains dating from the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1550 BCE) to the Ottoman period (1517-1917 CE). Work has concentrated on the Iron Age II levels (dating to the time of the Hebrew prophets and kings in the Old Testament) on the acropolis and down the site’s steep eastern slope.

In July 2005, excavators discovered a rare find: an inscription dating to the 10th century BCE (King Solomon’s reign). The two-line inscription, on a 33-pound limestone boulder embedded in the stone wall of a building, is the earliest securely-dated example of the complete Hebrew alphabet (an "abecedary"). The letters show a transitional script emerging from Phoenician and leading to the Hebrew national script of the 9th century BCE. The first significant inscription from this period in nearly a century, the discovery made world news. (Read more in The New York Times.) It makes an important contribution to the heated debate over the history and literacy of the region in the 10th century BCE.

The Zeitah Excavations is refining our understanding of life in a typical town setting in ancient Israel. Nearly all other archaeological investigations in Israel have concentrated on large, urban sites. As an “outlying” town in the lowlands southwest of Jerusalem, Zeitah (Hebrew “Zayit”) offers a unique opportunity to study local life. The site may be the ancient town of Libnah. It lies not far from Lachish and Philistine Gath at the crossroads of several major ancient roadways connecting Egypt to the south with Mesopotamia to the north.

The Zeitah Excavations has incorporated a full-scale program of field exploration and study. Volunteers learn field methodology by working side-by-side with internationally known professional  archaeologists. The academic curriculum addresses archaeological work, life in ancient Israel, and historical geography. Special lectures by leading American and Israeli scholars supplement practical field work. And guided field trips to major regions of the country help open the world of the Bible. In these ways, the Zeitah Excavations foster a greater understanding of the literature of the Bible and a more intimate knowledge of Israel’s historic past. In addition, participants learn about modern Israel in a cross-cultural experience that allows for sustained personal contact.

Students may earn up to six transferable quarter credits through the Seminary for their participation in the excavations and field school. Alternatively, students may arrange to receive academic credit through their home institutions. No previous archaeological fieldwork is required to join the team as a volunteer.