Ancient clay seals may shed light on lands in Israel during biblical times

By Janet McConnaughey, AP

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist James W. Hardin.

This could indicate that Biblical accounts of David and his son Solomon described real kings rather than the backwater chieftains considered more likely by some archaeologists, said Hardin, an associate professor in the department of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures.

The six fragments of clay, once used to seal documents or expensive goods, are described in a brief article in the December issue of Near East Archaeology.

��They’re little bitty mud balls but they’re really important because of what they suggest about what’s going on,�� Hardin, the lead author, said in a telephone interview from the university in Starkville. After tying the scroll or other item, ancient officials would wrap part of the string with clay and stamp it with an official seal to show that it had not been opened.

The artifacts are important, said Israel Finkelstein, an archaeology professor at Tel Aviv University. They ��probably hint at�� a city-state other than that of Gath on the southern coastal plain during the period, he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. Gath was a major Philistine city-state when it was destroyed in the 9th century, according to archaeologists. According to the Bible, it was the home town of Goliath, the giant whom young David laid flat with stone and sling.

But Finkelstein, co-author of a book arguing that ��tenth-century Jerusalem was a small highland village that controlled a sparsely settled hinterland�� rather than the great kingdom the Bible describes David and his son Solomon as ruling, was unconvinced by Hardin’s broader conclusion. It’s too far from Jerusalem �X about 70 miles �X to make connections, he said, and radiocarbon dating for the part of the Iron Age described could be anywhere from mid-10th century to 800 B.C.

��There is no reason to start rewriting history books that come from modern critical research,�� wrote Finkelstein, who wrote ��David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition�� with journalist and archaeology historian Neil Asher Silberman. Carbon dating that period is problematic, Hardin said, so pot fragments from the layers where the bullae were found are being analyzed at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Rock Magnetism to see if magnetic analysis can date them more precisely.

They were found at Khirbet Summeily (KHEER-bit soo-MAY-lee), ��a little site in middle of nowhere, outside of Philistia and outside Judah,�� Hardin said. In modern terms, it’s about 14 miles east of Gaza.