New Finds from ‘Sea People’ Settlement

Scientists from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, say they have unearthed a 3,100-year-old building and a number of artifacts at the archaeological site of Tell Abu al-Kharaz in Jordan.

Left: captive Philistine warriors from a wall relief at Medinet Habu, Egypt, 1185-1152 BC. Right: an artist’s conception of a Philistine warrior. Image credit: John Shumate.

Tell Abu al-Kharaz (‘Mound of the Father of Beads’) is located in the Jordan Valley, close to the border to Israel and the West Bank. The settlement was identified with the biblical city of Jabesh Gilead.

Archaeologists believe the settlement was founded around 3200 BC and flourished during three periods: 3100-2900 BC, 1600–1300 BC and 1100–700 BC.

The site has been excavated during 1989-2013 under the direction of Prof Peter Fischer.

Reconstruction of the 3,100-year-old building unearthed at Tell Abu al-Kharaz. Image credit: University of Gothenburg.

“We have evidence that culture from present Europe is represented in Tell Abu al-Kharaz. A group of the Sea Peoples of European descent, the Philistines, settled down in the city,” Prof Fischer said.

The Philistines are a tribe in the confederation of the Sea Peoples (a modern term for a loose confederacy of seafaring people who troubled the lands of the Near East and Egypt during the Bronze Age and could have possibly originated from either western Anatolia or southern Europe).

“We have, for instance, found pottery resembling corresponding items from Greece and Cyprus in terms of form and decoration, and also cylindrical loom weights for textile production that could be found in Central and South-Eastern Europe around the same time.”

During recent excavation seasons Prof Fischer and his colleagues have uncovered well-preserved stone structures, including defensive walls and buildings, and thousands of objects produced locally or imported from South-Eastern Europe. They have found few artifacts exported from Middle Egypt around 3100 BC.

Inside the 3,100-year-old building at Tell Abu al-Kharaz. Image credit: University of Gothenburg.


“What surprises me the most is that we have found so many objects from far away. This shows that people were very mobile already thousands of years ago.”

The archaeologists have unearthed a large, well-preserved building, dating back from 1100 BC, with containers still filled with various seeds.

The building was originally around 60 m long and had two levels. The walls of the ground level are still largely intact and reach 2.5 m in height.

According to the Gothenburg team, the Philistines lived in the building together with local people around 1100 BC.

Pottery found in the 3,100-year-old building at Tell Abu al-Kharaz. Image credit: University of Gothenburg.

“They used a defense structure from 3000 BC in the form of an old city wall by constructing their building on top of it. In this way, they had both easy access to building material and a solid surface to build on.”

“One of our conclusions after the excavation is that ‘Jordanian culture’ is clearly a Mediterranean culture even though the country does not border the Mediterranean Sea. There were well-organized societies in the area long before the Egyptian pyramids were built,” Prof Fischer said.

The scientists said the new finds support the theory that groups of the so-called Sea Peoples emigrated to Tell Abu al-Kharaz.