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The Scarlet Factory in Shekmona shows the flourishing of the Kingdom of Israel in the middle of the 8th-9th century BCE

Tel Shekmona was the largest crimson factory in the area during the Iron Age, under the control of the Kingdom of Israel and the one that apparently supplied the prestigious crimson color to the Temple in the neighboring Kingdom of Judah

Excavations 2023 at Tel Shekmona. Photo by Prof. Golan Shloy.
Excavations 2023 at Tel Shekmona. Photo by Prof. Golan Shloy.

A new study by the University of Haifa completely changes the story of the biblical Shekmunah, and turns it into one of the most striking and fascinating testimonies to the flourishing of the Kingdom of Israel and its extensive conquests in the north of the country between the middle of the ninth century and the middle of the eighth century BC. According to the research, Tel Shekmona, starting from the time of Beit Omri, is a factory for the production of crimson under Israeli control, the only and largest of its kind in the entire Levant discovered so far, which provided the prestigious and rare color to the kingdoms of the region, and apparently also to the weaving of the veil of the Temple. "The factory at Tel Shekmona, under Israeli control, supplied crimson products, probably mainly crimson dyed threads, to Cyprus and Lebanon as well as to socio-political elites and temples in the cities of Palestine, Judea, and of course to the fatness of the Kingdom of Israel. Since it was the most active scarlet production site and the closest to Jerusalem and in fact the only one known to us from these periods - it is most likely that it was used as the prestigious dye supplier for the temple," said researchers Prof. Ayelet Gilboa and Dr. Golan Shloy from the University of Haifa.

Tel Shekmona, a tiny mound on the west coast of Haifa, located on a small headland between the Carmel and the Sea, has always been a mysterious site for archaeologists. The mound itself, which includes a settlement from the Iron Age between the 11th and 6th centuries BC, a period corresponding to the period of the judges, the united kingdom, the division of the kingdom until the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and then Judah. Throughout the period it was a very small site, a total of about 5 dunams (compared to the settlement from the Byzantine period adjacent to it, which covers a size of 100 dunams); It is not near agricultural areas and the sea coast at the foot of which is rocky and does not allow safe mooring or easy access to the sea, and is therefore not suitable for maritime trade.

About five years ago, Prof. Gilboa and Dr. Shloy published a study that was a breakthrough regarding the understanding of the ancient settlement: based on a preliminary examination of the excavation findings from the 60s and 70s by Dr. Yosef Elgabish, which included, among other things, pottery basins in which the researchers found remains of the crimson color, together with many Phoenician ceramics, the two claimed that the place was a Phoenician factory for the production of the rare and prestigious crimson color of the time. Although evidence was also found on the site that could be associated with the culture of the Kingdom of Israel at that time - mainly the wall of the enclosures and the houses of three spaces found on the site, however the assessment that the secret of the scarlet was reserved for the Phoenician culture and that most of the findings they examined corresponded to the Phoenician culture led them to suggest that the site belonged to the Phoenician cultural literature.

However, after several years of in-depth research into Dr. Elgabish's findings, and even after completing their new excavation in a limited area of ​​the mound in recent weeks, Prof. Gilboa and Dr. Shloy are now presenting the full historical story of the mound during this period. The historical reconstruction suggests the Kingdom of Israel taking over the Phoenician production site and turning it, under their rule, into the largest and most significant production site known in the Mediterranean basin. And so the story of the bright crimson mound illuminates the heyday of the Kingdom of Israel in the period between the middle of the ninth century and the middle of the eighth century BC, the days of the reigns of the House of Omri and House of Jehu.

According to Dr. Shloy, the complete set of findings tells a more complex story than what we understood at first glance. At the beginning of the Iron Age, in the 11th century BC, Phoenicians settle and establish a small site for the production of scarlet. In this period, the material culture is defined as Phoenician only and a local crimson production takes place at the site on a limited scale.

At some point in the middle of the 9th century BC, roughly at the same time as Ahab ascended the throne in the Kingdom of Israel, the factory was abandoned and possibly destroyed. A new complex was built over the ruins of the village, fortified with a retaining wall in the style characteristic of many fortified sites in the Kingdom of Israel during this period. The ceramic finds, including many everyday tools, and other finds such as seals begin to include Israeli characteristics - along with the Phoenician ones - and there is also evidence of an increased rate of scarlet production. The new insights make it possible to understand the unique and fascinating historical story of the site: from a small Phoenician village producing scarlet to a fortified and planned factory, under Israeli control, with the Phoenicians remaining the expert craftsmen responsible for the production of scarlet.

The new proposal by Prof. Gilboa and Dr. Shloy is in line with the geopolitical changes at that time in the region: a period of prosperity for the Kingdom of Israel, in which Amri and after him his son Ahab expand the Kingdom of Israel to the north and east, among other things through military conquests. "The findings at Tel Shekmona show that also, and perhaps above all, the tremendous economic potential in the production of the colors azure and crimson led the Kingdom of Israel to carry out conquest campaigns also towards the sea in the west, and to take control of the legendary source of wealth of the Phoenicians - the scarlet industries. Since the crushing of scarlet and the extraction of crimson were skills that required a deep familiarity with the sea, it is likely that the production remained in the hands of Phoenician workers who worked under the regulation of the Kingdom of Israel. These conclusions can explain the unusual combination of Israeli and Phoenician material culture in those layers," the researchers said.

The findings on the site continued to tell the story of the Kingdom of Israel until its decline: the rise of Beit Yehua which destroyed Beit Omri probably also led to the destruction of the factory. It was restored again and reached the peak of its power in terms of its size and scope of scarlet production during the long reign of Jeroboam II (son of Yoash) in the first half of the eighth century CE. This was the last flourishing period in the Kingdom of Israel, in which its borders were once again expanded, probably also to the nearby Acre Valley to the north of Tel Shekmona. The Israeli industrial fastener complex was probably destroyed shortly after the death of Jeroboam II, around the year 740 BC - a period that symbolizes the beginning of the decline of the Kingdom of Israel, which was caused by internal conflicts that were manifested, among other things, in frequent coups d'état and murders of kings. The production of scarlet in Shekmona on a large scale began again only in the first half of the seventh century after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel under Assyrian control, until around 600 BCE the activity was stopped during the Babylonian occupation of Western Asia.

"The story of the biblical Shekmona becomes many times more complex and fascinating than we thought at first. This is the most significant crimson production factory found to this day from that period, with a production volume orders of magnitude greater than any other known site. Beyond that, he tells the story of the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Israel in the ninth and eighth centuries from an unfamiliar angle - the economic interests of the kingdom, the westward expansion and the complex relationship with the Phoenicians. This is a period characterized by the military and political power of the Kingdom of Israel - and the occupation and control of Shekmona and the production of scarlet are, among other things, part of the economic basis of this power," the researchers concluded.

Tel Shekmona research is being conducted on behalf of the Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa and is supported by Supported by a cooperation project of the President's Office at the University of Haifa and the Municipality of Haifa, the White-Levy Foundation at Harvard University, the National Science Foundation and the Hecht Foundation. The excavation team includes researchers, students and volunteers: Sonia Pinsky, Edi Abrahami, Sandy Katz, Moshe Dingot, Marva Agnon, Julie Mendelsohn, Dr. Naama Suknik, Dr. Paula Weiman-Barak, Dr. Udi Galili, Prof. Dorit Sion and Harel Shochat.  

Following the renewed research, a new excavation began at Tel Shekmona, which has just been completed, and cooperation has begun between many parties who are now working together to restore the site and make it accessible to the public: the Nature and Parks Authority, the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, the Institute for the Study of Seas and Lakes, and the Antiquities Authority.

More on the subject on the science website

5 תגובות

  1. Imagination of the archaeologist, the Temple has no evidence of poor level academic engraving

  2. And again, in my non-controversial opinion, in light of the research conclusions, it seems that the production was more linked to the Phoenician culture than to Hebrew, Jewish, if at all. I expected to see some proof, biblical literature, epigraphic and otherwise of some association with the Hebrew presence and its culture. The Jewish control over this issue in later periods is not as clear as usual. The lack of proof of this kind reminds me of the cynical blathering of my teacher and rabbi throughout my three years, the late Prof. Shmuel Safrai, who jokingly claimed that the presence of an ancient "wireless" was proven in the archaeological excavations of his time in Jerusalem. "wireless?" His colleagues wondered. "Indeed" clarified the professor with a typical mouth-to-mouth smile, "since they were not found there
    Wires, communication wires". Go out and learn, therefore, it is enough to be wise in a hint...

  3. So what?! It is a fact that Israel, with a government that is corrupt to the bone, is about to collapse because of a creature no less corrupt than David, Solomon and Rehoboam. Unlike them, in his favor he still has a murder, unless he had a hand in Rabin's murder.

  4. The immediate affinity to the overall Israeli culture and the multitude of finds in Shekmona as well as in other sites, such as Elad, without a clear correspondence with non-ideological finds, deserves to be re-examined

  5. Can anyone tell me what the main types of shells were found there, in order to understand which snail made the crimson color?
    To this day there is a debate on the subject

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